Konstrukt Design, Sydney

Surface vs iPad

By: Peter Cooper


Last week Microsoft unveiled the Surface 3. An impressive rate of release for new product, given the Surface 2 is less than 12 months old! And a reassuring sign of support by Microsoft for a range of products that has received a mixed reception.

There is a lot of discussion as to whether the Microsoft Surface range is a worthy competitor to the iPad. Here are some of my thoughts, based upon living with both a Surface Pro 2 and an iPad Air (and having moved from a ‘fully loaded’ MacBook Air).

Both are good products, but they are quite different.

The Surface I use is a Pro 2 with 8GB of RAM, and it has become my main computer. I regularly run it with a 24” DVI monitor (@ 1920 x 1200px), external keyboard & mouse and it works really well. Applications include email and internet, MS Office & Google Docs, right through to 3D CAD (SolidWorks), Illustrator and Photoshop. Though I’m not pushing the design applications too hard, so far it has run them without problem. With the optional keyboard removed the Surface has a compact footprint (which I find a bonus relative to tethering a laptop), it doesn’t run hot, and has proven a surprisingly effective desktop replacement.

When I need to get mobile I unplug the various peripherals, snap the Type Cover on, and I have a tidy portable device (nicely sized for use on aircraft). I have had great value from the Surface because it has enough grunt to drive the programs I use, and Windows-based software is essential for some of my work.

A bonus with the Surface is that is has a reasonably effective stylus. The stylus has good resolution, and for basic sketching and note taking the pen is quite fast and accurate, and the OCR does a god job of turning my scribbles into usable text. Still not a replacement for the Moleskine, but each year we get closer! By comparison I have tried various styli and programs on different iPads, and for me it’s just not an effective interface on the Apple. For want of a better description I find it to be elegant finger painting, and though I have seen some beautiful visuals generated on iPads, it doesn’t work for me.

Comparing the Surface Pro 2 with a fully-loaded iPad Air, they are both tablets and both over $1000 here in Oz, but my conclusion is that they are quite different beasties.

The iPad is a lovelier object. It is noticeably lighter and thinner, therefore considerably nicer to use as a handheld device. The refinement and rationalisation of external details is noticeable also. The iPad is visually cleaner, whereas every edge on the Surface has something going on. Apple’s attention to detail is even apparent with the differences in connecting the devices to recharge.

Apart from sheer product lust, the other area in which the iPad shines is the suite of available apps. If it will do what you need, chances are the experience will be sublime. The ecosystem is solid (Windows 8.1, not quite there… ) As many have reported, for consuming content the iPad rules. And this is the major reason to select one device over the other (or buy both). The iPad is a dedicated, beautifully resolved tablet, and does a lot of things really well. The Surface is a device that does a reasonable job of being a tablet (with the added bonus of a workable stylus), but is also a real computer.

Though there are other differences between the two (e.g. iPad can be purchased with cellular data option, Surface is WiFi only) the ‘better’ product in this case depends upon your use. It’s like comparing an SUV with a sports car. They do a lot of the same things, but ultimately each will do certain things better. If you’re choosing between the two, assessing the areas of difference is likely to be most helpful.