Microsoft is making a big splash with its latest gear, the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book. These pricey products are designed to compete directly with Apple’s traditional hegemony on premium gadgets. But just how well do these latest offerings measure up against Apple's efforts?
We decided to find out, by comparing the new Surfaces to their closest competitors. Here’s our head-to-head comparison of the MacBook Pro to the the Surface Book, and the iPad Pro to the Surface Pro 4.
(Note on pricing: we will be using the US RRP starting prices as the comparison point, as UK pricing is not available for all products at time of publish. Where UK prices are known, they are shown alongside the US figures.)
Surface Pro 4 Vs. iPad Pro
Note: these are the base configurations.
From the outset, everything appears to be about the same. The iPad Pro’s display is 12.9 inches, and the Surface Pro 4’s is 12.3 inches. The iPad weighs in at 713 grams and the Surface 766 grams. The iPad Pro lasts up to 10 hours and the Surface Pro 4 lasts up to nine.
So what’s the difference? It might come down to how fast the processors are. While Apple doesn’t give specific numbers when comparing the Pro to other devices on the market, it claims the iPad Pro brings “desktop-class CPU performance and console-class graphics”. The new A9X processor is supposedly 1.8 times faster than its predecessor.
Microsoft was bold enough to apply actual numbers to its comparison, saying the Surface Pro 4 is 50 per cent faster than the MacBook Air and 30 per cent faster than the Surface Pro 3. It’s worth noting that we don’t know which configuration they’re talking about there. Though the Surface Pro 4 starts with Intel Core M3, you can spec it all the way up to a 6th-generation Intel Core i7 (which is definitely what you want).
Both the iPad Air and Surface Pro 4 have some new design features introduced by Apple and Microsoft specifically for these products — but overall, they look like what an iPad and a Surface have typically looked like.
That said, the Surface Pro 4 kills the iPad on ports, if that’s your thing: the Surface has a USB 3.0 port, microSD card reader, Mini DisplayPort and a headphone jack. And true port-maniacs can always connect a Surface Dock for extra functionality. Meanwhile, the iPad Pro only has a headphone jack and a Lightning port. That could be a dealbreaker for some people.
One other small but important note is the Surface Pro’s multi-position kickstand. The iPad Pro’s cover rolls up to be a stand, but it only works in one position, which ultimately won’t suit everybody’s needs.
The iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard comes in at $169. The Surface Pro 4’s Type Cover has backlit keys, a trackpad and a fingerprint scanner, and is £110 ($130). The Surface Pen comes free with the device, while Apple wants $100 for its pencil.
The price of accessories adds up. The iPad Pro starts at $799 and gets you 32 GB of storage. The Surface Pro 4 starts at £749 ($899), and includes 128GB of storage and a Pen. When you add Apple’s Pencil, the iPad is $899 as well. And adding a keyboard brings the cost of the iPad Pro to $1,068. Meanwhile the price of a Surface Pro 4 including all the optional goodies clocks in at £859 ($1,029).
Then again, if you want 128GB of storage for your iPad Pro, that’ll start at $949.
iOS vs Windows 10
Given that you’re about to drop a lot of cash on hardware, a lot of people might find the iPad Pro a little limited. It runs iOS, not OS X, and while powerful guts and a robust app ecosystem go a long way, it’s not a full-blown system. The Surface Pro 4, on the other hand, has a fully fledged version of Windows 10, so it can do everything a regular computer can.
Surface Book vs 13-inch MacBook Pro
The MacBook Pro and the Surface Book have very similar size and weight specs. The MacBook Pro’s display is 13.3 inches, while the Surface Book’s is 13.5 inches, the MacBook Pro is 1.57kg while the Surface Book is 1.58 kg with its keyboard. The battery life in both brands is the same: 12 hours. Pretty comparable numbers. You get the picture.
There is a considerable difference in the display resolutions: The Surface Book is 3,000 by 2,000 and the 13-inch MacBook Pro is 2,560 by 1,600. So the Surface Pro’s slightly larger screen has both more pixels and higher pixel density. Another important consideration here is aspect ratio: the Macbook Pro has a widescreen 16:10, compared to the Surface Book’s boxy 3:2.
As for the processors, if we’re to believe the party line from Microsoft, the Surface Book is two times faster than Apple’s flagship power laptop, the MacBook Pro. That’s probably because it’s using the latest and greatest from Intel, while the Macbook Pro sports a 2.7GHz dual-core i5 chip. Those numbers are pretty incredible, and might just have Apple scrambling.
The big difference, though, is in the basic hardware design. The MacBook Pro has a silver aluminium unibody design that’s been copied so many times, it’s basically what we’ve come to imagine a laptop should look like — and how it should work.
The Surface Book, on the other hand, is a radically new concept for a laptop, owing to a clever new hinge that lets you adjust the display bend however you see fit. You can use it like a regular laptop, or remove the screen from the keyboard base and use it like a tablet. The Surface Book design is conceptually cool and has potential, but this design may have some stability issues.
Let’s talk about price
(Again, a note on pricing: we will be using the US RRP starting prices as the comparison point, as UK pricing is not available for all products at time of publish. Where UK prices are known, they are shown alongside the US figures.)
A lot of people tend to pick their computer simply because of the operating system it runs — but price is still a major issue.
A 128GB Surface Book with 8GB RAM starts at $1,499, while a MacBook Pro with 128GB of storage and 8GB RAM is $1,299. Then again, the Surface Book is apparently two times faster than the MacBook Pro and comes with a Pen, so it might just be worth the extra dosh?
Top art by Michael Hession