Apple iPad 4 vs Microsoft Surface RT

Introduction and Design

Finding itself in a new venture with its first all in-house tablet, Microsoft finds itself in a unfamiliar position in being the underdog – whereas in the PC industry, they have a dominant presence. Now that the fourth-generation iPad is making the rounds, it’s going to be one very interesting showdown between it and the Microsoft Surface RT. Sporting the same starting price points, these are arguably the most highly prized premier tablets at the moment, so we’re all dying to find out how they fare against one another head on. Let’s start, shall we?


Utilizing all the best ingredients that are required to make them stand out above the heap, it’s rather difficult to concretely specify which of the two has the better design. In all seriousness, we love each of their distinctive looks, as they both employ premium materials and solid constructions to appease our desire for quality gadgets. Plainly different from one another, the iPad 4 has a more rounded feel in the rear, which is further aided by the clean look of its brushed aluminum casing. At the same time, the Microsoft Surface RT has a unique look as well with its tapered edges and its choice of using a magnesium composite dubbed by Microsoft as “VaporMg.” Sharing the same thickness of 0.37-inches, they’re definitely skinny in frame, but the Surface RT opts for a wider look with its 16:9 aspect ratio – while the iPad 4 goes for the somewhat more boxy appearance.

Below their displays, when they’re held in their appropriate orientations, we find their respective home buttons – the familiar recessed button of the iPad 4 and a capacitive Start one for the Surface RT. Although they’re different, we didn’t experience any accidental presses.

Looking around the trims of both tablets, they obviously share many commonalities – like their 3.5mm headset jacks, power buttons, volume controls, microphones, and proprietary power ports (Lightning docking port for the iPad 4 and a magnetic power connector on the Surface RT). However, it’s worth pointing out that the Surface RT has more benefits with its stereo speakers, full-sized USB port to accommodate accessories/peripherals, and an always-useful microHDMI port for quick video-out functionality. And finally, we surely appreciate the kickstand on the Surface as well!

Complete in every way imaginable, these two are sporting both front and rear facing cameras. Although it’s a close race in the front, as the iPad 4 sports a 1.2-megapixel snapper and the Surface being outfitted with a 1-megapixel one (both of which can shoot videos in 720p), there’s a huge disparity with their rear cameras. In fact, the iPad 4 flexes its muscles with its higher count 5-megapixel auto-focus camera, which so happens to feature an F2.4 lens and 1080p video recording. Meanwhile, the Surface is given a paltry fixed focus 1-megapixel camera that’s able to record video in up to 800p resolution.


Visually, the Surface has the more ideal display for watching videos, due to the 16:9 aspect ratio of its 10.6-inch screen. However, we can’t argue the fact that the iPad 4’s 9.7-inch Retina Display is the sharper looking one between the two, since it’s flaunting the higher resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels, which absolutely crushes the Surface’s scary low 1366 x 768 resolution. With their homescreens, it’s hardly noticeable from a normal distance away as to which is more detailed, but upon opening up the web browser, it becomes evident that the iPad 4’s details are unmatched. Beyond resolution, they’re both quite pleasant to use, since they exhibit vibrant color tones and wide viewing angles – though, the iPad 4’s has more accurate colors and is is slightly more visible outdoors with the sun’s presence.

Interface and Functionality:

Hardware aside folks, the biggest thing you’ll need to consider is to figure out which will be the more suitable platform experiences for you. On the iPad 4, we’ll give it credit for its simple and straightforward approach that enables first-timers to easily get themselves situated thanks to its low learning curve. However, it’s still lacking personalization to stand out against its rival, which is most evident by the typical and boring grid-like styling of its homescreen. Naturally, that’s not a problem with the Surface and its brand spanking new Windows RT experience, as it features a more snazzy and dynamic look with its live tiles. For a version 1.0 of a new platform, Windows RT definitely shows its worth against the iOS 6 experience of the iPad 4, but still, it needs further refinements to make it more complete. Case in point, iOS employs the better notifications system, but we do appreciate how the two takes care of quickly switching between opened apps with their specific gestures.

Placing our attention on their core organizer apps, we really can’t say that one tablet does a better job, but more importantly, Siri on the iPad 4 is there to help us in being organized – plus, she’s always great to answer simple questions, which is something that’s not offered by the Surface. Furthermore, since iOS is a mature platform, it benefits more with a ton of tablet-optimized applications.

Sending emails is a breeze with these two, seeing that they employ very similar layouts and functions – meaning, there’s not one that’s delivering the goods over the other. Likewise, we can also say the same thing about typing stuff up with their respective keyboards, especially when they’re spacious and responsive. Yet, it’s worth noting that the Surface also has handwriting recognition as an option too.

