From iPad to Surface – Head-to-Head Comparison: Surface vs. iPad

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I’ve been an avid iPad user for 30 months and counting. I still love and use my Pad a lot, but I also bought a new Surface RT. Will my Surface ever completely replace my iPad? I don’t know yet, but I’d love to find out. This blog series is aimed at comparing the two devices in all sorts of situations, from work to home, and analyzing the pros and cons of each. You can read other entries in the series using the links below.

Surface vs. iPad: One Month Later

I started this blog series exactly one month ago. I bought my Surface, full of hopes that it would become my favorite device and dream tablet. If you’ve been following this series, you know by now that was not the case. The Surface is an awesome device, but it certainly isn’t ideal. It’s got its pros and its cons. I found that out the hard way last week. I was vacationing in Spain during Thanksgiving week and carried both devices with me, and it turns out I was using my iPad 90% of the time. I probably would have used my Surface more if it had been a business trip, but in the end, I’d like to just use one tablet. Period.

It’s now time to score this contest. The table below shows various comparison aspects and I’ll be attempting to score this. Note that I’m only counting 1 point per comparison. It’s up to you to weigh in which aspects are more important and which are more trivial.

If you feel there are important comparisons I’m not making here, let me know in the comments below and I’ll add them.

Device Aspects

iPad 4th gen.

Surface RT

Device Construction & Quality
Both devices sport superior design, construction materials and overall quality. Both easily win against virtually every Android tablet device out there. This is a really close one, but I have to give it to the Surface for integrating the Kick Stand without any compromise.

 

Surface

Dimensions & Weight
The iPad is a 4:3 device whereas the Surface is a 16:9 device. Both can be used well in landscape mode, but the iPad definitely feels better in Portrait mode. The iPad is also slightly lighter (652g vs. 680g).

iPad

 
Storage
Surface gives you double the storage space for the same price compared to the iPad. Surface also has a microSD slot and a USB port to plug in USB drives. No contest.
 

Surface

Performance
On paper, the NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad core 1.4 GHz in the Surface sounds better than the Apple A6X dual core 1.4GHz. In practice though, the iPad is more reactive and feels less sluggish

iPad

 
Screen Quality
I wrote extensively about the respective screens and the bottom line is the 2048x1536 Retina display on the iPad is just plain superior to the Surface’s 1366x768 screen.

iPad

 
Cameras
Remember how disappointing the iPad 2 camera was? You’ll then understand why the Surface camera can’t win this one.

iPad

 
Battery Life
I don’t have hard numbers to share. The iPad has a 42.5 W-h battery vs. 31.5 W-h on the Surface, but it’s all about the consumption rate, especially given the higher resolution screen on the iPad. Based on my experiences, things still look better on the iPad, but the Surface is also quite good.

iPad

 
Wireless Options
Both have Bluetooth support. Both have Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, but the Surface’s MIMO Wi-Fi radio is iffy and often drops, or can’t give me an IP. There’s also no GPS or 3G/4G radio in the Surface, and that’s disappointing.

iPad

 
Ports & Extensibility
The only iPad port is proprietary, and even though many accessories support it, this was invalidated with the introduction of the Lightning connector. The Surface’s charge port is also proprietary, but is joined by standard USB, microHDMI and microSD ports/slots.
 

Surface

App Store Selection
700,000+ iPad apps vs. 20,000+ Windows Store apps, and most of the key apps are still missing on Surface. This is a HUGE win for iPad.

iPad

 
Shell & Navigation
The iPad’s shell has virtually not changed since iPhone v1. Some conveniences were added on the home button to switch to other background apps, but that’s it. This is an easy win for the Surface’s Live Tiles, Charms bar, edge gestures and dynamic lock screen information.
 

Surface

Operating System Configurability
The iPad offers a lot of conveniences in a greatly simplified and easy to use model, but the Surface does have greater configurability. It might scare off a few average users, but you also don’t need to use them.
 

Surface

Document Management & Sync
One of the biggest pains with the iPad is moving files in and out. Everything is silo’d in application storage and it’s just plain hard. Surface lets you manage files like a normal Windows machine, you can connect to network drives and add USB drives & storage cards. SkyDrive is also integrated in the OS. Strong Surface win here.
 

