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Replace a Laptop with iPad Pro or Surface Pro 3?

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Apple has unveiled the iPad Pro, the biggest and fastest tablet yet in the iPad line. The speed comes thanks to a new 64-bit processor, the ARM A9X, which Apple says gives the iPad Pro “desktop-grade” computing power. With its 12.9-inch display, the iPad Pro is the largest tablet on the market, and larger than some laptop computers. Even though Steve Jobs famously called stylus devices “doing it wrong,” the iPad Pro comes fitted for use with one—the new Apple Pencil.

With all that is new for the latest iPad, Apple CEO Tim Cook calls it a tablet unlike one that has ever been seen. This is a bold statement that Microsoft Surface Pro 3 owners can probably take to task.

Where does the iPad Pro fit in the current technology landscape outside of Apple products? Is it really that different compared to 2-in-1 tablets already on the market? Compare it with the Surface Pro 3 and you will see more similarities than differences.

A look at key specifications


iPad Pro Surface Pro 3
Display size 12.9-inch 12-inch
Resolution (pixels) 2,732 × 2,048 2,160 × 1,440
Processor ARM A9X Intel Core i3
Intel Core i5
Intel Core i7
Keyboard/stylus Smart Keyboard ($169)
Apple Pencil ($99)
Microsoft Pen (included)
Surface Type Cover ($129)
Storage 32 GB – 128 GB 64 GB –  512 GB
LTE Connectivity? Yes No
Starting price $799 $799

Both are marketed as a laptop replacement

With its release last year, Microsoft heralded Surface Pro 3 as the tablet that can replace your laptop. A small identify crisis ensued before the general consensus settled on the Surface Pro 3 as a high-performance, high-portability laptop computer.  This traces back to the Intel Core processor, which enables running full-on versions of Windows 8 and Windows 10, as well as and processor-intensive production software.

With the iPad Pro, Apple is taking a similar tack.  Processor-wise, whether the A9X truly matches up against an i3 or i5 might be a stretch. Not that it really matters to casual users, who tend not to be interested in esoteric benchmark reports. The fact that Apple says the A9X is a desktop-grade CPU is enough to move units, and given the performance leaps that ARM A-series processors take between generations, why not give Apple the benefit of a doubt. After all, Tim Cook showed off a smooth-running AutoCAD app on the iPad Pro, so clearly the latest ARMs have some computational clout.

Still, the argument about which is the “better” laptop replacement—or the one more suited for your needs—comes down to whether you would rather use a full-on Windows operating system or a mobile OS.What would you rather be running? iOS or Windows 10? The answer will likely determine the hardware you will use.

Both offer similar peripherals

Surface Pro 3 users will see obvious similarities between the Surface Type Cover and the Surface Pen when comparing to the Apple Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil. There are some differences however.

Steve Jobs once upon a time lamented using styli with Apple devices, but the Apple Pencil is more of an artist’s or draftsman’s tool than a necessity for operating a touch screen. The Apple Pencil is really long, the length of a graphite pencil, and reportedly has enough precision to touch a single pixel. It is tailor-made for Apple’s bread and butter: prosumer creatives looking for precision. Whether or not it will successfully replace traditional drawing tools among designers will be interesting to observe in the coming year.

Microsoft traded in the Wacom digitizer stylus found on Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2, using instead a Wacom active stylus, which some report has more lag in comparison. It resulted in a thinner, less expensive device which broadened its appeal to a wider user set.

The Smart Keyboard connects to the iPad with three metal connectors the exact same way as the Surface Type Cover would, both transferring data and powering the keyboard. Since the iPad does not have a kickstand, the Smart Keyboard folds over the iPad Pro and stands it up origami-style like an Amazon tablet does.

iPad Pro is a tablet first; Surface Pro 3 is a laptop first

The best differentiator is that iPad Pro wants to be thought of as a powerful mobile device, whereas the Microsoft envisioned the Surface Pro 3 as a highly mobile PC. This is why Apple is playing up bundled-in LTE capability and mobile plan price packaging. It runs app-based iOS the same operating system as an iPhone—which is not necessarily a bad thing. That said, if you are looking for a true PC experience the Surface Pro 3 does everything a laptop can do, like running Linux and programming software.

If you want to set up a Surface device with LTE 4G, you will have to opt for a Surface 3 instead of a Surface Pro 3. Unlocked variants become available later this month.

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro display is a spectacle to behold. At 2,732 x 2,048 resolution, it’s the highest-res iOS device ever. There is no denying the crispness and sharpness of it. But if you are accustomed to a traditional widescreen desktop monitor format, you might find the iPad Pro’s square-like 4:3 aspect ratio little awkward for production work. The slightly smaller 12-inch Surface Pro 3 display uses a unique 3:2 aspect ratio–a middle ground between 16:9 and 4:3 which lends itself well to watching media and production applications.

Final thoughts

Anyone who follows technology knows this isn’t the first time Microsoft and Apple have marched out similar products both claiming credit for the innovation.  As always, which device users pick will be determined by brand loyalty, price point, and feature set—in that order.

Replace a Laptop with iPad Pro or Surface Pro 3?
Article Name
Replace a Laptop with iPad Pro or Surface Pro 3?
The iPad Pro and Surface Pro 3 both claim to be capable of replacing a laptop computer--which device is more suited for that task?
Adam Lovinus

Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

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