Microsoft Surface vs. Apple new iPad: Tablet head-to-head

Can the Microsoft Surface offer a valid alternative to the iPad?

Apple's iPad has long dominated the tablet market and as yet, no Android tablet has been able to make an impact. Microsoft is the latest to try and take on the Apple juggernaut with the Surface, a tablet that aims to compete with the iPad in the consumer space, as well as offer a solution to business and corporate users.

The Microsoft Surface has a 10.6in display, is powered by the company's new Windows 8 operating system and boasts a magnesium case. Can the Surface offer a valid alternative to the iPad?

Note: Microsoft will release two versions of the Surface. The first is an ARM-based device running Windows RT aimed at consumers, while the other uses an Intel-based chip to provide the full version of Windows 8 Pro for business and corporate users. For the basis of this comparison, we have used the ARM-based Windows RT version.

Microsoft Surface

Microsoft Surface Windows tablet (preview)

Apple new iPad

Apple new iPad


Operating system
Microsoft Windows 8 RT
Apple iOS
Screen size
Microsoft Surface
Display resolution
Apple new iPad
Display technology
ClearType HD
LED backlit IPS
Pixel density
Apple new iPad
Front camera
Rear camera
5-megapixels, no flash
Camera features
Autofocus, geotagging, face detection, video stabilisation
Video recording
1080p HD @ 30fps (VGA front camera)
Internal memory
Expandable memory
Yes (microSD)
Microsoft Surface
Microsoft Surface
Apple new iPad
Apple A5X dual-core (1GHz)
Australian 3G networks
HSDPA 850/900/2100
Apple new iPad
Australian 4G networks
4.0 with A2DP
4.0 with A2DP
Yes (Micro HD Video)
No (Yes, with optional digital AV adapter)
Microsoft Surface
USB port
Yes, full sized
Microsoft Surface
Quoted battery life
Up to 10h
Flash support
Microsoft Surface

New iPad vs. Microsoft Surface: Display

The display on the ARM-based Microsoft Surface has a resolution of 1366x768, giving it a pixels per inch (ppi) rating of 208. The Windows 8 Pro model takes that one step further with a full HD resolution, presumably 1920x1080, though Microsoft hasn't confirmed full specifications of either Surface model.

The new iPad's
The new iPad's "retina" display is one of the best on a mobile device.

With little known about the display of the Surface it's tough to compare it to the iPad's retina display, which is undoubtedly the best on the market. Microsoft describes the screen on the Surface as a ClearType HD display, though it's not exactly known what this encompasses. The Surface's ppi of 208 is less than the iPad but ahead of many other Android tablets, with the exception of the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity and the upcoming Acer Iconia Tab A700 (both 224ppi).

New iPad vs. Microsoft Surface: Design

Microsoft has been tight lipped about many aspects of the Surface, including battery life, RAM and camera specifications, but it hasn't held back when discussing the design of the tablet.

The key feature of the Surface is a magnesium case that's manufactured using liquid metal. Microsoft claims the magnesium, PVD finish is the first of its kind in the PC market. Called VaporMg, the case is melted down in the manufacturing process and then moulded to the details needed for the design. The company says bevelled edges have been utilised in order to make the Surface as comfortable to hold as possible.

The key feature of the Surface is a magnesium case that's manufactured using liquid metal.
The key feature of the Surface is a magnesium case that's manufactured using liquid metal.

The Surface will also come with a built-in kickstand, which pops out from the back to stand on a desk or table. Microsoft says that putting a kickstand in the product wasn't an easy decision as it "breaks seamless lines". However, the company stressed it needed to take a chance and says the kickstand hinges attempt to feel and sound like closing the door of an expensive car. Although we are yet to see the Surface, its design certainly looks appealing and the kickstand is one feature that the iPad can't boast. Given a tablet will often be used for watching video content, this could be a smart decision.

All in all, if you consider the iPad design a little stale, the Microsoft Surface definitely has some appeal. The tradeoff is a slightly heavier weight and a larger footprint, but Microsoft will be hoping the positives outweigh any negatives.

New iPad vs. Microsoft Surface: Software

As previously mentioned, Microsoft will launch two versions of the Surface tablet. The first is an ARM-based device running the Windows RT OS aimed at consumers, while the other uses an Intel-based chip to provide the full version of Windows 8 Pro.

The best way to describe Windows RT is a version of Windows designed specifically for touchscreen tablets running ARM architecture. Windows RT is virtually identical in look and feel to the full version of Windows 8, but it can't run traditional Windows software. Think of it as what iOS is compared to Mac OS X, except with an identical look. Windows 8 RT hasn't been released yet but what you can expect is a smooth, slick experience. If you've used a Windows Phone before, you'll get the idea. The challenge for Microsoft, as always, will be attracting developers to the platform in order to build a quality catalogue of tablet applications.

The iPad has a large range of excellent, quality apps built specifically for a tablet device in the App Store.
The iPad has a large range of excellent, quality apps built specifically for a tablet device in the App Store.

Apple's iOS software, on the other hand has more apps than any other software platform, but more importantly, it has a large range of excellent, quality apps built specifically for a tablet device. The user experience is generally positive, despite some annoying limitations. The new iPad is an efficient tablet that shows no signs of lag or slowdown during most tasks.

New iPad vs. Microsoft Surface: Other features

Microsoft desperately needs to find an edge over Apple in the tablet battle and text input may be one area where it could do just that. The company acknowledged that many tablet users "prefer to have a cover" so the Surface utilises a magnetic connector to attach to a keyboard dock.

