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Grow Your Business Technology

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 vs. Apple iPad Pro: Which is Better for Business?

Microsoft Surface Pro 5 vs. Apple iPad Pro The Surface Pro 4 and iPad Pro both offer excellent stylus support.

Microsoft's new Surface Pro 4 isn't the only productivity-focused tablet set to hit the market this fall. As we approach the Oct. 24 release of the Surface Pro 4, Apple is readying its iPad Pro for a November release. Like the latest Surface, it will pair with a keyboard and stylus to help you do your job.

But although these devices look similar, they have some big differences. Here's a look at how the Surface Pro 4 and the iPad Pro can help you with your work.

The Surface Pro 4 has a bigger display than last year's Surface Pro 3, but it's still significantly smaller than the iPad Pro's.

Microsoft's new tablet offers a supersharp 12.3-inch display, up from 12 inches on the Surface Pro 3. That makes it a bit more comfortable for split-screen multitasking, and especially good for work tasks like viewing large documents and editing spreadsheets.

The iPad Pro's 12.9-inch display is closer to what you'll get on 13-inch laptop computers like the MacBook Air or Dell XPS 13. The stunning display is larger than the Surface Pro 4's screen, but the iPad Pro's display actually has a slightly lower resolution than the Surface Pro.

For business users, the most important distinction between these devices might be that the iPad Pro runs on a mobile operating system (iOS), whereas the Surface Pro 4 runs on the full desktop version of Windows 10.

That means the Surface Pro 4 can run any desktop PC software you already use at the office. And Windows 10 adds some nice features that make it easier to use the Surface Pro 4 without a keyboard, including a separate, touch-friendly tablet mode. Windows has a much smaller library of touch-optimized apps than Apple does, though.

The iPad Pro runs on iOS 9, the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system. It's the same operating system that powers iPhones and other iPad models. Although iOS is better for business than you might expect — it can run a nearly full-featured version of Microsoft Office, for example — it can't run desktop software, which could limit its potential for productivity.

Neither the Surface Pro 4 nor the iPad Pro comes with a keyboard, but both are compatible with snap-on keyboard docks that essentially transform them into laptop computers.

The new Type Cover keyboard for the Surface Pro 4 (sold separately for $130) features a number of notable improvements over last year's model, including deeper keys that provide a more laptoplike typing experience. You also get a bigger, more accurate touchpad for pointing the on-screen cursor. The Surface Pro 4's built-in kickstand props up the device while you're typing, and a special version of the keyboard dock, which has a fingerprint scanner for added security, sells for $160.

The iPad Pro's Smart Keyboard (sold separately for $169) provides well-spaced keys and a typing experience that's comparable to what you get on the Surface Pro 4. There's no touchpad, though, since the iOS operating system lacks mouse support. That means you'll spend a lot of time reaching over the keys to tap the screen, which could get tiring. The iPad Pro also lacks a built-in kickstand, but the keyboard dock props up the device while you're typing. And instead of having a fingerprint scanner on the keyboard, the iPad Pro's scanner is embedded in the tablet's home button. 

The Surface Pro 4 offers much faster performance than the iPad Pro in its pricier configurations, but both platforms provide plenty of speed for everyday work tasks.

The Surface Pro 4 can be purchased with your choice of an Intel Core m3, i5 or i7 processor. The baseline unit is zippy, but the higher-end models are practically necessary for processor-intensive tasks like video editing or heavy spreadsheet computation.

The iPad Pro runs on Apple's new A9X chip, which Apple says is nearly twice as fast as the processor in last year's iPad Air 2. Expect snappy multitasking and very good performance for productivity tasks like editing documents and managing your email inbox.

Both the Surface Pro 4 and the iPad Pro offer excellent stylus support, which is handy for taking digital notes right on your device's screen.

The Surface Pro 4 pen, which comes included in the box, improves upon last year's Surface Pro 3 pen in a few key ways. It offers better pressure sensitivity, has a digital eraser nub built into the back of the pen and snaps magnetically (and securely) to the side of the tablet when it's not in use.

The iPad Pro pen, dubbed the Apple Pencil, is sold separately for $100. It provide pressure sensitivity comparable to what you get on Microsoft's tablet, though there's no place on the device to stow the pen when it's not in use.

Microsoft will sell a desktop dock that lets you link the Surface Pro 4 to desktop accessories — such as a mouse, keyboard, external hard drive and computer monitor — with one connection. Docking functionality is good for commuters, easily letting the Surface Pro 4 stand in as a desktop computer at the office. 

The iPad Pro, in comparison, locks docking functionality altogether, so you can't connect a mouse, USB keyboard or monitor to it. Apple intends for the iPad Pro to be a strictly mobile device.

The baseline iPad Pro model sells for $800 — a full $100 less than the cheapest Surface Pro 4. But that simple price comparison doesn't come close to telling the whole story.

For starters, remember that the iPad Pro keyboard costs nearly $40 more than the Surface keyboard, and the Apple Pencil stylus costs $100 more than the Surface pen. With both accessories included, the Surface Pro 4 costs just $1,030, compared to $1,070 for the iPad Pro.

Serious business users will likely want to pay for something better than the base model of either device. The entry-level Surface Pro 4 gives you an Intel Core m3 CPU with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage for $900; the Core i5 model comes with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for $1,300; and the Core i7 model has 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for $1,800. Apple doesn't let you upgrade the iPad Pro's processor, but it will let you choose between the $800 model with 32GB of storage and the $949 model with 128GB of storage.

Although their aesthetics are similar, the Surface Pro 4 and the iPad Pro have fundamentally different visions for how you'll use them for work. The Surface Pro 4 offers the power of a full desktop operating system, and offers key features, such as mouse support, a desktop dock and the option to upgrade to more powerful processors. The iPad Pro, by comparison, provides a better selection of touch-friendly mobile apps, and will integrate better with your other Apple devices. Both provide good pen support and plenty of power for daily work tasks.

Stay tuned for full reviews of both the Surface Pro 4 and the iPad Pro, or check out our picks for the best tablets and laptops currently on the market. 

Brett Nuckles

A former Ohio newspaper man, Brett Nuckles fled the Midwest in 2013. He now lives in Seattle, where he spends his days tinkering with smartphones, tablets and computers. He loves to think about the intersection of technology and productivity, and how to get the most out of new gadgets and apps. He's also a big fan of vegetarian food and digital painting. In his off hours he spends most of his time drawing and painting sci-fi/fantasy scenes on his PC with his trusty Wacom stylus in hand.