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iPad Air vs. Surface 2

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October 31, 2013

Gizmag compares the features and specs of the iPad Air and Surface 2

Gizmag compares the features and specs of the iPad Air and Surface 2

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Despite hitting some hard times, Microsoft's Surface is still somewhere near the top of the list of 10-inch iPad alternatives. But is the Surface 2 worth a look over the new iPad Air? Or is that goose already cooked? Join Gizmag, as we compare the tablets' features and specs.

Update: For more, you can check out our hands-on comparison of the latest Surfaces and iPads.

Desktop apps

Just to clear up any confusion, neither tablet runs desktop software

Microsoft's Surface brand can be a little confusing. The company pitches it as a productivity-based tablet that runs Windows, but only half of the Surfaces on the market run full Windows ... which puts a real damper on the other half's potential for productivity.

Like the original Surface RT before it, the Surface 2 runs the limited Windows RT 8.1, which only gives you the Start Screen (or Modern UI) part of Windows. Okay, there technically is a desktop, but it's only there for Office. Traditional Windows desktop apps don't have a seat at this party.

On the Surface 2, all of your software is going to come from the Windows Store, which isn't in the same league (in terms of quantity or quality) as the iPad's iOS App Store. If you want a Surface that runs Windows desktop apps, then you'll want to look at the Surface Pro or Surface Pro 2.

The iPad, of course, doesn't natively run any desktop apps either, but it's also unlikely you'd ever get the impression that it did.

Size

The iPad Air is 16 percent thinner

Despite having a similar size of screen, the iPad Air is a much smaller tablet. It's 13 percent shorter and 16 percent thinner than the Surface 2.

Weight

The iPad Air lives up to its name, and is 29-31 percent lighter than the Surface

The iPad Air is a certified featherweight that lives up to its name. Even the heavier cellular version is 29 percent lighter than the Surface 2. The Wi-Fi only model, meanwhile, is 31 percent lighter than Microsoft's tablet.

Build

it's aluminum vs. Microsoft's custom magnesium alloy

The iPad Air, like just about every other Apple product, is made of aluminum. The full-sized iPad's design and construction also now match the iPad mini. The Surface, meanwhile, uses the same "VaporMg" (magnesium alloy) material from the first crop of Surfaces.

Kickstand

Only the Surface gives you a built-in kickstand

Like all other Surfaces, the Surface 2 has a built-in kickstand, which now supports two different angles. The iPad doesn't have a kickstand, but you can buy covers that achieve a similar end.

Keyboard covers

Don't forget that the iPad has keyboard covers too

The Surface's keyboard cover is a big part of Microsoft's marketing, but you can pick up third-party covers for the iPad too. Logitech and Belkin have already announced upcoming covers for the iPad Air, and other vendors will surely follow suit.

The biggest differences between the Surface's and iPad's covers are that the iPad covers don't have trackpads (the iPad doesn't support mouse input), and their design schemes don't blend quite as seamlessly with the tablet.

Colors

The Surface 2 is only available in one color option

The iPad Air is available in two different color options, while the Surface 2 is only sold in one black & silver model.

Display

The iPad Air gives you 94 percent as much screen area, but the Surface only gives you 66 p...

A 10.6-in screen is a lot bigger than a 9.7-in screen, right? Well, it is bigger, but maybe not by as wide a margin as you'd think. Different aspect ratios have the iPad Air's screen giving you 94 percent as much real estate as the Surface's.

Size is close, but resolution isn't. The iPad wins that round, with the Surface 2 only giving you 66 percent as many pixels. The Surface's screen should look plenty sharp in laptop mode (where it typically sits farther from your eyes), but when used as a tablet, the iPad's Retina Display will look noticeably sharper.

The Surface's widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio basically makes it a landscape mode tablet. Its oblong screen makes it a little awkward in portrait mode. The iPad's 4:3 aspect ratio is great for portrait mode, and fits landscape use as well.

Processor

The iPad's A7 chip wins the performance battle

Never mind the above cores and clock speeds, because the iPad Air's A7 chip wins this battle. The Surface's Tegra 4 has plenty of zip, and its performance shouldn't be an issue, but the iPad comes out ahead there.

