Apple iPad Air vs Microsoft Surface Pro 2



Apple started a revolution when it launched the original iPad back in 2010, one that redefined the way consumers viewed the tablet segment entirely. Before its arrival, the only wide spread tablets in existence were those hulky laptop convertible ones that merely added touch functionality to the usual Windows experience. By no means were they intuitive, as many people quickly found out. So when the iPad exploded onto the scene, it really shook up things from a design and experience point of view. Throughout the iPad’s reign (and its successors), Microsoft has been hanging back, plotting the next logical move to make a stab – and as we’ve seen, it was only recently when its Surface tablets were introduced. Microsoft has both the Surface 2, running on the new tablet-friendly Windows RT OS , and the Surface Pro 2, which has the full-fledged Windows 8.1 OS that is also running on laptops and desktops.

Rather than waiting until after the busy holiday season, Microsoft decided to launch its latest high profiled tablet, the Surface Pro 2, well ahead of Apple’s iPad Air – a daring move that will hopefully entice consumers. These two mighty devices are different no doubt, as their starting price points indicate to us, but nevertheless, they’re indeed tablets that have a lot to prove at the end of the day. So how do they stack up against one another? Let’s cut the chit-chat and dive right into the nitty-gritty!


Tablets are supposed to be travel friendly, right? Like seriously, they absolutely need to be easier to handle than laptops. With that in mind, it’s comforting to see that the iPad Air abiding by these rules, since it’s impressively designed – to the point that it makes the Surface Pro 2 look grossly massive. For a tablet, there’s no kidding that the Surface 2 is a hefty fella, but at least it’s still easier to carry around than a full-sized laptop.

Thankfully though, the constructions with these two tablets are solid, thanks in part to their premium choice of materials. Specifically, the brushed aluminum casing of the iPad Air, and “VaporMg” chassis of the Surface Pro 2 gives them plenty of sturdiness, but due to the weightiness of Microsoft’s tablet, it just seems more fragile. Therefore, we’re constantly handling it with more caution than the iPad Air.

Visually, the designs of both tablets are likable. We’re astounded by how easy it is to hold the iPad Air with a single hand, as its lightweight feel and the subtle curves around its trim provide us with a solid grip in the hand. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same thing for the Surface Pro 2, since its heavy girth and the sharp angular cutouts, doesn’t make it as comfortable to hold. However, those design characteristics blend to give it a distinctive industrial design that we find favorable.

Due to the wealth of ports on board with the Surface Pro 2, it proves its versatility over the iPad Air, which only bears a Lightning docking port for all of its connectivity. Meanwhile, the Surface Pro 2 is armed with ports that are akin to today’s premium laptops – like a mini display port, microSD slot, USB 3.0 port, and a magnetic power port. Oh yeah, it also bundles in a useful kickstand, which is an appreciated item that’s still a rarity with tablets in general.


Neither tablet actually received upgrades to their respective displays, so the story here is the same as last year’s comparison – a 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 IPS LCD panel with the iPad Air, and a 10.6-inch 1920 x 1080 IPS LCD display with the Surface Pro 2. On paper, the iPad Air’s Retina display churns out the higher pixel density count of 264 ppi. Although it’s better, the Surface Pro 2’s 208 ppi pixel density figure is still potent enough to give it plenty of detail and clarity. Therefore, it’s nearly indistinguishable from a normal viewing distance to tell who has the upper hand – so they’re equally sharp to the eye!

Since their displays employ IPS LCD technology, they appear to exhibit many of the same characteristics that make them pleasant. However, upon closer inspection, we realize that the iPad Air’s panel offers slightly better viewing angles – while the Surface Pro 2’s display has a warmer tone to it. As we take them outside where the sun is shining its rays down upon them, we’re pleased to find that the two screens retain their clarity and visibility.

Interface and Functionality

In addition to getting the customary set of upgraded hardware, these new tablets are also accompanied with refreshed software experiences too – albeit, there’s more of a profound change with the iPad Air’s iOS 7 experience. Let’s not focus on what’s new with them, but instead, we’ll explain some of things that we like and dislike about them.

