Over the years, the war has swayed in favor of one company and then back towards the other, the endless dance of the pendulum. Today, the war takes on a new shape in the form of tablet-laptop hybrids: The iPad and the Microsoft Surface.
In this article, we aim to crown the winner of the tablet-laptop-hybrid gauntlet once and for all (or at least until each company comes out with a new tablet in six months).
iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface: What’s different?
First things first, let’s assume you don’t know anything about either tablet. The biggest difference is the brand, which might sound obvious, but it makes a huge difference in your purchasing decision. The iPad Pro is very visual, fluid, and robust, while the Microsoft Surface is more multipurpose and flexible.
Additionally, the iPad Pro is a part of the Apple ecosystem, while the Surface is more of an island product, as Microsoft doesn’t have much in the way of a hardware ecosystem. With the iPad, you’ll get free access to all of Apple’s work software (Pages, Numbers, Keynote, etc.) while Microsoft’s Word, Excel, and Powerpoint aren’t free for anyone.
And, of course, the iPad is running iPadOS while the Surface is running Windows. If you’ve never used iPadOS before, it’s like a beefier, more feature-rich version of iOS, the software that runs on iPhone.
What’s the same?
Surprisingly, a lot of factors are the same with these two devices. The price is relatively the same, as are the displays. Both are intended for use by graphic designers and digital artists, and the screens support that. Both devices also support native styluses that make drawing and writing incredibly natural.
Another important point to mention is that the Microsoft Surface and the iPad Pro have excellent performance. The iPad Pro is known for being able to outpace most laptops and even many desktops, and the Microsoft Surface isn’t far behind. In fact, the most current iPad Pro is slower than the newest Surface (though it’s worth noting that the iPad Pro hasn’t had a serious spec refresh since 2018). So in either case, lags and interruptions should be spare.
Who should buy which?
Below, we’ll get into all of the nuanced differences between the two machines, but for those who just want the fast answer, here it is: If you want a portable computer, buy the Microsoft Surface. If you want a powerful tablet and are a digital artist, grab the iPad Pro. Additionally, if you already have a foot in the Apple ecosystem (i.e., you own an iPhone, Mac, or another iPad) then it’s probably worth sticking with that ecosystem.
To expand on this a little more, the Microsoft Surface is running Windows, an operating system that has long been ingrained in personal computing. The iPad, on the other hand, didn’t get its own operating system until 2019. Up to that point, it had been running the same software as the iPhone, and it showed. So while the software on iPad has come a long way from just being “the big iPhone”, it’s still not as PC-like as the Surface.
Also, if you do any coding, skip the iPad.
Price, specs, and the nitty-gritty details
With the big questions out of the way, it’s time to dive deep into the iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface’s finer points. Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know, from which has a better battery to which looks nicer on your lap.
iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface: Price
At the top of everyone’s list is price. Neither device is cheap, but for a pro device, neither is all that expensive, either. Both come in two variations. To keep it simple, here’s a list:
The important thing to understand is what you’re getting at each price point. In just about every way except screen size, the iPad Pro 11-inch and 12.9-inch are the same. You’re purely paying for a larger screen. The Surface Pro 7 and Pro X, on the other hand, are different machines with distinct specs and features. For that extra $100, you’re getting a better computer when you buy the Pro X.
iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface: Design and Display
Next up is the design and display. This might not seem as important as specs, but it’s the first thing you’ll notice when looking at these devices side by side and it plays a big part in whether you feel like you got your money’s worth.
The good news is that all of these devices have exceptional build quality. All are pleasant to look at, look great on a desk or a coffeehouse table, and offer innovative designs. In terms of the actual display itself, these devices have nearly identical resolutions, so you won’t be getting a bad screen on any of them.
In our slightly biased opinion, the iPad Pro does have a nicer design, but that’s to be expected as design is Apple’s wheelhouse. When holding the flat, minimalist iPad, it’s hard not to feel like you’re holding the future of computing. The Microsoft Surface, while still elegant, feels more like a laptop-turned-tablet than the next stage of tech evolution. Apple’s pretension has paid off here, and in my opinion, the current iPad Pro is the best-looking device Apple has yet made.
The one thing that the Surface has over the iPad when it comes to design is the kickstand. The iPad needs a case to stand upright; otherwise, it’s just a big piece of glass that you have to lay flat or hold in your hand. The Surface has a built-in kickstand that is stable and satisfying.
iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface: Features
Because the Microsoft Surface is running Windows, it’s just naturally more feature-rich. To give you an idea of the difference between the two, being able to open multiple windows of the same app on the iPad is a fairly new “feature” of the platform. Yeah…
Additionally, the Microsoft Surface has more ports than the iPad Pro. The Surface Pro X has two USB C ports and the Surface Pro 7 has one USB C port and a USB A port. The iPad Pro, on the other hand, just has one USB C port. It also has a magnetic connector, but that’s only used for connecting keyboards.
