Apple MacBook Pro, Microsoft Surface and HP laptops reviewed

Our tech writer reviewed four very different laptops including the Surface X and MacBook Pro.

The MacBook Pro half opened

I got my hands on four new laptops, all of which are very different; in both their design and purpose.

There was the powerhouse MacBook Pro, the everyday workhorse Microsoft Surface Laptop, the basic-but-good-looking HP Spectre x360 and the lightweight office specialist Microsoft Surface X.

Apple MacBook Pro 16”: The powerhouse.

Price: $4999

2019 16quot; MacBook Pro
2019 16" MacBook Pro

The newest MacBook Pro is a bit of a beast. Its design is solid and hefty – if I had to wield a laptop in a bar fight, I’d pick the MacBook.

As you’d expect, this laptop is aimed at power users who want to do video, photography or audio. It’s designed for on-the-go editing, with high-speed data transfers to external devices. That’s also why it’s $5000.

In this latest version of the MacBook Pro, Apple reversed some of its recent mistakes – mostly ones to do with the keyboard. For example, the Esc key has returned as a physical button, rather than an option on the touch bar. Also, the keys have gone back to the scissor mechanism of previous models, making for a smoother typing experience, as users had been loudly complaining about Apple’s last keyboard design.

For most users, the 16” MacBook Pro is overkill. I loved using it – the keyboard is much improved and the speed at which it could handle programs was amazing. But it has far more power than I need and a massive price tag to match.

Specs:

  • Screen: 16” 3072 x 1920 native resolution (no touchscreen)
  • Processor: 2.3GHz 8‑core Intel Core i9
  • Memory: 16GB of 2666MHz DDR4 onboard memory
  • Storage: 1TB SSD
  • Physical connections: 4 x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports, headphone jack
  • Weight: 2kg

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3: The workhorse.

Price: $3849

Microsoft 15quot; Surface Laptop 3
Microsoft 15" Surface Laptop 3

For me, the Surface Laptop 3 is the quintessential laptop. It’s not over-powered but has enough grunt to run most programs. As well as using it for work, I played a few games, watched movies on it, and for all of that it was perfect.

It’s the only model in the Surface range that doesn’t have a detachable keyboard, which makes it slimmer and able to fully close for transporting (unlike the Surface Book, which has a curved hinge and is awkwardly thick when closed).

Oddly, and perhaps it was because I was used to the MacBook, I never used the touchscreen. The touchpad, however, is large and responsive, though I found it slightly less intuitive to use than Apple’s.

I really liked the Surface Laptop 3. The keyboard perfectly spaced and it was great to work on for long periods. Also, the screen was gorgeous.

Specs:

  • Screen: 15” 2496 x 1664 native resolution
  • Processor: AMD Ryzen 7 3780U Mobile Processor
  • Memory: 16GB DDR4 RAM
  • Storage: 512GB
  • Physical connections: 1 x USB-C, 1 x USB-A, headphone jack
  • Weight: 1.5kg

HP Spectre x360 13-aw0020TU: The pretty one.

Price: $2474

HP Spectre x360 folding into tablet form with pen
HP Spectre x360 folding into tablet form

Not big and powerful, but not tiny and slow either, the HP Spectre x360 13 is a nice balance of form and function.

It’s a convertible laptop that folds into a tablet. It comes with a pen to use on the screen as well, which is most useful with that smaller form.

Being smaller means the keyboard is a little cramped, and I found myself making more typos than usual.

Despite the lower resolution screen – compared to the other trialled laptops – I was impressed with how nice images appeared. In fact, the Spectre x360 is a very good-looking piece of kit.

While the Surface Laptop and MacBook Pro had the power to do more tasks quickly, the Spectre was much easier to take travelling. It even comes with a carry case that includes a slot for the pen.

Specs:

  • Screen: 13.3” 1920 x 1080
  • Processor: 1.3GHz 4‑core Intel Core i7
  • Memory: 16GB LPDDR4-3200 SDRAM
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Physical connections: 2 x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C), 1 x USB-A, headphone jack.
  • Weight: 1.27kg

Microsoft Surface Pro X: The office companion.

Price: $3299 (+ $480 for the keyboard and pen)

Microsoft Surface Pro X with pen.
Microsoft Surface Pro X with pen.

The Surface Pro X is Microsoft’s attempt at getting smaller, more portable and a lot more user-friendly. It’s a simple device with some clever tricks, including the most inventive storage for a pen I’ve ever seen.

The pen is hidden inside the detachable keyboard. Pull the keyboard forward and there’s a slot for it to sit in. It’s a nifty solution and I even found the new, flatter pen easier to hold (it’s shaped like a builder’s pencil).

The detachable keyboard is best left attached. The connection in the base of the X is fiddly to get the keyboard into, though once it’s there it won’t fall out.

It also has an easily removable back section for faster and easier repairs and upgrades – an idea we fully endorse here at Consumer.

The X is a slimmed-down version of the current Surface Pro range. The smaller size, and weight (just under 800g) make it much easier to carry around. And the SIM card slot means you can also use it where there’s no WiFi.

The downside of the downsize is the X isn’t as powerful as its bigger siblings. It can only run 32-bit applications, which means you likely won’t be playing games on it or running more intense programs. But for running office products, like word processing or spreadsheets, it’s great.

The X is the perfect little device to take travelling, write on for short periods or to do quick, basic tasks.

Specs:

  • Screen: 13” 2880 x 1920 native resolution
  • Processor: Microsoft SQ1
  • Memory: 16GB LPDDR4x
  • Storage: 512GB SSD
  • Physical connections: 2 x USB-C, 1 x nano SIM
  • Weight: 1.1kg (with keyboard)

Specs in this article are for the version we trialled; other options are available.

First Looks are trials of new and interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons. These laptops were loaned to the writer to trial.

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