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Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs. iPad Air


May 22, 2014

Gizmag compares the features and specs of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and Apple iPad Air

Gizmag compares the features and specs of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and Apple iPad Air

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Microsoft is branding the Surface Pro 3 as "a tablet that can replace your laptop." But, with an enormous 12-in screen, maybe the real question is whether this pseudo-laptop can replace your tablet? Let's pit its features and specs against those of the iPad Air, and see what happens.


With more customers shifting to smaller slates like the iPad mini, the iPad Air is now sitting on the larger end of the tablet spectrum. So what does that make the Surface Pro 3? Well, this sucker is likely to be the biggest tablet you've ever used. It's roughly the same size as Samsung's Galaxy Note Pro and Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2 – which felt way too big to me.

Holding both the iPad Air and Surface Pro 3 in landscape mode (like you see above), the Surface is 18 percent taller, 22 percent wider and 21 percent thicker. And in case you're curious, the Surface is 49 percent taller, 46 percent wider and 21 percent thicker than the Retina iPad mini.


The Surface Pro 3 is very light ... for its size. But it's still as heavy as 1.7 iPad Airs.


No cheap plastic in either of these slates, as Microsoft is sticking with a magnesium build for its Surface line. And yes, iPads are still made of aluminum.


There's only one silver (with black front) color option for the Surface Pro 3. Apple sells the iPad Air in both silver (white front) and space gray (black front) hues.

Display (size)

The Surface gives you a 47 percent bigger screen, which is going to be a great bonus in laptop mode. But, again, that might not necessarily be a good thing in tablet mode. I find the iPad mini's 7.9-in screen to be just about ideal, and the Surface Pro 3's display is the equivalent of 2.2 iPad mini screens.

Display (resolution)

The Surface Pro 3's display packs in the pixels a little tighter than in previous Surfaces, but probably not by a noticeable margin. The Surface also gives you 18 percent fewer pixels per inch than the iPad Air's sharp Retina Display does.


Microsoft's "Surface Pen" stylus is a big part of the company's flagship 2-in-1. It comes in handy when navigating those Windows desktop apps that were never designed for fat fingers. The Surface Pro 3's pen also has a clicker on its end (much like you'd find on an ink pen) that automatically opens Microsoft's OneNote app.


Of course we're looking at a desktop PC processor and a mobile processor, so there's only so much comparing you can do here. The Surface's 4th-gen. Intel Core processors are more powerful, but, then again, they're also driving a full desktop operating system.

You'll also want to keep in mind that the clock speed listed for the Surface is for the Intel Core i5 model, which isn't the entry-level version (it starts at US$1,000 without a keyboard).


We're also looking at desktop-like amounts of RAM in the Surface, and more typical mobile amounts of RAM in the iPad. RAM is actually one area where Apple could afford to upgrade the next iPad. A bit too often, it runs out of memory when multitasking between apps and browser tabs, annoyingly requiring those apps or web pages to refresh.


Continuing with this "two different animals" theme, the Surface has more PC-like storage options, while the iPad has mobile-like storage options.

MicroSD card slot

You can also augment the Surface's internal storage by popping in a microSD card.

USB 3.0

Apple has never (and almost certainly will never) put a USB port in an iPad. Microsoft was more than happy to put one in the Surface Pro 3.

Cellular data

You can buy the iPad Air in either Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi + LTE models. This Surface is strictly sold in a Wi-Fi only configuration.


Until we put the Surface Pro 3 through the paces, we can't say much definitively about its battery life. Microsoft is, however, estimating that it will last 9 hours if you're only surfing the web.


Megapixels never tell the whole story, but they can give you a ballpark estimate of what kind of camera you're getting. The resolutions on the two devices' rear cameras are tied up in that department.

Software platform

The Surface Pro 3 runs Windows 8.1 Pro, so you can not only run Start Screen (Windows Store) apps, but also any old Windows desktop apps. The iPad Air runs Apple's iOS 7.

Microsoft Office

If you're tied to Microsoft's industry-standard Office, then you can run a version of the suite on either device. The Surface runs full-blown desktop Office, while the iPad runs the surprisingly comparable iOS version. You'll have to pay for access to Office on either platform.

If you want some free office suite action, then the iPad includes Apple's iWork suite for free with your purchase. The Surface, meanwhile, can run free alternatives like OpenOffice, LibreOffice and Google's web-based Docs.

