Mobile Technology

Microsoft Surface Pro vs. iPad

We compare the specs - and other features - of the Microsoft Surface Pro and iPad 4
We compare the specs - and other features - of the Microsoft Surface Pro and iPad 4
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Battery capacity is similar, but the iPad should get over double the battery life of Surface
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Battery capacity is similar, but the iPad should get over double the battery life of Surface
The iPad's cameras are superior
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The iPad's cameras are superior
These are two different classes of processors, with Surface's chip more typically found in laptops
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These are two different classes of processors, with Surface's chip more typically found in laptops
Surface is one thick tablet
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Surface is one thick tablet
Surface's display is larger, but the iPad's is sharper
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Surface's display is larger, but the iPad's is sharper
We compare the specs - and other features - of the Microsoft Surface Pro and iPad 4
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We compare the specs - and other features - of the Microsoft Surface Pro and iPad 4
Surface Pro runs Windows, while the iPad 4 runs iOS 6
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Surface Pro runs Windows, while the iPad 4 runs iOS 6
Microsoft may scare casual customers away with Surface Pro's US$899 starting price
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Microsoft may scare casual customers away with Surface Pro's US$899 starting price
Surface's available storage isn't nearly as high as these numbers suggest
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Surface's available storage isn't nearly as high as these numbers suggest
Surface is much heavier than the iPad
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Surface is much heavier than the iPad
Only the iPad offers a mobile data-enabled model
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Only the iPad offers a mobile data-enabled model
Surface Pro quadruples the iPad's RAM with 4 GB
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Surface Pro quadruples the iPad's RAM with 4 GB

Microsoft’s interest in tablets goes all the way back to 2002. The original Microsoft Tablet PCs ran Windows XP, were thick and heavy, and used styluses. They didn’t sell. But now that the iPad has made the tablet a cultural centerpiece, Microsoft has a new one. It runs Windows 8, is thick and heavy, and uses a stylus. Is Surface the future of computing, or just a retread of a past failure? Read on, as we compare the specs – and other features – of the Microsoft Surface Pro and 4th-generation iPad.

Size

Surface is one thick tablet
Surface is one thick tablet

Surface Pro is longer and narrower than the iPad, but the biggest difference is its thickness. It’s a beefy tablet, with a depth 4.1 mm greater than the iPad.

Weight

Surface is much heavier than the iPad
Surface is much heavier than the iPad

Microsoft’s Surface Pro is also much heavier than the iPad: by a whopping 254 g.

Display

Surface's display is larger, but the iPad's is sharper
Surface's display is larger, but the iPad's is sharper

The iPad has higher resolution and pixel density. But Surface’s ClearType (subpixel rendering) tech can make its display look sharper than its above-average resolution would suggest.

Processor

These are two different classes of processors, with Surface's chip more typically found in laptops
These are two different classes of processors, with Surface's chip more typically found in laptops

This is the first category that Surface clearly wins – at least in terms of raw performance. Its Intel Core i5 is the same processor found in the entry-level MacBook Air.

The iPad’s A6X, though, delivers all the performance iOS requires, while taking much less of a hit on battery life.

RAM

Surface Pro quadruples the iPad's RAM with 4 GB
Surface Pro quadruples the iPad's RAM with 4 GB

Surface Pro’s RAM is also laptop-like, with 4 GB next to the iPad’s 1 GB.

Storage

Surface's available storage isn't nearly as high as these numbers suggest
Surface's available storage isn't nearly as high as these numbers suggest

Why does Surface's storage have asterisks? Its usable free space falls well short of the advertised 64 GB and 128 GB: 29 GB and 89 GB, respectively.

Every mobile device offers less available storage than what’s advertised (including the iPad). But Windows 8 and Surface's recovery partition take up much more space. Surface's free space is closer to the numbers in the MacBook Air (and Ultrabooks) than other tablets.

