iPad Pro

Apple iPad Pro vs. Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Are you in the market for a tablet and investigating the Apple iPad Pro versus the Microsoft Surface? Well, you’ve come to the right place. I spent a total of $2,500 on both devices because 1) I couldn’t make up my mind which way to go based off online reviews and 2) I am not famous enough for Apple and Microsoft to send me free products.

If you don’t want to read any further, here’s the result: the Surface, which I thought was going to be the winner, has been collecting dust on a coffee table. The iPad Pro—well, I can’t get enough of it, and it has changed the way I view tablet computing.

Full Disclosure: My Bias

I can’t tell you how much I wanted to love something from Microsoft, which appears to have its mojo back. Redmond has been pounding out a string of hits with Office 365 and the beautiful new Surface Book. That said, let me get my cards on the table and admit that I am a loyal Apple customer when it comes to hardware.

I should also admit that I never liked tablets. I felt they were too focused on consumption and not on production.They might be great for reading or web surfing, but for creating documents or doing real work I found them to be frustrating (and expensive).

Now however, these larger devices, when combined with keyboards, can replace a laptop.  maybe, finally, I could ditch my laptop and the paper notebooks I invariably leave everywhere and have a fully functional machine.

The Contenders

The iPad Pro ($949 for the 128GB version) runs iOS, has a beautifully crisp 12.9 inch screen, a pencil ($99 extra), and a Smart Keyboard cover ($169 extra). The Surface ($899 for the 128GB version) seemed especially ideal: it runs fully functional Windows 10, pairs with a Type Cover keyboard ($129), and comes included with a wicked cool stylus that sticks to the side of it.

All told, the iPad Pro set me back $1,217 before tax, and the Surface Pro 4 was a little cheaper at $1,028. These devices, fully tricked out, are pricier than laptops. You’re paying a premium for the touchscreen functionality, and in Apple’s case, the limitations of iOS. In other words, if you really want laptop functionality, get a laptop, not one of these.

My Findings

As soon as I started using the Surface, I realized I had forgotten, after so many years of not using Windows, just how much better the Apple experience is. When I set up the device, I got a BSOD (blue screen of death). It may have been a happier BSOD with a cute little face, but it was a BSOD nonetheless. When the Surface Pro goes to sleep, it does not wake up right away. It could spring to life immediately or it could take 20 seconds.

Windows 10 is very pretty with the elegant tiles and new user interface, but it is still Windows. Connecting to a wireless network is not nearly as easy as it is on a Mac or iPad.  Certain programs, like Evernote, do not render crisply, and look like old relics of software with jagged typography.

These issues never happen in Apple-land.  Everything looks great.  The screen is unbelievably clear and amazing. There are no programs with ancient looking typography. Connecting to a wireless network is a piece of cake. And perhaps I am impatient, but the iPad Pro comes roaring to life in an instant.

You cannot talk about these devices without talking about their styluses—if you buy one of these things, the stylus will be as critical as your mouse or trackpad is on a regular computer.

In terms of device design, the Microsoft Pen trounces the Apple Pencil. The Microsoft Pen magnetically snaps to the side of the Surface and comes with a clip, so there’s always a place to put it. It has a virtual eraser on the end opposite the tip, where you would expect it to be. Clicking the eraser once brings up OneNote, and clicking twice it takes a screenshot.

The Apple Pencil is ridiculously designed. There is no place to put it and it doesn’t erase, and you have to stick it in the bottom of the iPad to charge it. Life got better when I bought this little doohickey to attach it to the keyboard, but not before I wrote a rant on the Legal Productivity blog. Apple needs to be held to a higher standard.

Physical design aside, the Apple Pencil writes like silk, much better than the Pen. I am a big fan of paper notebooks and will spend $20 on a mechanical pencil, so I was blown away at how delightful the writing was with this electronic stylus. I love the way it writes.

The iPad Pro allows you to open two windows at once. This “multitasking” is sadly touted as a feature. The problem is that the iPad Pro is running iOS, not OS X, so it’s still limited by the lack of a global file system and the inability to install anything not available through the App Store. The Surface, on the other hand is a real computer running Windows 10, so you can open as many simultaneous windows as you want and download whatever you want.

The iPad Pro, when the keyboard is attached, measures 8 inches deep. It is easier to fit into a limited space, such as an airplane tray table, than the Surface, which measures 11.5 inches deep. For me, this is a big deal, as I travel on planes all the time. Another thing to consider is that the iPad Pro uses the same charger as an iPhone, whereas the Surface requires its own unique charger, which is bulkier than it should be for such a small device.

ipad

The iPad Pro, left, has a smaller footprint than the Surface Pro 4, right.

The Clincher

The great irony is that a Microsoft product, OneNote, was one of the major deciding factors steering me to the iPad Pro. The writing with the Apple Pencil is downright fun in OneNote, and it works extremely well reviewing clipped webpages and PDF’s—perfect for a lawyer. It’s such a good product that I am being lured away from one of my favorite programs of all time: Evernote.

Other things added up too: the larger screen size, the quicker wake-up time, and the fact that I did not need to carry around an additional bulky charger were deciding factors.

Surprisingly to me, in spite of the fact that the iPad Pro does not run OS X and I am limited in functionality, I have come to rely on it for daily use. I am very happy with my desktop/iPad combination, and my tablet hating days are over.

About Larry Port

Larry Port
Larry Port, Rocket Matter founder and CEO, is a speaker and award winning writer at the crossroads of the legal profession, cutting edge technology, and law firm marketing. Larry speaks to an international audience on technology, productivity, and the business of law and was recently recognized by Fastcase as one of the 50 top innovators in the field of law. He is the author of two books, The Law Firm of Tomorrow and Legal Productivity and also writes extensively for legal publications, including Legal Management, Law Technology News, Law Practice Today, ILTA's Peer to Peer, FindLaw, Chicago Lawyer, and Legal Productivity. He frequently discusses design and efficiency, and quality techniques that can be leveraged by lawyers. He has worked with his client law firms to help them plan their online presence and is aware of what truly works online.

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  • Tom Stubbs

    Great review. You should be famous enough for them to send you free stuff. I go both ways, owning both a Surface Pro and an iPad, but I still find the Surface Pro much more useful, if it still falls short on the “really neat” test. The Surface Pro with 500 GB hard drive, a USB port, a display port, and all of my programs just as I have always used them is a productivity tool beyond anything I can squeeze out of the iPad. OneNote may also be available on the iPad, but it is so tightly integrated with the Surface (in the same way that folks usually talk about the tight integration of Apple software with its hardware) that it is fantastic.

    • Larry Port

      All great points! The Surface pro is definitely more computer-ish, that’s for sure!

  • Greg

    Where did you stick the little doohickey Pencil holder on your iPad cover? It looks like a one shot deal!