Turning Pro: Microsoft vs Apple tablets

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Tablets have come a long way since their early generations of drained batteries and gimmicky touchscreens that were more form than function. Skip forward a decade and they are now rivalling their laptop and desktop computer counterparts in terms of everyday use and performance.

No longer a tech-gadget or plaything for those who could afford it, touchscreen tablets are now as commonplace and versatile as mobile phones, with a bigger screen to boot. The introduction and development of accessories such as keyboards and the stylus, high-performance cameras and an ever-expanding catalogue of applications and software mean that a tablet is just as likely to design award-winning architecture as it is to put the kids to bed with the latest episode of Bluey.

Stalwarts of the tech field and age-old rivals, Apple and Microsoft, are at the forefront of this smooth transition into the age of handheld devices, and have released a number of tablets over the years. Each offer their own contender for a range of markets, including a savvy all-rounder, a smaller basic model for working on the go and a professional that treads closely to laptop territory.

Microsoft Vs. Apple: What’s on offer?

Men working on tablets

With both brands well-known within the tablet market, what exactly does each have on offer, and which one may be the best fit for your needs? Below are what both brands currently have in their respective line-ups:

The latest range of Apple tablets currently on offer:

  • iPad Pro 12.9” (4th Generation)
  • iPad Pro 11” (2nd Generation)
  • iPad Air (4th Generation)
  • iPad (8th Generation)
  • iPad Mini (5th Generation)

The latest range of Microsoft tablets currently on offer:

  • Surface Pro X
  • Surface Pro 7
  • Surface Pro (5th Gen)
  • Surface Go 2
  • Surface Go
  • Surface Book 3
  • Surface Book 2

Keep in mind that depending where you shop or what you’re looking for, earlier models of both Apple and Microsoft tablets may be available to purchase, which may suit those on a budget or not interested in all the bells and whistles of the latest generation.

The All-Rounders

Microsoft Surface Pro 5

Navigating the tablet versus laptop market – and the wide range of brands and models available in each – can be tricky, but this is where the All-Rounders step in. Powerful and functional without skipping out on design and visuals, these Apple and Microsoft models aim to provide the best of both worlds.

The iPad Air is chock full of technology, such as the Touch ID built into the lock-button and is powered by their most advanced microchip ever – the A14 Bionic chip. Compatible with the Apple pencil and keyboard to be easily transformed into a laptop or notepad, it also comes in a range of colours for you to choose from. Versatility is a key theme of iPad Air promotions, with Apple claiming it “does more than a computer in simpler, more magical ways.”

The Microsoft Surface Pro series is equally flexible in its capabilities and, quite literally, in its design. Surface Pro models include a built-in ‘kickstand’ with a hinge, allowing you to set the screen at the perfect angle for ‘studio mode’, or use it in conjunction with a Surface Pro keyboard for ‘laptop mode.’ The Microsoft Surface Pro (5th Gen) and Microsoft Surface Pro 7 are both light and flexible for productive work and entertainment on the go.

If you can’t make up your mind between these models, here is a quick breakdown of the specs of each model:

  Apple iPad Air Microsoft Surface Pro (5th Gen) Microsoft Surface Pro 7
Screen size (inches) 10.9” 12.3” 12.3”
Processor A14 Bionic Chip with Neural engine Intel Core 7th Gen m3, i5 or i7 Intel Core 10th Gen i3, i5 or i7
Storage 64GB, 256GB 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Battery life Up to 10 hours Up to 13.5 hours Up to 10.5 hours
Cameras Front:  7MP camera, 1080p HD recording

Rear: 12MP camera, 1080p 4k recording

Front: 5MP camera, 1080p HD recording Rear: 8MP camera, 1080p HD recording Front: 5MP camera, 1080p HD recording Rear: 8MP camera, 1080p HD recording
Connectivity Wi-Fi and cellular available Wi-Fi and cellular available Wi-Fi and wireless Bluetooth
Accessories Compatible with Magic Keyboard, smart keyboard folio and Apple Pen Optional Surface Pro Signature Type and Pro Type keyboard cover, Surface Pen and Surface Dial Optional Surface Pro Signature Type and Pro Type keyboard cover, Surface Pen and Surface Dial
Starting price $899 for Wi-Fi only

$1,099 for Wi-Fi + Cellular

$1,249 $1,016.10

Prices and specs sourced from brand websites. Accurate as of November, 2020.

Buy Tablets through Microsoft^

Small but Mighty

iPad Mini

While the Apple iPad is the brand’s flagship tablet, the Surface Go is a relatively new addition to Microsoft’s team. Both are promoted for their lightweight design and basic features that still pack a punch, with a relatively affordable price tag to match.

The eighth generation of the Apple iPad combines the classic Apple tablet design and interface with the company’s latest iOS software and A12 processor. Other features include a high-quality front and rear camera, and compatibility with popular portable gaming controllers so that you can play on the go. It’s also the cheapest option from both Apple and Microsoft, making it suitable for those looking for something more affordable.

