Tablet Showdown: Microsoft Surface Go Vs Apple iPad Pro

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Microsoft has fired a salvo across Apple's bow, launching the smallest member of the Surface family, the Surface Go, recently. But how does the Surface Go stack up against Apple's iPad Pro? After a couple of weeks flipping between the two devices here's what I found.

Display

The iPad Pro's display is both larger, at 10.5-inches vs 10-inches, and runs at a higher resolution of 2224 by 1668 resolution at 264 pixels per inch with The Surface Go coming in at 1800 by 1200 at 217 pixels per inch.

That difference on the spec sheet is born out when looking the two screens. While the Surface Go is by no means awful, the iPad Pro's display is sharper, brighter and can fit more content. That translates to more rows and columns on a spreadsheet or more text when looking at a webpage.

This round goes to the iPad Pro.

Keyboard

Both devices offer an option for an external keyboard. As both support Bluetooth you can connect pretty much any wireless keyboard to like so, for the purpose of this comparison, I'm limiting things to Microsoft's Type Cover and the Apple Smart Keyboard.

After tapping away on both keyboards, I give the edge to the Type Cover, The keys are just a little gentler on the fingers during a long session of typing and are around the trackpad make the typing experience more comfortable. Also, the keyboard rests on a slight angle so my wrists were in a more comfortable position during a long work session. And, it's also substantially less expensive

Round two belongs to the Surface Go.

Performance

As the two devices have completely different system architectures a simple look at the spec sheet doesn't reveal anything particularly useful.

In general, the iPad Pro felt zippier to me and apps that run across both platforms opened a little faster on the iPad Pro. But the differences weren't enough to make me say the Surface Go was terribly slow in comparison.

The performance gap between the two, in real world use isn't massive but the iPad Pro definitely has the edge.

That's another round to the iPad Pro

Usability

There's a mountain of difference in how Microsoft and Apple approach getting things done with their respective platforms.

In order to do anything on the iPad, you need to tap on the screen. Whether you're selecting text, launching an app or drawing - unless you spring for the $145 Apple Pencil -you're tapping on the screen with your finger.

Microsoft, on the other hand, let you tap on the screen and use the Surface Pen but also supports using a mouse or the trackpad on the Type Cover keyboard.

And while Apple added the Files application to iOS 11, it's still a pain to manage locally stored files using the iPad. Microsoft's familiar Explorer is easier to use.

And Microsoft has refined the Start menu now to the point where it's easy to find and launch applications. In contrast, the iOS, icon-based approach is clunky. And the folder-based group of app icons brings me back to early 1990s and the Windows 3,x Program Manager.

I give the usability round to the Surface Go.

Ports

This one's easy - USB-C and a microSD slot vs the iPad Pro's single Lightning port.

Surface Go takes the lead.

Value For Money

The easy answer here is the Surface Go as, even when you add the Type Cover and Surface Pen, it costs a lot less than an iPad Pro.

A top of the range Microsoft Surface Go with a Type Cover and Surface Pen costs $1178.90. But that maxes out at 128GB of storage and there's no option of integrated cellular data. The 64GB option makes that bundle $938.90.

In comparison, the iPad Pro comes with 64GB, 256GB and 512GB options.

The 64GB iPad Pro with WiFi only is $979. Then you can add the $235 Smart Keyboard and $145 Apple Pencil for a total of $1359 - or over $400 more.

If you're happy with the entry level models then the Surface Go is clearly the less expensive investment.

But Apple offers larger storage options and optional cellular data. So, if those things are important, the Surface Go falls out of contention.

Because of those differences I'm scoring this round a draw.

Conclusions

Unless you're committed to Apple's "walled garden" or simply prefer their platform it looks to me that the Surface Go is the better value proposition. Although it lacks larger storage and cellular data options, it's keyboard accessory is superior and the ability to use a mouse or trackpad gives it the edge in usability.


Comments

    No mention of the fact iOS is a phone OS vs Surface Go which is running windows that has the ability to load fully fledged applications?

      A few years ago, that would be a big deal. But productivity apps on the iPad are close to functionally equivalent. Word on the iPad, for example, isn't all that different in my view. And where there's no exact match, there are options (eg Pixelmator vs Photoshop). There are few gaps. I've never found a project management tool for iOS (or the Mac for that matter) that I liked to use as much as Project.

      But from a "getting work done" perspective, the gap is fairly narrow in my experience.

        Not at all.

        On the surface, i can download and install programs from current day and long ago. Working in IT a surface is a lot more functional when interfacing with a network system and server management because i can use the very same programs we use on the desktop systems.

        iOS apps are nowhere near that functionality. If you are just doing light editing and processing some content. iOS apps are fine. Anything more and it falls short.