Side-by-side multitasking

Rumors are pointing to Apple adding side-by-side multitasking in iOS 8, but the iPad doesn't do that yet. Microsoft's ad agency is more than happy to remind you that Windows 8.X devices like the Surface can do that right now.


Before you get too excited about the Surface Pro 3, you might want to take a close look at this category. Pre-orders for the Core i5 versions ($1,000 and up) are scheduled to ship by June 20. If you want either the cheapest Core i3 Surface or the high-end Core i7, then your estimate is "by August 31." By that time we should be creeping closer to the next iPad release.

Starting price

You can almost buy two iPad Airs for the price of one Surface. And no, I didn't fail grade school math – I'm including the Surface's Type Cover in that assessment. Because there's really no point in buying a Surface unless you're also going to throw down for Microsoft's $130 keyboard cover. Otherwise you're just left with an oversized tablet that can't replace your laptop.

Stay tuned for more from Gizmag on the Surface Pro 3. And for more on the iPad Air, you can read our full review from back in November.

Buy this on Amazon About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Before finding a home at Gizmag, he had stints at a number of other sites, including Android Central, Geek and the Huffington Post. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica. All articles by Will Shanklin

Who gives a damn about Gates Crap that always has huge problems of intrusion?

And all he ever does is copy with poor taste.

When they last met the question was posed, What do you admire in each other. Gates said Steve's taste. That was something of an insult because Steve's intellect was so much more, so of course Steve did not reply, implying nothing.

All Gates ever did is copy other people's work in theft mode.


Island Architect

Hate Microsoft much lately Bill.

On the remark to intrusion. There isn't a company yet that has not had a problem with intrusion. Look at Google, Apple, Yahoo, etc.


Island Architect, you give Gates too much credit. This 'Surface' (daft name) is derivative and pointless. It's a me-too product hurriedly concocted to answer the iPad. M$ took a $900m write down on the failure that is 'surface' - funded wholly by Office/Windows revenue earned with illegal and reprehensible business practices that shut out competition and kept the world in a technological dark age that is only now being challenged by Apple.


Ipad era is OVER... Microsoft has come to liberate us from Apple's closed ecosystem...

IMHO as a student the reason Ipad was the go to tablet was the paper like aspect ratio... I cant believe it took 5 years for the competiton to figure out widescreen tablets are toys best suited for tranquilizing youngsters with mobile media...

Way, way, way over due...

Adriaan Knox

Boring, uninformed, and lightly (relative to the comments) biased 'comparison' that requires both devices to be taken out of context.

The iPad is a good product, but its advantages will pretty much evaporate every time you need to go get your laptop for a task you could just as easily have done straight on the Surface. One former Apple fan said it best on another site; there's just something great about, after years of switching back and forth between devices, being able to go 'well shit, I can just do it all from here'.

Drake Richter

'Adriaan': It's funny how M$ fans don't see the writing on the wall. Sorry to break the news, but everyone knows the 'Surface' has already failed. Every tablet M$ sells loses them money. You are a student? Are you studying economics?!

Sorry pal but you've got it backwards. It is Apple that is liberating us from the M$ monopoly. The geek is winning against the school bully. Also, iOS is not closed. Anyone can write an app, and iOS devs have earned $7b (that's b for billion) so far by doing just that. Just ask the guys who made Angry Birds.

Again, M$ has lost almost a billion dollars on their failed attempt to answer the iPad. That is NOT what anyone could call a success.

No, the dark ages of M$ bloat are over. Get used to it. (FYI: The 128 GB Surface Pro only ships with 83 GB of free space. The 64 GB Surface ships with a measly 23 GB of usable storage.)


@Neil, Its funny how Apple Fans cant see this product is not aimed at the same market as the IPad so its not attempting to answer for the IPad, but as a laptop replacement product, It comes with a full OS, its not designed to be a large screen for running Apps and Games such as Angry Birds... If I want to play arcade games then sure the IPad is great, if I want to do serious work then the surface is much better.

Buy a tool to do a job... not a fashion trend, if I want Social Media and mini games Ill get a tablet, if I want Office, Real Games go Windows (surface, laptops, desktops) if I want photo video editing, Ill get a Mac.

