Surface Pro 3

Hands On: Surface 3 versus iPad Air II LTE

Surface Pro 3 (Image: Microsoft)

28 May 2015

You may wonder why you would pitch a tablet that is touted as being able to replace your laptop against the most current version of the original tablet.

Well the answer is twofold. First of all, with the Surface 3 (S3), Microsoft has moved from an ARM based processor that required the closed operating system Windows RT. Now, the S3 has a power-sipping Intel Atom processor, the X7 family, which runs full Windows 8, with all the desktop and Modern UI apps that entails. That places the S3 firmly in the low power, long battery life arena squarely against Galaxy Tabs, iPads and the like.

“On differing platforms, meaningful performance comparisons are difficult. But we decided to have a go anyway”

Secondly, when equipped with its OEM Type III keyboard, the third generation Surface devices are easily a match for any laptop in terms of productivity, especially as the S3 comes with a free one year Office 365 Personal subscription.

Therefore, it does make some sense to compare the iPad Air II with the S3, in that the latter is a proper tablet, but also the nemesis of your laptop.

The test model iPad is an Air II LTE model A1567, with 2GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage. It has a 246mm screen with a 2048 x 1536 resolution.

The test model Surface 3 runs the Atom X7-Z8700 processor, with 4GB RAM and 128GB of SSD storage. Screen size on the S3 is 274mm with a 1920 x 1280 resolution.

There are a couple of key differentiators in terms of the devices. Firstly, the iPad supports a higher resolution, despite the smaller screen. Secondly, the S3 is expandable in terms of storage as it has a MicroSD card slot that can take a 64GB card, or greater. Also, the S3 has both a USB3.0 and a full MiniUSB slot too, that is also the charging socket. It has a MiniHDMI out socket too. Plus, the S3 has proper pen input via its Bluetooth pen. This is a major advantage over any iPad as it allows for a fairly full range of connectivity and expandability that the iPad simply does not offer.

All that said, the iPad’s A8X processor is significantly more powerful than the Atom X7. However, on differing platforms, meaningful performance comparisons are difficult. But we decided to have a go anyway.

Tablets are all about accessibility and ease of use, so we decided on a test that would give a useful base for comparison, in a very unscientific way.

Testing times
We took the native store application, native browser and two common apps, Microsoft Word and the official Facebook app and timed them all to load. By load, we mean from tapping the icon to fully loaded and ready to use, with content displayed or ready for input. Both devices were connected via Wi-Fi to the same access point with a tested 16Mb/s download and 12 up available on both.

To level the playing field and ensure as much commonality as possible, both machines were fully charged, updated to the latest available OS and application versions and each load test was done as a first load of the app on a clean boot of the device.

The best of three was taken for each.

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