iPad Pro looks awesome, but is Surface Pro 4 even better?

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Which one is your money on?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Whether you like it or not, 2-in-1 tablets that turn into laptops are a thing. Microsoft’s Surface was one of the first to kick off this trend, and with the Surface Pro 4 that was announced this week, it is making the 2-in-1 an even more compelling device.

Friday-Night-Fights-bug-2For the same price as an iPad Pro with Apple Pencil, you can get a Surface Pro 4 with powerful notebook internals that runs desktop-class software when you need it. So, why wouldn’t you?

What makes the iPad Pro a better option? And did Apple miss a trick by not making the iPad Pro the ultimate 2-in-1 for iOS and OS X users?

Join us as we battle it out over these questions and more in this week’s Friday Night Fight between Cult of Android and Cult of Mac!

Killian-FNFKillian Bell (Writer, Cult of Android): I’m particularly excited for the Surface Pro 4, which seems like the ultimate laptop/tablet hybrid. I had been eagerly awaiting iPad Pro pre-orders to go live, but after watching Microsoft’s keynote, I’m just not that interested in Apple’s device — the Surface Pro 4 seems like a much better option for the same money.

I’m sure you’re going to disagree, so convince me the iPad Pro is still worth it.

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke Dormehl (Writer, Cult of Mac): You know what, Killian? Friday Night Fights is a great place to cut loose at the end of a long week, but I was genuinely impressed by Tuesday’s Microsoft event. I’m an Apple fan, of course, but I’ve never been loyal to a brand for any reason other than I like its products and think they’re the best.

With that in mind, this week’s media event made me feel something I haven’t felt in a long time when Microsoft is mentioned: slightly envious. I was particularly blown away by the Surface Book, which in my opinion looks the most exciting new iteration of a laptop since the original iPad Air. But I digress.

The Surface Pro 4 may not have been quite so exciting, but it still looks more than decent. That doesn’t make mean it’s an iPad Pro beater, though. The iPad Pro still has plenty going in its favor. It has a marginally larger display, at 12.9 inches versus 12.3. It’s lighter and thinner and probably the more attractive of the two. Price-wise there’s not much in it, since the iPad Pro is cheaper but doesn’t come with the stylus — which most people are going to want — included.

The real advantage for Apple fans is going to, as usual, be the fact that it’s tied into the Apple ecosystem. If you’re all about the App Store, a regular user of iCloud and want to easily Handoff to your iPhone, Mac etc. the iPad Pro is the device for you.

More than ever, though, Microsoft has closed the gap. And that’s actually pretty exciting.

Surface Pro 4 is bigger and better in every way.
Surface Pro 4 is bigger and better in every way.
Photo: Microsoft

Killian-FNFKillian: What’s great about the Surface Pro 4 is that it isn’t ​just​ a tablet. It runs tablet apps designed for a touchscreen device, but if you want to, you can also run full desktop apps; you don’t have to settle for watered-down versions of image and video editing suites, lightweight word processors, and mobile browsers.

And even when you run desktop apps, you’re going to get great performance, because Surface Pro 4 has a laptop processor, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to 1TB of internal storage.

The iPad is terrific, and I love my iPad Air 2 — especially the software available for it. But it’s tablet software, and for many tasks — some of which I’ve mentioned — it simply cannot replace a desktop or laptop computer. The Pro 4 can, and it starts at the same price as an iPad Pro with Apple Pencil.

I certainly see your point about the Apple ecosystem, but Windows devices have been playing nicely with iOS devices for a long time. iCloud is available on Windows, as is iTunes with Apple Music. You’re not going to miss anything but your iPad apps, but there are plenty of desktop-class alternatives.

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke: It’s tough to disagree with a lot of what you’ve said, which makes this less than a fight. Ultimately a lot of this is going to come down to what you want to use it for. If media viewing is your thing, the iPad Pro looks like the best tablet around. Not only is the screen bigger as I pointed out but it’s also got a higher resolution display. If you play games, same thing. If you’re into photo-editing I’d say the iPad Pro definitely has a lot going in its favor, but if you’re going to be doing the kind of tasks that normally require a desktop you’ll probably be happier with the Surface. Or, better yet, buy a MacBook Pro.

My question to you Killian is what this is going to do to Apple’s strategy with the iPad Pro? It’s no secret that the company has been trying to get into businesses and education with its tablets, and the iPad Pro was viewed as a great way to do this. Now Microsoft has come along and done something which undercuts a lot of what Apple’s aiming for. Could you see Apple going down the two-in-one route in future iterations of its iPad Pro?

Surface Pro 4 is the ultimate 2-in-1.
Surface Pro 4 is the ultimate 2-in-1.
Photo: Microsoft

Killian-FNFKillian: I don’t think 0.6 inches is going to make much of a different to media viewing, especially when you’re going to be holding these devices in your hands and they’re going to be pretty close to your eyes anyway. I should also point out that while the iPad Pro may have a ​slightly​ higher resolution, its larger size means it’s not as sharp as the Pro 4, which boasts 267 pixels-per-inch versus the iPad Pro’s 264.

Regarding a possible two-in-one from Apple, that’s a great question. I don’t ever see it happening, mostly because I’m not sure how it would work without combining iOS and OS X in some way, and Apple has stated this is something it will never do. Wouldn’t it be awesome, though, to have a tablet running iOS that automatically switches to OS X when you attach it to a keyboard dock?

Maybe in the future, when iOS is as advanced as a desktop operating system, the iPad will be capable of replacing a notebook. But without simple things like a file manager, so many things just aren’t as easy — or even possible at all — on an iPad, no matter how big its display.

I know the iPad has already replaced a laptop for those who only ever browse the web and use email. But so many of us still rely on desktop apps that simple aren’t available or aren’t as good on tablets.

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke: There’s definitely a Catch-22 with the desire not to combine OS X and iOS. It makes a lot of sense and Microsoft has run into the problem before, with Windows 8, of making a combination that tried to be both mobile and desktop OS and wound up being neither. I’m not sure how useful it would be to have a device that shifts between OS X and iOS and runs differently with each, but I bet this is going to prompt some interesting discussions in Cupertino.

At the end of the day, we won’t know how the Surface Pro 4 performs until we can take it for a test drive. The iPad Pro is still very much on my “to buy” list, but I’d be lying if I said Tuesday’s event hadn’t made me at least reconsider my purchases for the remainder of 2015. And I never thought I’d say that.

Since we seem to be in agreement, though, let’s turn things over to the readers. Are both of us crazy for getting excited about something from (boo! hiss!) Microsoft? Will you be picking up an iPad Pro the day it hits shelves? Or is the Surface Pro 4 maybe, just maybe the next-gen device people have been waiting for?

Continue the discussion below. And have a good weekend.

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?