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Windows RT Surface vs. third-generation iPad


October 16, 2012

How does Surface (RT) compare to the iPad?

How does Surface (RT) compare to the iPad?

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Update: for Apple's latest (4th generation) iPad, please refer to our comparison of Microsoft Surface vs. iPad 4.

Microsoft execs must be biting their nails. With the iPad eating into the desktop PC market, Redmond knows that it needs to establish itself as a serious player in mobile. With Windows Phone struggling, Redmond's best hope lies with its self-manufactured Surface tablets.

Surface presents an interesting alternative to the market-leading iPad. Is this Microsoft's first step in dethroning the king, or will it fare no better than the ill-fated Zune? Let's see how Surface RT stacks up next to the third-gen iPad …


Both tablets sport slick designs

The first thing you'll notice is that Surface is meant as a landscape tablet, while the iPad's primary orientation is portrait. Microsoft has constructed a beautiful tablet that – unlike some competitors' devices – doesn't look like a blatant Apple rip-off.

Surface RT is longer than the iPad, but more narrow. This can be traced back to its display's more oblong 16:9 aspect ratio as opposed to the iPad's 4:3 display.


iPad is a bit lighter than Surface

Surface is a bit heavier than the iPad, but not by much.


On a hardware level, this is the iPad's biggest advantage

This is a huge advantage for the iPad. Its market-leading Retina display blows the Surface's screen out of the water. In 2012, Apple upped the ante for tablet displays, and the specs of the Surface display are stuck in 2011.


With a Tegra 3, Surface RT should be no slouch in the performance department

At least on paper, Surface comes out looking good here. Its Tegra 3 chip is quad-core, with a maximum clock speed of 1.4GHz. Apple opted for dual-core processing (but quad-core graphics) in the latest iPad.


2 GB of RAM won't hurt Surface's performance either

Here's another good sign for Surface's performance; its RAM doubles the 1 GB found in the iPad 3.


US$500 gets you more storage with Surface than it does with iPad

For the same entry price, Surface gives you twice the storage. If you like to store lots of movies, apps, and games, Surface gives you ample space.


This looks like a big advantage for iPad, but it's driving a more powerful display

Take these numbers with grains of salt. Though the iPad's battery hardware is better, remember that it's driving a display with three times as many pixels. We'll have to revisit this after getting our hands on a Surface, but uptimes could end up being close.


No mobile data for Surface

Microsoft opted not to sell a 3G or LTE enabled version of Surface, so it's all Wi-Fi. With many of us toting smartphones with hotspot capabilities, this won't be a deal-breaker for most – but Apple does give its customers the option of paying more for 3G/LTE.


Microsoft is being somewhat coy about the cameras in Surface

Surface's cameras are still a bit of a mystery. All Microsoft is saying is that the front and rear-facing shooters are "720p HD." This could mean the cameras have under one megapixel a piece, or it could mean they have more.

The iPad's cameras, meanwhile, are a known quantity. Don't expect anything phenomenal, but the 5-MP rear camera is roughly (if not exactly) the same as the one in the iPhone 4.


Surface offers a clever keyboard accessory, while iPad has an enormous advantage in apps

This is where things get intriguing. Microsoft is marketing its device as a more productivity-focused alternative to the iPad. Its optional keyboard add-ons are a big part of this. The Touch Cover is like an iPad smart cover, only with built-in pressure-sensitive keys. Will it help you to get stuff done? Probably. Is it worth paying an extra US$100 (bundled) or $120 (as a separate purchase)? That's a tougher call.

Surface also ramps up the productivity quotient with a built-in kickstand and stock software. Combined with the keyboard, the kickstand lets Surface quickly transform into a faux laptop. Another potential plus is that Surface ships with RT versions of the Microsoft Office suite.

If we're talking apps, though, the iPad has the clear advantage. The iOS App Store easily houses the largest – and best – collection of tablet apps available. Meanwhile, the Windows Store (the only way to get apps on Surface RT) is fresh on the scene. It will launch with a solid selection, but it won't compare to what the App Store offers.

Also remember that if you want to use traditional Windows desktop software, you'll want to look at the Windows 8 Pro version of Surface; those apps won't run on Surface RT.

Summing Up

We have to admire what Microsoft is doing here. At the risk of alienating its hardware partners, it's introducing Windows 8 with its own beautifully-designed tablet. The company is swinging for the fence here; win or lose, that's always exciting.

