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Apple iPad Pro vs. Microsoft Surface Pro 4: Which 2-in-1 Device Should You Get?

The choice may hinge on whether a tablet or laptop replacement is more important to you.
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The 2-in-1 market is taking off, as more and more people are being persuaded to replace laptops and tablets with a device that can be both. Microsoft and Apple are about to go head-to-head in this space with the Surface Pro 4 and the iPad Pro. If you want the portability of a tablet, with enough power under the hood to really get things done, which one is right for you?


Surface Pro 4 and iPad Pro

Design

You'll find that the build quality of both of these devices is excellent. Microsoft has gone for a silvery magnesium shell, while Apple sticks with the aluminum unibody design. There's a magnetic hinge on the Surface Pro 4 for attaching the keyboard, while the iPad Pro attaches with a cover and passes data and power through a small Smart Connector interface.

Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 is slightly smaller at 11.5x7.9x0.33", compared to the iPad Pro's 12x8.6x0.27". That's largely down to the slightly bigger display in the iPad Pro, but it does manage to be slimmer and a touch lighter than the Surface Pro 4.

The Winner: Tie


intel core i7

Performance

It's not easy to do a straight comparison of the iPad Pro and Surface Pro 4 on performance because they run different operating systems. You also have a choice of hardware in the Surface Pro 4, where you can opt for Intel Core M3, Core i5, or Core i7 processors, and go from 4GB in the base model, up to 16GB of RAM. The iPad Pro features Apple's A9X processor, clocked around 2.25GHz, with 4GB of RAM.

The first couple of options for the Surface Pro 4 will be comparable to the iPad Pro on performance, but at the top end it should be significantly more powerful. The option to add extra RAM should also help a great deal when multitasking.

The Winner: Surface Pro 4 (for higher-end configurations)


Person using iPad Pro

Display

The iPad Pro has the larger display at 12.9" with a 2,732x2,048 pixel resolution, which gives it a pixel per inch (ppi) of 264. The Surface Pro 4 has a 12.3" display with a 2,763x1,824 pixel resolution, which results in a slightly higher 267 ppi. There isn't a great deal to divide them here.

One potentially important difference is the aspect ratio, which is 3:2 on the Surface Pro 4 and 4:3 on the iPad Pro. The iPad Pro's screen should feel roomier when working or web browsing, but the Surface Pro 4 is going to make better use of the space it has for video content, which is usually 16:9.

The Winner: Tie


solid state drive

Storage

You only get two options with the iPad Pro: 32GB or 128GB. The Surface Pro 4 is clearly superior here, starting at 128GB, but also being offered with 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB of storage space. You'll need to pay quite a bit extra for the larger amounts, but if you need the space, it's only an option with Microsoft's device.

The Winner: Surface Pro 4


3D Bluetooth logo

Connectivity

There are a couple of ways to look at this category. Both devices obviously have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, though the iPad Pro supports the slightly newer Bluetooth 4.2 standard, while the Surface Pro 4 is Bluetooth 4.0. More importantly, the iPad Pro also offers a mobile data connection with support for LTE. You'll need a service contract, but it means you can stay connected without Wi-Fi.

SEE ALSO: VIDEO: Is the iPad Pro the Future of Computing?

On the physical side, the Surface Pro 4 has more options, with a USB 3.0 port, a Mini DisplayPort, and a microSD card reader. The iPad Pro just has a Lightning connector. Both have a standard 3.5mm headphone port.

The Winner: Tie


Person using iPad Pro by beach

Portability

The differences in size and weight are negligible. Both of these devices are extremely portable. Apple claims that the iPad Pro can go for 10 hours between charges, while Microsoft is saying 9 hours for the Surface Pro 4. Much will depend on how you use them, but the iPad Pro may last a little longer when you're out and about.

The Winner: iPad Pro


Windows 10 on Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Platform

We don't have time for a full iOS vs. Windows competition here. Let's just say that iOS 9 is an excellent mobile platform that's slick, and features lots of apps and games. Windows 10 is a full desktop platform that Microsoft has tweaked to work well on mobile, too. You'll find a more diverse range of heavy-lifting software for things like photo and document editing on Windows 10.

It's all about priorities. If you primarily want a tablet, the iPad Pro might be best. If you're looking for a laptop replacement first, the Surface Pro 4 is probably going to be the one for you. You also need to factor in where you're invested. If you're already plugged into Apple's ecosystem, the iPad Pro will play nicely with your other Apple devices and your existing content, but if you have a lot of Windows 10 software, the Surface Pro 4 is going to make more sense for you.

