Four ways the Surface Pro 4 is better than the iPad Pro

Microsoft has their new Surface Pro 4 tablet, and it's a hell of a machine. Packing the latest in computing hardware with a design that further refines the best parts of the Surface line, it's a lesson in mobile computing with minimal compromises. Apple has their own take on the large tablet with a keyboard cover, the iPad Pro, but in many ways Microsoft's latest tablet is still ahead of the game.

The kickstand

I'll get this out of the way upfront: I still think a kickstand is a less than ideal solution to a problem that laptops solved decades ago, and something that even Microsoft has acknowledged with the Surface Book. That said, the infinite-position kickstand on the Surface Pro 4 (inherited from the Pro 3) is worlds better than the folded-up-triangle stand that is made out of the iPad Pro keyboard cover. It's as if Apple, after decades of making laptops, decided that their first iPad with a keyboard only needed to support one angle. I have an old Surface RT that has a one-angle kickstand. I very much dislike that part of an otherwise decent design.

The Surface Pro 4's kickstand, on the other hand, has all the positions you could ever want. Prop it nearly upright, push it down until it's almost flat against the table, doesn't matter, it goes all the way.

Surface Pro 4 — with a lay-flat kickstand and an included smart pen

The Surface Pen

The iPad Pro is the first iPad to come with advanced stylus support. And yes, Steve Jobs one day long ago said that "if you see a stylus, they blew it," and that quote's been bandied about over and over every time somebody trots out a stylus for a tablet (Microsoft Surface) or a phone (Samsung Galaxy Note). And the people that do that are wrong and have been wrong the whole time.

What Jobs was talking about was the little pokey sticks that used to be all but essential tools for the resistive touch screens that adorned smartphones of old. Palm used them, Windows Mobile phones relied on them. They were pretty terrible — just little plastic sticks, no smarts.

Now the iPad Pro supports a stylus, the "Apple Pencil" as they would call it. It's an impressive little piece of tech, for sure, communicating with the tablet and offering pressure and angle sensitivity. Here's the thing: Microsoft's is still better.

The new Surface Pen supports 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity and the palm rejection tech that Apple's just now implementing. What's more, the Surface Pen also flips around and has an eraser on the other end, and, well, it works exactly as you'd expect an eraser to work. And where Apple's Pencil claims up to 12 hours battery life and recharges only off the iPad Pro's proprietary Lightning connector, the Surface Pen gets an incredible year of battery life. When that year's up, it's a simple replacing the AAAA battery inside.

What's more, Microsoft's updated the button on the end that doubles as the eraser. Double clicking it still launches straight into OneNote, but holding down on it opens the Cortana virtual assistant on the Surface Pro 4. Oh, and it attaches right to the side of your Surface Pro 4 through the magic of magnets when you're done using it. Where does the Apple Pencil go? Your call, but make sure you put it somewhere you won't lose it.

Extra bonus: the Surface Pen is included in the cost of the Surface Pro 4. An Apple Pencil will cost the iPad Pro owner an extra $99.

Bang for your buck

Normally we're not ones to tout spec wars, but in this case we'll make an exception, because when you're comparing the what you get for what you pay, there's a really strong case to be made for the Surface Pro 4 over the iPad Pro here. We'll just let the base model numbers do the speaking:

Swipe to scroll horizontally
CategorySurface Pro 4iPad Pro
OSWindows 10iOS 9
Screen Size12.3 inches12.9 inches
Screen Resolution2763x1824 (267ppi)2732x2048 (264ppi)
Screen TypeIPS LCDIPS LCD
ProcessorIntel Core m3Apple A9X
Storage128GB + microSD expansion32GB
Rear Camera8MP8MP
Front Camera5MP1.2MP
PortsFull-size USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, Surface ConnectLightning, iPad Smart Connector
Height11.5 inches12 inches
Width7.93 inches8.68 inches
Thickness0.33 inches0.27 inches
Weight1.69 pounds1.57 pounds
Included AccessoriesSurface Pen
Price$899$799

And if you wanted to configure an iPad Pro to match the Surface Pro 4 with 128GB of internal storage and a pen? That'll be $1048, please. For that price you could get the Core i5 version of the Surface Pro 4 with 4GB of RAM and 128GB for storage, and still have money to buy the new Type Cover keyboard.

