ROAD WARRIOR: Traveling Companions: iPad Pro vs. Surface Pro 4

Vol. 34 No. 2

By

Jeffrey Allen (jallenlawtekblog.com) is the principal in the law firm of Graves & Allen in Oakland, California. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is Editor-in-Chief of GPSolo magazine and GPSolo eReport and a member of the Board of Editors of Experience magazine.

In my previous column, I focused on a comparison between the Mac OS X and Windows 10 operating systems—I still can’t help but wonder if Microsoft skipped Windows 9 as a marketing tool, putting them at version 10 to match Apple’s OS X. Oh, well, that’s not relevant to this column’s topic—the iPad Pro versus the Surface Pro 4—just a random thought that marched across my brain as I wrote that column.

iPad Pro

Anyway, for those of you who have not read my previous comments about the iPad Pro, let me summarize them for you briefly. (For purposes of simplicity, I will refer to the 9.7” iPad Pro as the “smaller” and the 12.9” iPad Pro as the “larger.”) I like the smaller iPad Pro as a traveling companion. It has lots of power, lots of uses, and comes in what I consider the perfect size. While the larger iPad Pro has a slightly faster processor and a bit more RAM, I do not consider it as useful as a traveling companion owing to its larger size and greater weight. In truth, I have not noticed much difference in performance speed between the two versions, despite the differing specifications.

The two versions both use the same version of the iOS, come in the same memory configurations, and have Retina displays. To create the Retina presentation the larger iPad Pro comes with a higher resolution than the smaller one, but you do not see the difference. Another significant difference relates to the camera, as Apple created the smaller iPad Pro with a better camera (12-megapixel iSight versus 8-megapixel iSight). The two iterations of the iPad Pro have a few other differences that will likely fall into sync in the next upgrade. You can compare the specifications in detail on Apple’s website (apple.com/ipad-pro/specs).

Perhaps the most significant difference from a usability perspective relates to the relative sizes and weights of the two devices. Without a case (or keyboard) the smaller iPad Pro measures 9.4” x 6.6” x 0.24” and weighs 0.96 pounds (0.98 pounds for the WiFi + cellular models). The larger iPad Pro (also without a case or keyboard) measures 12” x 8.68” x 0.27” and weighs 1.57 pounds (1.59 pounds for WiFi + cellular). The weights with Apple’s keyboard case come to 2.33 pounds for the larger and 1.73 for the smaller. That makes the larger version slightly larger and heavier than the 2.03 pound, 11.04” x 7.74” x 0.14”/0.52” MacBook and about the same size and almost as heavy as the 3.02 pound, 11.97” x 8.36” x 0.59” MacBook Pro (13”). So, you are taking up just about the same space in your case and carrying almost as much weight with the larger iPad Pro with keyboard case as you would for an excellent laptop computer. Given this choice, I would likely opt for the MacBook Pro in most cases over the larger iPad Pro owing to its substantially greater power for a slight increase in weight; but if I did not need the laptop, I would likely opt for the smaller iPad and save the 1.3 pounds of extra weight. In truth, I prefer using a laptop when I write, so if I have serious writing to do (other than simply e-mails), I generally will bring a laptop along instead of the iPad.

In practice, the smaller iPad Pro has joined my Kindle eReader and my iPhone 7 Plus as the tools that come with me on virtually every trip and accompany me in most of my daily activities. My laptop comes with instead of the smaller iPad on some trips. My larger iPad Pro mostly sits at home in its case waiting for me to pull it out on those occasions when I have a use for it. To be sure, the larger iPad Pro does not come without its appeals. I have, for example, found uses for both versions in court. While the larger iPad Pro is too bulky and cumbersome to feel comfortable as a handheld tool in presenting to the jury, the smaller version works perfectly. On the other hand, the bigger screen on the larger iPad comes in handy for my use as a primary evidence display at the counsel table. In fact, I like it better than a laptop for that purpose, and some of the apps available for the iPad facilitate that use.

Surface Pro 4

This brings me to the part of this column that those of you who have followed my writing for some time or who know me personally may find surprising.

I have not favored Windows laptops for most of my career. Recently, however, Microsoft came up with the Surface Pro 4. The Pro 4 represents the latest iteration of Microsoft’s Surface Pro series. In the Pro 4, Microsoft made substantial hardware improvements over previous versions of the Surface Pro and put Windows 10 on the device. The Surface Pro 4 has a touch screen and functions in either laptop mode or as a tablet. You can even remove the keyboard cover to make it a lighter tablet package. If you read my previous column, you will already know that I like Windows 10 quite a bit. It appears stable and relatively easy to use. I still prefer Apple’s OS X in some regards and Apple’s iOS in others. Windows 10, however, provides both a tablet and a laptop mode so that the same basic operating system works on both platforms, although the different modes have somewhat divergent functionality. In recent releases, it appears that Apple has gravitated toward a unified operating system for mobile devices (tablets and phones) and computers, but Microsoft beat Apple to the punch in that regard.

Most significantly, the Surface Pro 4 gives me both a very good laptop and a usable tablet in a single device, so I only have to carry one device instead of two. Thus, even though I prefer the MacBook Pro to the Surface Pro 4 as a laptop and the iPad Pro to the Surface Pro 4 as a tablet, the Surface Pro 4 shines as a hybrid device, giving me a very good laptop and a functional tablet for a lot less weight and space in my bag. The Surface Pro 4 measures 11.5” x 7.93” x 0.33” and weighs 1.73 pounds without the optional keyboard case. The keyboard case costs $129.99 and adds 0.64 pounds to the package, bringing the total weight to 2.37 pounds. Most significantly, the programs I use most, Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, Adobe Acrobat Professional, and a browser for Internet access and access to my online billing program, work pretty much the same on my Mac computers, the Surface Pro 4, and my iPad. To be sure, each platform has some peculiarities by comparison to the others, and I would like it better if they did not; but, in truth, the differences are not that significant, so I can easily move from one platform to another.

One of the things I particularly like about the Surface Pro 4 is that it runs full-fledged computer software. By comparison, the MacBook Pro runs computer software, but the iPad Pro does not. On the other hand, Apple’s iTunes App Store has some apps that run on tablets enabling the iPad to do some things that laptops (its own and those running Windows, such as the Surface Pro 4) cannot.

A recent article posted online by Laptop magazine (tinyurl.com/jhofrw7) compared the Surface Pro 4 to the large and small iPad Pro. The article concluded that the Surface Pro 4 has more power and better specs as a tablet. Despite the specifications advantage, the article recognized the iPad Pro as the better tablet, although not by as much as you might think.

While the Surface Pro 4 does not feel quite as unwieldy as the larger iPad Pro when used as a tablet, it also does not feel as svelte or comfortable as the smaller iPad Pro. The bottom line is that, more and more often, when I feel the need for both a tablet and a laptop while traveling, I find myself bringing the Surface Pro 4 instead of taking both a MacBook Pro and an iPad.

Conclusion

We have heard that the tablet will replace the laptop going forward. Although the iPad Pro performs like it thinks it is a laptop replacement, it really does not completely substitute for a laptop. It comes close in many respects, but, in addition to not running all the same software, it fails for me when it comes to word processing. Having the keyboard helps, but it does not carry the day. I still find it disconcerting to have to take my hands off the keyboard to move the cursor by manually touching the display. In my opinion, Apple would be well advised to add a touch pad to the keyboard or allow a mouse to work with the tablet. Conversely, I see the Surface Pro 4 as a very competent laptop that thinks it is a tablet. While it functions adequately as a tablet, I would like it better if Microsoft made the configuration a bit smaller and lighter.

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