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Microsoft Surface RT vs. iPad (4th generation)


October 25, 2012

How does Surface RT compare to the iPad 4?

How does Surface RT compare to the iPad 4?

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Technology moves quickly. Just a few weeks ago, we were anticipating an epic showdown between the 3rd gen iPad and Microsoft's Surface RT. Now, ahead of Surface's launch, Apple has already announced a brand new 4th-generation iPad. How does Microsoft's intriguing new tablet compare to the newly-refreshed iPad? Let's take a look …


Surface is intended for landscape use, while the iPad is more of a portrait tablet

The iPad 4 has the same dimensions as the iPad 3, so nothing has changed here. The Surface and iPad have identical thickness, but different length and width.

Surface is primarily a landscape tablet, as its display's oblong 16:9 aspect ratio may look odd in portrait mode.


iPad is slightly lighter than Surface

These numbers are close, with Surface tipping the scales just a hair more than the 4th-gen iPad does.


Surface's sub-pixel rendering should partially offset its major disadvantage in display re...

On paper, this is an enormous advantage for iPad. It has three times the pixels of Surface's display.

Surface, however, should fare better than these numbers would suggest. A renowned display expert says that Surface's ClearType display tech will make its resolution appear sharper than it is. It won't likely, however, be on par with the iPad's market-leading Retina Display.


Early benchmarks show a 1.4GHz CPU in the new iPad

This is the big upgrade for the iPad 4. Its A6X chip is a variation of the terrific A6 SoC found in the iPhone 5. Like the A6, it is a dual core processor, but the A6X has quad core graphics to help drive that Retina Display. Apple is advertising twice the speed and twice the graphical performance of the iPad 3, and early benchmarks concur.

Surface's Tegra 3 is still one of the better-performing mobile chips you can find, so it should handle most tasks well.


Surface double's the iPad 4's 1GB of RAM

Benchmarks show that the iPad 4 retains the 1 GB of RAM found in the iPad 3. Surface RT, meanwhile, brings a full 2 GB to the table.


Surface gives you more storage bang for your buck

Microsoft has taken some grief for pricing Surface RT on even ground with the iPad, but the tablet does offer more storage. For the same US$500, the base model of Surface gives you twice the internal storage as the iPad does.


You'll need a hotspot to connect Surface on the go

Surface is, at least for now, a Wi-Fi only device. The iPad 4 is available in Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi + 3G/LTE models. It also expands its Wi-Fi capabilities to cover dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) 802.11n networks.

Apple also added new carriers for the 4th-gen iPad, including Sprint in the US.


The iPad's advantage on paper may be cancelled out when its Retina Display is accounted fo...

The iPad has a higher-powered battery than Surface, but this spec won't directly translate into actual usage. Remember that the iPad's battery is powering a display with three times the pixels of Surface's. Uptimes could end up being similar.


iPad easily wins this round

Apple updated the front-facing camera in the iPad 4, and Surface's cameras aren't likely to be in the same league. Microsoft is being vague about the megapixels in the tablet, only saying that they're capable of "720p video." This probably means that they're around 1 MP or less.


Both companies offer innovative new accessories, but they may cost you

One of Surface's defining features is its add-on keyboard accessories. The Touch Cover, pictured above, is one of the most innovative mobile tech inventions of 2012: think of an iPad Smart Cover, only with touch-sensitive keys and trackpad. The only catch is that you'll have to throw down an extra US$100 (bundled) or $120 (separately) to add it to your Surface.

The iPad 4 ships with the new Lightning connector, which Apple is adding to all of its mobile devices. Its advantages are that it's tiny and reversible; its big disadvantage is that it makes your old Apple accessories obsolete. Though unauthorized vendors may soon offer cheaper solutions, Apple wants $30 for each Lightning adapter. Change is good, but it would have been nice to see the company eat some profit (if necessary) to acknowledge its customers' long-term loyalty.