When it comes to the presentation value, it’s a tough call as to which of the two we prefer more, since they have their own unique elements. On the surface, the iOS 7 experience continues to follow the formula of having a simplified and intuitive interface, which now has been given some new visual changes and enhancements. However, there’s still something about the dynamic look of the Windows 8.1 start screen that catches our attention – thanks in part to the animated live tiles that comprise it. Also worth mentioning, the Surface Pro 2 is running a full desktop OS, as opposed to just a tablet centric one like the iPad Air.

Those live tiles, in fact, are also what Microsoft relies on with the platform’s notifications system. We might drool over how they look appealing and all, but it’s just a disorganized mess trying to hunt down specific notifications. Bearing that in mind, that’s why we absolutely prefer the iOS 7’s implementation, since everything is populated in the notifications center.

Having access to the full power of a desktop OS, the Surface Pro 2’s enhanced Windows 8.1 experience handles multi-tasking in a more ideal manner, seeing that two apps can be placed side-by-side – with the ability to adjust the windows to our liking. In addition, we’re presented with that true multi-tasking experience with software running in desktop mode. Well, the iOS 7’s implementation hasn’t changed, so it isn’t as practical.

You’d think that the Surface Pro 2 would be preloaded with Office, giving it a productivity edge over the iPad Air, but it’s actually not on board with the tablet – sorry to say. Instead, you’ll need to install your own copy, or purchase it separately if you don't have one. It’s not a big deal per se, especially when there are a few free alternatives out there. Well, brand new iPad Air owners have the option to download the iWork suite of apps for free.

There are no concerns trying to type long passages of text on either tablet, mainly due to their spacious layouts, responsiveness, and killer auto-correct features. As a whole, we don’t find one that’s necessarily better than the other, since the experience is so good with the two.

As we continue learning the ins and outs of each respective platform experience, we come to the realization that the iOS 7 experience of the iPad Air is a simple and fun one. Furthermore, the long development cycle of iOS in general has given the tablet platform a healthy ecosystem of third party apps. It might still be trying to establish its foot amongst consumers, but the Windows 8.1 experience of the Surface Pro 2 targets power users who are all about productivity.

Processor and Memory

Sporting two totally different processors, one that’s notable for being based on 64-bit architecture, while the other bears PC-like components, these two tablets have the same thing in common – they’re fast, like speedy fast! On the iPad Air, it’s powered by a 64-bit based dual-core 1.4GHz Apple A7 processor coupled with 1GB of RAM and the PowerVR G6430 GPU, which rarely exhibits any stutter with its performance. At the same time, the Surface Pro 2’s 4th generation Intel Core i5 processor, a dual-core clocked in at 1.6GHz, combined with 4GB of RAM and the Intel HD Graphics 4400 GPU, delivers the same lightning fast operations like the iPad Air. Whether it’s simple tasks, or intensive ones, they playfully exhibit a solid amount of finesse with their performances.

When it comes to storage options, it’s nice to know that they’re available in a wide array of capacities. The iPad Air is available in 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB capacities, but there’s no expandability with it whatsoever. It’s not an issue with the Surface Pro 2, since it boasts a microSD card slot, but considering it’s more PC than anything else, Microsoft gladly blesses it with higher capacities – 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB options to be exact. Though, the latter two models are outfitted with 8GB of RAM, instead of the usual 4GB.

Internet and Connectivity

Not surprisingly, the web browsing experience is spot-on fantastic with these two prized stallions. For starters, they lay claim to all the lovable elements that make the experience so useful – like their speedy page loads, instant page rendering, and buttery smooth navigational controls. Sure, the Surface Pro 2’s Internet Explorer is a full-fledged desktop browser, but the iPad Air’s Safari browser matches it in nearly every features category.

Currently, it’s only the iPad Air that’s manufactured in both Wi-Fi and 4G LTE models – whereas it’s Wi-Fi only with the Surface Pro 2. At the very least, they contain the base set of connectivity features, which consists of aGPS and Bluetooth 4.0. Like we mentioned earlier, the Surface Pro 2 benefits by having PC-like ports – giving it more versatility than its rival.


