Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch full review
Apple announced the 12.9in iPad Pro alongside the iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, Apple TV and iPad mini 4 at its event in September, and has finally gone on sale in the UK. On the other hand, Microsoft has just launched its latest generation Surface, the 12.3in Microsoft Surface Pro 4, boasting similar features to Apple’s offering. Who wins in the Microsoft vs Apple head-to-head? We compare the iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface Pro 4 to help you decide which is the superior large tablet.
iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro 4: Design and build
So, let’s first talk about the design and build of these two mammoth tablets. The iPad Pro’s design is based on the hugely popular iPad – so much so that if you put a photo of an iPad Pro on a white background, we don’t think anybody would be able to distinguish between that and an iPad Air 2 based on looks. Its gorgeous curved edges provide a comfortable tablet to hold for long periods while its sleek body really stands out from the crowd, especially when the only real competition is almost 2mm thicker. The 12.9in iPad Pro is made from aluminium which makes it light, 713g in fact (723g for the cellular iteration), and it’s incredibly thin at only 6.9mm, making it the perfect travel companion.
How does the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 stand up to those impressive specs? The laptop/tablet hybrid is made from magnesium alloy, a material famed for being both lightweight and durable, and is wrapped around a 12.3in display. It’s slightly bulkier than the iPad Pro in both dimensions and overall weight, measuring in at 8.45mm thick and weighing 786g, over 70g more than its competitor. Although let’s not write off the Surface Pro 4 based on its dimensions, as it offers full-size ports for connectivity – but we’ll come to that in more detail later.
One feature of the Surface Pro 4 that isn’t available with the iPad Pro is one that’s fairly simple – a kickstand. Now we know that you can get a multitude of iPad covers that double up as a kickstand for the beloved tablet, but the Surface Pro 4 doesn’t even need one. Even with Apple’s iPad smart cover, it only provides two angles – almost upright or almost flat, which compared to the Surface Pro 4’s adjustable kickstand seems a bit basic, especially when you’re parting with a fair bit of money.
With regards to colour options, Apple’s offering has the upper hand; the iPad Pro is available in either silver, gold or space grey depending on your personal preference. The Surface Pro 4 on the other hand comes only in silver, but offers its keyboard and pen in multiple colours to make the device more personal to you – something that, funnily enough, Apple doesn’t offer with the iPad Pro keyboard or pencil, which only come in grey and white respectively.
iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro 4: Features and spec
With no clear winner with regards to design and build quality, the next head-to-head is with regards to the two tablets’ features and specification. Let’s start with the display; the Microsoft Surface Pro boasts a 12.3in display that features PixelSense technology. PixelSense technology allows the Surface Pro 4 to know when you’re touching the screen with a finger or stylus, and automatically optimise itself for the experience and should provide a more reactive display. Resolution wise, the Surface Pro 4 measures in at 2732x1824, giving the device a pixel density of 267PPI.
Interestingly, though the iPad Pro is larger in size (12.9in compared to 12.3in) it can still compete with the pixel density of the Surface Pro 4 with a resolution of 2048x2732, which equals to a pixel density of around 265PPI. The display of the iPad Pro also features both oleophobic and antireflective coating, which means that fingerprints and smudges will be less noticeable on Apple’s tablet. The larger display also means that you have more room for work and play, offering more room for the split screen view introduced to the iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro in iOS 9.
Games should look better on the iPad Pro too, though this isn’t just to do with the size and quality of the display. The iPad Pro features Apple’s own 64-bit A9X chipset, the most powerful processor in any Apple product, coupled with 4GB of RAM which provides 1.8x the processing power and 2x the graphical power of the iPad Air 2, Apple’s previous processor titan. The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 has a variety of different chipsets ranging from the Intel Core M3 to the Intel Core i5 and i7 coupled with either 4, 8 or 16GB of RAM and Intel HD Graphics 515/Graphics 520/Intel Iris, meaning the price will have a direct effect on performance.
Although spec wise, the Surface Pro 4 has the upper hand, Apple has the advantage of designing both the hardware and software of its device, offering higher levels of optimization than Microsoft’s offering. This is particularly true when referencing Metal, Apple’s own API that was designed to work specifically with its chipset to overhaul the way games are run on iPhones and iPads, offering more graphical power than developers previously thought was possible.
