Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs iPad Air comparison
Update, 12th April 2016: Apple has discontinued the iPad Air 1, replacing it with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. (The iPad Air 2 is still on sale.) For the latest advice on which iPad to buy, see our updated iPad buying guide for 2016.
Microsoft has announced the Surface Pro 3, the latest addition to its Windows tablet line-up. In a change of tune from the first Surface tablets that were pitched directly against the iPad, Microsoft has described the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet that can replace your laptop, so it's comparable to both the iPad Air and MacBook Air. Here we're comparing the Surface Pro 3 tablet to Apple's latest tablet offering. A Surface Pro 3 vs MacBook Air comparison is coming soon, too.
If anything, the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 would be a close rival to a rumoured Apple product, dubbed iPad Pro, which is said to be a cross between a laptop and a tablet. But, as they're both tablets and share many design similarities, at least on the outisde, there's no doubt that some potential iPad Air or Surface Pro 3 customers will be wondering what the similarities and differences between the two devices are.
It's worth noting that these two tablets are targeted at completely different markets and are designed for very different tasks. As mentioned above, Microsoft is aiming its new Surface Pro 3 at people who want the portability of a tablet but the power of a laptop, so it's essentially an ultraportable PC. The iPad Air, on the other hand, is actually more of a consumer gadget used for communication and entertainment, rather than productivity and business, so is not going to be a complete replacement for a laptop for most users.
Here, we'll talk more about the capabilities of the iPad Air and Surface Pro 3 to help you decide whether you really need the power of a Surface Pro 3 in your tablet.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs iPad Air: Design
One of the only areas in which the iPad Air and Surface Pro 3 share similarities is the design. They're both tablets, of course, so they both sport touchscreens and don't have an attached keyboard like a laptop does.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 has a bigger screen than the iPad Air's 9.7in display, at 12 inches, designed to cater for the business user interested in running apps alongside eachother, or for those who want to run applications that benefit from more screen space like Photoshop. It has a resolution of 2160x1440, while the iPad Air has a resolution of 2048x1536. That means the iPad Air's Retina display has a higher pixel density (264ppi) than the Surface Pro 3 (216ppi).
Microsoft has designed the Surface Pro 3 to give it a 3:2 aspect ratio, which allows you to snap three apps side-by-side at equal widths if you want to. It's also designed to look and feel similar to a piece of paper, according to Microsoft. The iPad Air has a 4:3 aspect ratio. Really, though, it comes down to personal preference with aspect ratios. What's more important is the amount of pixels, as that determines the level of detail you'll be able to see.
The iPad Air is much lighter than the Surface Pro 3, but that's to be expected given that the Surface Pro 3 is bigger overall and has some heavy technology inside it to bring that aforementioned power. Taking a closer look, it's 800g for the Surface Pro 3 compared with 469g for the iPad Air, and 9.1mm in thickness for the Surface Pro 3 compared with 7.5mm for the iPad Air. Ultimately, the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is the thinnest Intel Core PC ever made.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs iPad Air: Specs
Here's where the similarities end and the differences between these two tablets become clear. As it's designed to be a replacement for a laptop, the Surface Pro 3 uses ultrabook-class Intel chips (either Core i3, Core i5 or Core i7, depending on the model you choose), making the higher-spec models just as powerful as any laptop on the market, and most desktop PCs. The iPad Air, on the other hand, uses an Apple-exclusive ARM-based A7 chip designed to be used in mobile devices. We've yet to test the Surface Pro 3's performance, but you can expect it to be very impressive for a tablet.
The Surface Pro 3 also has front-facing speakers while the iPad Air's are on the bottom, and has a USB 3 port and microSD card reader that the iPad Air lacks.
Like the iPad Air, the Surface Pro 3 comes with four different capacities, though the Surface Pro 3 starts at 64GB while the iPad Air starts at 16GB. There's the option to go all the way up to 512GB for the Surface Pro 3, though that will cost you close to £2,000. Again, this is because the Surface Pro 3 is designed to replace your laptop, so requires a lot more capacity than the iPad Air in order to do so.
The iPad Air has just 1GB of RAM, while the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 has the option of 4GB or 8GB RAM, designed for powerful tasks such as running a touch-optimised version of Photoshop CC, for example.