The Microsoft Surface Go and the latest Surface Go 2 are slightly more expensive than the iPad, but make up for it with its features. The Surface Go 2 is the cheaper of the two, its sleek design and improved speed are ideal for everyday tasks at home or at school, while the original Surface Go is advertised as Microsoft’s smallest and lightest tablet yet, and is designed to be ultra-portable and versatile. The classic Microsoft tablet kickstand feature is incorporated into both models, giving you plenty of options to get your work done.

Another contender in this market is the iPad Mini, an Apple model which Microsoft does not appear to have a direct equivalent for. This may be because Microsoft does position itself more in the league of laptop, with the inclusion of a keyboard in all models, while Apple is firmly in the tablet camp, with the iPad Mini more targeted to compete with the likes of the Kindle or Kobo e-reader. Nonetheless, beyond the 7.9inch screen, the iPad mini boasts an A12 Bionic Chip, the same as the standard iPad, and has compatibility with both Bluetooth keyboards and the Apple pencil for full tablet functionality.

Here is a breakdown of the major specs of each model:

Apple iPad Apple iPad Mini Microsoft Surface Go 2
Screen size (inches) 10.2” 7.9” 10.5”
Processor A12 Bionic Chip with Neural engine A12 Bionic Chip Neural engine Intel Pentium Gold or 8th Gen Intel Core m3
Storage 32GB, 128GB 64GB, 256GB 64GB eMMC or 128GB SSD
Battery life Up to 10 hours Up to 10 hours Up to 10 hours
Cameras Front: 1.2MP camera, 720p HD recording

Rear: 8MP camera, 1080p HD recording

Front: 7MP camera, 1080p HD recording

Rear: 8MP camera, 1080p HD recording

Front: 5MP camera, 1080p HD recording Rear: 8MP camera, 1080p HD recording
Connectivity Wi-Fi and cellular available Wi-Fi and cellular available Wi-Fi and cellular available
Accessories Compatible with Smart Keyboard and Apple pencil  Compatible with Bluetooth keyboard and Apple pencil Optional Surface Go 2 Type keyboard cover, Surface pen and Surface Dial available
Starting price $499 for wifi, $699 wifi + cellular $599 for wifi, $799 wifi + cellular $629

Prices and specs sourced from brand websites. Accurate as of November, 2020.

The Pros

Microsoft Surface Book 2

If you’re looking for serious performance combined with peak portability, look no further than the Pros. The Apple iPad Pro and a Microsoft Surface Pro series are both bursting with features, without compromising on the convenience of a tablet.

As the most powerful of the Microsoft Surface range, the Pro X is advertised as a two-in-one laptop, featuring the kickstand design so you can really have it all. The Surface Pro X uses Windows 10 and is compatible with Microsoft 365 and OneDrive so that you can easily transfer your work between other Microsoft devices. It also comes with two USB ports, something which the Apple models don’t include, and can be purchased in a range of colours.

The Apple iPad Pro also positions itself as the next generation of laptop computer, thanks to a new keyboard accessory which combines a stand, trackpad and protective case all rolled into one. It also has the edge over its Microsoft counterparts in the camera department, making it ideal for virtual meetings and conference calls, or simply catching up with family and friends.

The Microsoft Surface Book is worth a mention here also, as it is essentially a touchscreen with a detachable base that functions as a keyboard, additional storage and extra battery life. The Microsoft Surface Book 2 sets the benchmark, but the Surface Book 3 looks to “combine speed, graphics and immersive gaming with the versatility of a laptop, tablet and portable studio,” according to Microsoft. While the price point, size, design and tech capabilities are pushing it into laptop territory, it can still be used as a touch screen tablet – consider it a tablet in laptop clothing.

Here is a breakdown of the major specs of each model:

Apple iPad Pro Microsoft Surface Pro X Microsoft Surface Book 2
Screen size (inches) 11” or 12.9” 13” 13.5” or 15”
Processor A12Z Bionic chip Neural engine Microsoft SQ 1 or 2 7th Gen Intel, 8th Gen Intel, i5 or i7
Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB 128GB, 256GB or 512GB removable storage 256GB, 512GB or 1TB
Battery life Up to 10 hours Up to 15 hours Up to 17 hours
Cameras  Front: 7MP camera, 4k video recording

Rear: 12MP wide and 10MP ultra-wide camera and 4k recording

Front: 5MP camera, 1080p HD recording Rear: 10MP camera, 1080p HD and 4k recording Front: 5MP camera, 1080p HD recording

Rear: 8MP camera, 1080p HD recording

 

Connectivity Wi-Fi and cellular Wi-Fi and cellular Wi-Fi, wireless Bluetooth, built-in Xbox wireless in the 15” model
Accessories Compatible with Magic Keyboard and smart keyboard portfolio and Apple pencil Optional Surface Slim Pen, Surface Pro X and Pro X Signature keyboard available Keyboard charging base included, optional Surface Pen and Surface Dial available
Starting price 11” model: $1,329 for Wi-Fi or $1,579 for Wi-Fi + cellular

12.9” model: $1,649 for Wi-Fi, $1,899 for Wi-Fi + cellular

$1,699 $2,023.08

Prices and specs sourced from brand websites. Accurate as of November, 2020.