The big question is whether customers will care. Sure, Surface has a cool new keyboard, but you can buy keyboard cases and accessories for the iPad. It has a kickstand, but there are many ways to easily prop up an iPad. In the most important category – apps – Surface has a lot of catching up to do. There are a lot of questions, and Microsoft's upper management may not be sleeping well for the next few weeks.

What do you think: is Surface going to be a hit? Or are we looking at Zune: Tablet Edition? Let us know in the comments.

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

No way to tell at this point. I'm still waiting for someone reputable to get their hands on Surface for an extended period of time in order to do an in-depth review.

I think it's all going to boil down to the combination of apps/programs and the usability of the device. You can have the slickest hardware in a world be nothing more than an expensive lump without good programs that take advantage of it. Conversely, having a ton of software doesn't do you much good if the hardware you're trying to run it on is buggy or underpowered.

Too early to tell. I hope it does well - having another healthy, viable option for people is always good for everyone, if only for the competition it engenders.

Dave MacLachlan

I use my iPad to read and annotate PDF papers. With its lower resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio the surface tablet is far less suitable for this.

I like the Win 8 visual design, it feels more modern than iOS but in the end it's the use case that matters and from the specs it looks to me that iPad will be the better fit.

There just doesn't seem to be anything that the surface can do genuinely better than the iPad.

If MS managed to create a tablet that handles touch equally well as stylus text input I'd be inclined to give it another look.

Facebook User

iPad 3rd Gen got a proper keyboard-Case-stand, the Logitech Ultrathin beauty

Khaled Mourad

Every time we have seen someone using the Surface the keyboard cover has been used. Does anyone know if the Surface has a virtual screen keyboard as well?

It seems if we want to make an I formed buying decision we will just have to wait until it's released and a review is printed.

Until then I will wait and see.


The productivity focus is a good one. I recently bought an android tablet for business use and it was very quickly apparent that the iOS software is not really up to the task of managing a business device.

Apple may have created the market with the iPad but by ignoring the business users they are being out innovated with things like the surface keyboard and integrated office.


I couldn't agree with Jason pope more !

iPads and Androids of the world are all essentially 'entertainment' devices. This is the world's first true 'work' tablet, with a bit of fun thrown in. Just like it should be, just like we all learnt computing in the familiar Windows environment

I am bit disappointed that they launched a 'restricted' version of the OS on the tablet, and I have no idea if that is due to TEGRA 3 brains it has got, but I am super excited. I have waited for this for months. I love the little draw out stand they are providing, and the touch cover thing is inspirational.

Come to India soon guys ! Can't wait ...

Atul Malhotra

I agree I think I would wait for the release of surface before giving my opinion

Hariharan Sahasranaman

This is not even a competitior to the Ipad.. the Ipad is 99% an entertainment device.. this is being marketed as a office users device. this in that department alone will blow the Ipads doors off.

Companies have been waiting for a business friendly MS Tablet that can be managed with their MS heavy environments.

this will sell very well to Corporate clients.

Jason Pope

@Fraser " I recently bought an android tablet for business use and it was very quickly apparent that the iOS software is not really up to the task of managing a business device." Android tablets run android os not iOS. Apple doesn't run Android. So what do you actually have? An Android tablet or an iPad?


I will assume that it's as smooth to use as most modern tablets, tegra 3, no lag, etc. I'm not worried about there being less apps, as only about 2% of appstore apps make up for 90% of the downloads and 98% of sales, or something like that. So as long as the apps they do have cover most of the functions I need, I don't really care if there are 400,000 apps I'll never even look at. what maters for me are ereaders (kindle & open source), google maps (unless bing maps are equivalent) or tomtom, since those are offline. ability to put in an SD or microSD card, battery life, web expereince, and then ties into those apps that I do use. Mint, Astrid, etc. but, those apps I do use tend to be in the top 2%. sadly, I don' think they'll cover things like astrid or mint at first. which means I won't be giving up my android devices. and I really don't want to split my devices among different operating systems, making me buy multiple apps, etc. I'll wait for the version that can run x86 software and that might replace my laptop, but my laptop is a powerhouse, so I'm not going to dwongrade there. it might be that they tag low-end pc users, but android/pc users like me might end up too fringe. :-(

MockingBird TheWizard

While it's true that corporate IT wants to have the controls associated with Windows 8/Surface, the question is, in this day of BYOD, how much clout will they have with employees. For a worker who enjoys their iPad for entertainment on the commute, having to lug around a second tablet is a non-starter.

