Microsoft and Apple have reignited their age old rivalry in recent years with devices that aim to replace your laptop and tablet.
The iPad Pro and the Surface Pro are both competing head-to-head in a battle that could well shape how we see computers in the years ahead.
So, which one is the best? We take a look.
Be sure to also look at our guide to the Best hybrid laptop/tablets currently available.
What are the main differences between their design and build?
The Surface Pro is the 2017 successor to the popular Surface Pro 4. Microsoft has done away with the numbering system on the Pro line now, making it more akin to the way Apple approaches its nomenclature.
Much of what made the Surface Pro 4 a hit has been retained in the Surface Pro. The construction is almost identical, with the magnesium alloy chassis only having a little touch up to round its corners and improve the kickstand so it now can be pushed back to 165 degrees.
This position, which is almost flat, is designed to provide a comfortable surface for drawing and writing with the new and improved Surface Pen. Sadly that particular accessory is no longer included in the box, but then the same holds true for the Apple Pencil.
The iPad Pro features the slim aluminium frame to which we’ve all grown so accustomed. It’s largely unencumbered by ports, with just a Lightning one for charging the device itself (and in turn charging an Apple Pencil by plugging it in), a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a Smart Connector which is used to attach Apple’s Smart Keyboard.
Aside from these there are volume controls, a power switch, and if you select an LTE enabled model there will be a Nano-Sim tray. It’s an immediately familiar design, as essentially it’s really just a big iPad.
Apple actually offers the device in two sizes, the older 12.9in model that most closely matches the Surface Pro and will be the one we focus on in this comparison review, plus a 9.7in version that resembles a traditional iPad format.
It’s also rumoured to be launching a new 10.5in iPad Pro..
Many of the internals are the same in the current models, but the smaller one benefits from better cameras and a True Tone display with a wider colour gamut and automatic colour temperature adjustments.
The Surface Pro comes in one size, 12.3in, but you’ll find a wider selection of ports included. There are apertures for USB 3.0, microSD, 3.5mm headphones, and Microsoft’s own dedicated Surface Connector for attaching its Surface Type Cover.
These ports are a bit of a clue to the different approaches both companies have taken in terms of how the devices work. The iPad Pro runs iOS 10, just like an iPhone, and as such is primarily a tablet. So you’re not really intended to plug much into it.
Windows 10 Pro is the operating system of choice on the Surface Pro, making the device primarily a laptop. Thus the inclusion of USB 3.0 and microSD, which remain two of the most used formats on Windows.
It’s a shame that Microsoft didn’t include a USB-C port this time around, but it can be argued that USB 3.0 is the most compatible, so it’s not like Surface Pro owners will be short of options.
In terms of size, the iPad Pro is the lighter and thinner option. While it’s true that the 12.9in model is quite a bit taller than the Surface Pro, Apple’s obsession with weight means that it’s still svelte in comparison.
Here’s the dimensions of the two larger devices;
- Surface Pro – 201mm x 292mm x 8.5mm; 768g/770g/784g (m3/i5/i7)
- iPad Pro 12.9 – 305.7mm x 220.6mm x 6.9mm and 713g/723g (Wi-Fi/cellular models)
The 12.9in Retina display on the iPad Pro is rich, colourful, and as crisp as you’d expect from an Apple product in 2017. It runs at a resolution of 2732 x 2048, which gives it pixel density of 264 PPI.
As the Surface Pro features a widescreen 3:2 ratio display as opposed to the 4:3 on the iPad Pro, it’s resolution is slightly different in that it runs at 2736 x 1824 with a marginally higher PPI of 273.
Both panels are excellent and look fantastic whether you’re working on a spreadsheet or streaming movies on Netflix.
The iPad Pro comes in four colours: Silver, Gold, Space Grey, and Rose Gold. The latter is only available on the 9.7in model.
While the Surface Pro only has a silver livery on show, the Surface Type Cover is available in a range of attractive colours that mean you can tailor the device to your taste.
You can really only use these devices as laptops if you invest in a keyboard, as you won’t find one in the box of either product.
Apple has created the Smart Keyboard as a bespoke companion for its iPad Pro range. The keys are enclosed in a water-resistant fabric that also means no crumbs can find their way into the device.
Typing takes a bit of getting used to, but generally it seems to be thought of as comfortable after an adjustment period.
The main downsides are that you’re stuck with one viewing angle, there are no dedicated keys for iOS features such as the Home button, and the price of £169 for the 12-inch model.
The Surface Pro Signature Type Cover attaches via strong magnets and avoids the angle issues of the Apple Smart Keyboard thanks to the adjustable kickstand on the Surface Pro itself.
Typing is easy and fluent, with the small trackpad proving to actually be quite good. The range of colours includes black, burgundy, platinum, and cobalt blue, but the price of £149.99 is still high.
Neither device comes with a stylus, but Microsoft and Apple make a point of using these accessories as selling points for the devices.
The Apple Pencil might look a bit tall and almost medical in its appearance but it’s an excellent stylus when combined with the dedicated note taking and drawing apps on iOS.
