The Microsoft Surface is the flagship Windows 2-in-1 device, and it’s now on its fourth iteration. Apple has decided that it wants in on the market, too, and is planning to challenge Microsoft in November with its iPad Pro. Can the iOS tablet really put up a fight, or does its mobile roots force it to fight with one hand tied behind its back?
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
|Size||12 x 8.6 x 0.27 inches||11.50 x 7.93 x .33 in inches|
|Weight||1.54 pounds||1.68 pounds|
|Display||12.9-inch Retina touch display||12.3-inch PixelSense touch display|
|Resolution||2,732 × 2,048 pixels (264 ppi)||2,763 × 1,824 (267 ppi)|
|Operating System||iOS 9||Windows 10|
|Storage||32 or 128GB||128 base, 256, 512GB or 1TB|
|CPU||Apple’s 64-bit A9X chip, M9 motion coprocessor||Core m3 base, Core i5 or i7 optional|
|RAM||4GB||4GB base, up to 16GB optional|
|Camera||Front 5MP, Rear 8MP||Front 5MP, Rear 8MP|
|Video||Front 720p, Rear 1080p||Front 720p, Rear 1080p|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi, 4G LTE, HSPA+, Bluetooh 4.2||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Sensors||Three-axis gyro, accelerometer, ambient light sensor,barometer, and Touch ID fingerprint sensor||Three-axis gyro, accelerometer, ambient light sensor, Magnetometer, fingerprint scanner in keyboard dock|
|Battery||Up to 10 hours of surfing the Web on Wi-Fi, watching videos, or listening to music||Up to 9 hours of video playback|
|Marketplace||Apple App Store||Windows 10 Store|
|Price||$800, or $1,080 with cellular||$900 base, up to $2,700|
|DT review||Hands-on||Not currently Available|
Comparing the processor in the iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is tricky because they operate using different instruction sets, and with different operating systems.
GeekBench results suggest that the A9 chip in the iPhone 6S is comparable to an entry-level MacBook, which itself has a processor similar to the base Microsoft Surface Pro 4. And the iPad Pro is expected to be quite a bit quicker than an iPhone 6S. It may turn out, then, that the iPad Pro is able to keep pace with the Surface Pro 4 quite well. But the Microsoft buyer can spend more for a Core i5 or i7 — the iPad Pro has no such options.
The iPad Pro will probably win in graphics. The Surface Pro 4 uses Intel HD, which is alright, but definitely not the best solution. Intel Iris graphics is available on the most expensive, Core i7 model, and should provide a nice bump in capability. Still, past iPads have had extremely capable GPUs, and iOS has less overhead. We think Apple will be the way to go if you care about gaming.
Memory, on the other hand, is a clear win for the Surface. It comes with the same base memory as the iPad Pro, but can ramp up to 16GB — four times the Apple device. That’ll give it an edge when working with large files and multi-tasking hefty apps.
Here we have a clear-cut win for the Surface Pro 4. It comes standard with as much memory as the iPad Pro’s maximum, and can range all the way up to a terabyte. You have to pay way too much for the biggest SSDs, but if you need the space, only Microsoft can provide it.
Winner: Surface Pro 4
While the iPad Pro lept ahead of the Surface Pro 3, the Surface Pro strikes back with a new 12.3-inch panel boasting 267 pixels per inch. That’s just four pixels more per inch than the iPad, so the difference won’t be noticeable. But technically, Microsoft wins.
It’s also worth noting that the Surface Pro line uses a different aspect ratio than the iPad Pro; the former is 3:2 while the latter’s ratio is 4:3. This means the Surface Pro’s display is not quite as tall as that of the iPad Pro.
3:2 is arguably an advantage when displaying images and video, because most are 16:9, and thus the Surface Pro will require smaller black bars to format the content to the screen. However, the iPad Pro will be able to display a bit more content at once, which might be useful when writing and editing documents.
Winner: Surface Pro 4
The iPad Pro quotes up to 10 hours of battery life, while the Surface 4 Pro quotes up to 9 hours. We have to take the manufacturer’s word for it at this point, so this is a win in favor of the iPad Pro. I expect that, in practice, real-world use will mirror this advantage.
Apple’s iPad Pro is also a tenth of a pound lighter and slightly thinner. The margin is small, though — both devices will be very easy to carry.
Winner: iPad Pro
Both the iPad Pro and Surface Pro 4 have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as you’d expect. The iPad’s version of Bluetooth is newer (4.2) but that’s a trivial difference. Less trivial is the availability of LTE mobile data for the iPad Pro, something the Surface Pro does not currently offer.
On the other hand, Microsoft’s device has much better physical connectivity. It includes a USB 3.0 port, a microSD card reader, headphone jack, and Mini-DisplayPort. The iPad Pro just has a lightning connector. The Surface can be further expanded with an optional dock that adds another video output and three more USB ports — but it is rather pricey, at $199.
Speaking of price, the two devices are a bit closer than you’d expect. The iPad Pro starts at $800 with 32GB of storage, but you’ll have to spend $950 if you want a 128GB drive. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 starts at $900 with a base 128GB drive, so it looks like a better value.
The Surface looks even better when the accessories are added, because its Type Cover is only $130, while the iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard is a whopping $170. Microsoft also provides a free Surface pen, while you’ll have to pay $100 for the Apple Pencil.
All-in, with a keyboard and pen, you’re looking at a base price of $1,030 for the Surface Pro 4, or $1,220 for the iPad Pro, assuming you get the model with more storage. You’ll pay $1,070 all-in for the base 32GB iPad Pro.
Of course, the Surface Pro 4 can become very expensive depending on how you configure it. The Core i5 model with 256GB of memory, which is what you really want, is $1,300. Still, the pricing battle seems to favor Microsoft.
Winner: Surface Pro 4
And the champion is…
Apple’s iPad Pro impressed us when it was debuted last month, but the Surface Pro 4 is an excellent response. It ups the device’s game in every area we thought Microsoft would address, and in some areas we didn’t.
The display is a great example. Microsoft could’ve stuck with the old 2,160 x 1,440 panel, which still beats most competitors and looks great. But instead it went the extra mile, upping both resolution and screen size.
Apple’s iPad Pro is more portable, and it may give the base Surface Pro 4 some serious competition in compute performance. But Microsoft’s new device is a better value, offers more RAM, more storage, and more physical connectivity.