Can a Windows 11 tablet replace my iPad? Well, surprisingly…

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Can a Windows 11 tablet replace my iPad? Well, surprisingly…
It's the beginning of a new year, and what better time to try something different? I've written a lot about the iPad, praised its performance and battery life, but criticized its reliance on mobile apps and lack of more powerful, desktop-like multitasking.

I wrote what iPadOS needs before the iPad can truly replace a computer, and shared my experience with the competition – the Samsung Galaxy Tab and its DeX mode, but as 2022 rolled around I decided it's time to stop looking for "computer replacements" in those two. Because Android and iPadOS tablets are just that – tablets, with mobile operating systems and running essentially just phone apps.

While the iPad continues to dominate the tablet market, Microsoft has quietly been releasing more and more Windows 10 (and now Windows 11) tablet computers, like the affordable Surface Go series.

So instead of continuing to baselessly hope iPadOS will eventually get closer to a desktop-like operating system, why not just buy what Microsoft is already offering – a tablet running Windows? And I did. Here's how that went.

Win 11 is almost ready to "win" you over as a tablet operating system

So I bought the Surface Go 2 (I considered the newer one but I'm told it has weaker battery life), and upgraded it from Windows 10 to the fresh, tablet-friendly from the get-go Windows 11.

After an insane number of software updates and some initial update errors, a process that took about half a day to transpire, I was finally ready to use my new Windows 11 tablet.

But let's just say – I can see why the iPad dominates – everything is simple, straightforward and "just works" over there. But when it comes to Microsoft – most of us know not to expect perfection. We've all used Skype, I assume? There are always potential bumps on the road.

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In any case, after my rocky start with my new Windows tablet, what followed was pretty much a dream come true, and I'm not exaggerating. I expected everything to run slowly, since we're dealing with only 8GB of RAM and a low-end Intel Pentium Gold processor on the Surface Go 2, but Windows 11 is actually a pretty good performer.

Sure, websites and apps don't exactly load as snappy as they do on even the cheapest iPad, but for a full-blown desktop operating system – everything happens reasonably quick.

Stop looking for "PC replacements" and just get a Windows 11 tablet!

While Windows 11 doesn't have a dedicated tablet mode like its predecessor did, its interface is designed with touch in mind – the revamped, centered taskbar has nice, large icons you can easily tap, resizing and snapping multiple windows to screen corners works perfectly well, and navigating websites is exactly as you would expect it to be on other tablets.

Except you get the full, real, actual, legit Chrome browser that loads websites in desktop mode perfectly, zero compromises! You have your bookmarks bar, you have your addons, you have everything you may want.

While Chrome on Android still lacks a bookmarks bar, loads the mobile versions of websites by default even on huge tablets, which looks ridiculous, and lacks support for extensions (a.k.a. addons).

On the iPad, I've praised Safari in the past for offering desktop web browsing by default, but even there I would occasionally, albeit rarely, stumble upon a website that doesn't quite load correctly, or exactly as intended.

But on a Surface tablet it will, as we're running the big boy desktop Chrome browser on that one.

No more phone apps on a big screen, but real desktop apps on a tablet!

"Desktop" is the key word here. No more relying on phone apps for everything, although should you want them – Android app support is indeed coming to Windows 11. Microsoft couldn't tell me when exactly, but it should be reasonably soon.

For basic tasks, and especially for students, which seem to be a main Surface Go target audience, even that budget tablet can handle itself. Like I said, Windows 11 in general, as well as Chrome, VLC, and other apps I use regularly run perfectly well on Surface tablets with 8GB of RAM or higher. Older PC games run too, as well as games off the Microsoft store, most of which are mobile ports.

The tablet has stylus support, so artists are covered, and of course, have a huge number of full desktop apps to choose from.

You tap a text field – a touch keyboard pops up just like on other tablets, and of course, you can get an attachable keyboard accessory with a trackpad if you need it. Except Microsoft's first-party keyboard is cheaper than Apple's Smart Folio for iPad, as expected. And much, much cheaper than the iPad Magic Keyboard with a trackpad. You're entering a more affordable ecosystem in general.

There's a caveat, though – if you're looking to run heavy apps on a Windows tablet, you may want to look towards the more expensive options Microsoft has to offer, with the better specs, like the Surface Pro 8. The more affordable Surface Go 2 handles the heavy apps that I use, such as FL Studio (music production), but it may lag on your pro app of choice.

What do you really want from your tablet?

Of course it all comes to this question. Let's face it – there's a reason the iPad is king. Even the cheapest one handles basic video editing, drawing, school work and web browsing like a champ. For me, the iPad's only limitation is its software, as mentioned before.

Try to do something more elaborate and you'll hit a rock, because an app you may want to use is Windows or MacOS-only, and the mobile substitutes for that app you may find on the AppStore are lackluster at best, or non-existent. Or try to multitask as heavily as you may be accustomed to on PC and you'll definitely feel the limitations of iPadOS.

Sure, you can edit videos on your iPad, and it will handle that way faster than a Surface tablet, but you're limited to very basic video editing – cut something here, add a filter there, add some some basic text and that's pretty much it. You won't be creating your own complex video effects and transitions from scratch, nor will you be able to use your favorite effect plugins.

And sure, you can game on the iPad, but you're limited to mobile games. And sure, you can even make simple music on it, and I've tried many times, but once again – there are heavy software limitations. No desktop audio plugins is a main one for me.

Like I said, the iPad's main limitation is its mobile operating system – iPadOS – and its reliance on what are essentially phone apps.

While a Windows 11 tablet may struggle a bit, but it should get any job done. Its main limitation – the performance.

So, if you just need a tablet for a kid, or something easy-to-use and snappy, reliable and with a long-lasting battery for watching videos, basic school work and the likes – yes, you want an iPad. Your accessories will cost more, and you'll be limited to mobile apps, yet still – you can do a lot with even the cheapest iPad out there.

However, if you're like me – you like the tablet form-factor, but you need a real operating system inside, with powerful multitasking capabilities, access to all of your desktop apps, versatility like stylus support and support for connecting multiple monitors, an SD card slot, a built-in kickstand… Well then it's time to stop sleeping on good old Microsoft and give Windows 11 a chance. If you never found that perfect "PC replacement" tablet, stop looking at Apple and Samsung for it and buy a Surface tablet instead.

As for me, I'm not exaggerating when I say that I ended up selling my iPad and returning that super flagship Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ I had lying around. Those were both fantastic, but I wanted a portable PC replacement, and trying to look at them as such was looking in the wrong place. Windows is ready to be a tablet operating system, and has the added bonus of also being a full-blown desktop one. And almost everything about it can be customized to your heart's content.

Sure, there's room for improvement and annoyances to iron out, but the mere fact that Microsoft has managed to morph an ancient, mouse pointer-focused desktop operating system into such a good tablet experience is admirable.

And hopefully, it will only get better, especially when Android app support rolls out, bringing everything you may like from your Android tablet into the fairly niche, but hugely promising world of tablet PCs.

Microsoft - Surface Go 2

10.5" Touch-Screen - Intel Pentium Gold - 8GB - 128GB SSD - Device Only - Platinum
$399 99
$549 99
Buy at BestBuy

Microsoft - Surface Go 3

10.5” Touch-Screen – Intel Core i3 – 8GB Memory -128GB SSD - Device Only (Latest Model) - Platinum
$629 99
Buy at BestBuy

Microsoft Surface Pro 8

Platinum, Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD
$899 99
$1099 99
Buy at Microsoft

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