And while APple owns the entire iPad ecosystem, controlling the apps as well as offering the only hardware that runs iOS whereas MS does not (multiple manufacturers are coming out with W8 tablets) it remains to be seen if MS can control malware and bugs - or will there be a tablet equivalent to the BSOD?

And @Fraser - if you bought an Android tablet the OS you got in Android, not iOS. Just do you know.

Bob Fately

The idea that iOS and Android are not business IT compatible at this day an age is ludicrous. I work for a large global IT company and we have the freedom to pick Android or iPhone models as our corporate issued devices. Most of my colleagues go for the latter. Our IT dept has no issues with the Outlook integration.

I am actually a bit nostalgic for my old Blackberry, but this company simply couldn't keep up. If I had an urge to get my iPad on our corporate network it'll be as simple as opening a support ticket with our (fortunately very capable) support desk. While I am generally not a big fan of the walled garden approach that Apple takes with iOS it helps our corporate IT in managing security.

Facebook User

This is a moot point because both are already outdated. Asus and Samsung are already working on inter-changeable touch screen tablets, and monitors that connect and run on Quad core smartphones (checkout Gizmag Asus's Padfone 10/16 & Gizmag NexPhone concept 10/15). This allows a tablet, desktop or monitor, to become a cheaper byproduct of your phone that can either securely dock with these monitors or connect wirelessly. The KISS of death for most laptops, desktops and tablets once it catches on. I have a Samsung Infuse phone and Samsung Tablet that runs on Windows 7. I like to use the phone attached to Samsung monitors and TV more than the tablet to watch Netflix, surf Net and play games. The tablet is handy for business only because of the operating system but soon smartphone operating systems will be able to handle both with Windows 8.

Matt Fletcher

Will, i think there are important points which you fail to touch on. The Surface RT model has a file explorer combined with a usb port, meaning it can manage and connect to other devices. A step towards closing the gap between computers and tablets. I'm getting sick of the obvious bias in your articles and am going to start skipping them.

Tim Phillips

Between the two I would pick the iPad, simply because of the aspect ratio of the screen. A 4:3 screen is so much better for doing everything than 16:9.

Frankly, not being Microsoft is another point in the iPad's favor. There are routinely encountered bugs in Microsoft Office that are 21 years old.

Also, I've tried the Windows 8 Metro user interface, and in my opinion it's terrible.

Jon A.

@PvD They're going to use the keyboard from windows phone which is a great keyboard.


NOBODY Nobody at all outside of Microsofties has even held one of these devices outside the watchful eyes of Surface Guards. Nobody knows how this device will perform because nobody has every touched one in a non-reporting environment. I think that Microsoft has done themselves a great disservice by pricing their device to compete with the iPad...Microsoft has to build a base of users...they screwed their mobile users by shifting everything over to Windows Phone 7, which is not compatible in the least with anything that came before it...then with only 2 years under it's belt, they leave Windows Phone 7 users high and dry by bring out Windows Phone 8 which is not compatible with anything that came out before it! Who's to say that in a year or so, Microsoft won't come out with yet another disaster that is incompatible with all their other disasters? No, what Microsoft has to do is follow the Xbox formula...sell the devices cheap in order to get saturation...This will build up your user base and will create a kinda cascading effect, which will make people take a look at Windows phone 8, and their disasterous Windows 8 OS, which is looking more and more like another "vista" operating system....Microsoft will soon be appologizing for Windows 8 as well!


LETS BE CLEAR, the IPAD is an oversized IPhone. Its the same OS. It is primarily designed for content/media consumption. Sure you can say the IPAD can create documents, but if you have ever used an IPAD to create documents, than you know your settling with a sub-par experience of document creation, it's un-natural and awkward at best.

What Microsoft did with Surface is a ground up reimagined OS, that is meant for not only content/media consumption, but also TRUE content creation as well. In includes a full version of the Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel and PowerPoint: worth $150 and you get it free). You also get a mail client, a full App store, lots of includes apps, a browser, unlimited FREE Music streaming (over 30 million songs, more than iTunes), a built in kick-stand (to watch movies, and work more naturally when at a desk/table), a full USB port, MicroSD Card slot. (You don't need to buy accessories to transfer files, photos, music documents, just use a USB stick or microSD card). The Surface is of course a full touch friendly device with dynamic informative attractive live tiles, (not static dumb icons like with IOS).

