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Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) vs. Apple iPad Pro (2017): Best Productivity Tablet

Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Various

Specifications

In the original premise for today’s story, I had planned to do a standard and straight-forward review of the iPad Pro 10.5-inch model, the latest addition to Apple’s line of tablet devices. After receiving the 12.9-in variant, with the same processor upgrade but a larger and much more substantial screen, I started using them both as my daily-driver computing device. I was surprised at how well both handled the majority of tasks I tossed their way but there was still some lingering doubt in my mind about the usefulness of the iOS system as it exists today for my purposes.

The next step was for me to acquire an equivalent Windows 10-based tablet and try making THAT my everyday computer and see how my experiences changed. I picked up the new Surface Pro (2017) model that was priced nearly identical to the iPad Pro 12.9-in device. That did mean sacrificing some specifications that I would usually not do, including moving down to 4GB of memory and a 128GB SSD. This brought the total of the iPad Pro + Pencil + keyboard within $90 of the Surface Pro and matching accessories.

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I should mention at the outset that with the pending release of iOS 11 due in the fall, the Apple iPad Pro line could undergo enough of a platform upgrade to change some of the points in this story. At that time, we can reevaluate our stance and conclusions.

Specifications

Let’s start our editorial with a comparison of the hardware being tested in the specification department. Knowing that we are looking two ARM-based devices and an x86 system, we should realize core counts, clocks, and the like are even less comparable and relatable than in the Intel/AMD debates. However, it does give us a good bearing on how the hardware landscape looks when we get into the benchmarking section of this story.

Surface Pro (2017) vs. iPad Pro (2017) Comparison
Processor Intel Core i5-7300U (Kaby Lake)
2-core/4-thread
Apple A10X
(3x high performance Hurrican, 3x high efficiency Zephyr cores)
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 620 12-core Custom PowerVR
Memory 4GB 4GB
Screen 12.3-in 2736x1824 IPS 12.9-in 2732x2048 IPS 120 Hz
10.5-in 2224x1668 IPS 120 Hz
Storage

128GB SSD

256GB SSD
Camera 5MP Front
8MP Rear
7MP Front
12MP Rear + OIS
Wireless 802.11ac 802.11ac
Connections USB 3.0
Mini DisplayPort
Headphone
Lightning
Headphone
Battery 45 Wh 12.9-in: 41 Wh
10.5-in: 30.4 Wh
Dimensions 11.50-in x 7.93-in x 0.33-in 12.9-in: 12.04-in x 8.69-in x 0.27-in
10.5-in: 9.87-in x 6.85-in x 0.24-in
OS Windows 10 iOS 10
Price $999 - Amazon.com 12.9-in: $899
10.5-in: $749 - Amazon.com

Continue reading our comparison of the 2017 Surface Pro and iPad Pro!

The Apple iPad Pro 2017 revisions both use the same SoC (A10X) with two sets of 3-core blocks, one for high performance and one for high efficiency. This is similar to the ARM big.LITTLE design and the Qualcomm Kryo, common practice today in the mobile space to improve power efficiency across different compute states (heavy load, light load) at a small cost of die area. The Intel Core i5-7300U is a dual-core, HyperThreaded processor that we are very familiar with in the mobile space. Intel’s x86 design runs at higher peak clocks but will have a disadvantage in minimizing power draw.

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Source: Wikipedia

The Apple A10X integrates a 12-core GPU design from Imagination Technologies portfolio (though not for much longer it seems) and it is quite powerful in comparison to the Intel HD Graphics 620 with 24 EUs (execution units).

Both iPad Pros come with 4GB of memory, as does the Surface Pro (2017) we are using for comparison. Though I believe Windows 10 is more efficient for memory utilization with recent updates, it’s very likely that the 4GB on iOS is better utilized for the tasks at hand. Storage options on the iPads go from 64GB to 512GB and the Surface Pro goes even further. Our models on the iPads have 256GB of storage and the Surface Pro sports just 128GB, a bit of a problem for power users on Windows certainly.

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The battery on the iPad Pro 12.9-in comes in at 41 Wh while the smaller 10.5-in version has a 30.4 Wh capacity. These are both smaller than the 45 Wh of the Surface Pro though as you’ll see in our battery tests the power efficiency of the mobile-first design of the A10X make a big difference in total uptime.

Apple is known for designing among the best cameras for mobile devices and with a 7MP front camera and a 12MP rear camera, the latter of which has optical image stabilization, f/1.8, LED flash, and more, that continues. The 5MP front facing and 8MP rear facing cameras on the Surface Pro are completely adequate, they just happen to be going against the best of the best in this comparison.

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Though I touched on pricing above, our specific models used here have interesting pricing equality. The Surface Pro itself sells for $999 with the 4GB/128GB configuration. The iPad Pro 12.9-in with 256GB of storage sells for $899 and the 10.5-in with 256GB of storage sells for $749 (both in the Wi-Fi only group, no LTE). The keyboard covers for both platforms are within $10 of each other, and the Surface Pen and Apple Pencil both retail for $99. The net result is a combination total of $1258 for the Microsoft Surface Pro and $1167 for the 12.9-in iPad Pro. The 10.5-in model is $150 less.


July 26, 2017 | 01:37 PM - Posted by Eggrenade

Well, I guess you don't have an RX Vega in hand yet. My faint hopes of the SIGGRAPH announcement being a hard launch with reviews are even fainter.

July 26, 2017 | 04:30 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

LOL that's quite the conclusion to make.

July 26, 2017 | 02:32 PM - Posted by 2222 (not verified)

This is a stupid and useless comparison.

