Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (M1) vs. Microsoft Surface Pro 7: Which is the best ‘Pro’ tablet?
The battle for the best ‘Pro’ tablet continues with Apple finally having a solid iPad lineup that can finally replace a laptop (at least for some users) with its in-house M1 chipset and a more functional keyboard. However, Apple is not the only one that makes great tablets. The Surface Pro is by far one of the best tablets from Microsoft, offering fully-fledged Windows and an excellent keyboard cover.
We’re going to compare the 12.9-inch version of the iPad Pro with M1, with the Surface Pro 7 to find out which makes more sense if you are looking for a solid tablet that can solve your productivity woes.
Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (M1) vs. Microsoft Surface Pro 7: Specifications
|Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (M1)||Microsoft Surface Pro 7||Microsoft Surface Pro 7+|
Design: The Surface Pro 7 is practical and has more ports
The iPad Pro is slightly lighter and thinner if we compare it to the Surface Pro. While the dimensions are not so different, it offers a bigger 12.9-inch display thanks to its slimmer bezels. It also has a large square camera bump at the back like the iPhone 12 series, so you need to be extra careful about the rear protection.
It only offers a single USB-C port (with Thunderbolt 4 support) for I/O that can be attached to a wide range of docks and dongles, while the keyboard connects using contact points at the rear.
The Surface Pro, on the other hand, comes with a 12.3-inch display and feels just as premium. The edges are a bit less rounded compared to the iPad Pro, and the single-lens camera at the back is flushed with the main body. Probably the most important feature of the Surface Pro is the built-in kickstand that lets you prop it up on a desk without the need for an additional cover, case, or stand.
The Surface Pro 7 also offers more ports, including a full-size USB Type-A port, a USB Type-C port, and even a headphone jack. Additionally, it comes with its proprietary Surface Connect port for charging and connecting docks. There’s also a microSD card slot hidden under the kickstand, which is a quick and easy way to expand the storage.
The iPad Pro definitely feels sleeker and more modern when kept next to the Surface Pro. However, the latter is way more practical thanks to the wider port selection and that kickstand, which is way more useful than you think.
Display: The iPad Pro has a superior mini-LED display
The iPad Pro 12.9 is the first tablet to have a mini-LED display, which is somewhat similar to an OLED panel. It’s brighter, punchier, and offers deeper blacks compared to a standard LCD. It has a resolution of 2732×2048-pixels, a 4:3 aspect ratio, a peak brightness of 1,600 nits, support for wide DCI-P3 color gamut, HDR, and support for 120Hz refresh rate.
The 12.3-inch PixelSense display on the Surface Pro comes with a resolution of 2736×1824, 3:2 aspect ratio, 100% of the sRGB color gamut, and 400 nits of peak brightness. It isn’t as bright or punchy as the iPad, but it’s excellent for everyday use, even when you are out in the open.
As mentioned before, the bezels on the iPad Pro are narrower, which means you get a more immersive experience. It also has way more features, thereby being a far more superior display. It is sharper, brighter and Apple’s ProMotion or dynamic 120Hz refresh rate makes it smoother as well.
Keyboard and Pen: Apple offers a more intuitive pen(cil) support
Both the iPad Pro and the Surface Pro 7 don’t come bundled with a keyboard or stylus, and that’s an additional cost you need to pay. The Apple Smart Keyboard Folio for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is available for $199, but if you care for a proper laptop-like experience, you need to invest in the Magic Keyboard, which includes a touchpad and costs $349.
If you want pen input, the iPad Pro supports the 2nd-gen Apple Pencil, which is available for $129. The Surface Pro Type Cover for the Surface Pro 7, on the other hand, is available for $129, while the Surface Pen is priced at $99.
The typing experience on both keyboards is surprisingly great, and you can quickly adapt to them in a matter of days. Both come with backlit keys in case you are working at night, while the trackpads on the Apple Magic Keyboard and the Surface Pro Type Cover offer a smooth, responsive experience with support for all sorts of gestures.
