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Apple’s iPad Pro vs. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3: A Tale of Two Tablets

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Yahoo Tech

Introduced at Apple’s big event last week, the iPad Pro is a king-sized, 12.9-inch tablet designed for use in both the office and the living room. It’s got a slick new stylus, a detachable keyboard cover, and it can multitask just like a computer.

Along with many, many other observers, when I heard Apple extolling its new iPad, I thought to myself, “You know, that all sounds awfully familiar. I can’t help but feel like I’ve heard of a tablet like that before … Oh, I know: It sounds just like Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3.”

Yes, from its keyboard and stylus to its “Pro” moniker, Apple’s latest iPad is a direct competitor with — some might say a direct imitator of — the Surface Pro 3. And while we won’t get our hands on the iPad Pro until it ships in November, we can take a look at the features we’ve seen and the specs that have been published so far to see how that competition is likely to go down.

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Display

Let’s start with the part of both tablets that you actually use: the screen. The iPad Pro comes with a 12.9-inch Retina display, which has a resolution of 2732 x 2048. That certainly sounds sharp. The Surface Pro 3 comes with a 12-inch panel and a resolution of 2160 x 1440.

The arithmetic would seem to indicate that the iPad Pro will have the sharper screen. But I know from experience that superior display specs don’t always translate to “looks better.” I’ve actually used the Surface Pro 3  and can attest to how great its screen looks. I haven’t yet had the privilege of checking out the iPad Pro’s display in person. So for now, we’re just going to have to wait and see.

Advantage: Tie (for now)

Read More: The Pogue Review: Windows 10

Multitasking

Apple made a big point during its presentation to brag about how well the iPad Pro can handle multitasking. And sure enough, thanks to the multitasking updates to iOS 9, the iPad Pro opened two apps on the screen at the same time. That’s a big step up for the iPad — but it’s child’s play for the Surface Pro 3.

You see, while the iPad Pro is powered by Apple’s iOS, which is only now able to run two apps side-by-side, the Surface Pro 3 runs a full-blown version Windows 10. Like all versions of Windows, Windows 10 can run a seemingly endless number of apps on screen at the same time. Oh, and you can also snap two apps to either side of the screen to run them side-by-side if you want.

Advantage: Surface Pro 3

Productivity

Apple is clearly positioning the iPad Pro as a productivity tool. Sure the company talked about how great it is to watch movies on the Pro’s 12.9-inch display, but the majority of the demo focused on the iPad Pro in business settings; one of the first demos Apple showed was the iPad Pro running Microsoft Office for iPad.

But therein lies the rub. The demo showed the Pro running Office for iPad; the Pro can run iPad apps only. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, on the other hand, runs a full-blown version of Windows 10, which means it can handle both mobile apps and full-blown programs like Adobe Photoshop. That’s a heck of a two-for-one deal.

Advantage: Surface Pro 3

Performance

The iPad Pro runs on Apple’s new A9X processor, which the company says is akin to a 64-bit desktop processor. While Apple didn’t divulge how much RAM will be in the iPad Pro, independent observers have surmised that it’ll come with 4 GB.

The Surface Pro, on the other hand, runs on your choice of an Intel Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 processor, and comes with 4 GB to 8 GB of RAM. While the base version with a Core i3 chip and 4GB of RAM can handle most basic programs, more graphically and computationally demanding programs such as AutoCAD will require the Core i5 or Core i7 models.

Where the iPad really pales by comparison is in storage. The $799 version of the iPad Pro comes with 32 GB of storage, while the $949 version comes with 128 GB. That’s a decent amount of space for a mobile device. 

The $649 Surface Pro 3, meanwhile, comes with 64 GB of storage. You can also get a 128 GB version of the Pro 3 for $899, a 256 GB version for $1,149, and a 512 GB version for $1,749. In other words, when it comes to storage, the Surface Pro is more like a laptop than a tablet.

Advantage: Surface Pro 3

Read More: The Pogue Review: Microsoft Surface 3

Flexibility

Connecting accessories to iPads has always been a bit of a hassle; recent models included included Lightning ports, plus Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and that’s it. It looks like the iPad Pro won’t be much different. Sure, it has a new magnetic connector, which Apple and third-party vendors can use to connect things like Apple’s own keyboard cover. But that’s still about it.

The Surface Pro 3, by comparison, spoils you with connectors. Not only does it also have a similar magnetic connection for its keyboard cover, it also offers a USB 3.0 port, a mini DisplayPort, and a microSD card reader. That means the Surface Pro 3 gives you a lot more flexibility when it comes to attaching peripherals.

Advantage: Surface Pro 3

Value

The iPad Pro appears to be a powerful tablet, but at the end of the day it’s still just a tablet. If you wanted to get the functional equivalent of the Surface Pro 3 — in other words, if you wanted to run both mobile and full-blown desktop apps — you’d need to buy an actual computer like a MacBook in addition to the iPad. With the iPad Pro starting at $799, and the cheapest MacBook (the 11-inch Air) starting at $899, you’re looking at spending about $1,700.

Meanwhile, the Surface Pro 3, which can run almost any app you’d want, costs just $649.

The Surface Pro 3’s accessories are a better value, too. The Surface’s keyboard cover costs $129, compared to the iPad Pro cover’s $169. The iPad Pro’s Apple Pencil stylus costs $99; the Surface’s stylus is included with the slate.

Advantage: Surface Pro 3

The bottom line

Based solely on specs, then, Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 would appear to have the clear advantage over the iPad Pro. Not only can it do more than the iPad Pro, it’s less expensive.

Of course, I’ll wait until I get my hands on the iPad Pro before I make any final judgments. But right now, it’s not looking too good for the Apple’s pro tablet.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley or on Google+.