Processor and Memory:

If we were to base everything purely by their specs sheet and nothing more, most people would assume that the Surface is getting more bang for the buck with its beefier specs. Ticking inside of the Surface is a quad-core 1.3GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor coupled with 2GB of RAM, while the iPad 4 is running a dual-core 1.4GHz Apple A6X processor with half the RAM at 1GB. Without a doubt, the thing that counts most to most people is their real-world performance, and not surprisingly, they perform in the same manner. Specifically, that entails smooth operations with nearly all basic tasks – so there’s not one showing us that it’s the better performer. Additionally, we can see their processing prowess in other intensive tasks, like playing 3D games.

Checking out the base versions of the two tablets, which are priced at $500, the Microsoft Surface seems to have the edge with its 32GB of storage – with the iPad 4 at 16GB, though, it’s also available in 32GB and 64GB capacities. However, the microSD card slot put into the Surface is a huge benefit, as well as having that USB port to connect flash drives and external drives.

Internet and Connectivity:

Honestly, you can’t go wrong surfing the web with either tablet, since they feature smooth navigational controls and fast page loads – albeit, we notice that the iPad 4 is faster with its rendering. Frankly, they’re more than suitable for our general web surfing needs, but considering that the Surface also packs the standard desktop version of Internet Explorer 10, we find it more beneficial with other tertiary things that tablet browsers are unable to accomplish – such as being given the option to attach ANYTHING stored locally on the tablet when sending an email.

Currently, the Surface is only made available in Wi-Fi form, while the iPad 4, as we’re all aware, is outfitted with various cellular connectivity – like having models that support the LTE networks of AT&T, Verizon, and most recently, Sprint. In addition to Wi-Fi, they both feature aGPS and Bluetooth 4.0.


Before taking our first snapshots, something in the back of our mind was telling us that we’d get better results with the iPad 4 – especially knowing that there’s a significant size disparity between their cameras. Rightfully so, that’s the case here, as the iPad’s 5-megapixel camera delivers the sharper looking details by far. However, it’s rather interesting to find that they both produce colors that are natural in tone and a balanced exposure. In low lighting situations, though, it’s again the iPad 4 getting the nods thanks to its superb handling of exposure to draw out details.

Likewise, there’s no competition with video recording quality too, which is hardly a surprise knowing you get 800p recording on the Surface and 1080p with the iPad 4. Standing out the most is the iPad’s superior details, which demolishes the dull and soft tones produced by its rival. Additionally, there’s just a heavy presence of artifacting with the Surface when panning – making the iPad 4’s results far more pleasant.

Apple iPad 4 Sample Video:

Microsoft Surface RT Sample Video:


For the iPad 4, it surely makes good use out of the old adage of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” Well, that’s plainly obvious seeing that it’s still sporting the same music player interface that was employed by the original iPad. Certainly, it’s functional in what it does, but it lacks the dynamic look of the Surface’s music player. Interestingly enough, the iPad 4’s single speaker actually pumps out stronger tones than the stereo speakers of the Surface – with the two producing pleasant tones that don’t have a hint of distortion.

Mainly due to its 16:9 aspect ratio of its display, we undeniably prefer using the Surface for watching videos – even more when it supports a wide variety of video codecs out of the box. Of course, it’s still pleasant over on the iPad 4, but we’re left to deal with seeing those typical black bars above and below the video.


If there’s one thing we can agree upon, it has to be that they have above-average battery life – better than most other tablets in the same size category. In fact, we’re able to get up to 1 ½ days of mixed usage with Wi-Fi only connections. Of course, you’ll get lower results if you happen to use the iPad 4 with LTE connectivity.


There’s good reason why these two are regarded by many as the two most outstanding tablets on the market right now. Every way we dissect it, there’s no arguing that they exhibit all the qualities we look forward to seeing on premier tablets. If you’re willing to experiment and try something fresh, you really want to check out the Microsoft Surface, since it has a very compelling experience right out of the gate – combined with its handful of useful features, but of course, it’s slim pickings when it comes to number of apps at the moment. Conversely, the iPad 4 is undoubtedly the more well-rounded performer between the two. Specifically, its Retina Display shows off its superior detail, captures the better photos/videos, and that it has an extensive ecosystem of optimized apps. Whatever the case, your hard earned $500 will be invested in top-notch tablets that have a lot to offer.

Apple iPad 4 vs Microsoft Surface RT:

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