Apple iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro 4: Business Machine Beatdown

by Reads (43,999)

Businesspeople need a computer that can perform whether they are in an office or an airport terminal. Microsoft and Apple have each recently released tablets designed for mobile professionals.

Both the 12.9-Inch iPad Pro and the Surface Pro 4 have large displays, speedy, processors, loads of storage, and can be turned into laptops with optional keyboards. How do these two stack up? Read on to find out.

Build & Design

iPad Pro and Surface Pro 4

Surface Pro 4 and iPad Pro

Professionals like large screens because they’re easier to work on for long periods, and both of these tablets are big. The first iPad Pro has the larger screen, so it’s taller and wider. It’s just a hair thinner than the Surface Pro 4 and a bit lighter as well.

To get specific, the Microsoft’s offering is 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.3 inches (292mm x 201mm x 8mm) and 1.7 pounds (783g). Apple’s is 12.0 x 8.7 x 0.3 inches (306 x 221mm x 7mm) and 1.6 pounds (713g).

But this is a situation where the specifications don’t tell the whole story. When being held and carried around, the iPad Pro feels like it’s a bigger tablet than it really is. Not heavier — it feels surprisingly light, lighter than the SP4 — but it gives the impression of being very tall and wide. And something similar happens to the Surface Pro 4’s thickness: in the hand, feels much thicker than it actually is.

Both Microsoft and Apple offer add-on keyboards for their respective models, as these are large enough computers that they can be laptop alternatives. Their expansive displays make them very useful, but neither is anywhere near as portable as smaller tablets that are designed for consumers.

The appearance of each of these is well suited to professionals, with black glass and metal predominating. However, this assumes the buyer picks the “space grey” iPad, rather than the gold or white versions.

The Surface Pro 4 has a very useful built-in stand that can prop the screen up at a range of angles. This is a definite advantage for the Microsoft product, as most users of Apple’s devices are going to need to buy an add-on accessory to handle this task.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and Apple iPad Pro

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and Apple 12.9-Inch iPad Pro

Display

The displays in the Surface line of tablets used to be larger than the ones in every iPad, especially after Microsoft moved to the 12.3-inch (31.2cm) screen in the Surface Pro 4. But that changed when Apple chose a 12.9-inch (32.8cm) display for its latest.

Although it’s the industry standard, comparing the diagonal measurements of two screens is a poor way of showing the actual differences between them. A better method is square inches. The Surface Pro 4’s display is 69.8 sq. inches, while the iPad Pro’s is 80.2 sq. inches. The difference isn’t subtle: the iPad’s display looks and feels a lot larger.

Virtually anyone who is going to be using a computer for a full workday wants the largest screen they can get.  No one likes to feel cramped, and more room to work with makes just about everything easier, as long as the space is used efficiently.

iPad Pro Side-by-Side Multitasking

iPad Pro Side-by-Side Multitasking

Both these tablets support side-by-side multitasking, so two applications can be displayed simultaneously, but each has an advantage over the other. The iPad’s is obvious: when two apps are sharing a screen, bigger is always better. The 12.9-inch display is almost as large as two iPad Air 2 screens next to each other, making it easy to, for example, write a Word document while referring to an Excel spreadsheet.

The Surface Pro 4’s advantage is in flexibility. While iOS enables applications to share the display, at this time it doesn’t support two windows from the same app appearing on screen next to each other. So, for example, it’s not possible for Safari to put two web pages up simultaneously, or Excel to show two spreadsheets. Microsoft’s offering, of course, handles this beautifully, and Windows can display more than two applications at the same time, but three or more on a 12.3-inch screen can be very crowded.

When the workday is over, the iOS device makes a better TV than its rival. Both have screens large enough to make watching movies and TV shows enjoyable, but the iPad Pro is large enough that a couple of people can easily watch together.

Aside from the difference in size, these two screens are quite similar. For example, Microsoft’s offering has 267 pixels per inch, while Apple’s has 264. Both offer good viewing angles. Our review of the iPad Pro said that “Colors are vivid and strong”, and our review of the SP4 said “Colors are startlingly accurate and balanced.”

