iPad Pro vs. Microsoft Surface Pro 4: First Impressions on the Tablets That May Replace Your Laptop

After an excellent experience at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference in Minneapolis, I decided to visit the Mall of America. First stops: The Microsoft and Apple stores.

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My interest in this technology stems from the promise both companies make: This is the tablet that will replace your laptop. In my eyes, both Microsoft and Apple are not only looking to replace the laptop, but to actually merge it with a tablet to create something that is the best of both worlds.

So did either succeed? Hard to say, considering my limited experience I had in each store to try both out. Here are my thoughts, organized around the common essential attributes of the devices.

Portability

Both the iPad and Surface are lighter than my 2014 MacBook Air, but not by much. I could see either of these devices sliding easily into my laptop bag. Knowing the improved battery capacity of tablets, expecting at least a day of working on either device should not be a problem.

Preference: Both

Display

It comes down to what the user expects: the traditional interface for Windows users, or an operating system for those familiar iOS. For me, in which I regularly use both interfaces, I welcomed the iPad Pro’s maneuverability. Finding Microsoft Word on the Surface Pro proved to be more challenging, although not too difficult.

Preference: iPad Pro

Processing

Both the iPad Pro and Surface Pro 4 had seamless transitions between applications. It’s hard not to give the advantage to the iPad Pro: The apps are the homepage, awaiting selection. As fast as the Surface Pro 4 might be, it’s like they put old wine into new bottles. I found myself looking for the Office Suite, while wishing Microsoft offered something new.

Preference: iPad Pro

Keyboard

This wasn’t even close. The Surface Pro 4 keyboard has it figured out. Their multiple iterations of the tablet-connected keyboard is evident. I could not tell the difference between keyboarding on the Surface Pro and your standard laptop. The writing smoothly entered the screen as I typed. It was enjoyable.

As for the iPad Pro, my arms felt squinched together. I could almost feel the carpal tunnel settling in as I typed. Also, the keyboard didn’t naturally fold into the tablet.

Preference: Surface Pro 4

Stylus

Referred to as “The Pencil”, the stylus that comes with the iPad Pro automatically connects with the tablet. This is similar to how the Smart Cover works. Pardon the hyperbole, but writing with The Pencil is magic. It’s the closest a tablet and stylus have come to recreating the paper and pen/pencil experience. I imagine anyone in graphic design would find it necessary.

Both styluses are excellent. In fact, they are better than anything available on the market right now. The biggest advantage I found with the Surface Pro 4’s stylus is that you can write words on a Microsoft Office document, and the software will transcribe it into digital text. This is a really nice feature for taking notes during meetings.

Preference: iPad Pro

Software

If we are comparing these two tablets through the lens of which one could replace your laptop, the Surface Pro 4 needs serious consideration. Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are still the standard bearer when it comes to professional tools. I like Apple’s office suite (I’m typing this post on Pages with my MacBook Air right now). Another benefit to Pages, Keynote, and Numbers is the fact that it’s on an Apple, hardware proven to me to be a more durable and damage-resistant. But the tablet-as-a-laptop argument gives the advantage to Microsoft.

Preference: Surface Pro 4

In Summary…

As someone who owns an iPhone and MacBook Air, as well as uses an iPad Air at work, I was surprised to discover that I would prefer the Surface Pro 4 if looking for a tablet that would replace my laptop. The keyboard is much better, the stylus is more than adequate, and the tablet itself has been improved over the Surface Pro 3 (I was supposed to receive one from CDW as part of a recent visit to their headquarters, but they didn’t follow through. Blessing in disguise?)

I still have one question: Do we really want a tablet to replace a laptop? Can’t we have both? Personally, I use my MacBook Air for writing and interacting on social media, while I use my iPad Air for reading content and playing games. For now, I am content with that.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 17-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher. After seven years of teaching, he served as a dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt is now an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

3 thoughts on “iPad Pro vs. Microsoft Surface Pro 4: First Impressions on the Tablets That May Replace Your Laptop”

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these two products. I have been wondering about them myself. I like the idea of a stylus that works as effectively as a pen or pencil, rather than fingertip. Like you, I use my laptop (Windows) and my iPad3 for different things. I find the iPad extremely inefficient for any lengthy writing, with editing very difficult. This means that although I would have time to read and comment on blog posts, for example, when I am out and about, I rarely do as it is just too fiddly and time consuming. Having better functioning in this area would be a great bonus to me.

    Liked by 1 person

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