Surface Pro 3, iPad, Or MacBook Air: Which Ultraportable Is Right For You?

If you’re in the market for a new ultraportable, you’ve probably had your eye on one or more of either Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, an iPad, or a MacBook Air. It could be a bit hard to choose between the three; that is, unless you know what you’re looking for going in.

Tablet, Hybrid, or Notebook?

It used to be that you had a really clear choice between tablets and notebooks. If you wanted a tablet, you’d just go with an iPad — or an iPad mini — while notebooks were the ultraportable workhorse. Now, though, the lines are a bit blurred thanks in no small part to Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, which straddles the line between tablet and notebook. Add to that the ever-improving quality of productivity apps and accessories for Apple’s iPad, and that makes for a real conundrum. So how do you choose?

For the Workaholic: Surface Pro 3 or MacBook Air

Apple’s iPad has made incredible strides with regard to productivity apps, but it’s still a world away from what you can get done on a dedicated notebook. If getting work done is going to be the primary use of your mobile device, you’re going to want to go with either the Surface Pro 3 or a MacBook Air.

Of course, choosing between those two options is another matter entirely, and largely one of taste. The MacBook Air has a more traditional notebook form factor, but the Surface Pro 3 runs Windows, and thus runs the legacy Windows applications that your organization probably relies on. The Surface Pro 3 is lighter, but the new generations of MacBook Air simply blow Microsoft’s offering out of the water when it comes to battery life. It’s a trade-off either way, but at least you now know what your real options are if you’re mainly concerned with GTD.

For the Gamer/Entertainment Junkie: Surface Pro 3 or iPad/iPad mini

If you’re mainly interested in using your mobile device for gaming and consuming some sort of entertainment, you’ll want to pick up either the Surface Pro 3 or one of Apple’s iPad offerings. The iPad and iPad mini are, in fact, geared mainly as content consumption devices, so they’re perfect for mobile games, watching movies, and messing around on the internet. The iPad and iPad mini are also incredibly light, so you could even stick one in alongside whatever productivity device you prefer and not increase your tech load too much.

The Surface Pro 3, though, is geared more toward the traditional gamer. Since it runs Windows on an x86 processor, the Surface Pro 3 is capable of running a ton of traditional PC games at a reasonable frame rate. That means you could fire up, say, XCOM and run it on a powerful touchscreen device, like nature intended. If that idea gets you all antsy in your pantsy, you now know just what device to buy.

For the Word Warriors: MacBook Air

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 does an admirable job of straddling the line between notebook and tablet, but if you make your living pounding out words, there’s probably no contest. You’ll of course already know that the touchscreen keyboard seen on the iPad and iPad mini just won’t do when it comes time for you to let spill with the verbiage. The Type Cover keyboards Microsoft provides — at extra charge — for the Surface Pro 3 are better; quite a bit better, in fact, the best keyboards for the device Microsoft has produced to date. But they’re still a far cry from what you’ll find on a traditional notebook. If you make your living by the word, you’ll need a dedicated device – and the MacBook Air is the way to go.

For Someone In Between: Surface Pro 3 or iPad/iPad mini

If you don’t squarely fall into one of the above categories, you may just want to go with a Surface Pro 3, iPad, or iPad mini. Having the touchscreen available for when it’s time to play or watch is a great option. When it’s time to get work done, though, you can simply slap on that Type Cover keyboard or pull out the stylus.

On the iPad end, it’s not too expensive to add an optional Bluetooth keyboard to an iPad Air or iPad mini, which can turn your content consumption device into a suitable content creation device. You’re not going to automatically turn into a power user on an iPad or iPad mini, but you can certainly produce enough to get done just about whatever you need to.