Buttons, Ports, & Speakers

Both the devices offer biometric security, but very different methods. The newest Surface uses built-in cameras to recognize the face of its authorized user. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro has a fingerprint scanner integrated into its Home button. Both systems work quite well.

Surface Pro 4

Surface Pro 4

Speaking of the Home button, Microsoft thankfully brought the Start menu back in Windows 10, so the SP4 had no need of the Windows button that was a feature of earlier Surface devices. Otherwise it — and the new iPad — have the usual buttons for power and volume control.

In the area of removable memory, Microsoft’s offering comes out ahead because it has a microSD memory card slot. This is a convenient (albeit occasionally expensive) way to add up to 200GB of additional storage, and easily and securely move files between computers.

The Windows device has a standard USB 3.0 Type-A port, rather than the newer USB-C port. Apple, of course, used its proprietary Lightning port. Either of these port types can be used to connect flash drives and microSD card readers.

The iPad can connect to an external monitor through its Lightning port, while the SP4 can do the same through its Mini DisplayPort. Both require an optional adapter to handle this. There are also wireless options for both devices.

Microsoft put a pair of front-facing speakers on its product, which in our review we said provided “clear and robust audio,” Apple went for an alternate design with four speakers mounted on the sides of tablet. Our review said these can put out “a quite respectable amount of sound.”

Stylus/Pen

The Surface Pro 4 comes with the Surface Pen, which is very convenient for those who want to use this tablet for sketching or taking hand-written notes. It’s main purpose, however, is to allow users of this tablet to work with software that wasn’t designed for touchscreens. Apps that were written with tiny on-screen controls meant for a cursor and mouse can be nearly impossible to use with a fingertip, so the small tip of a stylus is necessary.

The Surface Pro 4 can also support USB and Bluetooth accessories, like a mouse. There is no mouse support with any iPad.

Surface Pen and Apple Pencil

Surface Pen and Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil is an optional $99 accessory because it’s only needed by artists who want to draw and paint on the iPad Pro. All iOS software is fingertip friendly.

Artists will surely find that having to buy a stylus for the iPad Pro a disadvantage, but needing to pull out the Surface Pro 4’s stylus/pen to control applications designed for a laptop is at least as big a disadvantage, and to more people.

Keyboard

Neither one of these tablets comes with a keyboard, but each of their respective makers offers one designed to turn their device into a 2-in-1 laptop.

The Microsoft Type Cover is the fourth that this company has made, and that experience shows: it’s well designed and well suited to converting the Surface Pro 4 into a notebook.

In our review of the Apple Smart Keyboard, we called it “a good offering… for a first try.” Fortunately, other companies are stepping in to produce keyboards for the iPad Pro.

The Surface Pro 4 comes out ahead in this area, at least until more iPad Pro keyboards are available.

Performance

Every version of the 12.9-inch Apple iPad Pro runs on a 2.26 GHz dual-core Apple A9X 64-bit processor. We tested this with the Geekbench 3 benchmarking tool, and it scored about 5400 on the multi-core portion.

Microsoft offers several versions of the Surface Pro 4, starting with one that has a Intel Core m3 2.2GHz processor as well as ones with sixth-gen 3.0GHz Core i5 and 3.4GHz Core i7 chips. These are all sixth-generation Skylake dual-core processors. The m3 version scored around 4650 on the Geekbench 3 multi-core test, the i5 about 6300, and the i7 around 7150.

Geekbench 3: iPad Pro vs. Surface Pro 4

Comparing these numbers, Apple’s offering solidly out-scored the m3-based SP4, but those who are willing to pay for a Core i5 or i7 version can get significantly better performance.

There are 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB versions of the SP4, while the only option for the iPad is 4GB of RAM. More RAM is better, but comparing amounts between iOS and Windows devices is an apples vs. oranges situation; software written for the iPad uses much less RAM, so the 4GB in the iPad Pro is a really immense amount, perhaps equivalent to the 16GB version of the Surface Pro 4.

