iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 3 vs Surface Pro 4

It had been rumoured for more than a year, but no-one expected Apple to announce an iPad Pro at an iPhone launch event (much less that Microsoft would also appear on stage). But it's real, and its closest competitor is Microsoft's Surface Pro 4. Both tablets run Office and both have physical keyboards, but which should you buy? Here's our iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 4 comparison. See also: iPad Pro 9.7 in-depth review.

The Surface Pro 4 is the new model, but we'll compare the iPad Pro with this and with the older Surface Pro 3.We've also compared the Surface Pro 3 vs Surface Pro 4.

Update 29 March 2016: Apple has now added a new iPad Pro to the range. It shares the name, but has a smaller 9.7in screen. You can read more about it in our iPad Pro 9.7 vs iPad Pro 12.9 comparison. Interestingly, Apple is offering Microsoft Office 365 as an accessory for the iPad Pro when you add it to your basket on Apple's website. Aside from the fact that Apple has its own office suite (iWork) remember that Microsoft's apps are free to use on tablets with screens below 10.1in. One thing is abundantly clear: Apple really is pitching the iPad Pro as a replacement for your old Windows PC or laptop.

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 4 vs Surface Pro 3: Price

The cheapest Surface Pro 3 costs £549 from Microsoft, which includes the Surface Pen, but not the keyboard (that's £109 extra). This model has a Core i3, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. The most expensive has a Core i7, 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. That's £1329.

These prices have been discounted following the Surface Pro 4's announcement, which you can buy from £749 from Microsoft (128GB, Core m3, 4GB) and rises to £1799 (512GB, Core i7, 16GB). Currently the 1TB version is not available in the UK. Also see: Best new tablets coming in 2016.

You can buy the 32GB iPad Pro for £679 in the UK, but the Pencil costs £79 inc VAT, making the comparable price £758 for the entry-level model.

Buy the 128GB iPad Pro and you'll pay £799. Add another £100 for the cellular model, which is available exclusively in 128GB guise. Update 29 March: There's also now a 256GB model for £919, or £1019 if you want Wi-Fi + cellular.

Surface Pro 4 vs iPad Pro

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 4 vs Surface Pro 3: Software

Let's deal with this first as it's the most controversial aspect. Some people will prefer Windows while others will like iOS 9. There are pros and cons of running a desktop OS on a tablet, which means there's no obvious 'winner' in that sense.

Having full-blown Windows on the Surface Pro means you can do anything you can do on a desktop PC. You can attach USB peripherals, including a mouse or a hard drive, and you can connect a second monitor. This will make it a better laptop replacement than the iPad Pro in some peoples' eyes.

Surface Pro 4 vs iPad Pro

But if you view them as tablets first (and if you will mainly use them as a tablet) the iPad would be the obvious choice. It runs an operating system that's dedicated to a mobile device and therefore has no impossibly small buttons and controls that are designed to be used with a keyboard and mouse. It's fingers (and thumbs) all the way.

Or almost all the way, because there's the new Apple Pencil. Which we'll get to a bit later.

Fortunately the Surface Pro 4 isn't saddled with Windows 8. Windows 10 improves the experience of switching between laptop and tablet modes (Microsoft calls this Continuum) and should also improve the selection of tablet-style apps available in the store.

But apps are a sore point for the Surface because while – undoubtedly - developers will be cursing Apple for introducing yet another screen size and resolution for the iPad Pro, existing apps designed for other iPads will scale up and run on the new tablet, albeit much larger than necessary. And the huge selection in the App Store puts Microsoft's paltry collection firmly in the shade.

In Windows' favour, though, is the vast catalogue of desktop software which will run happily on a Surface Pro 3 and 4. iPad owners might have a smug look now that Office and Adobe apps have come to their tablets, but Surface Pro users can install the full versions of Photoshop, AutoCAD, Adobe Premiere and everything else. As we said, there are pros and cons.

