Smartphone and tablet users tend to fall into two categories: those who are diehard Apple fans and seemingly willing to pay any price for its fashionable hardware, and those who prefer the semi-open approach of Google's Android operating system and the less costly hardware on which it runs. Now there's a third category, which champions Windows RT.
In most cases, people choose an operating system and stick with it. The OS feels familiar, you already know your media collection is supported, and if you have more than one such device you can expect them to play well together. So, if you have an iPhone you'll probably want an iPad; if you have a Galaxy S3 or Nexus 4 you'll likely want the Nexus 10; and if you're a Windows Phone user, perhaps the most loyal of the lot, you'll almost certainly be eyeing up the Surface RT.
But what if you don't have a particular preference in terms of the operating system? Here, we put head-to-head the best each platform has to offer.
Nexus 10 vs Surface RT vs iPad 4: Price
Microsoft's Surface RT starts at £399 with 32GB of storage, whereas this amount of cash will net you only a 16GB fourth-generation iPad with Retina Display - aka iPad 4. Add a Touch Cover, though, and the Surface RT matches Apple's 32GB slate at £479. The Nexus 10 offers great value, with a 16GB model costing £319, and 32GB £389.
Nexus 10 vs Surface RT vs iPad 4: Dimensions
Somewhat surprisingly, the iPad is the chunkiest tablet in this trio. The Nexus 10 is the slimmest, at 8.9mm; the Surface RT is also slightly thinner than the iPad at 9.3mm versus 9.4mm. The Nexus is a relative lightweight, at 603g, although the 662g iPad and 678g Surface don't tip the scales much further.
Microsoft Surface RT video review
Nexus 10 vs Surface RT vs iPad 4: Screen
Every full-size iPad released by Apple has had a 9.7in screen, which is ever so slightly smaller than that of the 10.1in Nexus and 10.6in Surface. Until the Nexus 10 launched, the iPad had by far the best tablet screen resolution on the market. The Surface RT's 1366x768, 148ppi ClearType display looks comparatively low-res in the face of the iPad's beautiful 2048x1536, 264ppi Retina-quality screen, but the Nexus 10 is the real star of the show here, with a 2560x1600, 300ppi display.
Nexus 10 vs Surface RT vs iPad 4: Processor and memory
It's difficult to compare the Surface's nVidia Tegra 3 quad-core chip with the dual-core 1.39GHz A6X CPU selected by Apple and 1.7GHz ARM Cortex A-15 preferred by Google, since our usual benchmarks are incompatible with Microsoft's tablet.
In Geekbench, the iPad scored 1,769 points, and the Nexus 10 recorded a massive 2,505 – the best we've seen yet. In real-world use, the Surface felt like the slower tablet – not that it's by any means slow. Animations are smooth and demanding tasks, such as pinch-zooming in Internet Explorer and Bing Maps, is responsive. This is no doubt helped by the 2GB of RAM.
iPad with Retina Display video review
Nexus 10 vs Surface RT vs iPad 4: Storage
Neither iPad nor Nexus allow you to add to the storage capacity through removable media, so it’s important to carefully calculate what capacity you’re likely to need – the iPad is available from 16- to 64GB, the Nexus is 16- or 32GB. The Surface RT, by comparison, has a microSDXC slot, which lets you add up to 64GB to its 32- or 64GB of internal storage.
Nexus 10 vs Surface RT vs iPad 4: Cameras
On the photography side of things the Nexus 10 and iPad 4 have a similar setup, and both are better than that of the Surface RT in our subjective tests. Both iPad and Nexus have a 5Mp rear-facing camera capable of 1080p video, and front-facing webcams – the Nexus' offers a slightly higher megapixel rating, at 1.9Mp versus 1.2Mp. Meanwhile, the Surface supports only 720p video, but when propped up with its kickstand the front-facing cam is cleverly angled such that it's level.
Nexus 10 vs Surface RT vs iPad 4: Connectivity
Apple's latest iPad replaces the 30-pin docking port with a Lightning connector. This means existing iPad accessories will work only with a £25 adaptor. Both the Nexus 10 and Microsoft Surface RT are more user-friendly in this regard: the Nexus 10 charges via Micro USB and offers a Micro HDMI slot, while the Surface RT has a full-size USB 2.0 port, a microSDXC slot and an HD video-out port.
All three tablets support Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11n Wi-Fi, although the Nexus 10 and iPad can cope with both 2.4- and 5GHz frequency bands. The Nexus also caters for NFC, while the iPad supports 3G and 4G LTE in the UK.
Nexus 10 vs Surface RT vs iPad 4: Battery
The iPad has a 42.5Wh battery, while the Nexus 10 has a lower-capacity 33.3Wh pack and the Surface’s is lower still, at 31.5Wh. The results are as you would expect: the iPad can keep going for around 10 hours, while the Nexus can manage nine and the Surface eight.