          Those are valid points but I'd argue that the use-case of an IT admin is pretty specific. If you're in a Windows shop, I doubt that even the most powerful portable Mac would work unless you used Windows in a VM or dual-booted.

          As for the "light editing and processing some content" thought - perhaps that's reasonable but how many computer users are real power users? In my experience, most people see their computer as an appliance that just needs to do what they need. Most use-cases are actually pretty straight-forward.

            Mac Pro user, windows environment. All the server maintenance is done through VSphere which is Java/HTML5 and you can run powershell via terminal. All the really useful stuff these days is web based so you can use it from any machine.
            I'm not accessing any VC's I wouldn't be accessing using a windows machine. I could probably do 90% of my job from a chromebook.

        its a huge omission and really not a fair comparison.
        Your opinion doesn't trump specifications and this is not a fair review by not giving the full picture.

        Even though you give the award to the surface, this sort of information should be provided so as not to mislead those who make decisions off your review

          Specs matter but they're not the only criteria on which you can judge a device. How people use things makes a big difference. While I think the Go is probably a better fit for a lot of people it's not optimal for everyone.

          And it's important to note there's no such thing as a review that doesn't have some element of subjectivism. I'd always recommend reading multiple reviews and actually trying stuff for yourself rather than making purchasing decisions on the basis of one reviewer's opinion.

            Not giving the full picture is misleading.
            That's all there is to it

    You've not done your homework.
    The iPad Pro is to measure up against the Surface Pro and the standard iPad is the one to measure up against the Surface Go. The Surface Go is $599AU entry and offers a lot more performance than the standard iPad which enters in a $450AU. The iPad is an entertainment device. The Surface Go is attempting to move in on that market. Both are still fantastic devices that do very different things very well.

      Your point of "a lot more performance" is arguable - I'd say the iPad is definitely faster at launching apps.and while the iPad is $469, it only has 32GB of storage. At $599, the Go gets 64 so there's no direct comparison.

      I'd argue the Surface Go is for someone looking for a mobile workhorse whereas the entry level iPad is more about recreation/content consumption. On that basis, I doubt many people will buy the 64GB/4GB version.

      The really big miss with the Go is an option for cellular comms in my view.

    Microsoft's last Surface Pro had a screen failure that caused a seizure for me due to the resulting flicker and they haven't fixed this hardware flaw in any of their products since. Anyone who gets themselves a Surface exposes themselves to that risk if the screen fails. Months of my life gone and medication now needed because Microsoft didn't QA their designs properly.

    It's a niche concern I wouldn't expect the reviewer to know about, but one people should know about before they dump money into something with an inherent hardware defect across its product line. I'd be getting the iPad purely because if it's going to die, at least it won't take photosensitive people like me with it.

    You only briefly mention the apple pencil, can you please compare it to a MS go offering for designers?

    I've been out of the Windows ecosystem for a long time. What's the deal with virus protection these days? Is the Surface vulnerable without a paid protection sub? They look like perfect devices for students - hope Microsoft stay in this space long term.

      Unless you go out of your way to intentionally download suspicious apps then you'll probably never get a virus on new Windows devices. The built in Windows Defender paired with a web browser with AdBlock is more than enough

    Whats the best tablet for drawing on? I organised for my sister to buy a surface book a few years ago primarily for drawing but she has complained that it doesn't work nearly as well as her old ipad did. I guess I shouldn't trust store clerks as now its just an $1800 portable tv. Is an Ipad Pro her best bet?

      I've used both an iPad Pro with the Pencil and a Surface Pro with Photoshop and I still preferred the iPad Pro. The latter had better screen latency, colours, palm protection (it wouldn't accidentally flick off the screen if it detected your hands while drawing) and better sensitivity while drawing overall. The Surface Pro had constant driver problems with it not detecting its own screen input, its own pen, its own keyboard and other reliability problems which made it beyond my recommendations as a drawing device. That's not including the seizure it caused me when the screen failed.

      Not having a full Photoshop client would normally be a concern for the iPad Pro, but Adobe recently said they're adding a more complete one to the iOS environment if they haven't already which should allay that. It also has plenty of other decent enough apps for painting at least like Procreate which get the job done, so I'd run with the iPad Pro if she wants a pure drawing/painting experience. I don't regret my experiences with one and it's been much nicer to use generally over the Surface Pro. She can always see for herself at a store if she's not sure.

        I agree the iPad Pro with Apple Pencil is absolutely amazing to draw/write/illustrate with. However, it's worth looking at again as my understanding is that the Surface Pen and Surface hardware have improved - they might be more competitive now.

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