Microsoft offers versions with 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB of built-in storage, while Apple makes 32GB, 128GB, and 256GB versions of its tablet. While Windows takes up more of its storage space than iOS does, this is still an area that Microsoft comes it ahead.

Software

An in-depth comparison between Microsoft’s operating system with its collection of third-party software versus Apple’s mobile OS and its third-party applications is beyond the scope of this review, but we would be remiss if we didn’t at least make some broad generalizations.

Windows has always had a focus on business users, and it emphasizes power and flexibility over simplicity. The new version, Windows 10, is well suited to the Surface Pro 4, as it was created to power both tablets and laptops, with different modes depending on whether a keyboard is attached or not.

Surface Pro 4 with Optional Keyboard

Surface Pro 4 with Optional Keyboard

As this has been the OS most companies chose for decades, there is a wide array of enterprise-grade software of every type, from databases to Adobe Photoshop to Microsoft Office. However, much of this was not written to be touchscreen friendly, with numerous small on-screen elements that require the Surface Pen to use.

Windows users have to be careful about viruses and spyware, something that iPad users don’t have to deal with, at least so far, thanks to Apple’s tight control over its OS and app ecosystem.

iOS grew from an operating system written for the iPhone, and so it started with a focus on consumers with some enterprise features added on. In recent years, however, Apple has worked to make the iPad line more corporate friendly, and the latest version, iOS 9.x, added side-by-side multitasking and greater support for external keyboards, like the Apple Smart Keyboard. It emphasizes simplicity at the expense of leaving out features that aren’t needed by a majority of users.

The OS and associated applications are all fingertip friendly, which is why the Apple Pencil is an add-on intended for drawing, sketching, and painting.

iPad Pro with Optional Keyboard

iPad Pro with Optional Keyboard

There’s more third-party iOS enterprise software than many might realize, most notably Microsoft Office and the 100 enterprise applications IBM developed in cooperation with Apple. That said, even the most powerful apps are essentially scaled-back versions of their Windows equivalents.

What it breaks down to is, lots of businesspeople find an iPad simpler to maintain and more convent to use than a Windows tablet, but others find that iOS devices don’t have all the capabilities they want or need.

Wireless

The Surface Pro 4 includes Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac MIMO and Bluetooth 4.0. There are no versions with built-in 4G LTE as of this writing.

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro also sports Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac MIMO, and it has Bluetooth 4.2. In addition, Apple offers a version with integrated 4G LTE, allowing easy, ubiquitous access to the Internet, for an extra fee, of course.

Although many people are happy to use their phone as a mobile hotspot, this can’t match the convenience of having it built in, so the iPad Pro comes out ahead in this area.

Camera

This iPad has an 8 megapixel rear-facing auto-focus camera, and so does the SP4. Given their size, neither one of these is a particularly good way to take pictures, but it’s sometimes convenient for one’s computer to have a camera.

Microsoft put a pair of cameras on the front of its tablet to enable Windows Hello, a biometric facial-recognition system that works quite well. This device’s main front-facing camera has a 5MP resolution and is more than capable of handling Skype and other video-conferencing applications.

Although it has a lower resolution, the same is true of the 1.2MP camera on the iPad Pro. For the most part, the limitation on the quality of video streaming is bandwidth, not the number of pixels offered by the camera.

iPad Pro and Surface Pro 4

iPad Pro and Surface Pro 4

When it comes to the basic functions of front- and rear-facing cameras, these two devices are in a tie, but the Surface Pro 4’s face-recognition system is a nice bonus.

Power

The Surface Pro 4 is a powerful tablet, and this puts real strain on its battery. It lasted a bit over 7 hours of moderate but continuous use. In our “torture test”, continuously playing video, it lasted less than 3.5 hours.

In a similar torture test, the iPad Pro is good for over 8 hours of use. Mixed web and video use stretches that time out 11 or so hours.