Storage

The base level Surface doubles the entry-level 16 GB in the iPad Air

The entry-level Surface 2 gives you double the internal storage of the cheapest iPad Air. The Surface also lets you pop in a microSD card, something no iOS device has ever let you do.

Ports

The Surface is more versatile in terms of ports

The Surface is a bit more versatile in expanding its capabilities, as it has a USB 3.0 port. It also adds a micro HDMI port for video out.

There are adapters that let you do many of the same things via the iPad's Lightning port, but that will typically be pricier (and sometimes more limited) than USB-based solutions.

RAM

The Surface 2 doubles the iPad Air's 1 GB of RAM

We suspected 1 GB of RAM in the iPad Air, and our hands-on benchmarks confirmed that. That's half what the Surface gives you, though we wouldn't sweat this too much (or at all) when it comes to performance.

Wireless

Microsoft says an LTE version of the Surface 2 will launch sometime in 2014

At launch, only the iPad Air is available in a Wi-Fi + LTE model. The Surface 2 should have a cellular model coming sometime in 2014.

Battery

manufacturer battery estimates are both ten hours, though for different uses

Both manufacturers estimate ten hours of battery life, though Apple's estimate is for web surfing, while Microsoft's is for video playback.

Cameras

Both devices' cameras should be about what you'd expect from a tablet

You probably won't do any serious photography with either tablet, but both will take solid enough photos and let you video chat in HD.

Bundled office software

Both tablets include their respective companies' office suites, free of charge

The Surface 2 includes the RT version of Microsoft Office, which looks and functions almost exactly the same as its desktop equivalent. Apple's iOS version of the iWork suite just went free for the first time, and is now included with every iPad purchase.

Starting prices

The Surface starts at $50 cheaper, and also gives you double the storage (but you'll have ...

The iPad starts at US$50 more expensive than the Surface 2. And remember the entry-level Surface also doubles the internal storage of the $500 iPad Air. Just don't forget that Microsoft's Touch and Type Covers – an integral part of the Surface experience – will set you back an extra $120-130.

Wrap-up

No single product is for everyone, and we aren't here to give you a one-size-fits-all answer. But from where we stand now, we think the iPad Air will be the better buy for most tablet shoppers. Not only does it give you a sleek new build, beastly A7 chip, and sharp display, but – most importantly – it has a far superior app selection. Developers have been packing the App Store chock full of tablet apps since early 2010. The Windows Store has only been around for a year, and, though you can eke together functional equivalents in most app categories, the selection isn't in the same ballpark.

What about productivity? Well, as much as we like Microsoft's Touch and Type Covers, the iPad also has those third-party keyboard covers. And remember Microsoft's covers are sold separately anyway. We do think that the Surface Pro, with its legacy desktop apps, can have a productivity advantage over the iPad. But it's hard to argue that the Surface 2's Windows Store has a leg up on the App Store in terms of work-oriented software.

The ace up the Surface 2's sleeve is Microsoft Office. If your work or personal life centers around Office, and Apple's iWork suite just won't cut it for you, then maybe that will be enough to nudge you towards the Surface.

For more on the iPad Air, you can read our review, and see how it compares to older full-sized iPads.

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About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin covers consumer technology for Gizmag. He's previously written for Android Central, Geek, GottaBeMobile, Android Police, and The Huffington Post.
He lives in New Mexico, U.S., with his lovely wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
12 Comments

Although the MS Surface appears to offer more storage, the ACTUAL storage of a 32GB Surface is actually LESS than that available on the 16GB iPad Air.

mjstilw
1st November, 2013 @ 04:25 am PDT

Even with the somewhat big piece of the storage pie taken up by Windows, it offers a no-brainer solution in the form of a micro-sd slot. Add to that the ability to store your backups on a flash drive and you end up with tons of versatile storage.

I'm a Surface Pro user and I still want an iPad for stuff. The notion that they are competitors is more superficial than realistic - until you factor in budget. Most people can't, won't, or simply can't justify buying two devices with so much overlapping functionality. That's where, if/when MS' App Store begins to approach the diversity and size of Apple's, the competition will begin. There are obviously many variables (too many to realistically count), but if the development curves remain proportional to today's, MS will have an iPad beater in another two years or so. And by "beater" I mean a tablet that will exceed the iPad on all levels including app availability. That's my main draw to the iPad now - the apps I use on my iPhone on a daily basis are still missing in Win8. Hopefully that's a temporary problem.