Wireless

Only the iPad offers a mobile data-enabled model
Only the iPad offers a mobile data-enabled model

Microsoft went Wi-Fi-only with Surface. If you want mobile data, you’ll need to tether your phone or plug in a USB hotspot.

The iPad is available in both Wi-Fi-only and (more expensive) 3G/LTE models.

Battery

Battery capacity is similar, but the iPad should get over double the battery life of Surface
Battery capacity is similar, but the iPad should get over double the battery life of Surface

Don’t be fooled by the similar capacities. Surface Pro’s Intel chip and desktop operating system will drain its battery in around four hours. The iPad, with similar use, could last closer to ten hours.

Cameras

The iPad's cameras are superior
The iPad's cameras are superior

If cameras are a priority, the iPad is a much better choice. Microsoft describes both of Surface’s shooters as “720p,” which probably means about 1-megapixel.

Starting price

Microsoft may scare casual customers away with Surface Pro's US$899 starting price
Microsoft may scare casual customers away with Surface Pro's US$899 starting price

Surface Pro’s specs are Ultrabook-like, and that includes its price. If you add its keyboard (not included), you’ll be plunking down at least US$1,020.

By comparison, you can buy the 32 GB iPad (which has about the same usable storage as the 64 GB Surface Pro) along with a Bluetooth keyboard for $670.

Intangibles

Surface Pro runs Windows, while the iPad 4 runs iOS 6
Surface Pro runs Windows, while the iPad 4 runs iOS 6

Like the early Windows tablets – and unlike last year’s Surface RT – Surface Pro runs full-fledged Windows. Any Windows app that you can install on your desktop is fair game for Surface Pro. They aren’t all touch-friendly, but the included stylus (and an optional mouse) can help.

While Surface Pro brings the desktop PC into mobile, the iPad brings its iPhone roots into the world of personal computing. Apple’s App Store doesn’t have Windows’ advanced, productivity-focused apps (like, say, CS6). But it does have an app library that's 100 percent touch-friendly. You can also use the iPad’s apps all day without worrying too much about battery life.

Wrap-up

This is an uneven comparison, as Surface Pro and iPad are very different devices. Apple’s tablet fits into the company’s “post-PC” narrative, while Microsoft’s is a manifestation of its “PC-plus” mantra.

If you love Windows and want a mobile device to behave much like your PC does, then Surface is the device you’ve been waiting for. If you want a tablet primarily for reading, watching movies, and playing games, then you’re probably better off with the iPad. Its lighter body, longer battery life, and touch-friendly App Store jive more with casual use.

The present belongs to the iPad, but Microsoft is taking a stab at the future. The question is whether the company can gain enough traction to be a serious player five years from now. With Samsung, Amazon, and a host of other competitors in the tablet market, Microsoft isn't guaranteed the same success it enjoys in the desktop space.

For perhaps a more appropriate battle, check out our Surface Pro vs. MacBook Air comparison.