Overall, the Surface Pro 3 will suit you if you want a really portable workstation that allows you to work with images or video in creative applications or if you're really into PC gaming, but for sending emails, browsing the web, watching videos, playing games and using social media, the iPad Air will be plenty powerful.
When it comes to the camera, the iPad Air has a 1.2MP front-facing camera and a 5MP rear-facing camera, while the Surface Pro 3 has a 5MP front-facing camera and a 5MP rear-facing camera.
There's also the matter of connectivity, which offers up further differences between the iPad Air and the Surface Pro 3. If you opt for the WiFi plus Cellular iPad Air, you'll get 4G LTE, but there's currently no word of a cellular version of the Surface Pro 3, so you'll need to be connected to the WiFi to use it. Microsoft has yet to comment about whether cellular will be added to the Surface Pro 3.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs iPad Air: battery life
The iPad Air will last around 10 hours if you're continuously using it, though if you only use it occassionally you'll find it can last for a week or more before you'll need to charge it. Microsoft claims that the Surface Pro 3 will last for nine hours of web browsing, but we'll let you know more accurate figures when we've had a chance to test it out. It's likely, though, that the iPad Air will trump the Surface Pro 3 when it comes to battery life, though.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs iPad Air: accessories
Apple sticks to the basics when it comes to accessories for its iPad. There's the Smart Cover and Smart Case to protect the iPad and act as a stand, and that's about it.
Microsoft, however, has a Keyboard Cover for the Surface Pro 3, which comes complete with a trackpad. In order to get the true 'laptop' feel out of the Surface Pro 3, you'll want to get one. It'll set you back an extra £99 or £109 for it, though. There's also a new Surface Pen stylus that works with the Surface Pro 3, and comes included in the box. Apple has yet to launch a stylus, though there are rumours about such product. There are also rumours about a keyboard case from Apple, so maybe that'll arrive with the iPad Pro.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs iPad Air: software
Another area that makes the iPad Air and Surface Pro 3 very different devices is the software. Apple's iPad Air runs the wonderful iOS 7 (soon iOS 8), an operating system designed specifically for mobile use. The Surface Pro 3, on the other hand, runs Microsoft's Windows 8, which means you'll get access to applications that have been designed for desktop use, including full versions of Photoshop and other Adobe products, as well as Microsoft's Office applications. Essentially, it can do everything a Windows laptop can.
Of course, Microsoft has recently launched its Office apps for iOS, and there are also versions of Adobe's software available for iPad, but they're not quite the same as the apps designed for laptops and desktop computers, which the Surface is capable of running. That said, the constantly growing selection of iPad apps in the iOS App Store is pretty impressive and not accessible from the Surface Pro 3, so while you'll get those familiar desktop applications with Windows 8, you won't get some of the tablet apps we love on our iPad.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs iPad Air: Price
It's a bit tricky to compare the price of these two tablets, because the Surface Pro 3 is designed for more powerful tasks than the iPad Air and therefore has bigger capacity options and more RAM. So, we'll compare the closest models we can.
The 64GB Surface Pro 3 will set you back £639 compared with the 64GB iPad Air's £559 (WiFi Only) ot £659 with cellular. For £639, you can get a 128GB WiFi only iPad Air, or a 128GB Surface Pro 3 for £849.
Overall, while the iPad Air and Surface Pro 3 are both tablets, they're aimed at very different audiences and are therefore difficult to directly compare. The Surface Pro 3 is designed to fit the needs of professionals who would prefer not to carry around both a laptop and a tablet. Perhaps they're creatives, or businesspeople, or even journalists. The iPad Air can cater to those audiences too, but not always entirely, and that's what Microsoft has been trying to point out (it says 96 percent of iPad owners also own a laptop). But the iPad Air is still very powerful, can achieve most day-to-day tasks, and also offers up thousands of tablet-optimised apps for your entertainment, communication, education and productivity.
So for most consumers, the iPad Air offers more than enough as a tablet device. It's lighter and smaller than the Surface Pro 3 so has better portability and battery life, too.
Whether the Surface Pro 3 will be as impressive in the flesh as it is on paper, it's hard to tell, but we'll update this article as soon as we get our hands on it. The question on our minds right now, though, is will Apple launch a Surface Pro 3 rival? Only time will tell.