iPad Pro vs Surface Pro

In this corner we have the Surface Pro. The Surface Pro runs Windows 10. Has an optional pen and or keyboard cover. And has been able to grow a mustache since age 16.

In this corner we have the iPad Pro. The iPad runs iPad OS, has optional apple pencil and keyboard cover and has a large bump on his head, not from a fight but because his dad thought it would be cool to put a camera there.

On paper these competitors look pretty similar but are very different. Those differences come from their operating systems. Windows 10 and iPad OS. They run very different apps and work in very different ways. iPad OS is a mobile interface that has gotten more desktop like over time. And Windows 10 is a desktop interface that’s been getting more touch friendly.

Which one is the best fit for you comes down to what you want to do with it.

Here is where the rubber meets the road: Because the Surface Pro is a full Windows tablet it can run anything that Windows can run… Asterix… Hey! Why you putting an Asterix on that Brad?

That statement is true if we’re talking about the Surface Pro 7 but only partly true for the new Surface Pro X. Microsoft is trying something new with the Surface Pro X and not using Intel’s x86 architecture and instead using an Arm chip.

English brad English! What this means for you and me is that the Surface Pro X can’t run every Windows app out there. The apps need to be recompiled to work with the arm chip. If you want to do a deep dive into the how and why check out my review of the X, but for now what you need to know is that only some apps run on the X but they all work on the Surface Pro 7.

Apps

Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Animate, Premiere Pro. Boom, You can do that. Clip Studio, Sketchable, Paint TOOL SAI, Leonardo, Autodesk Sketchbook, Corel Draw and Painter… I think you get the idea.

Because of software compatibility as of today, late fall 2019, I would recommend going with the new Surface Pro 7 over the Surface Pro X. That may change over the next year or so but for now that’s the smart move.

The iPad’s greatest weakness is also its greatest strength. That’s iPadOS. On one hand it’s really light weight, easy to use on the other hand Software needs to be rewritten and often overhauled to work in a touch only environment. 4 years ago that was a weakness but over time as the iPad has gotten more popular and the Software ecosystem has gotten more robust it’s becoming one of the iPad’s greatest strength.

Apps like Procreate, Art Studio Pro and ………………...

We’ve started to see some apps become available on both platforms now: Affinity Photo and Affinity designer are great replacements for Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator and run on both Windows and on the iPad. Both versions are great. The interface has a traditional desktop feel on Windows but the interface is a lot more touch friendly but I feel that it has more of a learning curve on the iPad, it might be because I learned on desktop software and that’s what I’m used to. Clip Studio on the iPad is a straight up port of the desktop version. Because of that it’s pretty cool, but I think the interface is kinda small and hard to navigate on the ipad compared to mouse on the desktop.

We’re starting to see Adobe move their apps over to the ipad as well. The new iPad Photoshop and Fresco show a lot of promise but are still incomplete and need more work before they become reliable tools ready for every day use. Adobe is also working on Illustrator probably ready for Adobe Max in the fall of 2020.

Neither The Surface Pro or iPad Pro comes with a pen but they are both pen compatible.

You might be thinking, “geez that’s a lot of money for a stylus” but this is one area you don’t want to cheap out. The Surface pen is compatible with many of the Surface Devices out there. The Surface Book, Surface Studio, all the Surface Pro’s dating all the way back to the Surface Pro 3. You can usually find the official Surface Pen for far less than the listed price on Amazon. The new Surface flat pen is going to cost you more, its main benefit is that it charges in the new keyboard covers available for the Surface Pro X. Performance between the Surface pen and new flat pen are pretty much identical.

There are other pens for that use the same pen protocol as the surface pen that will work but they are roughly the same price as the Surface pen.

The Apple pencil on the other hand is the only good stylus available for the iPad Pro. There are many that promise a lot but you will waste a lot of money on frustrating styluses trying to find one that won’t make you shout words that would have gotten you in trouble as a kid.