There will be two keyboard covers for the Surface available. The first is a 3mm thin accessory called the "Touch cover" that uses a full multi touch keyboard and also includes a trackpad. The Touch cover is available in blue, red, pink and white colours. The second accessory is a "Type cover" which includes a full trackpad with clicking buttons, available in black only. Microsoft says it will appeal to users who prefer traditional tactile keys over touching a flat surface. Both accessories are interesting options and something that Apple doesn't offer for the iPad.

There will be two keyboard covers for the Surface available. Shown above is the
There will be two keyboard covers for the Surface available. Shown above is the "type cover" which includes a full trackpad.

Another drawcard the Microsoft Surface will hold over the iPad is expandable memory. Both the Windows RT and the Windows 8 Pro models of the Surface have a microSD card slot for extra storage. The Windows 8 Pro variant will come with 64GB and 128GB internal memory options while the ARM-based Surface will be sold in 32GB and 64GB variants.

Microsoft says suggested pricing will be announced closer to availability, but stressed the Surface will be priced competitively when compared with an ARM tablet or an Intel-based Ultrabook PC.

How do you think the Microsoft Surface will stack up against the new iPad? Let us know in the comments below!

Related content

Microsoft Surface preview
Apple new iPad review
The new iPad ultimate buying guide
Best iPad alternatives
Best upcoming tablets in 2012

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Ross Catanzariti

Ross Catanzariti

PC World




Windows surface combined with windows 8 is a lot better than the iPad and iOS. It completely makes fun of the iPad!



Pretty sure the Surface has microSD.



I think you will also find that Surface has video out:
* Micro HD Video (RT)
* Mini DisplayPort Video (Pro).



Sorry to say but the resolution on the Surface is a joke? 1366x768? That's a deal-breaker for me.



Sorry to say but the resolution on the Surface is a joke. 1366x768? That's a deal-breaker for me.



iPhone won us over with convergence. No need to carry phone, iPod and camera around...put it all on th phone. Microsoft looks to be achieving the same with surface. I can replace my pc and tablet with a device that looks like it will perform both functions pretty well (with some limitations).

Watch out for the Surface to explode in the Corporate market. Many companies do not support the Apple products, but employees have persisted in finding ways to use their iPad at work....Surface will be a game changer and provide an integrated platform for IT departments to deploy.




The Surface Pro version will have a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080.

Harry Dowling


What will be the effect of launching TWO surfaces, one for the consumer and one for the "pro"? What will the pro version do that the consumer version doesn't? Will the "consumer" customer regard himself as having locked himself into a limited capability world and look with envy and resentment at his pro big brothers?

The consumer model comes out first, I believe. Will potential customers wait to see what the pro model brings to the table?



The success of Surface will depend on Windows 8. The beauty of a microsoft OS is that it has a large base of vendors developing and selling proven applications.

Apple has always lacked this. They have had a big user's group collection of freeware. Macs were always nice machines that were easy to use ... as long as you did what Apple wanted you to do. When you wanted to do work that had to be shared with others, applications got scarce. You usually had to go the emulator route to get something to work.

Apple was smart to keep IPAD an entertainment platform. The limitations of touchscreen are not so obvious and the portability is great. The additions needed to make it a work station would increase cost, size, and weight.

Apple does address work needs with it's ultrabook. It's main drawback is cost and size.

Microsoft is straddling the entertainment and work station needs. They have done a fair job of making the hardware convertable to what the user needs. I hope they give the customer the hardware options of purchasing keyboard type, or no keyboard at all.

To make the idea work, they really need two good UIs. The touch tile for tablet, and a very good desk top keyboard/mouse interface. These UIs need to be stand alone with no compromise. They need to address legacy users. I for one would rather have an ultrabook using XP than a Surface running Windows 8 with a clunky desktop UI. Keep the start button!!!

I am not a tablet customer. I get turned off by Facebook. A good plan for purchasing a new portable is to wait for the holiday season and buy a discounted Ultrabook. I like the Lenovo X1 Carbon. The Surface Pro looks great, but I'll pass until we see the reality. I hope this shakeout gives us all something that satisfies our own needs.

Merry Xmas



Also... the Surfaces supports MicroSD so the drive space is technically expandable. Am I wrong?



it's really too early to do a comparison of these two products. this particular comparison is done rather unprofessionally as I could tell 1 line into the spec sheet when it was written that the ipad 3rd gen has a 10.1 inch screen when it infact has a 9.7 inch screen. I believe any real comparisons on this site or any site should be written after, and only after more details of the surface.....surface.



I have watched the 47 minute into to Surface. The RT is out for me but I will certainly take a good look at the PRO.

Have a company iPad ... blah. Have an android tablet ... better. I'm sure the Surface PRO will rock the rest.

Ross Catanzariti



Hi Sheeds,

Thanks for the info, apologies about the mistakes! I have corrected references to both.

Both Surface models have a microSD card slot.



Seriously?? Dude, if you're going to write about a product you could at least bother to do the research.

The Surface has microSD (expandable memory?) and Micro HD Video (HDMI output).

RT looks like a consumer/girlfriend device... maybe why they have a pink cover. Pro looks good though.

Ross Catanzariti



Hi Robert,

Those mistakes have been corrected and the article has been updated.




I have heard that the Surface devices may be sold by Telstra along side other Win8 tablets and are actually already in the country with a "do not open" until Oct 26th clause.



No tablet has been able to make an impact????

Thats because APPLE has them all tied up in court on ancient patent laws and are scared off there silly little brains from the next big thing........ SAMSUNG.

Review written by a Apple fan boy LAMO :)



This is a nothing-article because the Surface is not out yet.
i still think the iPad is better and the Surface will not "revolutionise" the corporate market.



No pricing or release date for the Surface. Typical Microsoft. Why can't they have the most basic of information available when they announce these things?! Might as well compare the Courier to the iPad.

Comments are now closed.

Most Popular Reviews

Follow Us

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?