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Microsoft Surface Pro vs. iPad

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February 7, 2013

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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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 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

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

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...

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’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

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

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 Surfa...

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

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

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

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.

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
24 Comments

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.

TomH
7th February, 2013 @ 03:47 pm PST

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!

Juan Bell Jr.
7th February, 2013 @ 06:27 pm PST

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.

Two Replies
7th February, 2013 @ 09:42 pm PST

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

Loraine Michaels
7th February, 2013 @ 09:51 pm PST

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 .

Thomas
8th February, 2013 @ 01:18 am PST

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.

Francois Retief
8th February, 2013 @ 02:09 am PST

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.

nutcase
8th February, 2013 @ 03:53 am PST

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!

Catweazle
8th February, 2013 @ 07:33 am PST

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.

GS Turn
8th February, 2013 @ 08:42 am PST

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!

PeteKK
8th February, 2013 @ 08:53 am PST

Another dinosaur from Redmond. DOA.

morongobill
8th February, 2013 @ 08:57 am PST

It's true that fanboys will take sides, but this article is simply misleading even with the confession at the end, especially for the tl;dr crowd. My 10 year old uses an iPad for playtime, as I use a Galaxy tab for nonwork communication and leisure activities. When the 10, 12, 45, or 47 year olds in our house do homework or workwork (i.e., produce deliverables for grades or pay) only a personal computer (this includes Mac) fits the need. The bonus is that it teaches the young'uns a more robust file and hardware management approach than most adult tablet users understand or care to experience. tl;dr: curmudgeon thinks tablets are turning the popuation into mouth breathers - don't you dare compare tablets and personal computers

mobrik
8th February, 2013 @ 09:40 am PST

Why bother with either? I'm using a 'Book Reader' to post this that set me back $40 bucks. It has a 'sim slot' so I bought a 32gbs sd card online for $9.99. So now I have a 32gb tablet, expandable memory (got a few sim cards with downloaded movies) that cozt me all of $50! When the battery "dies" it will be cheaper (sadly) to buy another $40 tablet v.s. buying a replacement battery. It's "WI-FI" with about a 6 hour battery life. P.S. It's just a 7" screen. Perfect size.

Pks29733steel
9th February, 2013 @ 07:11 am PST

what the h@ck!

I so wanted to love the microsoft surface for all it was touted to be; ipad killer that can run most current windows apps with similar batt life and portability.

Being much heavier and more expensive and with a tremendously poor batt life makes this a rehash of old mistakes MS did with all its previous tablet options. No way this will upstage the ipad now.

Boo for Microsoft!!! You led me on and let me down.

Blue Lucero
10th February, 2013 @ 07:09 pm PST

I consider a tablet a clean slate LOL. Outside of the ports and iPad can be used for productivity. Are you going to be swapping files like you would a full blown laptop? No you won't Are the limitations sure. It's like with anything you get what you get for your needs but don't complain about it when you get it doesn't fill them. For me iPad fills on my needs. I've seen the surface and the pro as their impressive it's not a big deal for what I would use it for. Gaming emulation don't need it for storage as I have everything in the cloud and I have local backups of all my music video and photos. Any case like the surface pros offerings serve little purpose to implement in my lifestyle. For somebody else they may be perfect but the price the battery life are real deal breakers for me.

Steven OConnor
11th February, 2013 @ 06:44 am PST

As for Windows 8 it's okay. I just hate the built-in advertising the Microsoft provides at our annoyance. I think that's BS. I believe when you're Just looking at the weather you should have resources use advertisement videos clippings that are built inside of the upper that's a big fail for me. I just think things in the future move on as they always have. Especially productivity is going to be something that's ever-changing. Given the new tablet era touch is becoming very predominate our society with technology how we interact with productivity may go the same route.

And lastly everybody that does take sides there really is no right or wrong operating system there is no better truly worse it's what Fulfills and gives you the best experience.

Steven OConnor
11th February, 2013 @ 06:50 am PST

I found this article useful. I work in an enterprise environment and customers are asking about the MSP vs the iPad. I can now show the customers the that a comparison of the two devices is non-starter. The question is; what do I want/need in a device? Then find the device, not the other way around.