You’d think that Microsoft would arm the Surface Pro 2 with better camera hardware, to anticipate its rivals and all, but sadly that’s not the case, since it packs the same gear from last year – 1-megapixel fixed focused front and rear cameras. As for the iPad Air, it receives at least some love, mainly because it features a 5-megapixel auto-focus rear camera, and a 1.2-megapixel front facing one.

Yes, they both feature cameras, but that doesn’t mean we’d be inclined to used them when the occasion rises.Their camera apps are pretty basic, which means that experience is all taking snapshots easily and without distractions.When it comes to quality, it’s the iPad Air – no question about it! Before going into the reasoning, we need to point out the disparity between them, as the iPad Air’s 5-megapixel camera overshadows the Surface Pro 2’s 1-megapixel count. Keeping that in mind, it doesn’t surprise us details are downright hazy and indistinct with its results. And it doesn’t help when it doesn’t offer auto-focus, which means that macro shots turn out as blurry messes. Thankfully, the images produced by the iPad Air’s camera are more agreeable, as it delivers visuals that are sharper. Under low lighting situations, neither actually excel greatly in this particular condition, but yet again, we side with the iPad Air’s camera, mainly because of the speckled and noisy production of the Surface Pro 2.

We’re just a loss for words with the Surface Pro 2’s 1080p video recording quality! It’s dreadful, to the point that we question how it can actually pass for being 1080p resolution. Well, we’re not saying that the iPad Air’s quality is the utmost best in the space, but it’s light years better than the horrendous visuals put out by the Surface Pro 2.


Although the functionalities of their respective music players mirror one another, there’s a higher presentation value seen with the Surface Pro 2’s offering. It’s just different, and unlike the iPad Air’s conventional stance, we’re really drawn to its dynamic looks. Yes, they both feature dual speakers, though positioned in different areas, but interestingly enough, it’s the iPad Air’s set that produces the stronger and more potent volume.

Out of the box, the Surface Pro 2 has more video codec support, which means that we can simply copy videos to a flash drive or something, and have it playing right away. However, the iPad Air requires us to convert videos prior to loading them, so they’re properly fitted to play on its screen. Obviously, their sharp looking display help to draw us in, but the Surface 2’s kickstand is an added treat to the entire experience.


Flaunting PC-like components, the Surface Pro 2 is quite the demanding thing with battery. In fact, we’re able to pull out 8 hours of usage at the bare most, which is an impressive feat for laptops, but at the same time, a terrible tally for tablets. In comparison, the iPad Air effortlessly pushes through a full day with its battery – so the results here between them aren’t unexpected.


If we’re going to wrap it all up, we really need to compare apples-to-apples. Honestly, we need to look at the base model of the Surface Pro 2, the 64GB Wi-Fi one, which is attached with a $900 price point. A bloated figure for most tablets no doubt, but we have to stress that it’s more PC-like at the same time, so it makes perfect sense. In comparison, the 64GB Wi-Fi only version of the iPad Air is priced at $700, which really gets us thinking more. Separated by a mere $200, it seems as though there’s more value out of the Surface Pro 2 – even more when it’s running a desktop OS and features ports that give it more versatility.

On the other end of the spectrum, if we’re to compare the base model of the Surface Pro 2 with the base model of the iPad Air, the $500 16GB Wi-Fi version, there’s enough room to suggest that there’s an advantage to go with Apple’s pride and joy.

For those looking for a fun and delightful tablet to use on the road, we’d suggest going with the iPad Air and its balanced set of features and performance. Additionally, it’s incredibly thin and delivers a significant amount of battery life and the iOS 7 platform is diverse with its healthy ecosystem of tablet optimized apps. However, if you’re more inclined to get down and dirty with work, the Surface Pro 2 is equipped in accomplishing the task – plus, it eliminates the need to have a separate laptop, since it can double as one.

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