Vince Pack
1st November, 2013 @ 06:57 am PDT

I agree with Vince Pack. If the Surface is anything like desktop version I would prefer it simply because I would have - hopefully - control over the which and where from - of the applications I install. A quickly replaceable SD card would be an extra large bonus.

pmshah
1st November, 2013 @ 07:35 am PDT

The implication here is that the battery life is similar, perhaps favoring the Surface 2. But that's just a lazy look at the specs, not an analysis based on real-life usage or a controlled test. Walt Mossberg used his standard torture test for battery life and found this: "The battery performance of the iPad Air simply blew me away.… The iPad has almost always met its claims and beat competitors by a wide margin…. This new iPad Air just kept going, clocking a battery life of 12 hours and 13 minutes, which exceeded Apple's claim by more than 20%."

Mark Block
1st November, 2013 @ 10:15 am PDT

I never played with Win Rt, but I believe iOS must be much more user friendlier. I also heard the surf2 lacks on quality on it's built.

Donald Burgres
1st November, 2013 @ 11:17 am PDT

I have both an iPad mini & Surface Pro. Both are excellent machines, but here's why I get very annoyed at the iPad: (1) No USB connectivity. I can send files by Dropbox when I'm around a wifi, but I'd like to just be able to plug in a thumb drive - as I can on the Surface. (2) The iPad app selection is enormous, but the Apps app doesn't provide enough information for you to make a meaningful comparison among similiarly-functional apps. Install and see? That OK for free apps, but I've wasted a lot of money on pay apps that didn't prove suitable. Apple should have a 48-hour wait period before pay apps are charged, allow you to delete them in that period if they don't work for you.

Terence Kuch
1st November, 2013 @ 03:47 pm PDT

Good article.

Question. Do you not see how someone might also prefer the user interaction of the Surface RT2 (windows tile 8.1) to the iPad (iOS)? I've used several tablets and Windows 8.1 on a tablet trumps anything on iOS or Android when it comes to user experience imo.

Yes, iOS ecosystem trumps 8.1 RT

Yes, Android ecosystem trumps 8.1 RT

Using 8.1 RT is more enjoyable (snap windows, multitasking, swipping between open apps) than using an iPad or Nexus device.

Dre' Reavis
2nd November, 2013 @ 09:57 am PDT

I would love to know why everytime someone does a comparison of iPad vs Surface they always want to compare the "best" iPad on the market against the lower rated Surface RT or Surface 2. The "best" Surface tablet is the Surface Pro 2 with decent battery life AND the ability to install decades of programs designed for Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows 8, giving you 10 times the "apps" designed for the iPad vis a vis "programs". Who needs apps when I can have all the "programs" I want.

Size: I can agree with what is stated here.

Build: Yes, they are made of different material, however you should have let your readers know that the VaporMg (magnesium alloy) is a must stronger material able to withstand much more punishement than aluminum.

Weight: The reason the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2 is so much heavier is because of the battery Microsoft uses in the device to compete with the battery life of the iPads. The Surface Pro 2 is still under 2 lbs even with the extra sized battery. Light isn't always better.

Kickstand? Why would I have to add expense to purchase a kickstand for an iPad, when Surface 2 comes with one for free? In fairness, I will admit that the Surface Pro 2 does not come with a keyboard and would need to be purchased for that as well.

Keyboard: I prefer the keyboard with the trackpad because it means I have the ability to use my tablet as a laptop with my previous Windows software. Not to mention the multiple colors available, black, cyan, magenta, purple and they light up in the dark, and come with adapters for wireless connectivity. There is also a stylus, and mice that have bluetooth connectivity as well as a docking station to connect everything including an HDMI TV out.

Colors: Really?! Does anyone REALLY think there's that much difference in black, white and silver? Besides, the Surface Keyboards can add color to the tablet.

