A lot of folks – including yours truly – started off by comparing the iPad Pro to the Surface Pro 3.
Personally, I blame the Apple marketing folks; they used the same “Pro” name, claimed it was more powerful than 75% of laptops sold last year, they included a keyboard and pen… err…. pencil, and they even set the price point to be in the same range as the Surface Pro 3.
But, let’s back up a minute and talk about another, more apt comparison; iPad Pro vs. Surface 3.
This comparison might be more valid because, after folks started digging into it, it looks like the iPad Pro isn’t really a “pro” device as it doesn’t run a full blown “computer OS” like Surface tablets do. As such, it is arguably just a tablet and not a hybrid tablet/laptop.
While the Surface 3 does run a full “computer OS”, it is much more tablet-like in it’s technical specifications, so, I think it is a better comparison to the iPad Pro than the Surface Pro 3.
iPad Pro vs Surface 3: The Comparison
Let’s start off by comparing some basic aspects of the iPad Pro and Surface 3. This is not intended to be an all-inclusive technical comparison but it does represent (what I believe) to be aspects of both devices most people care about. Below is a summary table outlining the aspects compared in the article:
|iPad Pro||Surface 3|
|Price (128Gb)||$1340 USD||$880 USD|
|Display||12.9″ 2732 x 2048||10.8″ 1920 x 1290|
|Battery Life||10 Hours||10 hrs per Microsoft, 7.75 hrs in my testing|
|Keyboard and Pen||OK keyboard, great pen||Great keyboard, good pen|
|Applications and Programs||iOS Apps from Apple Store||All Windows Store apps. Virtually all Windows programs from the past 30 years|
Now, let’s dive more deeply into each of the above aspects…
First, in an effort to compare apples to apples (no pun), let’s compare the 128GB, LTE-capable the price of both tablets including a pen/pencil and keyboard.
The 128GB Surface 3 LTE with a Surface Pen and Type Cover comes in at about $880 USD, in contrast, the 128GB iPad Pro LTE with Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, you’re pushing $1340 USD. Numbers don’t lie, if you’re on a budget, get a Surface 3.
If you go for just the cheapest option for both platforms, the 64GB Surface 3 with no pen or keyboard is just $499 USD versus $799 USD for the 32GB iPad Pro. Talk about the infamous “Apple Tax”!!
Apple has always created good displays and the iPad Pro looks like it will be no exception. With a 12.9-inch 2732 x 2048 Retina display and capable of 720p HD video playback. By contrast, the Surface 3 has a 10.8-inch display with a resolution of 1920 x 1290. If you do the math, the iPad screen offers 5.6MP while the Surface 3 offers just 2.5MP. So, as you might expect, the screen on the iPad Pro is probably superior to the Surface 3.
Both touchscreens support up to 10 simultaneous points of touch. So, in that aspect at least, they are the same.
Apple claims that the A9X processor is 2.5x more powerful than the previous generation and, according to some newly-leaked benchmarks, it looks like they are right.
According to Surface 3 for single-core operations but, for multi-core operations, the gap between the processors is much less.
In fact, assuming the leak is accurate, the A9X is more powerful (per Geekbench scores) than the Intel i3 processor. I know its a bit off topic but in case you’re wondering about how it stacks up against the Surface Pro 3 processors:
- The i3 scores around 1550/3150
- The i5 scores around 2700/5400
- The i7 scores around 3200/5900
I say “around” because I’m pulling my data for the Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3 models from the Geekbench Browser and there is some (normal) variation in the results. I also realize that the results for the A9X probably represent the best of several runs with everything being done to optimize the test scores (as many chip-makers do exactly that in such cases); so, I don’t feel bad about using approximate scores for my comparison.
The reported battery life for the iPad Pro is around 10 hours according to Apple – who, in the past, has been a bit conservative with their battery life estimates. Microsoft says that the Surface 3 battery life is (up to) 10 hours. But, according to my own testing, it has a battery life of closer to 7 hours and 45 minutes (web browsing). So, we will see what the iPad Pro provides when we can actually get our hands on it.
But, it is probable that the iPad Pro will give you more battery life than the Surface 3.
Keyboard and Pen
We can’t talk about the keyboard without bringing up the fact that the iPad Pro is lacking a kickstand. Yes, the Smart keyboard will give you a little bit of wiggle-room to adjust the screen but it does not offer the flexibility of the Surface 3’s 3-position kickstand. In addition, some hands-on reviewers have said that the keys on Apple keyboard don’t quite feel right and that they’re spaced too far apart.
On top of all that, the Smart Keyboard is considerably more expensive than a Surface 3 Type Cover coming in at $160 USD vs. $130 USD.
The Apple Pencil, on the other hand, seems to be a hit. While virtually everyone agrees that the Surface Pen is good, most seem to think the Apple Pencil is at least as good or better.
It’s probably worth noting that the Apple Pencil is 2x the cost of the Surface Pen ($99 USD vs. $50 USD); so, it might be a case of “you get what you pay for” or another example of the “Apple Tax” depending on how you view such things.
