Tech: Microsoft has a full lineup of computers that all rival Apple's Macs — here's how to choose among them (MSFT, AAPL)



Microsoft Surface Studio is a cool, gigantic, touchscreen Windows 10 PC.

Microsoft now has four devices that are all worthy rivals to Apple's Macs. Here's what you need to know.

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 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 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 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, the Surface Pro offers a touchscreen. And unlike the iPad Pro, it can run a desktop-class operating system — in its case, Windows 10 — and the full, noncompromised 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.

Read more about the Surface Pro »

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 one of four 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 allow you to install only apps that come from the Windows Store. 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.

Read more about the Surface Laptop »

Surface Book — $1,499 and up

What is it? A powerful laptop targeted at professionals. It has a detachable screen that can be used as a fully functional tablet. 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 with 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.

Read more about the Surface Book »

Surface Studio — $2,999 and up

What is it? An all-in-one PC. The Surface Studio is unusually stylish, with a big, beautiful, 28-inch screen. The neat part is you can tilt its screen backward to a 20-degree angle, turning the computer into a big, beautiful digital sketching canvas.

What you need to know: Once you've used a Surface Studio, it's hard to go back to any other computer. Using it as a tablet, with its screen tilted back, is weirdly addictive. It's so easy to tilt the screen, you'll take any chance to do it. For day-to-day usage, it's about as good as it gets.

Comparable Apple Product: The iMac.

What's the catch? It's expensive. Also, it's not exactly a gaming PC, if that matters. And this may sound obvious, but as a desktop PC, the Studio doesn't offer the same portability as other Surface devices.

Price: From $2,999 to $4,199.

Last update: Late 2016.

Read more about the Surface Studio »

BONUS: Surface Hub — $8,999 and up

What is it? A mega-sized tablet for conference rooms. The forgotten member of the Surface family, the Surface Hub looks like a big-screen TV (or a jumbo-sized one if you get the larger model). It supports ultra-high-resolution HD video. And it's flanked by HD cameras, infrared sensors, and speakers.

What you need to know: The Surface Hub is designed to be the center of every meeting, whether the meeting is in the same room, is being teleconferenced, or is a combination of the two. If you sketch on its screen, the Hub will relay your drawings to fellow participants' PCs, phones, and tablets. And Skype is a click away.

For fun, you can fly around in Microsoft's map apps or play Candy Crush Saga on a gigantic, 84-inch display. It's weirdly addictive.

Comparable Apple product: I don't know. A really big iPad?

What's the catch? You can't pick one up on your next Costco splurge session. Even if you could afford it, the Surface Pro is available through only the kinds of equipment resellers your IT department deals with.

Price: The 54-inch model starts at $8,999. The 84-inch version starts at $21,999.

Last update: Early 2016.

Read more about the Surface Hub »



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