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.
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.
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:
|Category||Surface Pro 4||iPad Pro|
|OS||Windows 10||iOS 9|
|Screen Size||12.3 inches||12.9 inches|
|Screen Resolution||2763x1824 (267ppi)||2732x2048 (264ppi)|
|Screen Type||IPS LCD||IPS LCD|
|Processor||Intel Core m3||Apple A9X|
|Storage||128GB + microSD expansion||32GB|
|Ports||Full-size USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, Surface Connect||Lightning, iPad Smart Connector|
|Height||11.5 inches||12 inches|
|Width||7.93 inches||8.68 inches|
|Thickness||0.33 inches||0.27 inches|
|Weight||1.69 pounds||1.57 pounds|
|Included Accessories||Surface Pen||—|
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...
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!