It means that Apple doesn’t need to offer such huge amounts of RAM and processing power as Microsoft, while achieving just as good if not better results in some areas. This is very true with regards to video editing, where the iPad Pro can edit three streams of full 4K at one with no issue whereas the same task may be an issue with the Surface Pro, depending on the processor and graphics card combination you choose. Of course if you’ve got a Surface Pro 4 with an Intel i7 processor, Intel Iris graphics, 512GB HDD and 16GB of RAM it may be a different story, but you’ll be paying almost double the amount of an iPad Pro just to be able to do so.
Let’s move onto connectivity. The iPad Pro features fairly standard Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11ac Wi-Fi as does the Surface Pro 4, but that’s where the similarities end. The iPad Pro has a 128GB variation that also offers cellular connectivity, meaning you can get access to 4G LTE speeds wherever you are, regardless of available Wi-Fi in the area. The Surface Pro 4 doesn’t offer cellular activity, but does trump the iPad Pro in another way; ports.
The Surface Pro 4 features not only a full size USB 3.0 port, but also a MicroSD Card reader and a Mini DisplayPort to hook up the tablet to a full size display, compared to the single Lightning port available on the iPad Pro. Though there have been reports that the iPad Pro lightning port can support USB 3.0 data transfer speeds, there won’t be any USB 3.0 adapters available any time soon! If you’re looking for something to completely replace your laptop, the connectivity options of the Surface Pro 4 make it a tempting option.
Camera wise, the iPad Pro features a rear-facing 8Mp iSight camera as well as a 1.2Mp front facing camera, with 1080p @ 30fps video recording – not as great as what’s found on the iPhone 6s. Although with this being said, industry-leading cameras on tablets are rare, as the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 has a similar offering of a rear facing 8Mp camera and a slightly higher resolution 5Mp front facing camera, with [email protected] video recording capabilities. We’ll be conducting a more thorough camera comparison once we’ve got both products in the office, so make sure you check back soon.
iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro 4: Storage
Storage is an important factor to consider when deciding between these two titans of industry. The iPad Pro offers either 32GB or 128GB capacity, which we’re slightly disappointed about – especially when you consider that Tim Cook reportedly said that the iPad Pro will replace notebooks and desktops for some people. If the iPad Pro is to replace the notebook or desktop with all its functions and files, surely more than 128GB of storage is needed?
Microsoft seem to believe so, as the company offers a lot more storage depending on the amount you want to pay – either 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB of solid state storage. Yes, the extra storage may be expensive (as we’ll come discuss in more detail below), but it’s better to have the option than to be stuck with a storage capacity that’s too small for your needs, especially with a product that’s so versatile.
iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro 4: Accessories
The two most popular accessories for the Surface Pro 4 are the Type Cover keyboard and Surface Pen, with the former transforming the Windows 10 enabled tablet into a product that could be considered a fully functional laptop and the latter enabling creatives to sketch their ideas directly on-screen. One of the biggest selling points of the Type Cover keyboard is the way that it connects to the tablet; via a dedicated port on the bottom of the Surface, instead of Bluetooth. This means that the keyboard doesn’t have to be charged before use, as it drains power from the Surface itself. It also boasts an improved design over previous iterations, with a larger trackpad and a mechanical keyboard, as well as a built-in fingerprint reader.
The Surface Pen is a full-size pen that can be used to write directly onto the Surface Pro 4 display, and provides the opportunity for those that prefer to draw and hand-write to make use of digital technology. It’s connected to the Surface Pro 4 via Bluetooth, and is powered by 1x AAA battery.
So, how does that compare to Apple’s offering? Apple also offers a keyboard case (Smart Keyboard) and stylus (Apple Pencil) for the iPad Pro, with a number of similarities but also a few key differences. Apple’s Smart Keyboard is available only with a US English keyboard layout, which is disappointing for those of us that don’t reside in the US, but not a deal-breaker. It’s made from a sheet of durable custom-woven fabric, which is then laser ablated to form the shape of each key. According to Apple, the fabric also provides a level of stain and water resistance, as well as “spring-like tension” for the keys, which eliminates the need for a standard keyboard mechanism and allows the cover to be only 4mm thin. Though it doesn’t feel like a standard keyboard in use, it’s fairly accurate and easy enough to get used to. The Smart Keyboard, like Microsoft’s Type Cover, uses a dedicated port to communicate with the iPad Pro, allowing it to operate without first needing a charge.
