Surface Pro 3 Versus iPad Air: Which Tablet Is Right For You?

Microsoft’s recently-introduced Surface Pro 3 is billed as a laptop replacement, but we all know it straddles the line between notebook and tablet. So how does the Surface Pro 3 stack up against the best tablet in the biz?

Looking at Microsoft’s new Surface Pro tablet and Apple’s iPad Air, there’s little sense in comparing specs. Neither device is upgradeable, and neither is an absolute powerhouse in terms of processing power. What you’ll find, though, is that both are pretty well optimized to run their operating systems and attendant software. Instead of looking too hard at specs, it’s probably better to take a look at how the two devices stack up in terms of use cases and other factors.

Workaholics

Surface Pro 3 business
The Surface Pro 3 is a great productivity device, if that's what you're looking for.

If the thought of an afternoon spent tweaking pivot tables gets you all hot and bothered, you should probably seek help, but you should also probably go with the Surface Pro 3. Microsoft’s new tablet, as we pointed out in our earlier look at the device, will most likely fit right in with your company’s existing IT infrastructure, as it’s really a souped-up PC notebook. That means it will run all of the legacy Windows apps that you already rely on. Adding the Type Cover keyboard attachment makes the Surface Pro 3 into a super-solid productivity device.

Now, to be fair, there is already a wide range of productivity software available on the iPad, including Microsoft’s Office productivity suite. As the iPad grows in popularity, the range of available programs will likely just continue to increase, as will the ease of integrating Apple’s tablet with corporate IT workings. Making an iPad a true productivity machine, though, will require the addition of a keyboard, and you’ll still lack the ports available on the Surface Pro.

Winner: Surface Pro 3

Casual Users

Facebook for iPad
Yeah, we know that you just use your computer to browse Facebook, even though it's many times more powerful than the computers that put men on the moon. No, we don't judge you for that. Not much, anyway.

The genius behind Apple’s iPad was that the Cupertino computer maker had finally developed a true “computer for the rest of us.” The iPad is dead simple, to the point that toddlers can operate it. To date, no one has managed to approach the simplicity of the iPad, and that’s why it’s still the perfect device for the casual user.

Don’t get us wrong: the Surface Pro 3 is quite suitable for firing off quick, short emails and browsing the web. Your average user, though, is going to experience a bit of a learning curve when it comes to navigating the Windows 8 operating system that comes with the new Surface Pro.

Plus, the iPad has a wide range of simple apps and games that are just perfect for casual computing. If you mainly use a computer as a Facebook and Inquisitr-browsing machine, the choice isn’t even close.

Winner: iPad Air

Constant Upgraders

If you’re continually looking for new reports on the next big thing in iPhones, Galaxies, or anything tech, you’ve probably come to grips with your conspicuous consumption and regard your current tablet or notebook as a mere stepping stone to the next model. In that case, you’re going to want a device that retains its value as it ages, ensuring that you get good trade-in value toward the purchase of the next tech goodie that still won’t fill the hole in your life.

We took a look around at resale values for used Surface Pro units and iPad Airs, and we were a bit surprised. Apple’s tablets are well known for how well they retain their value, which is a function of sustained demand even for older Apple products as much as their solid build quality. We assumed the Surface Pro would be comparable, considering the solid engineering Microsoft put into its Surface tablets, but we expected older iPads to have higher resale values. Even without the Type Cover attachment, though, older Surface Pro models were sometimes selling for a bit higher than iPads from the same year.

So it looks like, when it comes to reselling your device, you’ll be satisfied either way if you’re picking between the new Surface Pro and an iPad Air. Or, at least, as satisfied as you are capable of being. Existence is suffering, and the cause of suffering is your desire for new gadgets.

Winner: It’s a wash

Gamers

FTL on iPad
FTL is one of the great games available on the iPad, but it's got its roots on the PC.

When we took our initial look at the five kinds of people who’ll love the Surface Pro 3, we said that Microsoft’s new tablet blows away the competition in terms of gaming. That, of course, came with a caveat: only more dedicated gamers will see a real benefit from going with the Surface Pro 3. For tons of others, though, Apple’s iPad Air will be more than sufficient.

Casual gamers are driving the industry right now, no matter what the hardcore would like to believe. If you don’t want to invest too much in your gaming habit, the iPad is probably the way for you to go. Games like Fruit Ninja and Infinity Sword are probably the perfect sort of time-waster for you. Plus, you’ll sometimes get a ported hardcore game like X-COM here or there, meaning that you’ll be able to claim some cred.

If you’re a member of the Glorious PC Master Race, though, iPad gamers don’t even deserve a haughty scoff from you. We know, the Casuals are ruining everything, but you still want something with a touchscreen. Well, the Surface Pro 3 can help you scratch that gaming itch while on the go. With its Intel processor and ample RAM, you’d be surprised at what games the Pro 3 can run competently. You’re not going to be firing up the new Witcher game on this baby, but you could make your way happily through the real XCOM, and on a touchscreen to boot.

Winner: Another wash; you may be sensing a pattern developing.

Creatives, Marathon Users, and Others

Surface Pro for Artists
With its Surface Pen and specialized apps, the Surface Pro 3 is terrific for creatives. Image via mashable.

There are so many use cases for a portable computer that we don’t have time to explore them all in this article. Artists will find a wide range of touch-enabled apps for the iPad, as will photographers, but both will likely also be swayed by the Surface Pro 3’s full Windows versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, and Lightroom. Plus, the new Surface has a stylus, which is so much better than any similar implementation on the iPad.

If you don’t like being tethered to a power outlet, you might want to go with the iPad Air, as Apple has made its tablet as long-lasting as it is sleek. Smart users, though, will be able to get a full day’s use out of the Surface Pro 3.

It’s so hard to choose, no?

And that’s kind of the point. These two devices have some overlaps, some areas where they just about equal out. There are some areas where the Pro 3 trounces the iPad, and vice versa. In our professional and very learned opinion, you might be best served by going to Best Buy and playing around with both of them for way too long, all the while really thinking hard on what you need a computer for.

Lead image via Phone Arena.