You can't compare these two tablets without talking about software. The iPad runs the established iOS 6, with the world's biggest and best collection of tablet apps. Surface, meanwhile, is running the Windows RT branch of Windows 8. Since it won't run legacy Windows apps, its software is all tied to the Windows Store. This gives the iPad the overwhelming software advantage.

A bright spot of Surface's software, though, comes in Microsoft Office. The new RT version of the iconic productivity suite ships with the tablet for no additional cost. Depending on your priorities, this could be a big-time advantage, or a non-factor.

Summing up

If you ask Microsoft, Surface is less of an iPad rival and more of a brand new product. That may be, but countless holiday shoppers will compare the devices nonetheless. It remains to be seen whether Surface will be the market-changing product that Microsoft hopes it will be. At launch, all we know for sure is that it's a bold new device with an attractive design, innovative accessories, and a sparse software library.

The iPad, meanwhile, is still the overwhelming leader of the tablet market. This 4th-generation iPad is a minor update over the 3rd generation iPad, but its performance will see a nice boost. For a product that has thus far been untouchable, that may be all Apple needed to do.

For this holiday season's other big tablet showdown, you can check out our comparison of Nexus 10 vs. iPad.

About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. 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

Wired did a blind test of image quality of Surface vs iPad where testees could only see the screen, not the device; Generally people didn't notice much difference for video, but for text the iPad won by a mile, with not a single responder preferring the Surface.

26th October, 2012 @ 12:06 am PDT

The ports section of this compare was rather glossed over a bit. The Surface has both a USB port and a HD video out port. In fact, the ability to use a mouse either via the USB port or BT makes the Surface a very nice work tool to either work on items in Office on the device or to RDP/Remote into a full computer elsewhere.


The Office that comes with Surface it Home Office and if you are using this for business then you have to apply a business license for that Office version. This version of Office also does not come with Outlook which seems rather short sighted as a business alternative to iPad.

Rann Xeroxx
26th October, 2012 @ 08:13 am PDT

How about their environmental impact, repair-ability and recycling?

Max Kennedy
26th October, 2012 @ 08:41 am PDT

Regarding the RAM, one thing about Surface: it will have to run *Windows*! Hence double the RAM ;)

Τριαντάφυλλος Καραγιάννης
26th October, 2012 @ 10:08 am PDT

Remember the surface uses a lot of its storage for OS and doesn't have 3G/LTE. However if you want to use it for presentations I've heard PowerPoint is a plus.

Tony Mattas
26th October, 2012 @ 05:45 pm PDT

Required was 3G and up and ability to make phone calls. This is what Android allows with their larger sets. Consumers want a super all in one.

Dawar Saify
26th October, 2012 @ 08:06 pm PDT

Not only is Microsoft evoking 1985's Windows 1.0 with the big tiles and heavy use of magenta, cyan and white but the RT in Windows 8 RT digs up memories of the IBM 6150 RT aka the PC/RT.


At least there's already free software to make Windows 8 start up and stay in the normal desktop mode. Probably there's something to get the start menu back.

Gregg Eshelman
27th October, 2012 @ 01:37 am PDT

Windows RT being a stripped down version of Windows 8 as also sporting a standard USB port can one assume that most - if not all - 3G USB dongles would give full fledged high speed internet connectivity?

Since the processor is different from the x86 / x64, how many of the desktop applications directly run on Surface, if any ?

28th October, 2012 @ 08:23 pm PDT

The Surface does not have a Cisco compatible VPN client and lots of us Surface buyers can't use the Surface at work.

How can the Surface RT, which wants to go head-to-head with the iPad, not have this app? Some say that the Surface RT is supposed to be for personal use. So one is to carry around two tablets?? Microsoft has no answer to this situation - completely silent. And none of the reviews talk about this HUGE shortcoming. My Surface is about to go back in the box.

katy ruth
4th February, 2013 @ 04:59 pm PST
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