Turning Pro: Microsoft vs Apple tablets

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Microsoft and Apple are both trying to impress consumers in the increasingly competitive 2-in-1 tablet/laptop category, with the two tech giants releasing new models under the respective banners of their Surface and iPad lines.

Microsoft has brought its Surface Pro to market, while Apple has introduced two new versions of its iPad Pro (sporting different screen sizes), and across these devices a range of new features are underscored by hardware upgrades on previous versions.

The battle for the consumer dollar is being fought across many fronts, encompassing both hardware and software, as both companies seek to consolidate and extend their respective technology ecosystems.

Computers have evolved from simply functioning as either a desktop or a laptop, and portability and touchscreen convenience are now a key feature of new releases, and the emergence of the 2-in-1 category is indicative of this trend.

Both Microsoft and Apple are seeking to convince consumers that their respective 2-in-1s pack the power needed to handle their computing needs – so, how do the Surface Pro and iPad Pro compare, and what are the major features of the respective devices?

Dashing displays

This review will look at the 12.9-inch iPad Pro (rather than the 10.5-inch version) and the 12.3-inch Surface Pro, both of which sport touchscreens, and both of which place a heavy emphasis on pen functionality (compatible pens for both devices are sold separately).

The Surface Pro is decked out with a PixelSense display (with a resolution of 2,736 x 1,824; 267 ppi), and supports the Surface Pen and Surface Dial (which allows for different ways to interact with the Surface when held to the screen), with Microsoft stating that “the writing experience feels like writing on paper”.

“Not only does Surface Pro work with on-screen Surface Dial, it was also designed with the new Surface Pen, our most natural and responsive pen yet, with over 4,096 pressure points, only 21 milliseconds of latency and new tilt functionality,” Microsoft states. “It gives people, from artists to mobile professionals, a more fluid and real-to-life inking experience.”

The iPad Pro sports a Retina display (with a resolution of 2,732 x 2,048; 264 ppi) and features ProMotion technology, which Apple states “delivers refresh rates of up to 120 Hz for fluid scrolling, greater responsiveness and smoother motion content”.

“With ProMotion, Apple Pencil is even more responsive, with an industry-best 20-millisecond latency for even more fluid and natural drawing,” Apple states. “ProMotion also improves display quality and reduces power consumption by automatically adjusting the display refresh rate to match the movement of the content.”

From entertainment to work, Microsoft and Apple have both released devices that sport displays designed to cater for a variety of functions, and it is notable that the power of the pen is growing in the digital age.

Under the hood and all-important battery life

Stunning screens are all well and good, but underlying grunt is needed to ensure smooth operation, and in this area both Microsoft and Apple have upped the stakes in the 2-in-1 category.

The Surface Pro is powered by a 7th generation Intel Core m3, i5 or i7 processor, and is available in a range of configurations at a range of prices, with a 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB or 1TB SSD (solid-state drive), 4 GB, 8 GB or 16 GB RAM.

Microsoft states that “it can handle almost anything you throw at it”, with it also being the quietest Surface yet.

The iPad Pro is powered by an A10X Fusion chip with 64-bit architecture, which Apple states “provides performance that is faster than most PC laptops shipping today”, and is available with either 64 GB, 256 GB or 512 GB storage.

Apple states that, powered by the A10X, “tackling complex tasks like editing photos and 4K video, rendering 3D images or playing games feels effortless”.

When it comes to battery life, Microsoft states that the Surface Pro provides up to 13.5 hours of video playback.

Apple states that for all models the iPad Pro provides up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video or listening to music, and for the Wi-Fi + cellular models up to nine hours of surfing the web using a mobile data network.

Cameras and connectivity

Tablet in hand

Cameras have, of course, become a standard feature of mobile devices, and while both the Surface Pro and iPad Pro occupy the 2-in-1 category, they are both decked out with rear and front-facing cameras.

The Surface Pro sports an 8 MP rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p full-HD video and a 5 MP front-facing camera with 1080p Skype HD video.

The iPad Pro is equipped with a 12 MP rear-facing camera with optical image stabilisation and a 7 MP front-facing FaceTime HD camera.