It's worth noting that Microsoft has long been willing to take a loss on Surface sales, only recently turning a profit, but it seems clear here that Apple is primed to rake in serious profits on sales of the iPad Pro. The Apple tablet might have a slightly larger display and be a hair thinner and a bit lighter, but you're getting much computer for the cost. Which leads to our final point...

Surface Pro 4

It runs Windows

Apps on the iPad are good and they're getting better — devices like the iPad Pro will see to that. But no matter what Apple does, short of merging OS X and iOS (which they've repeatedly and emphatically said is not in their plans), those apps will always lag behind in the sheer power of full desktop apps. And that's fine, that's not what Apple's after with the iOS and the iPad, and we get that. But that doesn't mean we have to accept Apple's vision of mobile computing.

That's why there's the Surface Pro line, running a full and uncompromised version of Windows 10. It's a real computer meant to do real computing. As Microsoft's Panos Panay said leading up to the unveiling, Microsoft's Surface team engineers used the Surface Pro 3 to design the next Surface. Full Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint? Check. The complete Adobe Creative Cloud suite, including Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere? Yep. Practically any other Windows application in the history of Windows applications? You got it.

And there's the real point in favor of the Surface Pro 4: it's a real computer, made for doing real computer things. The iPad Pro is a powerful tablet, but it's still designed around being a tablet. Microsoft, on the other hand, has made a powerful mobile computer that just so happens to work very well as a tablet too.

What do you think?

Is the Surface Pro 4 really better than the iPad Pro? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Derek Kessler is Special Projects Manager for Mobile Nations. He's been writing about tech since 2009, has far more phones than is considered humane, still carries a torch for Palm, and got a Tesla because it was the biggest gadget he could find. You can follow him on Twitter at @derekakessler.