The Winner: Tie


Apple iPad Pro camera

Camera

We have to warn you that you'll look silly using a tablet of this size to take photos, but if you insist on doing it, there's nothing to divide the iPad Pro and Surface Pro 4 because both have 8-megapixel cameras. You may well use the front-facing camera for video calls and selfies, but once again the two devices are identically rated at 5 megapixels.

The Winner: Tie


Fingerprint reader on Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Accessories

Apple is new to this category, and it shows when we look at the accessories. Microsoft's Surface Pen magnetically sticks to the Pro 4, and it has a digital eraser, interchangeable heads, and plenty of software support. It also has yearlong battery life, supports 1,024 levels of pressure, and comes with the Pro 4.

The Apple Pencil lasts 12 hours before you have to take the cap off to reveal a Lightning connector for charging. It has also been designed to work well for note taking and sketching, but it lacks the extra options and versatility of the Surface Pen. It's also a separate purchase that will cost you $99.

We find a similar story with the keyboard covers. Microsoft's fourth-generation keyboard cover features a larger trackpad, backlighting, and a fingerprint reader for security. Like the Pen, it's being offered in a choice of different colors. Apple's Smart Keyboard is crafted from a woven material and it's very slim, but it's not backlit, there's no fingerprint reader, and it only comes in one color. The Smart Keyboard is sold separately from the iPad Pro, and it costs $169. Microsoft's Type Cover is also sold separately, but it's cheaper at $129.

The Winner: Surface Pro 4


Dollar sign on hand

Availability and Pricing

The iPad Pro starts at $799 for the 32GB version. If you want to add the Smart Keyboard and Pencil, then you'll pay $1,067. It would probably make more sense to opt for the 128GB model, in which case you'll pay $1,217 for the package. If you want to add cellular, the iPad Pro jumps to $1,079, which makes the package $1,347. It will be available in November.

The Surface Pro 4 starts at $899 for the Core M3, 4GB RAM, 128GB storage model. You get the Pen with it, but the Type Cover will cost $129, taking the total to $1,028. There are a lot of different permutations with the Surface Pro 4, but if you opt for the Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage, and add the Type Cover, you'll pay $1,428. At the top end, the Core i7, with 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage, will cost you $2,699, or $2,828 if you add the Type Cover. It will be available on October 26.

There are more options with the Surface Pro 4, but for a comparable package, you'll get more value for money with Microsoft's device.

The Winner: Surface Pro 4


Surface Pro 4 tablets

Final Verdict

If the tablet side of the device is more important to you, and you're an Apple person, then the iPad Pro is an easy choice. If you need more raw power, you want a laptop replacement first and tablet second, or you primarily use desktop apps, then the Surface Pro 4 is going to be a better bet. Taking the accessories into account for the complete package, you get more for your money with Microsoft's Surface Pro 4, but the lack of LTE connectivity could be a deal breaker for some.

It's difficult to pick an outright winner, especially since there are so many different possible configurations, but it is worth considering that Microsoft has been honing its design in the 2-in-1 space, whereas Apple is a newcomer to this category.

What do you think? Which device gets your vote? Sound off in the comments.


Contributing Writer

Simon is a technology journalist with a background in games development. He is fascinated by all things tech, particularly mobile and videogames, and he loves to share that passion with other tech fans.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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13 comments
HeyBor
This comparison between a Surface Pro 4 and iPad Pro is simply dumb, yet so many websites do it. They're completely different things, but if you must do these kinds of comparison, please write equally ridiculous ones up like Bicycles vs Motorcycles, or Appetizers vs Main Courses, or Beer vs Whiskey.

Also, Surface Pro 4 clearly won. How's your Final Verdict "too difficult to pick an outright winner?"

Surface Pro 4 Wins: 4
iPad Pro Wins: 1
Final Verdict: I Dunno...

GTFO.
BobThermal
The words, "iPad" and "Pro" do not belong together in the same sentence. No professional that I can think of would use that device for their job beyond checking email. Put OSX on it, and we may have something (oh, and a USB, and an HDMI, and a Micro-SD).

If you're looking for a pimped-out iPad, then I s'pose that device is for you. If you're looking to actually do professional-level work, good luck.

In fairness, the Surface is limited too. However, since you can connect an external monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc., it is a portable computer.

Simon, your assessment of the iPad Pro was far too generous and this comparison was like comparing a pickup to a convertible. They're two very different things with some commonalities.
nimer
Apple lost originality by literally ripping a product they made fun of two years ago. Tim Cook famously said that the competition are 'confused' about tablets and PC

Now look who's imitating everything the Surface is, including the keyboard and professional pen, even priced at similar levels. And this comes from someone who owns 3 iDevices.

