Skip to main content

Surface 3 v iPad Air 2: Battle Of The Tablets

When Microsoft announced the Surface 3 I was somewhat dubious about its competitiveness in a tablet market that was stumbling and where premium devices aren't making much headway. Even the acknowledged class leader, Apple, was seeing shrinking demand for its products.

What hope for a device from Microsoft priced at a premium and competing directly with the iPad Air 2? Now I've had an opportunity to put them head to head I find that my opinion has changed.
iPad Air comes in more
colours, but lacks expansion.
Looking at the physical aspects of the devices first and the Surface 3 is bigger in all directions than the Air 2. Its heavier too. To compensate you get a bigger screen, kickstand, stereo speakers and infinitely more connectivity than the iPad. Both are exquisitely put together from premium materials, Aluminium for the iPad, VaporMg for the Surface.

Now that the Surface has a 3:2 ratio screen the two feel similar in the hand, with the same balance whether held in portrait or landscape orientation. For consuming content the bigger screen and better audio serves the Surface well. Not to mention the kickstand that allows you to set the device down when watching. The iPad requires an accessory cover or case to deliver the same functionality.

Battery life is similar between the two devices although the iPad does recharge a bit quicker. Performance is also comparable, however methods of working are different enough to make the experiences wildly different. The Surface packs both the traditional desktop and Modern UI, which means that you have access to the widest catalogue of applications available on any tablet platform. The screen size and default desktop zoom settings mean that you can comfortably use most desktop apps using the touch screen. There are some that don't use Microsoft's APIs though and these may be more of a problem. Spotify is a prime example.

Microsoft's gestures interface outdoes the iPad, using the edges of the screen, rather than a finger count to accomplish different tasks. The Surface will do two things at once, the iPad can't. Apple boasts of its huge iPad app catalogue, whilst Microsoft counters with its enormous x86 software offerings.

The more you use the two devices the more you start to see the differences between a real PC and a phone-based lightweight OS. Whilst the iPad has limitations that mean you could not conceivably use it without the back up of a proper computer, the Surface really can do anything your PC can - accepting some performance limitations.

This difference in capabilities was amply demonstrated to me just a few weeks ago, when I needed to print my tickets for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup Final. The iPad's PDF viewer did not display the tickets correctly, missing out crucial information like seat location details. Had I been relying on the iPad I would have been royally stuffed. The Surface had no such problems. There are still websites that just don't work well in the iPad's Safari browser. They're few and far between but when you run into one it's immensely frustrating. Again the Surface has no such problems with its (choice of) full desktop browsers alongside the Modern version of IE.
The Surface Pen works where
iPad's stylii don't.
There's another trick that the Surface 3 has up its sleeve - the Surface Pen. Using N-trig digitiser technology, which Microsoft bought up a few months back, this really does deliver a first-rate writing experience on the Surface. If you follow this blog you'll know about my disappointment with the poor quality and capabilities of even the most expensive iPad styli.

Taking the tablet only view, the Surface is an excellent iPad competitor, beating it out in many key areas and matching it in others. More often than not the Surface outdoes the iPad.

The real power of the Surface 3 though is that you can turn it into a proper computer. It works as a laptop and it works as a  desktop (and it will even support three external monitors if you choose to do so). Even with the purchase of comparable accessories the iPad can't achieve any of this.

Pound for pound the Surface 3 offers better value than the iPad, to go with its enhanced capability. A  64GB Surface Pro sells for NZ$799. To get a comparable amount of storage you'd need to go for the NZ$899 64GB iPad Air 2. The difference would get you a Surface Pen and a 64GB micro SD card to boost storage.

Many customers won't see past the Microsoft name and the (high-intensity) iPad advertising program, but the Surface 3 turns out to be a better machine than anybody could have expected. Certainly a better one than the iPad. A better tablet? All things considered I'd have to say yes, with one small reservation about touch apps.

As a tablet that can replace your computer, it certainly delivers in the tablet comparison. Now to measure it up against a laptop...


Popular posts from this blog

F1: Robert Kubica Impresses In Renault Test Run

The car may be old but its the performance of the driver that's the story here. Robert Kubica returned to F1, after a fashion, earlier this week with an extensive test run in a 2012 Lotus Renault F1 car at Valencia.
The age of the car and the circuit were likely determined by F1's current rules which ban testing, but the reason for Kubica being in the car is far more interesting. Considered by many to be a potential World Champion and certainly one of the fastest drivers of his generation, Kubica's F1 career seemed to be over after a 2011 crash whilst driving in the Rally of Andora. His Skoda Fabia was penetrated by a guardrail in the high speed accident partially severing his right arm.
Up until last year Kubica has been competing in rallying, with the expectation that the limited movement in his repaired arm would prohibit a return to single seater racing.
So this week's test is both interesting and confusing. Interesting because Kubica completed 115 laps of the ret…

F1: Robert Kubica's Williams Test Asks More Questions Than It Answers

Comparing driver's times at a tyre evaluation test like last week's Abu Dhabi event is difficult at the best of times, but when trying to assess the performance of a driver who has been out of the sport for six years, that difficulty level is raised even higher.
On the face of it Robert Kubica's test for Williams was a success. Fastest of the three Williams drivers present the headlines look promising. However, taking into consideration the different tyres used to set those times muddies the water considerably.
Kubica ran a three lap qualifying simulation on the new 'hyper-soft' tyre - which should have given him a two-second advantage. Correcting for tyres it would appear that Kubica was significantly slower than Sergei Sorotkin - who was on the harder 'soft' tyre - and marginally quicker than Lance Stroll, the team's only contracted driver.

Stroll's family fortune currently funds Williams, so there' no chance that he will be anywhere but in a…

Panos Panay's Defence Of Microsoft Surface Hardware Sounds Eerily Familiar

This weekend I went out with my ten year old daughter to select a laptop for her school year beginning in January. The schools requirements are quite specific, requiring a Windows 10 device, with a preference for a touchscreen and a stylus. She chose a Surface Pro, after trying a large number of different options. Having seen the way I use my own Surface Pro - and tried it herself there was only ever going to be two options - and the other was a Surface Laptop.
I tell you this so that you understand I am a buyer of Microsoft's products through choice, not compulsion. I'm on my third Surface device now. 
So when Panos Panay dismissed reports of the death of the Surface hardware line, I was very interested to see exactly how strong these denials were. Especially how they reflect what has gone before. To whit: Windows 10 Mobile.
Panay claimed that Microsoft is in hardware for the long haul. Almost exactly mirroring the words of Terry Myerson, when he claimed Windows Mobile was g…