August 1, 2017 | 01:26 AM - Posted by Anonymous123 (not verified)

^ This a stupid and useless comment

July 26, 2017 | 03:13 PM - Posted by agello24 (not verified)

a very good review. sad that majority own iphones. most just dont "feel" like pushing any other buttons. the simpsons predicted apple would take over due to people being lazy. on the other hand the surface is more expensive since intel has their hand in this one. microsoft could have used the AMD kabini chips.

July 26, 2017 | 03:34 PM - Posted by John H (not verified)

What kind of volume are these devices selling in these days?

July 26, 2017 | 03:52 PM - Posted by W.A. Losier (not verified)

In the corporate world where there is still debate about such devices, your review is quite helpful. Like you I am starting to see a requirement pattern that seem to advantage MS. I know some don't see the point, but for any IT hobbyist or worker who has to recommend solutions, this review is worth it.

July 26, 2017 | 04:31 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Thanks! This was definitely aimed at the productivity users out there, of which I think many home users would consider themselves as well.

July 26, 2017 | 11:58 PM - Posted by Brad (not verified)

"Productivity Tablet" is a bit of an oxymoron IMHO. If you are looking for a portable device to be productive you most likely wont have a table to utilize the keyboard so you will be limited to the on screen keyboard and will not be as nearly as productive as if you where using a laptop where the screen is firmly attached to the keyboard. A laptop can easily be used in moving vehicles or in your lap in a chair without without worry that you will drop the device. As media consumption devices I am sure these tablets would be great. As ultra portable productivity devices you cant over look the utility of a physical firmly attached keyboard. I think if you where to compare these devices in a "field" setting against a laptop you would find that you can be far more productive with the laptop simply due to the keyboard. The form factor of a tablet is just not as productive as a laptop. I think that businesses or "productivity users" will be disappointed with theses devices in the long run due to additional time spent typing even if you spent more money on a device like a Toughbook style laptop. For productivity and businesses time is money and I dont need to tell you that the biggest expense of any business is payroll. So your employees can do their job faster with a device that costs 3 times more then one these tablets, eventually the laptop will be cheaper for you. Especially if you have to replace screens on the tablets or the tablet completely cause of bad cases or weak keyboards. Reviews of these products should have included mimicking the use case for these and should be about usability in the way someone might actually use the product. Keep up the hard work, thank you.

July 27, 2017 | 10:56 AM - Posted by Chris S (not verified)

Brad, I disagree. The sales force of the company I work for currently uses the Surface Pro 3 extensively for work. A full laptop is generally too bulky to drag around to 5+ sales meetings a day. While in the office, they do tend to utilize a bigger device (laptop, desktop, or even the Surface with a dock). The Surface allows them to go from one device to the other pretty easily.

I ran across this article mainly because we need to add to our inventory, and I'm trying to get a feel for comparison with the iPad Pro. Our Sales VP is a huge Apple fan, and while it seems they are making strides, it may not be quite there yet.

I think I am leaning towards sticking with the Surface just based on some of the things I've read. The iPad Pro using the mobile operating system seems like it might be a bit cumbersome for switching between the numerous things our guys need on the screen.

A big thanks for the review. Extremely helpful to put some of the questions I had into a better perspective.

July 27, 2017 | 01:42 PM - Posted by Clmentoz (not verified)

Until Apple gets a tablet that can run MacOS(OSX) then Microsoft's Surface Pro has somewhat of an OS advantage, provided that Redmond does not fully deprecate WIN32/Desktop applications in some future Windows 10 update. Apple's iOS is too integrated into Apple's cloud for file movement to and from any Apple iPad at the moment.

That new iOS 11 update may change that a little, but maybe Apple can get an iPad Pro running the Full MacOS because Apple's graphics hardware is better than Intel's graphics hardware on the tablet form factor. It will be interesting to see just what any fully designed by Apple GPU/Graphics will bring to Apple's already powerful custom ARMv8A ISA running A series CPU micro-arch based systems for the future Apple SOCs. Apple's A series SOCs are already powerful enough to run MacOS. It's just a question of what amount of extra power uasge will be necessary to run the full MacOS as compared to iOS on a tablet form factor.

July 27, 2017 | 02:24 PM - Posted by EvilJedi (not verified)

It would be really nice if Apple released osx version of Ipad Pro. After windows 10 disaster I'm not interested in running windows devices for any serious work.

July 28, 2017 | 03:00 AM - Posted by Jaewaie (not verified)

Very well done review. No one has compared them yet and honestly it has helped me make a decision. I was in need of a tablet and was thinking of either the surface or the iPad. I think I'll go with the ipad pro.

July 28, 2017 | 11:27 PM - Posted by Doc Morrow (not verified)

Having been running iOS 11 for a while now, in Beta, I can tell you the mobile experience will not be the same ever again. No need for macOS. To do so puts you in the MacBook & MacBook Pro lines and more hardware. iOS 11 significantly replicates the major OS feel and functions, while keeping the things people love about tablets. Add a keyboard and "pencil" as needed and you will replace your laptop without the weight and extras having to be carried around whether you need them or not. Now, I carry the iPad everywhere, and when I need a full keyboard, I pull it out. I drive extra displays, and iCloud everything. It may still not be everything for the folks stuck to Win devices, but with 64bit program/apps on the way, the iPad Pro has arrived this fall. No, I'm not a fanboy. I also own and use Win machines, Linux boxes, and various other devices depending on needs...but the iPad Pro is now my go to portable.

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