A business-oriented mobile computer really needs to be able to last a whole business day on a single charge, and only the iPad Pro can offer that. Conversely, the SP4 might struggle to last a full intercontinental flight.

The Surface Pro 4 uses a proprietary power cable. The iPad Pro is charged through its Lightning port. It also requires a transformer, but this is smaller than its rival’s.

Conclusion

The Apple 12.9-Inch iPad Pro‘s main advantage in this competition is its very large display that makes side-by-side multitasking easy, as well as the simplicity and tablet-focus of iOS,, plus the tablet’s long battery life. On the other side of the coin, third-party iPad applications are not as powerful as Windows ones.

The rival Microsoft Surface Pro 4‘s advantages include its ability to run business applications written for previous versions of Windows, and also its well-designed add-on keyboard, even if this costs an extra $130. The downside is that Windows computers take a lot more maintenance, especially in the area of virus protection.

The good news is that professionals who would like to use a 2-in-1 tablet have some great options, including both the Apple iPad Pro and the Surface Pro 4. Many of those who want to use the iPad as their primary computer will be able do so, though they may occasionally find themselves having to turn to another device when they run into something their tablet isn’t up to. The SP4, on the other hand, can be a true laptop alternative, albeit one that’s a bit more tied to an electrical socket than is ideal.

Value

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 4

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 4

The 12.9-Inch iPad Pro starts at $799 for the version with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. The 4GB/128GB model is $949, and one with 4GB/256MB is $1099. Adding 4G LTE to any of these increases their cost by $130.

The Surface Pro 4 has more complicated options:

  • Intel Core m3 with 4GB RAM and 128GB, $899
  • Intel Core i5 with 4GB RAM and 128GB, $999
  • Intel Core i5 with 8GB RAM and 256GB, $1,299
  • Intel Core i5 with 16GB RAM and 256GB, $1,499
  • Intel Core i7 with 8GB RAM and 256GB, $1,599
  • Intel Core i7 with 16GB RAM and 256GB, $1,799
  • Intel Core i7 with 16GB RAM and 512GB, $2,199
  • Intel Core i7 with 16GB RAM and 1TB, $2,699

Adding a keyboard to the iPad or the SP4 is an extra cost, with the Apple Smart Keyboard selling for $169 and the Microsoft Type Cover going for $130.

The Apple Pencil is a $99 optional accessory, while the Microsoft Surface Pen is bundled with the SP4.

The two most equivalent models are the iPad Pro with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage that sells for $949 and the Surface Pro 4 with the same RAM and storage that costs $999, giving Apple a narrow advantage. However, for some artists that savings will be offset by the need to buy a stylus.

But really, the two are close enough in price and functionality that one is not a significantly better value than the other.


LEAVE A COMMENT

15 Comments

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  1. HildyJ

    If you work for a corporation and you want only one tablet, your choice should be the Surface. Enterprise security software runs on Windows and is designed to interact with Windows PCs. Whether remotely: logging into your LAN, accessing full Outlook, or participating in virtual meetings; chances are you will need to run security packages on your tablet and 100% of them will run on Windows. iOS, not so much.

    Also, the idea that Windows software is not designed for touch and, therefore, is difficult to use, is spread by people with little experience with it. I have an 8″ Windows 8.1 tablet and I live on the desktop side. I run Office 2013 and Acrobat Pro with my finger. For delicate work (primarily selecting text), I use the stylus; for heavy typing, the keyboard.

  2. TerryTigner

    This was a horribly superficial and useless review.

    What in the world has happened to this web site?

  3. pellegew

    This article… OMG. I hope the author reads these comments. 12 sq inches is not 1 sqr foot. 1 sq foot is 12 inch x 12 inch = 144 sqr inches. So 10.4 sqr inches is 0.07 sq ft.

    • Ed Hardy

      Yeah, sorry about that. Fixed.