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 4 vs Surface Pro 3: Connectivity

Because the Surface Pro 3 and 4 are designed to replace a laptop, they have a full-size USB 3 port, a microSD card slot (a pain if you want to read full-size SD cards) and a mini DisplayPort output. You could attach a USB hub and connect a full-size mouse, as well as a hard drive or printer at the same time. DisplayPort isn't ideal if you need an HDMI output, but you can buy an adapter or HDMI to mini DisplayPort cable.

Surface Pro 4 vs iPad Pro

And thanks to the dedicated docking stations available, you need make only one connection when you get back to your desk.

It’s harder to use the iPad as a laptop replacement in the same way. It has only a Lightning connector for input and output meaning it's harder to connect to a projector, harder to print and harder to quickly share files with others. All of these things are possible, but either require adaptors, compatible peripherals or the cloud.

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 4 vs Surface Pro 3: Screen and stylus

The Surface Pro 2 had a puny 10.6in screen that was simply too small for most people. Even the upgrade to 12in with the Pro 3 wasn't quite enough: the iPad Pro at 12.9in is about right in our opinion. The Surface Pro 4 sits between the two at 12.3in.

Surface Pro 4 vs iPad Pro

The iPad Pro has a resolution of 2732x2048 compared to 2048x1536 of previous iPads. Pixel density remains the same at 264ppi.

The Surface Pro 3 has a resolution of 2160x1440, which is 216ppi on a 12in screen. The difference in sharpness is negligible. The Surface Pro 4 has a 2736x1824-pixel screen, meaning it's a wider aspect ratio than the iPad, That's the same 3:2 ratio as the Surface Pro 3 (the iPad has the usual 4:3 aspect ratio).

Both the Pro 4 and iPad Pro have excellent screens: bright and with great contrast and colours. In our tests, the Surface has marginally more accurate colours, but the iPad’s are almost as good. The Surface Pro 3's screen isn't quite as good, but it's still a joy to use.

The Surface Pro 3 comes with an active capacitive stylus, using N-trig technology. It's capable of detecting 256 levels of pressure (more than enough), plus the angle at which you're holding the pen. It's great for sketching and drawing. The Surface Pen also has three buttons, one of which launches OneNote even if the Surface is asleep.

On the Pro 4, the new pen detects 1,024 levels of pressure, has interchangeable tips and there's an eraser on the end. Solving the storage issue, it's magnetic and can be 'stowed' on the top edge of the Surface Pro 4.

Apple's Pencil is also active and has in-built sensors and a battery. It's an optional extra unlike the bundled Surface Pen, and can also detect force and tilt angle. Both have very low latency and are about as close to 'real' drawing as you can get with a digital screen, although which is the ‘best’ will depend upon which app you use.

The Pencil doesn't have any buttons, though, and there's no holder for it on the iPad or Apple's Smart Keyboard, so it’s not quite as practical as the Surface Pen.

Surface Pro 4 vs iPad Pro

Talking of keyboards, they're optional on both tablets, but Apple’s is more expensive at £139. Microsoft charges £109 for its much improved Type Cover which, let’s not forget, is backlit and has a trackpad.

Apple's keyboard has no trackpad. Some would argue it doesn’t need one, but for certain apps it would be nice. It also has one fixed angle, whereas the Surface Pro 4’s kickstand can be set to just about any angle - even if no keyboard is attached.

Moving to cameras, the front camera is arguably the most important on a tablet. Not for selfies, but for Skype and conferencing. The Surface Pro 3 has a 5Mp sensor while the iPad Pro has a 1.2Mp 'FaceTime HD' camera. This is the same 1.2Mp camera as found in the iPad Air 2, rather than the upgraded version in the new iPhones. The Surface Pro may capture more detail, but as anyone who's used Skype or FaceTime will know, it's the speed of the connection between you and the recipient of the call that's the biggest factor in determining quality. The Surface Pro 4 has a 5Mp front camera and 8Mp at the rear.

