When Microsoft released the first Surface tablet, it was mainly trying to show computer makers what a touchscreen PC might look like and what it could do.
Now, though, the company has turned the Surface into a full business, offering a lineup of four different devices. And the computers are so good even Apple is following Microsoft’s lead.
There are cheaper computers out there. But if you want one that combines the premium quality of an Apple device with the flexibility (and touchscreen) of a Windows 10 laptop, you should check out the Surface line first.
Here’s how to choose among the different Surface computers, going from the least expensive model to the priciest.
Surface Pro — $799 and up
What is it? A tablet-laptop hybrid. The flagship of the Surface lineup, the Pro used to be sold as the “tablet that can replace your laptop,” but Microsoft now calls it “the most versatile laptop in the world.” It’s still a tablet, though — you’ll have to buy the keyboard separately.
What you need to know: Microsoft basically invented the whole idea of the two-in-one PC, and this is still the cream of the crop. It’s super-light and extraordinarily thin. It’s great for sketching drawings or taking notes, and it offers both a bright screen and rock-solid PC performance.
Comparable Apple product: The MacBook Air or the iPad Pro. Unlike the MacBook Air, though, it offers a touchscreen. And unlike the iPad Pro, it can run a desktop class operating system — in its case, Windows 10 — and the full, non-compromised versions of software like Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office.
What’s the catch? It uses a kickstand to stay upright, which is fine on a desk, but makes the Pro extremely difficult to use on your lap.
Price: From $799 to $2,699. Additionally, you’ll want the Surface Pro Type Cover keyboard, which costs $129 or $159 if you opt for the fabric-covered version. You might also want to add the $99 Surface Pen stylus.
Last update: Mid-June 2017
Surface Laptop — $999 and up
What is it? A really good laptop. Unlike other Surface devices, there’s no obvious gimmick with the Laptop — unless you count its funky fabric-covered keyboard. It has a 13.5-inch touchscreen display and a well-designed layout for its keyboard and trackpad. You also have the option to get it in four different colors.
What you need to know: It’s aimed primarily at college students, but pound for pound, and dollar for dollar, the Surface Laptop is a great all-around machine.
Comparable Apple product: The MacBook
What’s the catch? Microsoft ships the Surface Laptop with Windows 10 S — a new version of the operating system that’s supposed to improve performance and security but comes with a frustrating trade off. It will only allow you to install apps that come from the Windows Store. Fortunately, you can upgrade the Surface Laptop to regular Windows 10, and through the end of the year, Microsoft is waiving its $49 upgrade fee.
Oh, and another downside: The fabric-covered keyboard is kind of a crumb magnet.
Price: From $999 to $2,199.
Last update: Mid-June 2017
Surface Book — $1,499 and up
What is it? A powerful laptop targeted at professionals. It has a detachable screen that can be used a fully-functional tablet in its own right. It’s the coolest thing if you’ve ever seen it in action.
What you need to know: It’s pricey, but you get what you pay for — this is pretty much as good as it gets in all-around Windows 10 laptops. Some pricier models include a dedicated graphics chip, giving them additional gaming and video-editing chops.
Comparable Apple product: The MacBook Pro
What’s the catch? There’s not much of one, except that with the detachable tablet feature, you might be paying extra for something you seldom use. The removable screen is a plus for sketchers and note-takers, but not necessarily a must-have for other users. Meanwhile, the Surface Book’s funky hinge design means it doesn’t close with its screen flush to its keyboard like your average laptop.
Price: From $1,499 to $3,199 for the standard version. Microsoft also offers a more powerful version called the “Surface Book with Performance Base” that starts at $2,399, but most users won’t need it.
Last update: Late 2015