24 comments
TomH
Since you're making irrelivant comparisons why not do one with the iPad vs the Macbook Air. Using the same logic and comparisons the iPad is smaller, lighter and why cheaper than the Macbook Air. Afterall, that's what makes them different isn't it? You also compare the price of the most expensive Surface pro configuration with the least expensive iPad configuration.
Juan Bell Jr.
You were right about one thing this is a very irrelevant comparison, it would have made A LOT more sense to compare the Pro to the Mac Book Air because they use the same processor and are comparable in price! But of course you don't we wouldn't want the Apple fan boys to know that there is a Windows 8 tablet that's just as powerful, more affordable, thinner, weighs less and is frankly better looking! Great article!
Two Replies
And the Surface Pro's bios is open (as Microsoft recently openly pointed out to reddit users), so you can install Ubuntu (with its touch-ready UI) and insanely THIN Linux distro. Something you could NEVER do on any iDevice with Apple's blessing. Comparing ANY iPad to a non-RT Windows8 tablet is like trying to compare a bicycle (even a tricked out dual-suspension mountain bike) to a Motorcycle. You may have the more efficient means of transportation with an iPad, but the thing isn't highway legal ANYWHERE.
Loraine Michaels
I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I have had an Ipad v1 and v2 for years and frankly it’s a consumption device and is good at that. Otherwise, I can’t do anything productive easily on it. I still want a tablet form factor with full functionality that I can do everything on. If I wanted something bigger, I would find something else. If I wanted something cheaper or that could do less, then I would stick with an Ipad or mobile platform. The surface is perfect. I am saving up a little bit more to get it. Ipad = good for consumption and surface pro = good for everything in same form factor
Thomas
This must be the most Bias, unfair and crappiest comparison I've ever seen...completely discrediting MSFT !! Why not talk about the expansion slots available with surface over IPad that adds to the weight , what about the premium finish that surface has over Apple's polished aluminum !! Why not talk about windows Pro 8 and office productivity ? At least, I can sync my windows phone directly with my Ipad. . The only way to sync your IPhone with an IPad is over ITunes , requiring you to buy a third computer .
Francois Retief
Oh dear. You lost me at Microsoft Surface Pro vs. iPad. Compare it to the Mac Air if you want something comparable :-( I expected more from Gizmag.
nutcase
Seems to me looking at the flame wars raging on forums all over the net that brand loyalty is the main market driver for these gizmos.
Catweazle
You say "Microsoft’s interest in tablets goes all the way back to 2002." Actually, it goes back a good way further than that. I have an IBM Thinkpad 730T from around 1994 running Windows for Pen Computing V1.0, still working after a fashion. The screen has pivots at either side and flips over similarly to the new Dell, and works via a stylus and a hidden Wacom tablet under the LCD screen. It has a 486SX/33 CPU and a humongous 4 megs of RAM. The Notepad application has fairly effective handwriting recognition and works fairly well after a bit of training, my daughter used it effectively for some years for her school work. It is brilliant for playing Solitaire!
GS Turn
Most comments here are Microsoft faithful who have no clue what they are even talking about when trying to excuse the short comings of the Pro and the iPad. It is Microsoft who tries to compare the Surface Pro to the iPad so a comparison is valid. One comment said they are comparing the cheapest iPad to the most expensive Pro. That is not true, they compared the 32GB iPad which has more user available storage than the 64GB Pro it is being compared to, which is the cheapest Pro model. Some say the comparison should be to the MacBook Air, there are plenty of Pro vs Air comparisons out there, but it is Microsoft that is saying this thing is a tablet so comparing it to the number one tablet is a fair comparison. One comment said you can not sync the iPhone to the iPad without a 3rd computer, they do not know what they are talking about. The iPhone and iPad sync wirelessly and almost instantly over iCloud no 3rd computer ever required for either device. I can put an appointment on my iPhone and it will be synced to my iPad within seconds. I can take a Photo on my iPhone and pick up my iPad and view the photo within a few seconds. I can update a document on the iPad and it will be updated on my iPhone within seconds. Contact changes also sync in just seconds. Microsoft may have been first to the tablet market but they have a long way to go to match the performance of the iPad. The best Windows Ultra computer on the market is the MacBook Air which will run Windows just fine, but who needs Windows anymore.
PeteKK
Probably the most biased review I've read. The fact that the Surface Pro runs a full version of Windows 8 is enough to trump the iPad. Take the Surface Pro into a meeting and you have full access to Word, Excel, Power Point, outlook and any software that 99% of the world does business with. The ipad on the other hand runs none, another reason why the Surface Pro trumps the ipad. Want more? The Surface Pro not only has capacitive touch but also incorporates a real wacom tablet with stylus. Finally, People that have an art background can do real work. Want to connect to the projector in the board room? No problem, Surface Pro does that too. The Surface Pro isn't positioned to be a tablet you buy to read a book, or keep your kids occupied. It's a real tool that you can do real work on. Get a clue!
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