The iPad Pro vs the Microsoft Surface Pro 4

A Comparison of the Microsoft Surface and the Apple iPad

iPad Pro

It would be easy to dismiss Microsoft's Surface Pro as an "also ran" in the mobile category, but that would overlook how the natural evolution of tablets is bringing the competition back to Microsoft.  As much as Microsoft has failed to connect with mobile technology, they are still the clear leaders when it comes to the enterprise.  As the Microsoft Surface has evolved, it has become entrenched as one of the go-to hybrid tablets.

 This is despite the fact that it doesn't actually come with a keyboard.

The biggest question for those debating between an iPad Pro and a Surface Pro 4 may be one of need rather than which device performs better or which tablet is the best deal. The Surface Pro 4 runs a full-blown version of Windows 10, so all of the "desktop class" Windows software will run on it.

Microsoft has always had a big advantage in terms of the amount of software that runs on the Windows platform, but Apple now holds a huge advantage in this area as well. There are over a million apps in the App Store, which is one big reason why the iPad remains the king of tablets in a world dominated by so many cheaper Android alternatives.

More importantly, the App Store has over a million apps designed for touchscreen devices.

This is where the iPad Pro holds a major advantage over the Surface Pro 4. If you are tied to a particular piece of Windows software that has no iPad equivalent and you want to replace your laptop, the Surface Pro 4 will probably end up the best tablet for your needs.

But if you are looking for the best tablet experience and aren't tied to the Windows platform, the iPad will have the advantage.

Read the 12.9-inch iPad Pro Review

How Does the iPad Pro Stack Up in Terms of Performance?

Apple's claim that the iPad Pro is faster than 80% of laptops, tablets, and hybrid on sale makes a great sound byte, but it doesn't much real information.

More accurately, the iPad Pro performs similarly to Intel's i5 processors, which is the mid-range chipset.

Microsoft offers a Surface Pro 4 that comes in all three basic flavors of Intel processor: the Intel Core m3 beginning at $899, the i5 beginning at $999 and the i7 with an entry-level price of $1599. The iPad Pro outperforms the entry-level Surface Pro 4 and stacks up about the same as the i5 variant.

In terms of graphics, the iPad Pro has a significant edge on the Surface Pro 4, which isn't surprising when you consider how popular mobile gaming has become on the iPad. Both tablets boast a similar screen resolution, but in terms of performance, the iPad Pro is the king. Using GFXBench's on screen tests, the iPad Pro beat the Surface Pro 4 both on the Manhatten test (33.9 frames-per-second to 18.3) and the somewhat less-intensive T-Rex test (59.4 frames-per-second to 46.3). This means graphics -- especially gaming -- will be smoother and more able to handle greater detail on the iPad Pro.

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The iPad Pro doubles the amount of RAM memory available for apps from the 2 GB found in the iPad Air 2 to 4 GB in the iPad Pro. But while this amount of memory will make the iPad Pro extremely fast even while multitasking, the 4 GB available for the Surface Pro 4 will drag the performance down significantly.

Windows simply requires more in terms of both memory and storage space, so those looking at a Surface tablet may want to opt for the upgraded 8 GB of memory.

Speaking of storage space, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro comes with 32 GB for the $799 entry-level device and an upgraded $949 model with 128 GB of storage. The Surface Pro has two storage options: 128 GB and 256 GB. Microsoft Windows needs much more storage space than iOS, so in many ways that 32 GB iPad Pro model will feel like it has as much elbow room -- and perhaps even more -- than the 128 GB Surface Pro 4 model. However, for those looking for a laptop and desktop replacement, that 32 GB will quickly become filled up with photos, videos, and music, so the 128 GB model will make a lot more sense.

For those looking for a portable solution to go alongside a desktop solution at home, the lower storage models can be attractive.

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Is the iPad Pro or the Surface Pro 4 the Better Deal?

The iPad Pro and the Surface Pro 4 both offer a range of models, but in order to do a price comparison, we'll use the iPad Pro with 128 GB of storage. This is the right choice for those who are looking to completely replace their laptop and even their desktop PC. Because the Surface Pro 4 doesn't offer a model with 4G LTE, we won't compare the 4G version of the iPad Pro.

The 128 GB 12.9-inch iPad Pro: $899.

The best equivalent to this iPad is the Intel Core i5 Surface Pro 4 with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage. Microsoft doesn't offer a Surface Pro 4 with 8 GB of RAM and only 128 GB of storage. Also, with Windows 10 taking up 16 GB alone and Windows software generally taking up more space, the 256 GB is closer to the mark.

The 256 GB i5 Surface Pro with 8 GB of RAM: $1,299.

Of course, you can get a cheaper iPad Pro and a cheaper Surface Pro 4. If you don't need the extra performance from your processor and won't be doing any heavy multitasking, the entry-level Surface Pro 4 is only $899. The 32 GB iPad Pro still chops $100 off this price tag, and while 32 GB doesn't sound like a lot, it should be plenty if you stream your music from Spotify or Apple Music and store your photos in a cloud storage solution like Dropbox or iCloud Drive.

The 128 GB 9.7-inch iPad Pro: $699

Let's not forget that the iPad Pro also comes with a 9.7-inch size.  The 12.9-inch screen is awesome despite the fact that the smaller Pro's display has a few technological advantages.   But if you don't need more display real estate or value portability over screen space, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro can save you a couple of hundred dollars and comes in far cheaper than the equivalent Surface Pro. 

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What About the Keyboard and the Stylus?

A big focus of Microsoft commercials showing off the Surface tablet is the smart keyboard that connects to it. Unfortunately, while the keyboard connects great with the Surface Pro 4, it doesn't come with it. The Surface does come with a stylus called the Surface Pen. This stylus doesn't offer quite the precision as the upcoming Apple Pencil, but it's not bad for a stylus and doesn't cost anything extra.

Similar to Microsoft's smart keyboard, the iPad doesn't come with a keyboard. In fact, Apple's smart keyboard isn't even on sale yet. Apple's Pencil is also an added cost.  

In terms of both the iPad Pro and the Surface Pro 4, I would recommend skipping the keyboard when you buy the tablet. Find out if you really need a keyboard as much as you think or if the on-screen keyboard will be enough. Also, keep in mind that there are plenty of cheaper wireless keyboard solutions available, so if you absolutely need a keyboard but absolutely don't need it that often, you might save some cash and get a cheaper alternative.  

Which Tablet Should I Buy?

If you are still on the fence, the simplest way to make a choice is to decide what you are most looking for in a device. If you mainly want a laptop, the Surface Pro 4 with the additional smart keyboard will offer the benefits of a laptop (including running Windows software) that can also be used as a tablet. On the other hand, if you are mainly wanting a tablet, the iPad Pro will offer the absolute best tablet experience at a slightly more affordable cost. And you can pass those savings on to the purchase of the smart keyboard to make the iPad Pro a very capable laptop as well.  

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