Apple iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro 3: How the mighty hybrids compare

Apple iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro 3: How the mighty hybrids compare

Apple iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro 3: Stylus

As with the keyboards, both Apple and Microsoft’s tablets have pressure sensitive, active stylus options. Again, Microsoft’s stylus is the cheapest: the Surface Pen comes bundled with the Pro 3, while the Apple Pencil will set you back a breathtaking $99.

Both accessories are powered and pressure sensitive. The Surface Pen is able to sense 256 pressure levels and, although Apple made no mention of pressure sensitivity levels at the launch of the iPad Pro, it does go one better than the Surface Pen by offering the ability to sense the angle at which it is being held. This allows you, for instance, to switch quickly from drawing to shading in one clean motion.

Surface Pro 3 review performance surface pen

Neither stylus can be stowed within the body of the tablet, but the Surface Pen offers more practical features. It has a button on top used for launching OneNote quickly and taking screenshots, it’s powered by coin cell batteries that can last longer than a year, and it has a pocket clip so you can attach it to the Type Cover keyboard for stowage.

The Apple Pencil has no buttons or pocket clip, but it does have a rechargeable battery that will last up to three months, which can be topped up by connecting it to the Lightning port of the iPad Pro (via a connector under a cap on the top).


The price is mainly why I’m awarding the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 the win in this section. The Apple Pencil is simply too expensive in my view, and I can’t imagine it will  be that much better than Microsoft’s to justify such a big price premium.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Apple iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro 3: Screen

When it comes to the display it’s easier to compare the two tablets, and the iPad Pro takes an early lead here. Its display is 0.9in bigger, at 12.9in across the diagonal, and it has a resolution of 2,372 x 2,048, while the Surface Pro 3 has a 12in screen with a resolution of 2,160 x 1,440.

ipad pro front

Clearly, I can’t comment on quality yet, but it should be a close-run thing between the two if Apple’s previous iPads are anything to go by. What’s more important, perhaps, is how usable the iPad Pro’s large screen turns out to be with iOS 9’s new multitasking features.

Apple’s mobile OS has, thus far, been a single window UI. iOS 9, however, will allow you to run two apps side-by-side in a split-screen view, just like in Windows 10. Whether this works well enough to compete with the Surface’s more flexible multi-tasking Windows installation remains to be seen, but, if I had to guess, I’d say the iPad will struggle to keep up. Just as Windows 8 wasn’t a very good OS for tablets, it’s going to take a long time for iOS to become a mature desktop UI.

Surface Pro 3 review design face on

A draw, pending test results

Apple iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro 3: Performance and battery life

During its presentation, Apple was keen to hype up the performance of its new tablet, and understandably so. Inside is Apple’s new A9X processor, which among other things has double the memory bandwidth and vastly superior graphics performance to the A8X in the Apple iPad Air 2. It has been reported that the iPad Pro has 4GB of RAM, but since Apple never quotes this specification for its mobile devices, we won’t know for sure until the tablet has been opened up and stripped down by someone like iFixit. Storage options run to 32GB or 128GB.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3, on the other hand, offers users a choice. It’s available with low voltage Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 processors, and 4GB or 8GB RAM, and 64GB, 128GB, 256GB or 512GB of storage, depending on the model. We’ve only tested the Core i5 version, but it’s quick enough to run most desktop applications without trouble, and 4GB of RAM is plenty for serious multitasking.

ipad pro table

How will they compare? Tough to say, since we have no benchmarks for the iPad Pro, but given that it won’t be running the same software as the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, the question of comparative performance is largely academic anyway. The key is that each tablet is able to multitask and run demanding applications concurrently, quickly and without slowing down. The iPad Air 2 can already do that, as can the Surface Pro 3, and I expect the iPad Pro to do the same, despite its higher resolution display.

Battery life is, perhaps, more important. One of the reasons I use a MacBook Pro 13in is because it lasts longer on a single charge than any Windows laptop I’ve worked with. If Apple wants people to choose the iPad Pro over the Surface Pro 3, it’s going to have to beat it on battery life. I haven’t tested the iPad Pro yet, but Apple claims it lasts ten hours per charge and, based on past experience, I’m inclined to believe it.

Surface Pro 3 review performance full kickstand extend

In testing, the Core i5-4300U Surface Pro 3 lasted 10hrs 33mins with the screen dimmed right down under light use in flight mode. I’d say that puts the iPad Pro marginally out in front of the Surface Pro 3, since in my experience, Apple’s figures have mostly turned out to be optimistic.

So far, though, this is merely speculation, which is why I’m declaring a draw in this section until the benchmarks come in. We won’t know exactly how they compare until we’ve had the chance to test them side-by-side.

A draw

Apple iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro 3: Verdict

There’s no definitive answer as to whether the iPad Pro is better than the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, mainly because we haven’t yet used the Apple tablet in anger for longer than a few minutes at the launch event. Even if I had benchmark results to hand, however, and I knew if one was faster than the other, how the screens and battery life compared – I still wouldn’t be able to deliver a final verdict.

So while – through a process of totting up here – it looks like a win for the Microsoft Surface 3, the real victor will only become apparent once we’ve had the opportunity to use an Apple iPad Pro properly for work. It will be intriguing to see how, in real-world use, the two truly compare.

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