257 Comments
  • One single reason is enough: an x86-64 CPU vs an ARM SoC. The rest is just details
  • pricing is insane..
  • Exactly. The iPad is a great device, but its more like a Surface RT than a Surface Pro and should be priced as such. They're charging Pro prices for an RT class device. Its insane.
  • Insane, and bound to make them mountains of cash. Hopefully a few people will realise that and get the Surface instead, but there's too many people in love with Apple that they just won't see reason (or want apps in which case, well, you can't blame them).
  • The article failed to mention that the Apple Pencil can't be shared. It's tied to one iPad. So if you lose it, you can't simply borrow somebody else's. Another plus in the Surface's favor.
  • Is that true? Wow, that's crazy. 
  • Agreed.
  • Apple is a follower in the tech industry now a day. Their little gimmick days are soon to be past consumer's interests
  • Apple may be a follower, but they are a *good* follower. It's the difference between bellwether innovations and adoption of a certain technology in some cases. While I like Windows more that OSX/iOS, I have to hand it to apple for making certain forms of tech widely adopted. They also help push the industry to really refine the body and UI of devices to stay competitive.
  • I half agree, half disagree. Apple likes to pretend they are on the leading edge with tech, but they also lag behind quite frequently. And when they do lead, it is for not doing anthing. Think of the great innovations they created - removing the floppy drive, removing the DVD drive, never supporting Blu-Ray (which is foolish since they like to think of themselves as the leader in media design and development, but you cant use a Blu-Ray drive). Other times they "lead" is for doing things that take no creativity. THey made something bigger, something smaller, used a different video panel designed and manufactured by another company that has a higher resolution. Apple fans like to talk about how Apple is always a leader when they do adopt some tech, but when Apple waits a number of years to implement some tech, then the claim is that Apple is waiting for the tech to mature. Not that Apple proactively makes the tech mature, they wait for other companies to do it for them. Think of 3G on the original iPhone. They didn't support it because Jobs said it would kill the battery. I had a Samsung Blackjack (Windows Mobile) for years before then and never had any battery problems. But all the Apple fanboys were convinced, and even supported the idea that slower network is better (but then blamed AT&T for having a bad network connection). When the iPhone 3G was released, Apple was hailed for inventing a phone with such fast network connectivity - something that many of us had been doing for years. It has nothing to do with the tech that Apple does or doesn't use, it is how they convince their users that what they sell is the best they can get.  
  • What about a WIMP operating system with a mouse control when Microsoft was using DOS and keyboard shortcuts? Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • I am sorry to day this, as I don't like such language, but I strongly feel that Apple is a pretty good shehard and their fans are pretty good sheep. When Apple says the screens should be small enough to be operated by a thumb, the sheep "yes", "phone size should not be bigger than your palm" the sheep say "yes". When Apple launches a 5" and 5.5" phone, the sheep still line up outside the stores to get their hands on one. When Apple launches a device with a stylus, the sheep still line up to get one.  There was talk about 'retnia display' which somehow told that any higher resultion or brightness is unoticeable and therefore uselss. When apple pushes their resolutions and brightness even furhter, the Sheep say 'wow'. I have stopped arguing with Apple fan boys near me. Though can't help teasing them about how they can't share files, music etc. like we do or how they can't even set some of their favorite songs as ringtones or simpy the fact that they have to carry their chargers wherever they go, not to mention how delicately do they need to hold their phones. The list is endless. Unfortunately they have just one weapon, and that is the number of apps some of which are really good on iOS, for which I don't have a reply. But I am sure things will continue to get better on that front too.
  • It's not Apple per se, it's mainly the tech writers who sell Apple. They gloss over shortcomings and hype every thing else. And the public eats it up.
  • Yet there are these Apple fanboys with their benchmark BS claiming that the iPad pro is more powerful. iOS is a joke to run. There's nothing even going on in that OS to strain any processor.
  • The new Apple A9 may shine in some benchmarks, but I'd rather have a Windows PC capable of doing any task, any day.
  • Apple told them that the iPad Pro has graphics performance that rivals consoles, and so they are immediatly believed because they are infallable. Of course, when they said they have console performance, they meant Atari 2600 console equivalent perf, not PS4/XB1 perf. But those are just details.  
  • Seeing iPad Pro and before reading the details, I actually expected it to run Mac OSX with iOS apps compatibility. That would compete with Surface, for position as notebook replacement (with desktop softwares that are available for both OS), and with backing of the iOS app store. But the reality, it's a huge iPad with stylus. OSX users are still locked with their iMac/MacBook away from iPhone/iPad users.
  • You should see the comments on macdailynews about the MS event. It is amazing how narrow minded the comments and the article itself is. But as usual, its always a TERRIBLE idea if it comes from MS, but once Apple adopts it, its "genius". LOL. I have apple products, but the fanboyism is painful to hear/read. If you think the fanboya on wc are bad, go to macdailynews
