iPad Pro 2020 vs. Surface Pro X: Which is a better buy?

Surface Pro X
Surface Pro X (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Surface Pro X vs. Apple iPad Pro 12.9 tech specs

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Header Cell - Column 0 Surface Pro XApple iPad Pro 12.9
OSWindows 10iPadOS
ProcessorMicrosoft SQ1
Microsoft SQ2
Apple A12Z Bionic
Storage128GB, 256GB, 512GB128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Display size13 inches
12.9 inches
Display resolution2880x1920
267 PPI
264 PPI
GraphicsSQ1 Adreno 685Apple A12Z
PortsTwo USB-C
Surface Connect
ConnectivityWi-Fi 5
Bluetooth 5.0
Wi-Fi 6
Bluetooth 5.0
CameraFront-facing 5MP
Rear-facing 10MP
Front-facing 7MP
Rear-facing 12MP (Wide angle)
Rear-facing 10MP (Ultra wide)
BiometricsFacial recognitionFacial recognition
Dimensions11.3 x 8.2 x 0.28 inches
(287mm x 208mm x 7.3mm)
11.04 x 8.46 x 0.23 inches
(280.6mm x 214.9mm x 5.9mm)
WeightFrom 1.7 pounds
From 1.41 pounds
ColorMatte Black
Space Gray

The user experience

Apple has moved its iPad Pro closer than ever to the Surface Pro lineup with a Magic Keyboard that includes multi-angle display and touchpad support. However, no matter how close the two devices are in terms of design, the operating systems still differ.

The Surface Pro X runs Windows 10 Home, an OS primarily designed for a standard PC experience. Microsoft has come a long way in terms of its operating system's tablet functionality, but it still doesn't stand up to what Apple has in iPadOS. Everything flows together extremely well on iPad, and if you primarily want a tablet experience, the iPad Pro is no doubt going to make more sense. The added option for a keyboard and touchpad for the iPad also helps bridge some of the gap that used to exist between the two devices.

The iPad Pro's A12Z custom CPU has eight cores and runs at 2.48GHz. Thanks to a mid-gen update for the Pro X it's now available with a custom SQ1 or SQ2 CPU. The difference? A minor performance bump that moves the base clock up to 3.15GHz from 3.0GHz in the SQ1.

Testing with synthetic benchmark Geekbench 5, the iPad Pro comes out on top with a 1,114 single-core score and 4,654 multi-core score. That's considerably higher than the Pro X's SQ1 725 single-core score and 2,819 multi-core score and SQ2 798 and 3,100 scores. The iPad Pro's integrated GPU also wins out here. If you want the snappiest performance, Apple's device is going to be the better option.

However, iPadOS strictly adheres to the Apple ecosystem. If you want an app, it must be available from the App Store, and there are some limitations in that sense. People already invested in the Apple ecosystem are no doubt already aware of some of iPadOS drawbacks, and that's not to say the Pro X doesn't also have some limitations due to its ARM64 processor (CPU).

Native ARM64 apps — including those recompiled for ARM64 and most UWP apps — net the best performance running on the Pro X, but you can also run older desktop (32-bit x86) apps in an emulation mode. The drawback here is a slight hit to performance. The Pro X cannot currently handle 64-bit x86 apps, though it's rumored that emulation support is coming sometime in 2020.

Bottom line? If you're in search of a device that feels more like a PC in the sense of freedom to do and run what you want, the Pro X is no doubt going to be a better choice. The Pro X is designed to comfortably work as a tablet or a laptop PC, and adding the hardware for the latter form is going to cost significantly less than similar hardware for the iPad Pro.

Hardware and cost

One of the main selling points for the new iPad Pro is its Magic Keyboard with Trackpad hardware. Like the Surface Pro X's Type Cover, this addition adds a keyboard, touchpad, and angle adjustability, effectively turning the iPad Pro into a laptop when attached. That's a big deal for those who primarily use an iPad Pro for everyday work, but it comes at a steep cost.

Adding the Magic Keyboard to your 12.9-inch iPad Pro costs a about $349. Add that to the primary cost of the baseline iPad Pro, toss in an Apple Pencil, and you're looking at spending a minimum of $1,479. In comparison, a Surface Pro X Type Cover with Surface Slim Pen costs about $193, bringing the total cost of a baseline bundle up to about $1,193. That's a savings of about $300. And don't forget the Pro X comes with a built-in kickstand, allowing you to prop it up on a flat surface without any other attached hardware.

In terms of tablet hardware, both of these devices are true beauties. They're thin, they're light, and they're rocking gorgeous touch IPS displays. Pixels-per-inch is nearly the same, and both have support for inking, but the iPad Pro's 120Hz refresh rate, blistering 600-nit brightness, and vivid color edge out what the Pro X has to offer. The Pro X's display isn't a slouch, but it can't quite compete with the iPad Pro.

LTE connectivity is available in both devices, but you'll pay more for the feature in the iPad Pro as it doesn't come standard like in the Pro X. However, the iPad Pro does sport Wi-Fi 6 connectivity for blistering wireless speeds, while the Pro X is stuck on Wi-Fi 5.

iPad Pro (2020)

Source: iMore (Image credit: Source: iMore)

The Pro X adds an additional USB-C port to the mix compared to the iPad Pro, and it also has Surface Connect for charging, leaving both ports open for other business. Neither device has a 3.5mm audio jack, meaning you'll have to make due with Bluetooth or a USB-C adapter.

Both devices offer biometrics in the form of facial recognition, adding some extra security. While both devices have standard front-facing cameras (5MP in the Pro X and 7MP in the iPad Pro), the iPad Pro has two rear-facing cameras compared to one on the Pro X. The iPad Pro also has a LiDAR scanner for light detection and ranging. If you're serious about taking photos with a tablet, the iPad Pro is probably going to make more sense.

Go with the Surface Pro X for a PC experience

Love Windows and want something closer to a standard PC experience with a tablet tossed in for good measure? The Surface Pro X, one of our picks for best Windows laptop, is no doubt a better pick. ARM has some limitations, but it should still give you more freedom than iPadOS. And it's going to cost less, especially when adding in accessories and LTE connectivity.

Choose the iPad Pro for a better tablet experience

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a formidable tablet with awesome performance, made better by the new Magic Keyboard and Trackpad. It's ideal for those already invested in Apple's ecosystem, though it will generally cost more than a Pro X, especially when you add in useful accessories.

Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt brings to Windows Central more than eight years of experience writing about laptops, PCs, accessories, games, and beyond.