Thanks, Jim

JOskydive
23rd February, 2013 @ 05:21 am PST

I am a proud iPad owner and I don't use it for media consumption. I use it productively. I use it for work everyday. I take it everywhere and unlike the Surface it isn't overly heavy in the hand and the battery lasts more than four hours. Microsoft missed the memo because the PC is just dying a slow painful death and Microsoft is just kicking a dead horse.

Danny Bolerjack
24th February, 2013 @ 03:21 pm PST

I have been a huge Apple fan since 2009 when I decided to try them out with a MacBook Pro 13" after using "IBM PC" computers since the 80s. Mainly I just wanted to try something new. At present I have a MacBook Pro Retina 15" for work, MacBook Air 13" for home, Apple TV, iPhone 5, and iPad 2. Bought an iPad Mini, but took it back, not enough gain to me given just a smaller version of the iPad 2 I already had. I still use Windows 7 in a VM on my Macs, because after all, you pretty much have to if you want to be able to exchange MS-Project and Visio files with others. The best part of the Mac is the hardware, I have found nothing close to their trackpad and would have a really hard time giving that up.

I have used the Palm Pre, two Android, and a 3GS, 4, 4S, and now 5 on the iPhones. I think I have a little experience with gadgets... Oh, and I also bought and took back a Kindle Fire HD, but still love my regular Kindle for reading books.

I would like to think I can be objective.

I have tried over and over to use my iPad as a true productivity tool, and failed. I have tried very hard to touch type on the screen, and it slows me down too much. I got a pen so I could write notes, but if you rest your hand on the screen, it draws where your hand rests. The handwriting recognition is also slow and inaccurate in the 5 apps I tried. In the past, if you used iWork apps, animations in Keynote on your Mac were not supported on the iPad, or at least the cool ones I like to use. I think that is better with the most recent releases, but gave up long ago and have not tried it. Since some of our company is still PC, I have to use MS-Powerpoint for sharing purposes anyhow.

I just bought my son a Surface Pro, and though we have not had it long, I have done a few tests with it. In OneNote (free download), I can write as fast as I can and it recognizes my print extremely well, and fast (I stopped writing cursive in high school, so I cannot speak to that). I also really like the touch interface, though there are a lot of slide out menus from the sides and top, and many gestures to learn. Also a lot of context sensitive gestures (options change dependent on what you are doing). Much like the Mac trackpad, I think once you are used to it, you would never go back to a Mouse. On a side note, I have not used a mouse on my Mac for over 3 years. I do Visio drawings and use a product called Netformx for network diagrams, and I am happy to say I prefer the trackpad even for that.

I view the iPad as a toy for watching movies, TV, playing music, games, and specialized apps for various "work" purposes. Point of sale, scientific applications, schools, consuming content, and playing games are all great uses. I recently read that with Real Racing 2, 4 iOS devices and Apple TV make your TV look like it is running a 4-player console racing game, while the device screens can show alternate game views. VERY cool. I would have been all over that 15 years ago when I still played those sort of games.

If you want to get some real work done, at least for most of us, I would go for a Surface Pro (not the RT, because it won't run your older Win 7 apps, and is not 100% desktop app compatible). As time goes by and I get more experience, I will be able to make a better assessment once I get my own and go out in the field taking notes and drawing diagrams on it. For now, my iPad will stay in the drawer unless my granddaughters are over, and I will work on my Mac until I get the $$ in hand to get my own surface. At that point, I will be switching back and forth, using the Surface Pro when I want the tablet freedom and the ability to write rather than type.

If I were a product manager or executive at Apple, I would be trying to figure out the next big thing. Their last couple of years of advances have been hardware-related only (I do like iCloud, but you would be hard pressed to say that is innovative or new technology). They need to get back to innovating, giving us something everyone else isn't already doing. A touch screen on a laptop, and a similar device to Surface with a real CPU and OS would be nice, but something entirely new would give them the "wow factor" back that they will need to stay on top.

And while I am on it with Apple, I would like to see something new in the OS other than the evolution towards more spinning beach balls, lock-ups, and a pop up screen that lets me launch apps like I am on an iOS device. In 4 short years, the Mac OS has gone from rock solid to Windows XP-like stability. Apple: Bring back the stability of your OSX, take some of the additional processes you have added away, make web pages scroll smoothly like they do on iOS devices, and PLEASE bring us something new other than an application launch screen and the ability to share stuff on Facebook.