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 4 vs Surface Pro 3: Specifications

Here are the key specs for the iPad Pro

  • iOS 9
  • Apple A9X 64-bit processor
  • 4GB RAM (rumoured)
  • Up to 128GB storage
  • 12.9in Retina display (2732x2048, 264ppi, 4:3) multitouch display
  • Lightning port
  • 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, dual-channel
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • 8Mp iSight camera, 1.2Mp FaceTime camera
  • Four speakers with auto orientation
  • Optional Apple Pencil
  • Battery life up to 10 hours (web browsing)
  • 305x220x6.9mm
  • 713g (723g cellular model)

These are the Surface Pro 3's vital stats:

  • Windows 8.1 Pro (free upgrade to Windows 10 Pro)
  • Intel Haswell Core i3/i5/i7 processor
  • Up to 8GB DDR3 RAM
  • Up to 512GB SSD
  • 12in ClearType full-HD (2160x1440, 216ppi, 3:2) multitouch display
  • USB 3.0 port
  • 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Mini DisplayPort
  • 2x 5Mp cameras (front and rear)
  • Stereo speakers with Dolby sound
  • Surface Pen
  • Battery life up to nine hours (web browsing)
  • 292x201.3x9.1mm
  • 800g

And here are the Surface Pro 4's vital stats:

  • Windows 10 Pro
  • Intel Skylake (6th gen) Core i3/i5/i7 processor
  • Up to 16GB DDR3 RAM
  • Up to 1TB SSD
  • 12.3in PixelSense (2746x1824, 267ppi, 3:2) multitouch display
  • USB 3.0 port
  • 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Mini DisplayPort
  • 1x 8Mp, 1x 5Mp cameras (front and rear)
  • Stereo speakers with Dolby sound
  • Surface Pen
  • Battery life up to nine hours (web browsing)
  • 292x201x8.5mm
  • 766g for Core m3 (786g for other models)

Microsoft Surface Pro 4: Specs

  • Windows 10 Pro
  • 12.3in PixelSense display, 2736x1824, 267ppi
  • Up to Intel Skylake Core i7
  • Up to 16GB RAM
  • Up to 512GB storage
  • USB 3.0
  • Mini-DisplayPort
  • Micro-SD card reader
  • 11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 5Mp front camera
  • 8Mp rear camera
  • Surface Pen included
  • 292x201x8.45mm
  • 766g
  • Windows 10 Pro
  • 12.3in PixelSense display, 2736x1824, 267ppi
  • Up to Intel Skylake Core i7
  • Up to 16GB RAM
  • Up to 512GB storage
  • USB 3.0
  • Mini-DisplayPort
  • Micro-SD card reader
  • 11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 5Mp front camera
  • 8Mp rear camera
  • Surface Pen included
  • 292x201x8.45mm
  • 766g

OUR VERDICT

When we reviewed the Surface Pro 3 we concluded that it was the best yet. It's the most portable of laptops and an acceptable tablet. Nothing has changed with the update to Windows 10. The Surface Pro 4 is an evolution and, apart from the higher screen resolution (and better-quality screen) and new processors, doesn't offer too many compelling reasons to buy one over the cheaper Pro 3, or upgrade if you already have one. With the iPad Pro, it's the best yet in some ways - it's the most powerful iPad and has the biggest, highest resolution screen - but it may not be the best choice for everyone who wants an iPad. It’s fantastic if you need to sketch, draw and paint, or if you simply want a bigger screen. It’s almost the opposite of the Surface Pro: a fantastic tablet and an acceptable laptop. Almost, because it’s stretching the truth to call the Surface a fantastic laptop. It does an admirable job, and is certainly a better laptop than iPad Pro, but you can buy a better laptop than the Surface Pro 4 for less money. If you can live with a sub-10in screen, the brand new iPad Pro is a cheaper option (although not 'cheap' by the time you've added the keyboard and Pencil), and has better cameras than the bigger iPad Pro.

Best prices today

Retailer Price Delivery  

Price comparision from , and manufacturers