"It is Apple that is liberating us from the M$ monopoly. The geek is winning against the school bully." - I see your IPad requires a apple charger, a apple pc cable, apple software, apple store, Itunes, apple accounts... seems you have fallen into slavery so one brand there, remind me again how this is liberation...


Well as an original iPad owner (iPad 1) I can't begin to tell you how pssed I am from getting screwed over by Apple. Within months after buying the iPad 2 years ago Apple was rolling out IOS upgrades whiched seemed like every couple of months. The problem with those updates is that they were geared more for the newer devices which have higher memory. This has pretty much rendered my original iPad useless when it comes to Facebook, iTunes, etc because the dmn thing crashes left and right. It would have been. Ice for Apple to offer us original iPad customers the choice to roll back the updates to a more stable IOS but NO! Their answer is to force us to go out and purchase a new iPad. I'm not spending another $800 plus on another Apple product for fear they'll screw me over again.

Tony Johnson

Dear Microsoft (my liberator from the Totalitarian Regime known as IOS),

If you give me a Surface Pro 3 I will commit my weekends to standing in front of Apple Stores disuading would be victims from being taken by Apples machine... Currently I am a member of the other sides market forces. Meaning I own an Ipad2 (weeping), with its hideously ostentatious black Apple logo broadcasting my supposed loyalties whenever I use it... (THEY WILL PAY FOR MAKING ME A TOOL OF THEIR PROPOGANDA MACHINE!) Together, we will smash Apple...

One Surface Pro 3 sent to me promptly may change the tide in our favor... Who would deny the Pro 3's utility? Let those who oppose us continue into the Apple Store and be pounced upon by the minions of Macintosh, while we roam free, running full programs and rolling in the glorious grass that is the iconic default XP background image of yesteryears gone past...

*written on my Ipad

Adriaan Knox

This whole article and the ONLY think that iPad wins at, is Price. The author's closing comment is about how it doesn't come with a keyboard however, neither does an iPad. The iPad, as well as the Surface Pro, come with virtual keyboards. I am typing this on my iPad 1 (bought the day it came out) with an Apple BT Keyboard...Guess what? Surface Pro 3 also allows bluetooth keyboards...Problem solved.

For people stuck on Apple's iPad 1 (since they left us behind), there is no competition. As soon as I can afford one, I will be replacing my iPad with a Surface Pro. I will be using my Apple BT Keyboard until I feel like buying a keyboard cover, if I ever do.

The only thing I will miss is the dizzying array of apps available in the app store.

The author did leave a few things out. First, unlike ALL other tablets that use a "Pen", the Surface uses palm recognition. This allows for natural writing and drawing by placing your palm on the surface of...the surface without screwing up the work. All other tablets require you to ONLY touch the surface of the tablet with the pen.

Memory? It is expandable - enough said. Between OneDrive and SD Cards you have more than enough room to store items.

Bottom line, if money isn't and issue, the Surface is clearly the better choice. Most of the Apps I use on my Ipad ARE MS Products (OneNote, OneDrive, and Office)

I like Apple and, for now, my iPhone is safe but Surface and iPad are not comparable. They're not geared toward the same user. Want a play thing that CAN do some serious work or do you want a serious mobile device that can also be a play thing?

Dave Niezabitowski Sr.

Before I start it should be pointed out that I have used both of these computers. That said, the article is very biased in favor of the iPad, which for the most part comes up short in my estimation.

Screen size must mean something to Apple, since they are in the process of increasing it on their next version of the iPhone. The Surface sports two 5 mp cameras - so calling this a draw is imbecilic, especially if you are a Skype user.

During the thirty years pent in the computer industry, I've seen great changes in computers, but must confess that every company I've worked for in the past ten sported laptops with docking stations - which is available as an option with the Surface.

So, once again I must come down on the side of the Surface for anyone interested in a fully functional computer; as I'd rather spend the cash than wait for Apple to catchup!

Steve Schaefer

How can you possibly argue that Microsoft copy tech from Apple? Apple have never released a unique product. Apple's strength comes from creating a polished product from other peoples innovations not from innovation it's self. Look at the work done by Microsoft Labs. Where are the Apple Future vision Video's? they don't exist as apple doesn't have a vision for the future, they wait to see what everyone else does and go from there. And if you are going to argue please do so by backing it with an example of an ORIGINAL apple concept not a refinement on an existing one.

Daniel Sutton
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