In most of the categories if you ask who the winner is i would say: it depends. But when it comes to drawing the Apple pencil has my vote.

The apple pencil feels incredibly responsive and smooth, part of that is the pen and part of that are the apps that take advantage of it.

The Surface Pen uses Microsoft’s Pen Protocol, formerly known as n-trig. There are pros and cons to MPP. The pros? Great palm rejection, the cons… wavy lines when drawing. The faster you draw the less wave. This is common with with battery powered styluses.

If you try really hard you can find a little wave to the Apple pencil, but you have to try really hard to knock the wave out of the Surface Pen. If you are using it as an input device or for handwriting this sort of thing doesn’t matter, if like me you are trying to draw clean ink lines like me, it’s a big big deal and that’s why for me the Apple pencil is the clear winner.

OK, if I have to criticize the Apple pencil in some way it’s that the tip is hard plastic and I don’t like how it feels on the screen so I have a matte screen protector on my iPad to give me more control. The standard Surface pen has a rubbery tip that gives the pen some drag on the new flat pen has a softer/wider plastic tip that doesn’t feel that bad on a slick glass screen.

PERFORMANCE

Trying to figure out which performs better is surprisingly hard to do and that’s because the operating systems are so different and how they handle tasks is so different.

On paper the entry level Surface Pro has the iPad Pro beat. For drawing on a traditional computer ram can be really important, I advise people working on Windows to go for at least 8gb. You can’t get an iPad with more than 6gb.

But paper specs don’t tell the whole story, not even close because the iPad doesn’t work like a traditional computer.

The iPad OS takes a lot more resources away from background processes to focus on your active app so if you're drawing in something like Procreate most of your processing power and ram are focused on making that app run as well as possible. Also many of those apps are streamlined specifically for the iPad and arn’t as robust as their desktop counterparts. All of this taken together means that drawing on the iPad often feels a lot more responsive and fast and frankly more fun than drawing on many desktop apps.

“More fun” is definitely a subjective statement and there are some really good Windows apps built from the ground up for touch like Sketchable that has a lot of the responsiveness and performance you expect from iPad apps. But Sketchable is an outlier on Windows.

But in general I’ve never ever seen my iPad Pro slow down and on a decently specced Surface pro slowdown isn’t uncommon if you have to many programs running in the background.

This is an area where an APple to Apple comparison is very hard. It’s more like comparing an avocado to a taco.

SAVE MONEY

I’ve been talking about the latest iPad Pro and the latest and greatest Surface Pros. But if you go back to the Surface Pro 6 or even the Surface Pro 5 which oddly was just called the Surface Pro. Those are still very capable machines and you can save yourself a good chunk of change settling for one of those, especially if you want to go up to a better processor with more ram you can save yourself a ton and see a big performance bump over the entry level Surface Pro 7.

On the iPad side ever iPad Apple currently sells works with an Apple pencil, the Pros work with the new APple Pencil 2. But the latest standard iPad, the iPad air and the iPad mini all work with the Apple pencil.

On paper they may not look like much, but even that $329 iPad performs very very very well. One of the best values in drawing tech available today. As much as I liked last year’s cute little Surface GO, it’s not spec ready to be your go to drawing too at its lowest configuration. It’s really going to lag on you. Windows needs more resources than iPad OS.

TRADEOFFS

There is no winner or loser here. It comes down to what you need to do and which one best fits your needs. For me I don’t think the ipad could replace everything I do on a computer, It can replace a lot of tasks but not all, or if it can replace a task it’s still a little clumsy. I made a whole video where I used only my iPad pro for a full week to see how that would go, check that out here.

A Surface could replace my laptop, well a Pro 7 could, because it is a laptop just in a slightly different form factor. I do prefer drawing on the iPad better, I have a hybrid workflow that works well for me now where I have a computer and my iPad is a companion device I use for drawing and writing and other specialized tasks.

One thing is clear is that the gap between what I need to do and what the ipad can do has closed considerable over the last 4 years.

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