What you need to consider is how they attach to their respective tablets. The Surface Pro Type Cover simply snaps onto the bottom edge using magnets, has a slight fold to get the right height, and connects using pogo pins. Apple’s Magic Keyboard is unique in this case as it has a top part that attaches to the rear of the iPad using a bunch of strong magnets, a hinge in the middle that has a USB-C port for passthrough charging, and a base that has all the keys.
While the Magic Keyboard does look more interesting with its floating design, it has a couple of issues. First of all, the angles on the hinge are limited, and it doesn’t go far back enough as what you get on the Surface Pro. While that shouldn’t be a huge issue, the flexibility offered by the kickstand on the Surface Pro 7 makes it far more versatile. The Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro is also quite hefty, weighing over 1.5 pounds which is more than the tablet itself, making the entire package a bit heavier and bulkier.
As for pen input, the Apple Pencil is far more intuitive than any other stylus on the market as it offers a lot of features apart from just scribbling notes and doodling. You can assign different tools and double-tap to switch between them, convert handwritten notes to text, and even write throughout the UI and apps instead of typing out words on a keyboard — the iPad automatically recognizes it and changes it into text.
The Surface Pen has the most features you would expect from a regular stylus, and while it works pretty well, it isn’t as feature-packed as the Apple Pencil. However, the upcoming Windows 11 update is expected to expand the feature set, including brand new haptics and improved response time.
Performance: The iPad has a more powerful and efficient chipset
The 2021 iPad Pro is powered by Apple’s ARM-based M1 chipset. This is the same SoC Apple is using to power the MacBook Pro 13, the MacBook Air, Mac mini, and the new 24-inch iMac. If that doesn’t tell you everything, the chipset is based on the 5nm architecture featuring an octa-core CPU, an octa-core GPU, and a 16-core neural engine. Apple usually doesn’t give away how much memory it uses on its iPads, but it did confirm the 2021 iPad Pro features 8GB of RAM on models with 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB of storage and 16GB RAM on models with 1TB or 2TB storage.
The Surface Pro 7 is powered by the 10th-gen Intel processors or the latest 11th-gen Intel processors if you get the Surface Pro 7+ going up to a Core i7 processor, up to 16GB of memory (32GB on the Surface Pro 7+), and up to 2TB of storage. Apple doesn’t let you add any storage, but on the Surface Pro 7, there’s a microSD card, while the Pro 7+ model lets you swap the internal SSD as well.
Since both tablets run on different operating systems, it isn’t very simple to compare performance numbers. Having said that, the iPad Pro does have an edge over the Surface Pro as it offers one of the most powerful mobile CPUs. The M1 is proven to offer superior single-core performance, which is way ahead of Intel’s mobile chips along with powerful graphics to handle high-quality video and even gaming. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Intel chips on the Surface Pro are inferior. In fact, the new 11th-gen Intel Tiger Lake options on the Surface Pro 7+ are quite efficient and deliver great performance, especially for such a compact device.
Bottom line: Tablet or laptop?
The iPad Pro seems like a clear winner here. Apart from the features mentioned above, it also offers a better front and rear camera experience, 5G connectivity, a wide range of apps, best-in-class speakers, a variety of third-party accessories, and a lot more. In short, it’s the best tablet you can get today. On the other hand, the Surface Pro 7 is more practical and stands as a much better laptop that can also be used as a tablet. You don’t get the best touch experience, but the upcoming Windows 11 update is expected to change all of that and might even make it way more competitive than it ever was.
Before you choose between the two, it’s important to understand exactly what you’re looking for. The operating system is something that changes everything. iPadOS, which is derived from iOS, is suited for mobile devices and tablets, offering a wider range of apps, and is well-optimized for touch input as well. But is it fully optimized for a great laptop experience?
It’s pretty close I would say, but not as good as Windows. Windows is made for PCs and laptops, and the Surface Pro seamlessly adapts to the OS. You can do almost anything on the Surface Pro as you would on a fully-fledged laptop, and that makes a huge difference!
If you’re interested in the Surface lineup, check out all the other Surface PCs offered by Microsoft.