That said, the iPad Pro isn’t lacking in features. In its own way, it has a lot to offer. As mentioned, it includes all of Apple’s apps for free (that includes spreadsheets, document editors, music and video creation, etc.), has a much better camera than either Surface, and includes tons of integration with other Apple products. The iPad Pro also has better battery life than the Surface.
In short, the Surface wins on features, but the iPad Pro has plenty of features as well. It all depends on the kinds of features you’re looking for.
iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface: Ecosystem
And that brings us to the ecosystem. Spoilers, this one goes to the iPad Pro. Apple’s ecosystem of products is so successful that there have been essays and discussions on it for several years now. Apple’s products all integrate with one another seamlessly, providing features and possibilities that no other tech company has yet been able to offer.
The words “Microsoft” and “ecosystem” almost don’t belong in the same sentence. It’s hard to imagine that anyone owns more than two Windows products, and it’s safe to assume that these computers do very little in the way of integration without the user going out of their way to integrate them.
In the same way that the iPad isn’t trying to be a portable PC, the Surface isn’t trying to be part of an ecosystem, so it’s tough to knock it too hard. It’s just not what the Surface was made for. If you already have an Apple product or two, then having an iPad Pro will increase the features you get out of each of your devices.
iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface: Accessories
This might be the most difficult category to compare, as both offer great accessories for the price. However, each device’s accessories are priced quite differently.
Let’s start with the keyboard. Both the Microsoft Surface and iPad Pro offer optional, detachable keyboards. Each keyboard comes with a built-in touchpad, which you can use as an alternative to a mouse. The Surface keyboard is essentially just a keyboard “mat” that attaches to the device, while the iPad Pro’s keyboard is used to prop the device up at various angles.
The keyboards themselves feel about the same, both resembling a standard laptop keyboard in size and clickiness. The iPad’s keyboard has a hinge that caused quite a stir at the beginning of this year, making it look as though the iPad is floating.
While the iPad’s keyboard is probably better, it’s also much more expensive. It starts at $299, while the Surface Pro keyboard starts at $129. In other words, it would be about the same cost or less to buy a MacBook Air as it is to buy an iPad Pro with a keyboard.
The next big accessory for both devices is the stylus. Both are excellent for drawing, though the Apple Pencil feels slightly more natural. It’s also a bit more expensive, priced at $129 versus the Surface’s $99.
We’ll call this category a draw; you’ll pay a bit more for Apple’s accessories, but you’ll also get a bit more out of them.
iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface: Operating Systems
Finally, we have the operating systems of these two devices. Both are familiar to most tech users and yet each is so distinct. Once again, this category is going to come down to your personal preference.
The iPad Pro is running iPadOS, which is a more MacBook-esque version of iOS, the software that runs on the iPhone. You have basic laptop functionality that allows you to do most things you would want to do on a PC, but anything beyond that will be pretty limited. There’s no Time Machine, no terminal, no programming, etc. On the other hand, the iPad was built with a mobile, touch-first design in mind, which makes it much more natural than the Surface.
The Surface is running a slightly modified version of Windows 10, which is an excellent version of Windows. You can do just about anything with it, but you will also run into the typical bugs and inconsistencies that have always existed on Windows. It has more to offer than an iPad, but it’s not as fluid.
Which is better?
In the end, that’s up for you to decide! Grabbing a Microsoft Surface isn’t much different than grabbing any other Microsoft laptop; you’re getting a great touchscreen and stylus on top of the traditional Windows experience.
The iPad Pro, on the other hand, offers something that has elements of traditional computing but is overall a new beast trying to find its place in the market. Both are excellent options, it just comes down to what’s right for you.
How much does the iPad Pro cost?
The iPad Pro 11-inch costs $799 and the iPad Pro 12.9-inch costs $999.
How much does Microsoft Surface cost?
The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 costs $749 and the Microsoft Surface Pro X costs $849.
Should I get an iPad Pro or a Microsoft Surface?
If you’re primarily a digital artist or someone with fairly light computer needs (internet browsing, note-taking, and document creating), the iPad Pro offers an excellent, fluid user experience in an elegantly designed device.
If you have heftier computing needs, such as programming or moving files around constantly, then the Microsoft Surface offers a typical PC experience in a portable, flexible device.