Display: I am honest enough to agree that the iPad's screen is vastly better in terms of sharpness, however, the Surface Pro HD screen for watching videos does beat the iPad in this area as there is no "black boxes" while watching the video, and the Intel HD Graphics 4400 graphics card with 1GHz processing allows for very smooth video playback. Also, Surface and Surface 2 need an adaptor like the iPad to connect to HDMI, however the Surface Pro and Surface Pro2 use microHDMI connections that don't require any special connector or adaptor, just use any microHDMI cable.

Processor: Once again comparing the "best" processor for Apple against the weakest processor on the Surface. The Surface Pro 2 has the new Intel Haswell i5-4200U processor 3M Cache 2.60 GHz which is much faster and more powerful than the 1.7 GHz A7 processor. The Intel processor is also designed by Intel to work flawlessly with their HD Graphics 4400 graphic card.

Storage: The Surface Pro 2 is available with up to 512 GBs on board storage with the ability to add up to another 128GB microSD card. Being honest, this configuration WOULD be extremely pricey, but nonetheless it IS available. Plus with any of the Surface tablets, you get USB 3.0 to add external storage capability. I personally have a USB 3.0 1.5 terabyte external HDD that only measure 3 X 3.5 X .5 inches. Easy to carry and connect.

Ports: Thanks to the author for being honest about the ports. Nothing to complain about here.

RAM: The Surface Pro 2 comes with 4 to 8 GBs of RAM.

Wireless: Yes, Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 will be available in Wi-Fi and Cellular starting in 2014.

Battery: While both the iPad Air and the Surface 2 will get 10 hours of battery life, the Surface Pro 2 will get up to 7 hours even with the Intel Haswell i5 processor. Faster speed, more processing power, better graphics capability and laptop functionality is well worth the loss of 3 hours battery life in my opinion. Plus Microsoft is planning a battery keyboard that will extend the battery by another 5 to 6 hours. Granted all this extra battery weight will make the tablet a lot heavier.

Camera: Fair enough. Both seem to have good cameras.

Bundled Office Software: Outside of Apple's attempt to copy Office Suite, what else can you install on the iPad? Nothing but apps! Surface Pro 2 will allow me to install any program I have had since Windows XP alongside all the available and up and coming apps from the Microsoft Store. But like I said before, who really needs apps?

Price: Yes, the prices is cheaper for the iPad Air when compared to the Surface Pro 2, but for the extra money you get multiple times the functionality, storage and historical program usage. Besides, how often to you hear Apple buyers complaining about the price of Apple products?

Looking forward to the iPad Air vs Surface Pro 2 comparison articles soon.

Mark Binder
14th November, 2013 @ 09:14 am PST

Two works Mark,

Malware, viruses. See as much as I love the Surface RT2, I DISLIKE Win32 code. I also hate being REQUIRED to install antivirus software on my tablet. That defeats the purpose of "my" tablet experience. Might a well bring in a Macbook Air... and compare it to the Surface Pro.

I can't believe you want to install a bunch of non-touch based apps and run them on a tablet with a 10" display. Window XP based apps on a touch device that you're spending that much money on?

Dre' Reavis
29th November, 2013 @ 09:33 pm PST

If Microsoft would get on their game and get people to develop apps for their store the Surface would still be behind the iPad in my opinion. But I think "tablets" are a dying breed anyway. Ive seen the future and it's the Surface Pro model. It made all the craziness of windows 8 make sense. If you haven't seen an sp2 (or other full OS tablet) check it out. The SP2 is almost twice the money which is lame, but they're pretty freaking cool.

WillMaj
15th December, 2013 @ 09:59 am PST

I have the Surface with RT and it was a bust. Slow as dirt and the win 8 sidebars pop up too often. I'm a Windows guy but with tablets, my Ipad is the best. I had a Surface (gave it away) a kindle fire HD, Dell XPS 10.5, 2 IPads, and am about to go get an Ipad Air

Roy Beaty
25th December, 2013 @ 09:31 am PST

You have hands down the BEST Review Article Layout.

I registered just to compliment on your layout and reviewing. It makes it very clear and to the point. I will Now start coming here for reviews more often.

Keep up the great work.

_WallBreaker_
18th May, 2014 @ 11:37 pm PDT
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