  4. JazzyUK

    Another misleading article trying to grab attention – looks like it’s Apple-sponsored. It’s like the author is trying to convince me that the iPad Pro is in the same class as the Surface Pro 4. Why on earth would you compare a tablet running a mobile phone OS to a true PC/Tablet hybrid running a desktop OS?

    You know what, I went to the Apple store yesterday to compare the iPad Pro with my Surface Pro 3 and guess what. The iPad Pro is simply an enlarged iPhone, hence a toy for kids to play candy crush. It’s features are so light and lack depth – hence the name iToy Pro. The iToy Pro only runs watered-down versions of full blown desktop apps. The author of this article claims that the iToy Pro is a 2-in-1 because of its keyboard and stylus. He forgot to mention that this device is not too different from other similar devices with keyboards and styli e.g. Galaxy Note Pro, Galaxy Tab S2, Experia Z4, etc. The iToy Pro has several hardware and software limitations such as inability to run any of the 8 million+ desktop apps, no support for multiple users with complete application & file security, no virtual machine support for running multiple OSs simultaneously, no full integration with the robust enterprise applications that drive organisations, etc. The iToy Pro doesn’t fully support input device types such as game controllers, memory cards, mice, USB sticks and trackpads. The keyboard quality is poor and inferior and it has very limited storage (128GB max). In terms of cost, the iPad Pro is just an expensive toy suffering from an identity crisis and offers very little value for money for example the 128GB iPad Pro cost £799 + keyboard £139 + stylus £79 (£1,017) whereas the 128GB CoreM Surface Pro 4 cost £704.99 + keyboard £109.99 (£814.98), Corei5 Surface Pro 4 cost £849 + keyboard £109.99 (£958.99).

  5. CurtisQ

    Honestly, the iPad Pro is not on the same league as the Surface Pro. The SP4 can truly server as a replacement for a laptop. The iPad Pro is not really designed to do this. It is basically a big iPad and out cannot run full featured desktop apps like the SP4 can with ease. Also, I use an SP3 and in no way does it need a stylus pen to be useful. I can use my finger just fine with desktop apps. But I can also use my mouse and the keypad. You cannot do this on an iPad Pro and that is a big fail. I do however love how well the digital pen on the SP3 allows me to take notes and scribble drawings at meetings and during class. OneNote is an awesome companion for the SP3 and really redefines what a tablet should be. I use it every day and could not imagine using a tablet without it. Until the iPad Pro can use a mouse and trackpad and until it can run desktop programs, it will remain an expensive toy.

  6. Mickbadal

    Both these tablets support side-by-side multitasking, so two applications can be displayed simultaneously, but each has an advantage over the other..”

    Not the complete story. The surface can use AS MANY WINDOWS as you want at a time, not just two. And you can “snap” up to four to the screen.

    “The iPad pro is the better option for watching movies..”

    Not at all. What do you prop that gigantic thing up with in bed..your pillow? Or do you have to hold it? Major issue that has been noted for video consumption experience on iPad. SP4’s kickstand makes viewing in bed and on the couch a pleasure.

    No mention of surface pen’s eraser. No mention of surface’s abilities to use multiple monitors, any wireless printer you wish, or numerous other enterprise advantages.

    Overall this is a iPad-leaning review. Practically every time a positive point is raised for the surface, the writer raises a counterpoint to diminish it. When a negative point is raised for the iPad, the writer raises a counterpoint to not make it look that bad.

    Objective articles please.

  7. StandUpGuy

    Only a writer with a slant towards the iPad Pro would describe the more complete offerings of the Surface Pro as “complicated”…first time I’ve ever seen that description used in that context.

    • Ed Hardy

      Here’s a good example of why I describe Windows that way: my sister and I spent over a decade helping our 70+ year old mother with her laptop. This involved monthly calls on the phone as we tried to talk her through problems she’d run into with Windows, calls that were very frustrating for all of us.

      I recently sent her an old iPad so she could use it as a camera (her eyesight is failing to where she has trouble seeing the viewfinder on a point-and-shoot). Before I could get over to her house to teach her how to use it, she began posting pictures on Facebook, Google Plus, and (for some reason) Dropbox. She had figured it out herself.