Buy Tablets through Microsoft^

Verdict

Overall, Microsoft’s additions to the tablet market are designed to be used as laptops, whereas Apple’s focus appears to be on optimising the function of a handheld device. Depending on your needs, interests and budget, both companies have something to offer that is functional and a whole lot of fun for when you’re both on and off the clock. But considering that each comes with a hefty price tag, doing your research can help you find something that fits the bill perfectly.

Compare Tablet Brands

Compare SIM Only Data/Mobile Broadband Plans

Looking for a reliable on-the-go internet connection for your iPad or tablet? Compare SIM-only data and mobile broadband plans below.

Mobile Broadband Plans Compared: 100GB+

The following table shows a selection of published 100GB and over mobile broadband plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. This is a selection of products with links to referral partners.

Brand Features Max Data**/billing period Advertised Cost^^/billing period
Vodafone Logo

100GB Mobile Broadband Plan

  • SIM Only plan

min. cost $720 over 12 months

100GBMax Data**/billing period $60Advertised Cost^^/billing period
Southern Phones Logo

Large

  • SIM Only

min. cost $780 over 12 month plan period

100GBMax Data**/billing period $65Advertised Cost^^/billing period Go To Site
Telstra Logo

Large

  • SIM only plan – pay upfront via AutoPay
  • No excess data charges in Australia
  • 5G access included
  • Share your data with up to 10 plans across your account

min. cost $75 over one month

200GBMax Data**/billing period $75Advertised Cost^^/billing period Go To Site
View all NBN plans listed on Canstar Blue

Mobile Broadband Plans Compared: Over 50GB

The following table shows a selection of published mobile broadband plans with 50GB – 100GB of data on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. This is a selection of products with links to referral partners.

Brand Features Max Data**/billing period Advertised Cost^^/billing period
Amaysim Logo

SIM Only 50GB

  • SIM Only

min. cost $40 over 28 day billing period

50GBMax Data**/billing period $40Advertised Cost^^/billing period
Southern Phones Logo

Medium

  • SIM Only

min. cost $480 over 12 month plan period

50GBMax Data**/billing period $40Advertised Cost^^/billing period Go To Site
Vodafone Logo

60GB Mobile Broadband Plan

  • SIM Only plan

min. cost $540 over 12 months

60GBMax Data**/billing period $45Advertised Cost^^/billing period
Telstra Logo

Medium

  • SIM only plan – pay upfront via AutoPay
  • No excess data charges in Australia
  • 5G access included
  • Share your data with up to 10 plans across your account

min. cost $50 over one month

60GBMax Data**/billing period $50Advertised Cost^^/billing period Go To Site
Amaysim Logo

SIM Only 90GB

  • SIM Only

min. cost $60 over 28 day billing period

90GBMax Data**/billing period $60Advertised Cost^^/billing period
View all NBN plans listed on Canstar Blue

Mobile Broadband Plans Compared: Under 50GB

The following table shows a selection of published mobile broadband plans with less than 50GB of data on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. This is a selection of products with links to referral partners.

Brand Features Max Data**/billing period Advertised Cost^^/billing period
Amaysim Logo

SIM Only 7GB

  • SIM Only

min. cost $15 over 28 day billing period

7GBMax Data**/billing period $15Advertised Cost^^/billing period
Southern Phones Logo

Extra Small

  • SIM Only

min. cost $180 over 12 month plan period

7GBMax Data**/billing period $15Advertised Cost^^/billing period Go To Site
Telstra Logo

Extra Small

  • SIM only plan – pay upfront via AutoPay
  • No excess data charges in Australia
  • No 5G access
  • Share your data with up to 10 plans across your account

min. cost $15 over one month

5GBMax Data**/billing period $15Advertised Cost^^/billing period Go To Site
Vodafone Logo

5GB Mobile Broadband Plan

  • SIM Only plan

min. cost $180 over 12 months

5GBMax Data**/billing period $15Advertised Cost^^/billing period
Southern Phones Logo

Small

  • SIM Only

min. cost $300 over 12 month plan period

15GBMax Data**/billing period $25Advertised Cost^^/billing period Go To Site
Telstra Logo

Small

  • SIM only plan – pay upfront via AutoPay
  • No excess data charges in Australia
  • No 5G access
  • Share your data with up to 10 plans across your account

min. cost $25 over one month

20GBMax Data**/billing period $25Advertised Cost^^/billing period Go To Site
Vodafone Logo

25GB Mobile Broadband Plan

  • SIM Only plan

min. cost $360 over 12 months

25GBMax Data**/billing period $30Advertised Cost^^/billing period
View all NBN plans listed on Canstar Blue

Photo Credit: Naypong Studio/shutterstock.com

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