  • MacBook users have been living in a bubble since the beginning of the Surface Pro 3 launch which is is a profitable business, and if they don't want to see it don't worry, investors know about the Surface and the numbers don't lie.  Even HP and Dell are now shipping Surface Pro 3 devices for business partners which is great. 
  • I think I will avoid that website, thank you very much. I think my head would explode if I read it.
  • I don't waste my time reading news from Apple... Apple stinks, and the iSheeps too.
  • There is nothing as vulnerable as entrenched success. Add a dash of arrgoance and Apple better start paying attention, the ground is shifitng under their feet.
  • I just read few stories and the comments and that seems to be MS hater's paradise. Amazing how trash talk is there.
  • Why is that kind of website allowed on the internet? Ok, I will answer my own question: To keep that kind of commenters away from places like this. And seriously, is there an equivalent website for Microsoft?
  • I like to think decades of bashing from the internet humbled down Microsoft fanboys. Also, most peoples can't build good enough arguments. That's why they love it when the journalists/blogger/internet celebrities write a well versed argument for them to quote in their praise/insult. Many of the stronger arguments are against Microsoft, so the less knowledgeable fans don't have lots of ammunition to begin with.
  • Haha if you want a read...  http://macdailynews.com/2015/10/06/microsoft-announces-surface-book-laptop-surface-pro-4-tablet-three-phones-and-a-fitness-tracker/ The comments are hilarious.  People laughing about getting real work done on a tablet.  I'd be thrilled to have an iPad with OSX. 
  • I wanna slaughter everyone there
  • Whenever there is someone who comments here that is not glowingly complementary towards Apple, it is inevitable that someone starts complaining about how treat Apple. It always follows the same pattern: 1) I am a big Microsoft supporter 2) I don't really don't like Apple 3) They make some nice stuff 4) Competition is good, Microsoft needs to watch out for them 5) Stop saying bad things about Apple, it makes me not want to use Microsoft products any more and switch over It happens every time on Microsoft focused web sites, until inevitably it becomes overrun by Apple fanboys who do nothing but attack Microsoft (look at the site John Callaham used to work at as a perfect example). But then I go to the Apple sites, and you never see those people there. Just all attack, all the time. You may see someone call out the people who claim that Nadella eats babies or some far fetched thing like that. Even on this web site, saying "I like Microsoft's products" and not mentioning any other product can get you flamed by the supposed Microsoft fanboy who just wants it to be fair - there was a band of people complaining that there were too many people who like Win10 on this site so they were leaving.
  • The comments from the users at the macdailynews (rerouted to macrumors) are actually quite pro-MS, since they acknowledge the great hardware and the innovation from Microsoft, and hopes that makes Apple to innovate on their own. The negative comments are software-based, from people that couldn't live without OSX. Even then, they accept these are incredible sexy devices.
  • The very first comment, "Here comes another billion dollar write down." is only about software and not hardware? Microsoft didn't take a write down on their software, just the Surface RT so that is a direct comment on the hardware. (Let's not forget that Apple took a big write down on the iPhone 1, but we are not allowed to make an issue of that) And here are some other jems that show they are quite clearly commenting on the hardware: "Leave us not forget the new Surface Pro Pen has an “eraser” unlike Apple’s Pencil. I anticipate it’ll be a POS otherwise." "DOA for a POS." "Microsoft picked a Magnesium alloy for the case. I wonder why?" "How long do you think that hinge will lose putting it in a backpack with other books etc. That thing is going to get crushed as there is no stability on the sides just a big open gap. CrushGate™" And I can list a few 100 others. They are clearly attacking it on the hardware and software sides.    
  • Someone there said that any device with Windows is doa :P 
  • Everyone on that site would say the same thing about this site.  Fanboys are everywhere.
  • Wow, just visit the macdailynews and readings there comments, it's like Apple fanboy that hate Microsoft so much.
  • Indeed.
  • Agreed, but both Apple is pushing Adobe to make code for Apple CPU while Microsoft is pushing Adobe to do the same for X86-64.  Maybe it's time for Adobe and other software companies to promote innovation in the industry without depending on a specific architecture, what do I mean?  A cross-platform API that can give the same benefits to iOS and Windows 10 devices that use a Pen. 
  • That's not up to Adobe. That's up to Microsoft and Apple collaborating on an open API and inking standard. It's going to require OS level integration to make it work well.
  • Technically, you are describing an abstraction layer rather than an API. APIs are maintained on the platform side and used by higher level software. Anyway, it would be nearly impossible for Adobe to do what you are describing. Windows is a full OS running on more capable hardware. iOS is a mobile OS that has a lot of limitations in terms of both hardware and software. Adobe could really only do what you are describing by crippling the software and targeting the lowest common denominator.
  • The problem with that notion is they'd have to dumb it all down to the lowest possible implementation. the pure processing power of X86-64/Windows10/OSX just can't be done on ARM/iOS/Android (at least not for a while yet) What I am happy to see though is Adobe extending their x86 software to be fully touch optimised as well for use on things like Surface Pro and Surface Book.
  • There is another one IMO, 128GB SSD (+micro SD slot) vs 32GB eMMC
  • Lol.... You are right about that!
  • I would still buy SP3 instead of the new iPad Pro :)
  • You mean iPad RT?
  • You mean MacBook RT.
  • I think he means iPad Plus.
  • IPod touch XXXL
  • MAXiPad