Applications and Programs
It’s no secret that the Apple Store offers many more apps than the Windows Store (though you could argue about exactly how many variations of “Angry Birds” you might need) so, from a store perspective, Apple (not necessarily the iPad Pro) has the advantage. However, Surface 3 to even out the whole Apple Store vs Windows Store thing.
Also, the Surface 3 – which runs a full-blown version of Windows – will let you load just about any Windows application or program ever made. Since the vast majority of business programs (along with a healthy chunk of academic programs, not to mention most games) have been made for Windows for the past 30 years or so, I would say the Surface 3 has a distinct advantage when it comes to applications and programs.
iPad Pro vs Surface 3: Which is for You?
Now that you have an idea of how they stack up to each other, let’s talk about which is better for you. As you might expect, both devices will let you browse the web, email, Facebook, Tweet, etc… So, I’m not going to try to make a recommendation based on such mundane points.
Instead, I’m going to give you MY OPINION on which device you should get based on different use cases.
Get an iPad Pro if…
- You’re an Apple fan: If you’re an Apple fan and like using iOS, get an iPad Pro. Let’s face it, you won’t be happy with anything else. You don’t have to justify it to anyone else. It’s OK to like what you like.
- You require a status symbol: This is going to be unpopular among Apple fans but I’m going to say it anyway. Having worked in the industry for years, I’ve observed that a large percentage (I’d say around 75%) of Apple users I’ve dealt with use Apple products because they’re a status symbol, not because they need an Apple product. I’ve seen too many managers and executives that had to have the latest iPad or MacBook Pro because of their own “reasons”, only to stop using it after it’s no longer the latest or greatest (or, more likely, it comes back covered in Barbie stickers because they gave it to their 8-year old daughter as a birthday gift <- true story, happened to me 2 years ago at a university in Michigan).
- You need an iOS device: Contrary to the point above, there are legitimate reasons why you might need a device running iOS (like the iPad Pro). For example, if there’s a certain software that is only available on the iPad or if your entire office has already standardized on iPads.
- You need the best display: While the Surface 3 display is respectable, Apple has always had high-quality displays and the iPad Pro is no exception. We can reasonably assume the large 12.9″ display on the new iPad will be bright and crisp with vibrant colors. If you plan to use your tablet for watching videos or looking at high-quality photos on a regular basis, the iPad Pro may be the tablet for you.
- You don’t want to use passwords: The iPad Pro offers a fingerprint scanner which will allow you to unlock your iPad without the need to enter a password. The Surface 3 does not. If you hate entering passwords or PINs consider an iPad Pro.
- You need the longest possible battery life: If Apple continues it’s trend of providing excellent battery life on their devices, and this is something important to you, the iPad Pro is the way to go, as long as it will run the apps you need. If you don’t need 10 hours of battery life every single day then you might not want to spend the extra money.
Get a Surface 3 if…
- You’re a Windows fan: If you like Windows and think Apple is over-hyped, or you just like Windows because you’ve been using it for years, then get a Surface 3.
- You’re replacing a laptop: The Surface 3 runs a “computer OS” as opposed to a “tablet OS” as such, the transition from a laptop (or desktop) will be smoother.
- You need to run Windows software: If you need to run a piece of software that requires Windows, and it doesn’t require a really powerful CPU, look at the Surface 3. If you need to run both Windows and Android applications, this is also a no-brainer.
- You want to save money: The numbers from the Cost section are pretty straight-forward. Clearly, iPad Pro is a lot more expensive than the Surface 3. If you’re on a budget, get a Surface 3 and save yourself up to $500(ish) USD.
- You need a new tablet now: The Surface 3 is available now, the iPad Pro is not. Seems pretty simple. Come November, assuming no delays, this point will no longer be valid. Of course, by then, you might also have to weigh out getting a Surface Pro 4.
If no single aspect helps you make up your mind between the two tablets, pick which of the points above mean the most to you and make two columns (one for the Surface 3 and one for the iPad Pro) then assign “votes” accordingly. If something is really important to you, give it 2 “votes”. Sometimes it helps to see things in black-and-white 🙂
iPad Pro vs Surface 3: My Thoughts
Look, despite this being Love My Surface site. I’ve been in the IT field for a long time and I know that no device is always “the best” in every situation (despite what fan boys say).
Both devices are good and each has their strengths and weaknesses. You need to understand why you want/need a tablet. After you do, your choice will be easy. Personally, I’m sticking with the Surface. It works for me.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, this has been a long post to write, so I’m going to fire up a game of KSP since I can do that on my Surface (but not an iPad Pro).
Tim Rolston is a professional geek with over 23 years of experience working in Information Technology and dealing with everything from large-scale storage to remote systems management and automation for organizations such as Texas Instruments, Mobil Oil, and the University of Michigan (where he was an Academic IT Director).
He co-founded JTRTech along with Joanna to realize his long-time dream of working for himself.