Microsoft wins fair and square
A-thought
Hmm..forget screen specs. Let's look at productivity use cases shall we?

"I'd like to connect one or two external displays and extend the screen across them, not merely duplicate the screen."

Surface can. iPad pro can't.

"I'd like to connect an external drive to copy, move or store multiple Gigabytes of assets."

Surface can. iPad pro can't.

"I'd like to be able to use our common business applications from work, whether I'm at my desk or remote connecting in."

Surface can. iPad pro can't.

"I'd like to use more than two windowed apps at a time."

Surface can. iPad pro can't.

"I need to be able to print to any printer, both at home and all the printers at work."

Surface can. iPad pro can't.

"I need to be able to easily store some of my business assets & documents onto the device, you know, in the file system."

Surface can. iPad pro can't.

We could keep going but let's not bother. Let's just ask a question.

Exactly how is iPad Pro even a "Pro" device at all?

Happy to help. 
zazentofu
Good article! Though you missed a couple things:

For the accessories it should be noted that the apple pencil can potentially have interchangeable tips which may lead to custom tips. It can also detect tilt which all surface pen unfortunately do not have, quick to charge, chargeable through any device that has a lightning port female connector. The wild card is that we don't know how good and productive the pencil actually is in person in extended use yet in conjunction with all the apps post iOS 9 with or without Apple pencil support (Although the guys at Disney and Pixar seem to like a lot)

I'm not sure how much they put into the new surface's camera but it's a given that all Apple devices will borrow from previous generation cameras and if for some reason they put an iPhone 6 Plus camera in the iPad pro that simply means a tablet that can take great photos under shakey situations... we'll see?!

Also you forgot to mention speakers : b

@Yeoman007

iOS with 4gb of ram?!
Yeoman007
Good article, Simon!

As jczu rightly pointed out, spec-to-spec comparisons don't work in the real world when using different OSes. Ease-of-use counts a lot to me.

As for iOS having its share of viruses like Windows---don't be a ninny! ;-)

Simon, you might want to mention under Accessories that the iPad Pro's keyboard doesn't *need* a fingerprint reader since one is built into the iPad Pro's Home button.

On a portability note, look at the picture of the amount of surface space the Surface Pro uses with its keyboard and kickstand. It may work okay with a big enough desk, but that doesn't work so well on your lap. For that, give me a Macbook Air with 9-12 hours of battery life. I can easily hold it on one arm while typing or clicking during standing. (I do that often while working.) Plus, a laptop offers better control of how I angle the screen.

The best choice really does depend on how you'll use it. Stay tuned, folks. When Apple gets into a field, it gets interesting!
kevinwilson16
Surface Pro, based on Dealnews' criteria: 4-1-5.
iPad Pro, based on Dealnews' criteria: 1-4-5.
Dealnews' final analysis: It's difficult to pick an outright winner.
vinaytampa
Give me OSX on iPad Pro and we can talk.
datdamonfoo
The Surface Pro is a real computer with a real OS (not a phone OS), and that is what differentiates it in the business world. It can run programs that actually produce, rather than consume. It's the definitive 2 in 1. The iPad Pro is just an iPad with a bigger screen.
Califas
Under CONNECTIVITY you forget you are able to easily connect with Apple TV, AirPlay and handoff to your other iOS devices (iPhone) and OS X (Mac). These options along with AirDrop and iCloud Photo Sharing have made a big decision maker for me. Regarding viruses, I download on my 2009 MacBook Pro, visit any page on any of my iOS/OS X devices and I truly do not worry about a virus or device performance slowing down. I appreciate not having to protect myself with Norton or any other anti virus software. Short term cost is always a sticker shock however long term always a great investment.
jczu
A straight spec for spec comparison generally won't give the true picture of performance. iOS devices perform very well with less ram than Android equivalent phones. A real world test is really the only way to know. The iPad Pro has additional technology (pen with pressure sensitive capability) that makes it much more than a bigger iPad. It could make for an excellent graphic design machine. The decision factor for the two devices really comes down to intended use.
ninny1176
There isn't anything "Pro" about the iPad, it's an updated model with a bigger screen.

jwb608 - "you are going to get lots of bugs and viruses." You're a fool if you believe Apple doesn't have its own share of bugs and viruses.
jwb608
iPad Pro for sure. As with any Microsoft software you are going to get lots of bugs and viruses. I learned my lesson a long time ago to stay away from Microsoft.