Surface

Use Case: Email
The iPad mail client has received several improvements over the years and works relatively well now. The Windows Store Mail is just plain bad and is very sluggish on Windows RT devices. This is a huge strike for Surface.

iPad

 
Use Case: eReading
The iPad feels better since most read books in portrait mode and the 4:3 screen aspect ratio is closer to a standard book. The iPad Retina display also enhances the reading experience with smaller pixels.

iPad

 
Use Case: Facebook
With 1B users, Facebook is a standard use case. Facebook is well integrated in the People hub in Windows RT and Windows 8, but this doesn’t come close to the full experience. It took a while to get an official Facebook app for iPad, but we have one now, and we don’t on Surface.

iPad

 
Use Case: Gaming
The Surface has a lot of potential as a gaming device, especially given the integration with Xbox LIVE, the premier online gaming service. Sadly, the selection of games is still pitiful on Surface compared to the iPad’s massive catalog at this early stage.

iPad

 
Use Case: Movies & TV
Both devices offer a premium movie watching experience. Both offer Netflix and HuluPlus. Both have their own video stores. The Surface has an edge with the 16:9 movie-friendly screen and the storage card to store media, but the iPad has a LOT more apps that stream content at this point.

iPad

 
Use Case: Music
Just like movies, both devices are great music players. There are also more music apps on the iPad and a bigger catalog in iTunes, but the Xbox Music service clinches this win here. The deep synchronization between your Surface, Windows Phone, Xbox 360 and Windows 8 computers makes it all so seamless, much more so than in an all-Apple ecosystem.
 

Surface

Use case: Presentations
Keynote is a nice presentation software with cute little effects, but the iPad version is actually a subset of the Mac version. Both also pale in comparison to the full-fledged PowerPoint 2013 on Surface, which is THE benchmark presentation tool in the business world. The standard microHDMI port also clinches this win.
 

Surface

Use Case: Sharing
All iPad apps are on their own when it comes to sharing data and documents with other apps. Each developer needs to fully implement sharing support. The Share Charm on Windows 8/RT makes everything easier here and once you start using it, you won’t want to go back.
 

Surface

Use Case: Spreadsheet
Full Microsoft Excel 2013 vs. watered down Apple Numbers. No contest. None. Next!
 

Surface

Use Case: Twitter
The selection of Twitter clients in the Windows Store is sadly quite disappointing. Looking at the three leading apps (MetroTwit, Tweetro, Rowi), they are slow, unreliable, suffer from usability/design issues. The iPad has great Twitter clients for all tastes.

iPad

 
Use Case: Web Browsing
Internet Explorer 10 on Surface is a very powerful browser. The problem is most websites still don’t fully support it as well as they do Firefox or Safari. The partial Adobe Flash support on Surface also doesn’t make up for it given how badly Flash runs un those white-listed sites. The edge goes to Safari on iPad here. There are also more browser options on iPad (though they’re all wrappers around Safari, even Google Chrome)

iPad

 
Use Case: Word Processing
Again, just like Surface easily won in the Presentation and Spreadsheet categories, the same goes for Microsoft Word 2013 easily beating Apple Pages. Word is the King.
 

Surface

TOTAL SCORE

iPad 4th gen.

Surface RT

 

14

11

iPad vs. Surface – The Verdict

Surface RT is a v1 product, and a very impressive one at that. In fact, if this was Surface v1 vs. iPad v1, the Surface RT would win a lot more points. Unfortunately, Surface needs to be competitive against the 4th generation iPad. The 14-to-11 score above shows how the Surface has a lot of great qualities, and once the Windows Store expands, Surface might even win a few extra points. The potential is definitely there. However, I’d like to carry just one tablet, and for now, I still need to carry two.

Don’t take my scoring at face value. Assign the proper weight to each score based on which usage scenarios matter more to you. Are there also some important comparisons missing in the table above?

If you have any questions about Surface, including suggestions for future topics to explore in this series, questions about my experiences with the Surface vs. iPad, or any other tablet, feel free to ask them in the comments section below, or contact me on Twitter at @ActiveNick.

If you’re a developer interested in building apps for Surface, Windows 8 and Windows RT, Infragistics has the right tools for you with the new NetAdvantage for Windows UI. You should also follow @infragistics on Twitter.

Did you buy a Surface or other Windows RT tablet? Are you waiting for the Windows 8 Pro tablets? What are some of the key apps you want to see on Surface? Which of the comparisons outlined above matter more to you? Based on the various scores, which tablets seem better suited for your needs?

Let me know.


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