MacBook Air vs Surface Laptop 4

Image of MacBook Air and Surface Laptop 4
(Image credit: Apple / Microsoft)

It’s a MacBook Air vs Surface Laptop 4 battle if you’re looking for a premium thin and light laptop that delivers long battery life and impressive performance.

Don’t get us wrong; there are many excellent thin and light laptops out there. But even the likes of the popular Dell XPS 13 and HP Spectre x360 (2021) are no match against the price to performance ratio that these two notebooks offer. Both are much better performers, for example, when it comes to demanding creative workloads, even though they’re just as thin and light as the Dell and HP offerings. That makes them the top two contenders if you need something for photo/video editing or graphic design. These two laptops also have a much lower price of entry, both starting at a sub-$1,000/£1,000 for their base models.

But it still begs the question: which of the two must you choose? The answer is not as straightforward as you might think. But we’ll help you choose between MacBook Air and Surface Laptop 4 by pitting them against each other in a friendly competition below.

MacBook Air vs Surface Laptop 4: Price and configurations

The MacBook Air and the Surface Laptop 4 come in several configurations and start at $999 / £999 in the US. Although the latter does come in a cheaper $899, that’s only in platinum.

Yes, the Surface Laptop 4 comes in four different colors – ice blue, sandstone, platinum and matte black. Or, at least, its 13.5-inch version does. Its 15-inch version is only available in platinum and matte black, but we won’t be covering it here since the MacBook Air is a purely 13-inch laptop.

These four colors come in similar configurations, with just a few variations. The platinum starts at $899, which gets you an AMD Ryzen 5 4680U, 8GB memory, and 128GB SSD. But that’s only available in the US. In the UK and Australia, it starts at a higher £999 / AU$1,499, which gets you double the storage. This configuration is available in the US as well.

If you want the Surface Laptop 4 in any of the three other color options, you’ll have to pay a bit more as they start with twice the memory and twice the storage of the platinum’s US base model. Things only get pricier from there, topping off at a whopping $2,299.99 / £2,299 / AU$3,499 price tag, which gets you an Intel Core i7, 32GB of RAM and 1TB SSD.

Things are much more straightforward in the MacBook Air M1 camp. Apple’s thinnest and lightest comes in three different colors – space gray, gold, and silver – but they are all available in Apple's two main configurations. 

The first one, which starts you off with an Apple M1 chip with 8-core CPU and 7-core GPU, 8GB of unified memory and 256GB of SSD storage, is available in most regions at $999 / £999 / AU$1,499. And the second, more powerful one, which starts you off with an Apple M1 chip with 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU and twice the storage capacity, will set you back $1,149 / £1,249 / AU$1,849.

If those specs are not enough, you can further personalize both configurations. You can upgrade the RAM and storage to up to 16GB and 2TB, respectively. However, be mindful of those upgrades as Apple charges a premium for them. A fully kitted-out MacBook Air will set you back $2,049 / £2,049 / A$3,049. Unlike the Surface Laptop 4, 32GB RAM is not an option.

MacBook Air vs Surface Laptop 4: Design

Apple MacBook Air (M1,2020) Rear Lid

(Image credit: Future)

Size and weight-wise, the MacBook Air and the Surface Laptop 4 are just about on par with each other. The MacBook Air is just a fraction of a pound heavier and ever so slightly thicker than the Surface Laptop 4. However, it’s also slightly smaller. Needless to say, if the only condition you need to satisfy when choosing your next laptop is that it has to be small and light, you cannot go wrong with either.

If you’re a little more discerning, however, know that there are notable differences once you take a closer look. The Surface Laptop 4 has a slightly bigger 13.5-inch touch screen while the MacBook Air has stuck with its 13.3-inch non-touch display. 

To be fair to the MacBook Air, it does have a higher resolution of 2560 x 1600 at 227 PPI compared to its rival’s 2256 x 1504 at 201 PPI. It’s also just a bit brighter at 400 nits next to the Surface Laptop 4’s under 400-nit average, and comes with Apple’s True Tone technology, which allows it to automatically adjust its color temperature based on the ambient lighting.

Both are undoubtedly made of premium aluminum materials and are solid enough to last you for years, but there are also key differences here. The MacBook Air’s chassis is, according to Apple, made of 100% recycled aluminium while Microsoft makes no mention of using recycled materials to make the Surface Laptop 4. 

