A Layman’s guide to choosing between the Surface Book, Surface Pro, or iPad Pro

By on August 4, 2016

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Many of our readers are students who are returning (or have already returned) to college for the fall semester. Even if you’re not a college student, you’re probably aware that this is the time of year that many companies host back to school sales for incoming students – and these dealstypically aren’t just for students. Anybody can take advantage of them.

A hot product that has surfaced recently are hybrid devices – that is, devices that can act as a tablet or as a laptop. Three of the most popular hybrid devices on the market (Surface Pro, Surface Book, and iPad Pro) are created by two of the biggest manufacturers in the industry, Microsoft and Apple. While there are numerous other hybrid devices on the market, these three are unquestionably the most recognizable among them.

I’m a student, and this year some of my classes are hosted online. I decided that I wanted to invest in a hybrid of my own, and I eventually narrowed it down to the Surface Book, Surface Pro, and the iPad Pro. However, making a final decision wasn’t easy. Sifting through countless articles and reviews and visiting demo stations several times ended up helping very little when it came time to actually purchase a device. Eventually, it had to be done, and I finally made a decision based on a very non-technical list of reasons why I should or shouldn’t buy a certain product.

iPad Pro

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I really wanted the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. I have an iPad Air, and the 9.7-inch display is, in my opinion, the absolute perfect size for a tablet. Even if you went with the larger 12.9-inch variant, the iPad Pro is light and portable, has True Tone display (9.7-inch display only), four stereo speakers, and it’s compatible with Apple Pencil, which is widely regarded as one of the most accurate digitizers in the industry at the moment.

The iPad Pro is also excellent for people who are already invested in an Apple ecosystem. If you already own an iPhone or a MacBook and are just looking for something smaller to take around for jotting down notes to edit later on a Mac or PC, then the iPad Pro works really well. Ultimately, the iPad Pro works better as a tablet than it does a laptop, although it does have some laptop-like features if you opt to purchase the Smart Keyboard along with it. If you plan on using apps over full-fledged software applications that you’d find on a laptop, then the iPad Pro might be the perfect solution for you.

It’s also worth mentioning that Apple has some excellent battery management in its iPads. I’m still amazed at how long my iPad Air lasts between charges, and the device is 3 years old.

However, since I wasn’t really invested in the Apple ecosystem and needed something more robust than iOS for school and work, I had to cross the iPad Pro off of my list.

Surface Pro 4

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In my head, the next logical step was to consider the Surface Pro. The Surface Pro is similar to the iPad Pro in form, but a bulkier, larger (12.9-inch display, which is also an option for the larger iPad Pro) and not as keen on battery life; but where it lacks in battery life, it makes up for in its overall ability to do more with Windows 10.

There are a lot of spec options for the Surface Pro, depending on how powerful of a machine you’re looking to get. The Surface Pro comes with the Surface Pen, which sort of makes the price increase from the base 9.7-inch iPad Pro ($599) to the base Surface Pro 4 ($899) a little more justifiable. The base model of the Surface Pro 4 also comes with 128GB of storage (with option to expand via microSD) over the iPad Pro’s 32GB base. Even if you were to buy the next tier iPad Pro with 128GB of internal storage, if you purchased the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil along with it, the price is almost identical to a base Surface Pro 4 with Type Cover ($1,019.97 for the iPad Pro 9.7, Pencil, and Cover; $1029.98 for the Surface Pro and Cover).

Still, the Surface Pro 4 can get pretty pricey if you find that you need more power. Great battery life isn’t really something the Pro 4 is known for, either, so expect to invest in a power bank of sorts if you don’t think you’ll be near an outlet very often. Finally, much like the iPad Pro, the Surface Pro 4 is intended for those who would use it as a tablet more than a laptop. However, I’d argue that the Surface Pro 4 is much more efficient at being a hybrid that the iPad Pro is, given that the iPad Pro runs on iOS and not OS X. The Surface Pro 4 runs on a full version of Windows 10.

But I still wasn’t satisfied. What I wanted was a laptop first, tablet second, and a device with decent battery life. This is where the Surface Book comes in.

Surface Book

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The Surface Book was looking to be the best option for me. It had all of the components of a Surface Pro 4, but had better battery life (in laptop form, not tablet; there is a battery in the keyboard base and also with the display, but the display’s battery is much smaller, but I hardly ever use it when it isn’t connected to the base anyway). It also includes both the keyboard base and the Surface Pen; with the Surface Pro 4, you have to purchase the Surface Keyboard separately if you want it. Overall, I chose the Surface Book because it is a laptop first, tablet second, which was exactly what I needed.

I also think I ended up getting a decent deal with the Surface Book. Students can get a good deal on a Surface Book/Pro and Xbox bundle, plus an extra 10% off the $150 discount Microsoft already has. It still ends up being more expensive than an iPad Pro, but for me it was worth it because I already know that I’d have more use for PC software than I would apps. I’m also grateful for expandable storage.

So, overall, here’s what I deduced when it came to choosing between the three:

Apple’s iPad Pro works best if you:

  • Want a tablet with the option of using first-party keyboard.
  • Are invested or plan to invest in the Apple ecosystem.
  • Want a tablet with a good active digitizer for less money.
  • Value great battery life.
  • Prefer apps.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 works best if you:

  • Want equal parts tablet and laptop functionality.
  • Want included stylus.
  • Want the option to use a mouse.
  • Need USB ports.
  • Have a need for PC software, but not a wide array of apps.
  • Would like to have expandable storage.
  • Want options for a more powerful device.

Microsoft Surface Book works best if you:

  • Want more laptop functionality than tablet.
  • Want the option to use a mouse.
  • Need USB ports.
  • Would like to have expandable storage.
  • Want a hybrid that includes a keyboard and a stylus.
  • Need more power (including dedicated GPU in some models).
  • Decent battery life.

So that’s how I ended up deciding which hybrid worked best for me. Definitely not the most technical decision-making, but I’ve never really been the most technical person.

To compare specifications, you can find specs for the iPad Pro models here for both the 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch models. Surface Pro 4 models can be viewed here, and Surface Book models here. In addition, there’s no reason not to consider the Surface Pro 3 as well if you’d rather save some money rather than having the latest model.

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