Lets also point out that the Surface has a full keyboard and mouse pad that acts as a cover when not in use. Now, with the Microsoft Surface you can watch movies, listen to music (for free), take pictures, video calls, download apps, surf the web, check email, create word, excel and PowerPoint documents just as you have in the past, socialize online, Tweet, Facebook, print, play games, and without compromise create documents using Office and a keyboard/mouse.

So lets be clear, The Microsoft Surface is a no compromise Tablet. Its completely mobile, thin and light. In fact, for most people The Surface RT can replace a laptop. What the Surface brings is a mobile touch friendly tablet, that also allows you to work the way you would traditionally with a keyboard/mouse when you want to and when it makes the most sense.

I am confident, once people try one out the decision to get one will be a no brainer!!! The Microsoft Surface RT gives you value for your money.


I am going to buy my first tablet but have been waiting for the Surface to come out.

Looks like I might buy it but first need to hear more real world test results then see it and try it in a store.


And the war continues... I own every gen of the iPad and love them. Before I bought the first one, I battled with myself whether I really needed it or not. When the second gen came out, I wondered if I really needed a second one. By the time the 3rd gen came out, I didn't flinch and bought it right away. Between my wife and I, we use them constantly for work and pleasure all day. Ive never believed in the Mac vs pc because I'm a huge fan of tech gear regardless of where it comes from. I'm planning on purchasing the surface to add it to the collection as I'm certain it will prove to be a very useful tool.

Ed Ruyter

I work for Apple's largest client for iPhones...Lowe's Home Improvement. Lowe's put all its eggs in the Apple basket and we all got iPhone 4S's and iPads throughout the entire company to be more like the Apple stores where we can service customers in the aisles with our phones...But let me tell you. They are TERRIBLE! They freeze, they lag, they're not smooth, keyboard calibration is terrible, can only do one task at a time!!! How is one task at a time smart for business? Trust me, I had a personal iPhone (until i traded it in for a much better windows phone) and I an iPhone for work....they are simply poor investments and are just trend traps...

Aaron Clark

Surface for me. Oh, and on the issue of display, whilst indeed the iPad has more pixels, just like the mega-pixels war, more is not always better. Have a read of Microsoft’s latest statement on MTR and why it’s all about what you do with those pixels, not how many you have. This might be Kool-Aid on the part of Microsoft, or they might be telling the truth. I’m holding judgement on the display until I can see them both side by side.


If MS cared and knew, it would could easily create the perfect all in one device which everyone craves. They could have had the create PowerPoint file support in Windows Phone, and they didn't. Moving to ARM architecture makes sense yes. And as a complete notebook replacement with the Windows environment which we are familiar with, but where is the basic GSM, Edge, 3G and HSPA. This would provide continuous, low power connection, calling and integration and synchronization of data at lower cost and in further areas. This is what Android allows. I will always remain a big fan of Windows, and Office. But MS should know that consumers want a super all in one. I can assure you I can do the entire desktop and office work with the HTC One X without compromise, plus gaming and entertainment. I use SwiftKey for typing and this saves time by just tapping in whole words.

Dawar Saify

You might have at least included brief Surface Pro specs in 'Summing Up'. It may not compete in price but it certainly offers a lot in comparison to the RT and iPad. http://www.microsoft.com/Surface/en-US/surface-with-windows-8-pro/specifications

Anona Mous

Clearly, the Microsoft fanboys have no idea why Fortune 1000 companies and smaller are buying millions of iPads: It's not "content consumption" or "content creation" -- it's CONTENT PRESENTATION. The iPad is the perfect sales tool. It gives sales/marketing managers nearly complete control over field presentations. It enables monitoring of exactly what a rep presented to whom, and when. It enables near-real-time connection with salesforce.com (with full 3G).

Field content creation is a real issue, but clearly, during the recession, it's fallen way down on corporate purchasing concerns. Current laptops running Windows 7 (and even XP) enable as much field "content creation" as corporate America thinks it wants or needs.

All the while PC sales have been plunging, corporate and professional purchases of iPads have been off the charts, in the tens of millions. No one in the C-Suites has been waiting for the Surface or Windows 8.