While its sandstone and matte black models sport a metal palm rest, its platinum and ice blue colorways come with the company’s signature Alcantara material version, which simply elevates your typing experience. That’s especially because while Apple’s Magic keyboard is one of the best keyboards we’ve ever used, we have found the Surface Laptop 4’s keyboard to be even better.

If your viewing experience is vital to you, the MacBook Air is a better fit. However, if it’s all about your typing experience, you might enjoy using the Surface Laptop 4 more.

MacBook Air vs Surface Laptop 4: Features

Surface Laptop 4

(Image credit: Future)

Obviously the biggest difference in features is that the MacBook Air runs on the most current macOS (at the time of writing, that’s macOS Monterey) while the Surface Laptop 4 comes with the Windows 10 Home operating system out of the box (and a free Upgrade to Windows 11). 

Both OS have their loyal fans, and many users usually prefer one over the other depending on their preferences and needs. The macOS is big on delivering an incredibly seamless experience, which makes it ideal for creative workloads, while the Windows OS prides itself on versatility.

If you’re unsure about which operating system you should pick, it would behoove you to read our reviews.

When it comes to other features, however, the MacBook Air might have a bit of an edge over the Surface Laptop 4. That’s due to its fanless design, which means that it can perform intensive workloads – even video editing – without ever running fans to stay cool. That’s a brilliant engineering feat if you ask us. It stays not just cool under pressure, but beautifully quiet as well.

As for the rest of the features, both laptops seem to be on even footing again. Both are lacking in the port (the MacBook Air only comes with two Thunderbolt 3 ports and an audio jack, the Surface Laptop 4 only has one USB-C, one USB-A and an audio jack) and webcam (both are limited to 720p cameras) departments.

For fast and secure logins, the Surface Laptop 4 does come with Windows’ extremely convenient Windows Hello face authentication. However, the MacBook Air’s TouchID is just as reliable and secure.

MacBook Air vs Surface Laptop 4: Performance

Both laptops are also about on par with each other regarding battery life. While Microsoft promises up to 19 hours of battery life on the Surface Laptop 4 and Apple claims up to 18 hours of video playback on the MacBook Air, we found both devices to fall a bit short on those promises. Both laptops have averaged around 11 hours in our looped video playback test, a few hours short of either manufacturer’s rating.

Still, 11 hours is nothing to joke about. That means you’re getting an all-workday battery life and a bit of extra juice to unwind with after.

However, there is a huge difference between the two in terms of performance. The Surface Laptop 4 is powerful in its own right and a multitasking machine that can also tackle 4K video editing workloads. However, it will feel a little sluggish when performing those graphics-intensive creative tasks next to the MacBook Air.

Thanks to its M1 chip, the MacBook Air is designed to not only tackle 4K video editing workloads like a champ, but also handle some 8K ones as well. 

MacBook Air vs Surface Laptop 4: Which is right for you?

Apple MacBook Air (M1,2020)

(Image credit: Future)

Can’t decide between the MacBook Air and the Surface Laptop 4? Hopefully, we have helped narrow down the differences and similarities between the two. 

Both are robust, beautifully designed, extremely capable portable machines that come with premium extras you won’t find in just any regular laptop. Both also offer an elevated computing experience worthy of pricier models.

However, unless you just happen to have some extra cash lying around, it might be wise to pick just one. Of course, the ultimate decision is yours alone, but our recommendation is this:

If you’re a photographer, graphic designer, video editor or any type of content creator, get the MacBook Air. Its impressive display, powerful M1 chip and seamless macOS experience deliver the ideal conditions for a smoother workflow that saves you time and allows you to focus more on your creative process.

If you’re a programmer, a business professional or any type of professional whose work is centered around productivity-type tasks, the Surface Laptop 4 is a great match. Its excellent keyboard, touch screen, secure Windows Hello authentication and multi-tasking prowess – not to mention, the versatility the Windows OS offers – is just what you need to see you through the day.

Michelle Rae Uy

Michelle Rae Uy is the former Computing Reviews and Buying Guides Editor at TechRadar. She's a Los Angeles-based tech, travel and lifestyle writer covering a wide range of topics, from computing to the latest in green commutes to the best hiking trails. She's an ambivert who enjoys communing with nature and traveling for months at a time just as much as watching movies and playing sim games at home. That also means that she has a lot more avenues to explore in terms of understanding how tech can improve the different aspects of our lives.