To the Windows / Microsoft bashers: from as objective of a position as I can take after hands-on use with a ton of devices, I say "The Surface Pro is a killer device, and is truly a revolutionary step in computing."

DanInTheRockies
9th March, 2013 @ 08:10 am PST

Thank You DaninTheRockies, Microsoft did it mostly right by getting a Real Version of Windows on a Tablet so it only runs for 4 hours so when am I away from my car charger or wall outlet so long I can't sacrifice for a full version. I own a PowerMac, 2 MacBooks, a MacMini, iPod Shuffle, iPod Mini, iPod Classic, two iPod Touches, an iPhone, and an iPad: Thanks to iTunes 11 I now own a Samsung GalaxyTab2. nothing like going from the frying pan into the fire I thought that the SGT2 would have been an improvement but it look more like Apple was ahead of the game for that Pad OS until Microsoft came out and saved mankind from being forever unable to do real work. I just hope Apple doesn't make move dumb downed versions of their other Applications so they can be exactly the same on the short coming of their lower level devices. Good Luck with that. There will come a time when people need an Operating System that can run a full Office Suite, full Graphic Suite, and Video editing software that is first class. Who would have thought Microsoft would have beaten Apple at that.

To the Poster before who mentioned that you can run OSX on PC with Virtual Box it is still illegal I wouldn't want to go to court over it but it is legal to wipe your mac clean and install a purchased version of windows. Not that I'm going to do that unless Apple decides to scap OSX and have computers run dumb down iOS too. Don't laugh that is exactly what they did with iTunes 11 which made me purchase and Android Tablet before I found out that Android is even worse than iOS.

I heard that MS might drop the start page of the Metro look and bring back the start button that would make my next Tablet/Laptop purchase a Windows SurfacePro unless by some miracle Steve Jobs is raised from the Dead and Apple gets it together and makes full OS for a Tablet.

Thanks again for you Objective look at the SurfacePro

Dean Scott

Dean B. Scott
29th April, 2013 @ 04:09 pm PDT

I can say this I have a ipad and it is good, but having a PC laptop, or tablet would be way better because they provide more storage than the ipad.

You save up some money for a 64 gb ipad but even then you can't get the most out of it, the PC laptop usually compliments the apple tablet because on one you can change everything the other you can't.

Its that simple.

By the way, PC unlike apple will last longer, unlike apple the PC world still has a lot of evolving to do.

Hollis Bush
16th May, 2013 @ 12:05 am PDT

Now I can see why the Microsoft Touch is not doing as well as the Apple iPAD.

This comparison makes more sense than the other one that GIZMAG did.

http://www.gizmag.com/surface-pro-vs-macbook-air-2013-specs-comparison/27957/

I am glad I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 inch. It works great and it does every thing I need it to do. :) It was quite affordable.

BigWarpGuy
18th June, 2013 @ 06:27 am PDT

The Surface Pro has its pros and cons. I own the 128 gig Pro and I am very happy with it for the most part. The only thing I would have liked to see is the battery life a bit longer. I doesn't have to be 10 hours, but give me a solid 6-8 hours and a free type/touch pad and you have a winner. As for the weight, considering specs, I can deal with that. It isn't overly heavy, but you do notice the weight, while holding it for some time.

It really is about choice. People who have their drawn a line in the sand mentality miss this whole point. The Surface Pro may never grab the type of popularity that iPad has, but it is certainly not going away. Quite frankly, it is nice to see other options in the world other than iPad and Android tablets.

Vincent McLaughlin
9th July, 2013 @ 02:40 am PDT

1) I agree Microsoft started the comparison with the Surface vs Siri ad's. So saying it's not a fair comparison I guess what you're saying is it was not a fair comparison when Microsoft started those ads? I want the thank all of you pro-surface people for making that admission.

2) I am confused on the constant "But it doesn't run Microsoft office!" About any Apple product. I have used Apple products for several years. In the last 25 years I have worked in PC dominated work places. I continued to use my mac and no one can tell I use an Apple device and iWork.

I am taking some online classes that require a PC and Microsoft office. I use iWork and no one can tell what device I use or what program I am using.

cookecutter
11th November, 2013 @ 01:29 pm PST
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