Bottom line: Content creation on a tablet is less of tablet purchasing driver than Microsoft thinks or hopes. It - and Windows 8 - may become the Harvard Business School case of the 21st century, a footnote to the classic "Marketing Myopia" HBR article by Ted Leavitt, in which he notes how Hollywood blew its lead in the TV market and the railroads blew their transportation lead in the airlines business.

Mel Snyder

PvD; yes there is a screen keyboard on the surface when it is unlatched from the cover keyboard. Has the same touch capability as my iPad. The surface does have a nice feature in the USB and HDMI port connections, which is great to do power point presentations via a projector (the small DLP type from 3M). Have seen and played with the Surface for a few minutes yesterday-Nice graphics with the W 8 touche screen, acts just like the iPad. Will wait till Dec for the more poweful version

Geoff NH

Remember, the Surface which runs Windows is twice as much as the new iPad. There are no applications licensed for Business use on the RT.

Also, the display is well behind the curve and the touch use of Windows 8 is incomplete at this point in time.

James Ayers

Not much to say here...Surface will just be another Windows flop. Since this is such a huge under taking, of which they will fail miserably at, I am looking forward to seeing them lose ground in the PC market and letting more deserving companies lead the way.

Jeff Champion

I've been using WIndows 8 for a few weeks now on a tablet - Samsung Series 7 slate - which is somewhat close to using a Surface RT if you only stick to the RT features. This is more of a commentary on Windows 8 RT.

The kids want a PC, and I'm doing a comparison between a PC, iPad, Surface (windows RT) to see if it is possible to get only the Surface or iPad as opposed to a full blown PC.

Here is what I've found:

During a vacation I only took the Slate as opposed to my laptop. I could do everything in RT that I wanted - email, document reviews, creating epub books, managing photos, managing videos, Skype (phone & video calls), etc. We had a person with an ipad in a little group. Where it fell short was managing photos. We could get USB devices to connect to it. The slate was able to get photos into the skydrive, and eventually he could see them - and the group could see them. Getting ripped videos from the various hosts - ipad - couldn't do that without registering on their PC (which we didn't do). I did a USB drive transfer. The MSFT Store. It might have been rough - but we are now almost through November, and the store is great. I've been able to find anything I want in there - even an epub maker (Roxio) - which was great for documenting my vacation. The store is already great, and will only get better. It's already better than the BB playbook store.

Here's were the RT portion fell short: 1. Was looking for ways to make a video from my GoPro footage (kiteboarding stuff - pretty good footage) - movie maker, vReveal, GoPro video editing - all needed the Desktop - you won't get this in RT - need RT Pro. 2. Playing Battle Pirates on FB - needed the desktop - although there is a way to add FB to the whitelist of flash app - which I have not tried in RT.

Now, if I could combine this slate with the magnetic keyboard - the device would be perfect. Guess for me - I'd wait for RT Pro.

For a ipad vs Windows RT comparison - no comparison. With Windows RT I had pretty much the laptop replacement for office productivity as well as an entertainment device. I also have an iPad, Playbook, Droid tablet, Slate (I'm in IT and forced to eval this stuff). I had been using the ipad exclusively at home since iPad 1 - and have chosen it at home over the Slate with Windows 7.

Since I forced myself to use Windows 8 on the Slate - I'm now only using it at home instead of the iPad. Windows 8 allows for both productivity and entertainment. I leave my laptop at work now because I can do everything with the Slate - so I think Surface RT Pro will be a game changer.

So what of the Surface RT - I think MSFT should have just released the Pro. But, that being said, the Surface RT would have taken care of all my needs except for when I started going into more power user usages - Video editing, Visual Studio (coding), etc.

So for me, it's bye bye iPad. Hello Windows 8, and I think I'll get that Surface RT for my kids... Before they figure out the Slate is so much better than their iPad.

Ben Tsui

If you leave aside the fact that Apple is a fad and people run to buy anything they do, despite its real quality, you can't compare Windows RT with iPad mini or not mini. Just compare rationally. If what you want is fun, OK, I agree, iPad is your pick, but if you want serious use, then Windows RT is your choice.

I have TWO complaints: the camera quality and lack of 3G modem available

I'm using my Surface RT for 8 months, 7 hours/day for work/business, personal productivity, travel and some fun.

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