Again you’re shelling out a pretty price for this added coolness, with the Pencil retailing at £99.
Microsoft has upgraded the Surface Pen recently, raising its sensitivity and pairing it with hardware acceleration in the Surface Pro.
We’ve not yet had time to test out how smooth the experience is, or how much it will cost, but as soon as get the Pen in our labs we’ll report back our findings.
What processors, memory, and storage do they offer?
Apple includes its own A9X chip in all the current iPad Pros, accompanied by an embedded M9 coprocessor for tracking movement and orientation.
The large iPad Pro houses 4GB of RAM, while its smaller sibling has to make do with 2GB. To be fair neither of them are what you would regard as slow, thanks to the optimised nature of the hardware and the software both being created by Apple.
The Surface Pro range is more diverse, beginning with a model that runs on an Intel 7th gen Kaby Lake Core m3 processor with 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD, moving through various Intel i5 options, and culminating with an i7 device packing 1TB SSD and 16GB RAM.
Here’s a summary of the specifications for the Surface Pro and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro
|iPad Pro 12.9||Surface Pro|
|OS||iOS 10||Windows 10 Pro|
|Display||12.9in IPS, 2732 x 2048 pixels, 264ppi||12.3in PixelSense, 273ppi, 2736×1824|
|Processors||Apple A9X processor||1GHz Core m3-7Y30; 2.6GHz Core i5-7300U; 2.5GHz Core i7-7660U|
|Storage||32GB/128GB/256GB||128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB* SSD (*NVMe)|
|GPU||Custom||Intel HD 615 (Core m3); Intel HD 620 (Core i5); Intel Iris Plus 640 (Core i7)|
|Ports||Lightning, 3.5mm Headphone, Smart Connector, Nano Sim on cellular models||USB 3, microSD, 3.5mm headset, Surface connector|
|Wi-Fi & BT||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band with MIMO, Bluetooth 4.2||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1|
|LTE||LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 38, 39, 40, 41)||LTE Model available|
|Cameras||8Mp (rear-facing) and 1.2Mp (front-facing) cameras||8Mp rear camera, 5Mp front camera|
|Accessories||Apple Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil sold separately||Surface Type Cover Keyboard & Surface Pen sold separately|
|Dimensions||305.7mm x 220.6mm x 6.9mm||201x292x8.5mm|
|Weight||713g/723g (Wi-Fi / 4G models)||768g/770g/784g (m3/i5/i7)|
What software can you run on them?
Here’s where the most obvious differences arise.
If you treat both devices as a tablet then the iPad Pro is the hands-down winner, no question. Not only does it have access to the huge selection of games, media, and productivity apps that has been the hallmark of iOS for years, but everything is bigger.
The touch interface on the iPad Pro is also superb, coming as it does from one of the most successfully lineages in this area of technology. Everything in iOS is meant to be touched, so apps make sense, are optimised, and if you purchase the Apple Pencil then the dedicated art apps are truly excellent.
That being said, it’s not an easy device to hold for too long, and it can seem unwieldy at times due to its size.
The Surface Pro struggles somewhat in the tablet stakes. Its touch sensitivity is very good, but there just aren’t that many dedicated apps available to make use of it.
Switch the devices into laptop mode though and the Surface Pro comes into its own. Yes, the iPad Pro has a spacious display and can run serious apps like Microsoft’s Office suite, but it’s not quite ready to be a true laptop replacement.
The Surface Pro on the other hand isn’t trying to replace your laptop, it is one. Running a full blown version of Windows 10 means you can do practically anything you want on it, and the more powerful models can certainly handle video editing and gaming without any problem.
Probably the most immediate difference is access to a file system, something that still holds iOS back when it comes to productivity. Having multiple apps open at the same time is also better on Windows.
True, the iPad Pro can have a split screen with compatible apps running alongside each other, but the Surface Pro just does more and does it better.
Of course this is only true if you buy the Surface Type Cover, so out of the box the Surface Pro is just a pretty, but not particularly useful, tablet.
How much do they cost?
The iPad Pro is available from various retailers including Apple and John Lewis for the following prices;
iPad Pro 9.7 (32GB, Wi-Fi) £549
iPad Pro 9.7 (128GB, Wi-Fi) £639
iPad Pro 9.7 (256GB, Wi-Fi) £729
iPad Pro 9.7 (32GB, cellular) £669
iPad Pro 9.7 (128GB, cellular) £759
iPad Pro 9.7 (256GB, cellular) £849
iPad Pro 12.9 (32GB, Wi-Fi): £729
iPad Pro 12.9 (128GB, Wi-Fi): £819
iPad Pro 12.9 (256GB, Wi-Fi): £909
iPad Pro 12.9 (128GB, cellular): £939
iPad Pro 12.9 (256GB, cellular): £1,029
You can currently pre-order the Surface Pro from Microsoft for the following prices;
Intel Core M, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM: £799
Intel Core i5, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM: £979
Intel Core i5, 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM: £1249
Intel Core i7, 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM: £1549
Intel Core i7, 512GB SSD, 16GB RAM: £2149
Intel Core i7, 1TB SSD, 16GB RAM: £2699