Tech comparisons often fall into confirmation bias, telling people what they want to hear. Let’s get my personal bias out of the way right now. I’m a big fan of Microsoft’s current strategy of consolidating their operating systems under Windows 10, and making sure you can access all of their services no matter which phone, tablet, or computer you use.
Apple made a lot of news yesterday announcing new iPhones, a new Apple TV, Apple Watch updates, and the iPad Pro. It seems pretty clear that Apple has the Surface Pro in their sites, as Microsoft is starting to build a little momentum with their “PC in a Tablet Shell” formula. There was a lot of talk from Apple over how their new tablets and phones were “desktop powerful” devices thanks to new mobile processors.
Pricing, form factor, accessories, even the apps showcased, Apple claims they have the solution for mobile productivity. How does their new iPad Pro compare to the older Surface Pro 3? Let’s take a look.
The iPad Pro scores a small victory in screen resolution. It’s 12.9″ display clocks in at 2732×2048. Not quite two full iPad Air screens side by side, but pretty close. The 12″ screen on the Surface Pro 3 is 2160×1440. The smaller screen on the Surface will keep fine detail nice and crisp, but the iPad will offer a subtle advantage for people wanting as many pixels on their tablet screen as they can get.
The Surface Pro steps up with a win here. The base model starts with 64GB of built in storage, while the iPad starts with 32GB. Now Windows 10 will use up quite a bit more storage than iOS will out of the box, so real world available storage will actually be a lot closer than the advertised storage, but the Surface is a full computer with a USB port and a MicroSD card expansion port. You’re free to use any external hard drive or flash drive you want, and a high speed 128GB SD card will sell for around $70 these days. If you absolutely need more built in storage, $100 will take you from 64GB to 128GB (and get you a faster processor).
The iPad Pro will jump from 32GB of built in storage to 128GB of storage, but that 96GB bump will cost you $150.
iPad also comes with a handy TouchID fingerprint scanner built into the home button for quickly unlocking the tablet.
Apple also wins the resolution fight when it comes to the rear camera. The iPad Pro has an 8MP sensors that shoots HD video. Microsoft steps down to a 5MP rear sensor on the Surface, but video quality will also be 1080p.
Those numbers flip when it comes to the front facing camera. The iPad Pro won’t be any kind of selfie champ with its 1.2MP front camera. It’ll also only be capable of 720p video, a bit disappointing as we start stepping up to higher quality video calling and conferencing. Microsoft duplicates their rear camera on the front, with another 5MP sensor and 1080p video.
Both devices have 4GB of RAM, but iOS and apps will use that more efficiently than Windows 10 and full fledged programs. You can split screen apps on iOS, but you can run multiple active windows on the Surface and even organize multiple desktops like you can on OSX.
The Surface also comes with a handy built in kickstand. No matter how thin and light we make these slates, a 12 inch or greater screen can be fatiguing to hold. You will need to occasionally put the thing down, and when you put the Surface down you can dial in exactly the angle you want to continue interacting with content. iPad Pro will require you to invest in a stand or case to prop up their larger tablet.
Software and Apps
We could write BOOKS on the difference between desktop operating systems and mobile operating systems, so any discussion here will be significantly simplified.
Apple is putting a lot of pressure on developers to start migrating popular services to mobile devices. Their keynote showcased Adobe and Microsoft programs which add quite a bit of credibility to the argument that iOS can be a productivity focused computing environment. We’re still very early in this discussion though, and it will take some time to bring iOS up to the level of OSX or Windows for getting real work done.
While Microsoft is far behind Apple when it comes to mobile style apps, the Surface is a full fledged PC, and you’ll have full access to every single program compatible with the OS. You can use apps if you want. You can use desktop grade software if you want. Even desktop grade web browsers like Chrome or Firefox. The choice is yours. No limitations.
Accessories and Value for Money
It’s always difficult to discuss “value” when talking about Apple. I’ve written several editorials, tracking their evolution from tech company to fashion brand, but there’s no denying that there’s still an Apple Tax at play when shopping their products.
A base model iPad Pro, with 32GB of storage, an Apple Pencil stylus, and a keyboard cover will cost $1067. A 64GB Surface Pro 3 includes a stylus, so adding their keyboard cover only brings the price of a base model Pro 3 to $830. That means you can move up to that 128GB Pro 3 , include a keyboard for a total of $930, and it will still cost $130 less than a base model iPad Pro. Let’s not forget that at this tier, the Surface Pro 3 128GB is a hardy competitor to Macbooks.
Ultimately whichever device you pick should be the one that best helps you get your work done, but as it stands now, the older Surface Pro 3 looks like it’s the better productivity option. Apple is selling the iPad Pro on the promise of what’s to come, and it is fascinating watching them transition the iPad from an entertainment device to a work device. Maybe a little sad for some of us geeks who really wanted to see Apple start bringing touchscreen options to OSX, to see that they seem focused on moving customers from OSX to iOS instead.
You don’t need to wait and see if the potential of a Surface Pro 3 will pay off though. It’s a third generation tablet, refined and ready to tackle all tasks. Microsoft created the Tablet PC. Apple popularized the tablet. Now we’ve circled back.