Mobile Technology

The best iPad Pro alternatives

The best iPad Pro alternatives
Not sold on the iPad Pro (or its high price)? New Atlas has a few alternatives to think about
Not sold on the iPad Pro (or its high price)? New Atlas has a few alternatives to think about
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Not sold on the iPad Pro (or its high price)? New Atlas has a few alternatives to think about
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Not sold on the iPad Pro (or its high price)? New Atlas has a few alternatives to think about
The iPad Air 2 with a keyboard accessory provides a similar experience
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The iPad Air 2 with a keyboard accessory provides a similar experience
The iPad Air 2 has aged well, and doesn't feel obsolete more than two years after launch
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The iPad Air 2 has aged well, and doesn't feel obsolete more than two years after launch
Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 with keyboard cover
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Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 with keyboard cover
The Galaxy Tab S2 has a Super AMOLED display with deep blacks
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The Galaxy Tab S2 has a Super AMOLED display with deep blacks
The Surface Pro 4 is a bigger and beefier product, but also lets you use desktop apps
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The Surface Pro 4 is a bigger and beefier product, but also lets you use desktop apps
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
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Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Apple's iPad Pro is a very good tablet that can transform into a mediocre faux laptop. But with a total package that starts at US$850 (iPad Pro 9.7) or $1,070 (12.9-inch model), you might be scouring the web for alternatives. We have some suggestions to save money, add versatility or perhaps both.

iPad Air 2 with keyboard

The iPad Air 2 with a keyboard accessory provides a similar experience
The iPad Air 2 with a keyboard accessory provides a similar experience

In Apple's increasingly-confusing iPad lineup, name changes have become a regular occurrence. The one that led to the most confusion, though, was rebranding the direct successor to the iPad Air 2 (and all previous 9.7-in iPads) as the iPad Pro 9.7. The name itself meant little, apart from the fact that it came alongside a $100 price hike: All previous 9.7-in models started at $499, but the Pro 9.7 jumped up to a $599 base price.

The "Pro" branding suggested a higher-end experience, but it was essentially smoke and mirrors to distract buyers from the fact that they were forking over an extra Benjamin for the iPad Air 3. (While the Pro 9.7 had plenty of upgrades from the Air 2, they're about what we'd expect for the same price point, considering it launched 18 months after its predecessor.)

The iPad Air 2 has aged well, and doesn't feel obsolete more than two years after launch
The iPad Air 2 has aged well, and doesn't feel obsolete more than two years after launch

While it won't support Apple's official keyboard cover and stylus (Apple Pencil), an iPad Air 2 with a quality third-party keyboard accessory provides a similar experience for much less money. And despite launching in late 2014, the Air 2 doesn't handle like an obsolete or highly-bogged-down tablet. (Its A8X chip is a variant of the A8 silicon found in the still-fairly-fast iPhone 6.)

The iPad Air 2 currently starts at $399 for 32 GB storage, but shop around and you may find it for significantly less (especially if you're open to a refurbished or gently used model).

Top keyboard recommendations include Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard (non-foldable version), Logitech Ultrathin Magnetic Clip-On keyboard cover and ClamCase Pro (which injects MacBook Air styling into the iPad).

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 with keyboard

Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 with keyboard cover
Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 with keyboard cover

If you want something speedier than the iPad Air 2 and aren't attached to iOS, Samsung's Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 is an affordable Android-running alternative. (It even has the same screen size, aspect ratio and resolution as the iPad.) Despite launching in mid-2015, the Tab got a processor bump last year, and runs snappily by today's standards.

It arguably has a better display than the iPad Pro's: Its Super AMOLED panel delivers the deepest blacks you'll see on a tablet. And while you lose the all-metal build of the iPad line (it has a metal frame surrounding a plastic back), the tablet is 11-percent lighter and 8-percent thinner than the iPad Pro 9.7 and Air 2.

When paired with Samsung's official keyboard cover, it even gains trackpad support with cursor input – something no iPad offers.

The Galaxy Tab S2 has a Super AMOLED display with deep blacks
The Galaxy Tab S2 has a Super AMOLED display with deep blacks

The biggest caveat is that Samsung is rumored to launch the Galaxy Tab S3 in a few weeks, at Mobile World Congress 2017. If you can hold off a while, you may get either a newer tablet for the same price or this model at a discount.

The Galaxy Tab S2 starts at $400. The official Samsung keyboard cover adds $150.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 with Type Cover

Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Microsoft Surface Pro 4

After six generations of iPads without any official keyboard or stylus accessories, why did Apple suddenly reposition its tablet as a pen-based laptop convertible? Look no further than Microsoft's Surface. The product's success forced the industry to rethink the convergence between tablets and laptops, a once-sketchy formula that's grown more convincing with each new generation.

Microsoft will likely have a successor to the Surface Pro 4 within the next few months, so this isn't the time to buy it at full price. But if you can snag a deal (there are plenty of sales at the time of publication), you get a large Windows 10 tablet that transforms into a very capable laptop.

Remember that unlike Apple's tablets, the Surface can run full desktop software, including the "real" (non-mobile) versions of productivity stalwarts like Photoshop and Lightroom.

The Surface Pro 4 is a bigger and beefier product, but also lets you use desktop apps
The Surface Pro 4 is a bigger and beefier product, but also lets you use desktop apps

On the flip side, though, the Surface's laptop internals mean it has fans – which seem to run early and often – in everything but the underpowered entry-level model. You also get a larger and less-wieldy tablet than you would in the iPad. (It's more a direct rival to the iPad Pro 12.9 than the compact 9.7.) Windows' selection of tablet apps is also nothing special.

The Surface Pro 4 technically starts at $900, with the keyboard cover adding another $130-160. But don't pay those prices now; Best Buy and Amazon currently offer them for less.

  • Buy Surface Pro 4 on Amazon
  • Buy Surface Pro 4 Type Cover on Amazon

For more on tablets and convertibles, you can check out New Atlas' latest comparison guides for tablets and 2-in-1s.

3 comments
TheExplorographer
On what planet are you getting your iPad pro starting prices from? 595.00US for the 9.7 most places. Or are you posting an alternative fact?
TonyBell
Far from an apple fandude - rant was pecked on an Android 6 device but have owned a number of tablets of various sizes and companies. Including Samsung. My money went towards an iPad Pro 12.9 w/cellular. Why? Because I got tired of having to root for updates. Samsung as with other tablet maker's will drop a cool blet only to "drop out of updates." At least with the iPP the last thing I have to worry about is updates. Heck I may even trade in my Android and return to the iPhone fold - again no or slow updates. My three cents.
Jeff Goldstein
I've owned a Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 for long while and am extremely happy with it. When I bought it, I also got a bluetooth keyboard that works with it. I still haven't even bothered to connect it. With the on screen keyboard and voice input there has been no need. I also have a stylus that works with it and again never see the need. Most people I know who have high end tablets also have laptops which are still better than tablets if you want to write long emails or need more functionality and flexibility. My wife has a Samsung Note 10 and doesn't use a PC and is very happy writing all of her emails with the on screen keyboard. I still see the tablets as great ways to view stuff but laptops as more full function. Maybe the Apple Universe is different. Does the iPad Pro use exactly the same OS with all functionality as a MacBook? BYW, I still don't see the point of the Surface Pro since you can buy both a 2 in 1 Convertible Lenovo AND a Samsung S2 for about the same money.