The Apple Pencil is a favourite of ours, though. We’ve used many stylus’ over the years in many shapes and sizes (including the Surface Pen) and we’ve never really found something that felt natural to use – until we used the Apple Pencil. The weight of the Pencil itself feels similar to a real pencil, which makes it feel great in the hand and is comfier to use for longer periods of time. The palm rejection technology is also better than any we’ve come across before, with no accidental recognition when using the stylus, which allows users to freely draw whatever they desire. The Pencil is highly responsive and very good at detecting both pressure and angles, which allows for a more authentic drawing experience. It also doesn’t require batteries, as it plugs directly into the Lightning port of the iPad Pro to charge – 15 seconds of charge will get you around 30 minutes of battery life, and a fully charged Pencil should last around 12 hours.
The only real disappointment with Apple’s accessories is the price; the Smart Keyboard will set you back £139, and the Pencil will set you back £79. This is fairly expensive, especially for consumers that have just paid out between £679 and £899 for an iPad Pro, and even when compared to the pricing of Microsoft’s offering. Windows fans will be happy to learn that the Surface Pen comes free of charge with all Surface Pro 3 and 4 purchases, and the Surface Pro 4 Type Cover will set consumers back £109.99.
iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro 4: Software
Software wise, what can you expect from the iPad Pro? The iPad Pro comes running iOS 9, Apple’s latest operating system that launched back in September 2015. The software brings a number of iPad-specific features including Picture-in-Picture mode, a mode that allows you to shrink full-screen video in a YouTube-esque way, allowing you to watch your favourite video content while writing a document in Pages or tweeting on Twitter. It also brings split-screen functionality to the iPad, allowing iPad Pro (and Air 2) users to run two apps side by side at the same time, and even drag images and other files between them.
Alongside the new viewing modes, iOS 9 also boasts popular Apple services like iCloud, which syncs your data between all your Apple devices, and even lets you make and receive calls and texts on the device. Of course, it also features the App Store, which has more than 1.5 million apps available at the tap of a button, bringing extended functionality (software wise) to the iPad Pro.
On the other hand, the Surface Pro 4 comes packing a full version of Windows 10 Pro – yes, that’s right, the complete Windows 10 OS. This means that anything you can do on your Windows 10 PC, you’ll be able to do on the Surface Pro 4 (to a certain extent, anyway). It features ‘Continuum’ which intelligently detects how you’re using the Surface Pro, and adjusts the UI accordingly. This means that if you’ve got the keyboard attached, you’ll be able to access standard Windows 10 user interface, and once you remove the keyboard, it re-adjusts for a more touch-input friendly interface.
Windows 10 also features Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri, which aims to be your personal assistant ‘with a personality’. As with Siri, you can use Cortana to open apps on your tablet, search for information and even check your appointments or the weather. It also supports Xbox One game streaming, which allows you to play your Xbox One via the Surface Pro 4 - as long as you’re sharing the same network, anyway.
See also: Best 117 iPhone and iPad games
Apple iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro 4: Pricing and availability
And here we come to what may be the decider for many people; pricing and availability. Let’s start with the iPad Pro. The 12.9in A9X-powered iPad Pro comes in three flavours; the base 32GB model will set you back £679, the 128GB variation will set you back £799, and the 128GB with LTE variation will set you back £99. Though the price varies, the only difference between the models is storage capacity and LTE connectivity – a point worth keeping in mind.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is available in more specifications than the iPad Pro, which gives users the freedom to choose which Surface Pro is best for them, and stops them from spending money on tech they don’t need. However, it can also be argued that the performance of the Surface Pro 4 depends on the amount of money you spend, whereas the iPad Pro offers the same performance throughout its range. High-end Surface Pro’s aren’t cheap either (and t hat’s compared with an iPad Pro!) as you can see from the following:
- 128GB storage, Intel Core m3, 4GB RAM: £749
- 128GB storage, Intel Core i5, 4GB RAM: £849
- 256GB storage, Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM: £1,079
- 256GB storage, Intel Core i7, 8GB RAM: £1,229
- 256GB storage, Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM: £1,449
- 512GB storage, Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM: £1,799
Both the iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface Pro 4 are on sale in the UK at the moment, with both launching within the same week in November. The iPad Pro can be ordered via the Apple Store app or online, and should also be available to buy in most UK Apple Stores. The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is available to purchase from the Microsoft website, as well as a handful of UK retailers.