When it comes to connectivity, the Surface Pro sports the following:

  • USB 3.0 port
  • 3.5 mm headphone jack
  • microSDXC card reader
  • Surface Connect (for charging)
  • Mini DisplayPort
  • Cover port
  • Wi-Fi: IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth 4.1

The iPad Pro is decked out with the following:

  • Lightning connector (with a Lightning-to-USB cable in the box)
  • 3.5 mm headphone jack
  • Smart Connector
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth 4.2

The Surface Pro can be charged via the Surface Connect cable, while the iPad Pro charges via USB to a computer system or power adaptor.

Operating systems

Windows Logo on Keyboad

Of course, hardware power needs to be backed up by smoothly functioning software, and the respective operating systems of the Surface Pro and the iPad Pro are a major selling point for both Microsoft and Apple.

The Surface Pro runs Windows 10 Pro, with Microsoft stating that it ships with the latest Windows 10 Creators Update, allowing users to “take advantage of the new 3D and inking tools available in the update, while businesses can easily run the programs they need, including the full Microsoft Office suite and legacy desktop software”.

Microsoft has additionally launched the Microsoft Whiteboard on Surface app, enabling “simultaneous collaboration and live multi-device inking across the family of Surface devices”, and states that it “is just the beginning of the integration” between Surface and Office moving forward.

The iPad Pro ships with iOS 10, however iOS 11 is due for release later this year, and Apple is promoting the operating system as a major selling point for the iPad Pro, with a number of new features set to be introduced.

“Combined with powerful new iPad features in iOS 11 coming this spring, like the all-new Files app, customisable Dock, improved multitasking and deeper integration of Apple Pencil, iPad Pro gives users the ability to be even more productive and creative,” Apple states.

Slim and lightweight: What about the design?

The Surface Pro and the iPad Pro each respectively sport slim and lightweight designs, decked out to deliver mobility.

Microsoft states that the Surface Pro is its lightest ever, measuring 292 x 201 x 8.5 mm and weighing from 768 g (for the m3 model) up to 784 g (for the i7 model).

The Surface Pro’s “clean lines and curved edges are beautiful to see and touch”, while new Signature Type Covers (the cover and keyboard that folds out from the device), which are sold separately, deliver “a high-quality scissor mechanism to provide you a consistent and stable typing experience”.

The iPad Pro measures in at 305.7 x 220.6 x 6.9 mm and weighs in at 677 g for the Wi-Fi model and 692 g for the Wi-Fi + cellular model, with Apple describing it as “sleek and compact”.

Apple’s Smart Keyboard is available separately, with Apple stating that its “elegant design is durable enough to withstand everyday use”, with it folding to “to create a slim, lightweight cover”.

Both the Surface Pro and the iPad Pro are designed for mobility, which may well be a significant attraction for consumers looking for a 2-in-1, with the devices delivering ever-increasing computing power in slim and lightweight designs.

Surface Pro and iPad Pro pricing

Pricing for the Surface Pro (as listed via the Microsoft Australia website):

  • Intel Core m3/128 GB SSD/4 GB RAM – $1,199
  • Intel Core i5/128 GB SSD/4 GB RAM – $1,499
  • Intel Core i5/256 GB SSD/8 GB RAM – $1,999
  • Intel Core i7/256 GB SSD/8 GB RAM – $2,449
  • Intel Core i7/512 GB SSD/16 GB RAM – $3,299
  • Intel Core i7/1 TB SSD/16 GB RAM – $3,999

The Signature Type Cover, available in cobalt blue, platinum and burgundy, is priced at $249.95, while the Surface Pen, available in cobalt blue, platinum, burgundy and black, is listed as “coming soon”.

Pricing for the iPad Pro, available in silver, gold and space grey (as listed via the Apple Australia website):

  • 64 GB Wi-Fi – $1,199; Wi-Fi + cellular – $1,399
  • 256 GB Wi-Fi – $1,349; Wi-Fi + cellular – $1,549
  • 512 GB Wi-Fi – $1,649; Wi-Fi + cellular – $1,849

The Smart Keyboard is priced at $245, and the Apple Pencil is priced at $145.

So, which is worthy of your money?

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