      People who have been using Windows their whole life are very accustomed to it, and no longer really see how complex it is. It seems intuitive because they are used to the quirks. As I said in my article, Microsoft favors more features over simplicity, which is a tradeoff that works for a lot of people because they need the power. But it makes the OS very complicated. MS does all it can to mitigate the problem, and there are some nice improvements in Windows 10, but it’s hard on people who don’t need all the functionality that Windows brings.

  8. Bookman1410

    Ed…
    One large feature missed (for those who travel) is the ability to use GPS apps on the iPad to navigate thru cities. I am never without my iPad when traveling to unfamiliar turf.
    I believe both tools have their place.
    Keep up the good work.

  9. Franken

    Ed, this is a shocking comparison and fails to hit the mark in so many areas on the pros and cons of these devices. Your omissions on how they work and proclamations on how you ‘think’ they work makes you look more than a little amateurish. I don’t know how long you have been writing reviews but as of reading this article, I’m not confident I’ll bother reading any more. I assume you own an iPhone, Mac and now an iPad Pro based on your overly biased article. Maybe just stick to writing about apple, and enjoy that keyboard on the iPad.

    • Ed Hardy

      I don’t currently have laptop because tablets are all I need, and I switched from Mac to Windows any back around 2003. I use a Surface Pro 3 when I run into something for which I need Windows. You are right that the computer I primarily use to earn my living is an iPad Pro, though.

      The point is I use Windows 10 every day, and have been doing so for many years. I’m not someone speaking in ignorance, and anyone who has read my review of Windows 10 should know that I see the benefits. But I also see the problems, and I’m open to the advantages that are offered by rival operating systems.

      Before you dismiss me as an Apple apologist, read my review of Windows 10:
      http://www.tabletpcreview.com/review/microsoft-windows-10-for-tablets-review/

      And I should point out that I picked the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 over the iPad Air 2 in my head-to-head comparison of these:
      http://www.tabletpcreview.com/feature/samsung-galaxy-tab-s2-9-7-vs-apple-ipad-air-2/
      Something that drew complaints from Apple fans.

  10. WillNoble

    What ARE YOU TRYING TO DO IN HERE? How in hell is an iPad even if its a PRO compares to a Real workhorse like the Microsoft Surface PRO 4? You could get away with comparing it to the Microsoft RT from the first version released by MS few years ago. Because its NOT Just the Hardware is in a completely different league, but also the maturity of the OS itself. even the markets niche is completely different, who is looking for an iPAD won’t be interested in Microsoft Surface, and OF COURSE the same thing for people looking for the Surface Pro. IMHO this article is so gimmicky and fake.

  11. slantted

    Ed- I wouldn’t worry a bit about these negative comments. Because I’m not loyal to any brand, I think your article is spot on. Working in the motorcycle industry, I see the same type of comments from my customers. People will say the craziest things about a brand when they are in love with it no mater how false their claims are. I’ve played with the Surface on numerous occasions and can’t get myself to buy one. Apple does a phenominal job with getting their UI and OS to be practically trouble free and user friendly and so everyone in my family received iPads as gifts. That’s 6 iPads in one shot. If someone was looking for a tablet that will replace their laptop I can see how a $2000 version of the Surface will be an attractive purchase but there are 3 current laptops in my household already so I wasn’t looking to replace them at all. Everyone in the family uses the iPads for gaming, checking their email, surfing the net and light duty office programs just like the product was intended.

  12. StevenAlpert

    I’ve been very solidly in the Apple camp until the Surface Pro 4 came along and I prefer the Apple eco-system to anything else. But it is really disturbing to me that Apple refuses to see any value in a creating a 2-in-1 tablet running OS X. I am a creative – I want to run Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop and a few other applications like Manga Studio on a tablet. Microsoft has it already. I’d hang on and wait until Apple makes one, but they are saying they just won’t. So, hello Microsoft, we have a good future together.