Microsoft Surface vs iPad 3

Will Microsoft’s first venture into the arena of hardware mean a worthy challenger for Apple’s iPad?

So you’ve read our iPad 3 review – you may even own one – but now that Microsoft has made its move into tablet hardware with the Surface, everything could change. So let's have a look at how the iPad 3 measures up against both the Windows 8 Pro and smaller Windows RT versions of the Surface, to see which slate comes out on top.

Microsoft Surface vs iPad 3 – build

Apple is famed for its solid build quality and the iPad 3 is no exception here. Despite being 9.4mm thick, its metal shell feels strong in the hand and grips comfortably. But Microsoft's brought its own materials to the party, with the Surface constructed from a new material called VaporMG. Microsoft claims it makes the Surface easy to grip and gives the tablet the quality of a high end luxury watch – you'll have to wait on our in-depth review to see how that claim holds up.

The Surface also uses a 22-degree angle on the bezel for comfort and looks. The Windows 8 Pro version will be a chunky 13.5mm thick versus the iPad's 9.4mm. Unsurprisingly, the Surface Pro's girth makes it heavier than the iPad 3, at 903g versus the Wi-Fi and 3G iPad's 662g. The Surface RT, despite being thinner than the iPad at 9.3mm thick, is slightly heavier than Apple's slate – weighing in at 676g.

Microsoft Surface vs iPad 3 – hardware

While Apple is famed for delivering smooth results without huge processing grunt, it's gone for power with the iPad 3's dual-core A5X processor. But a dual-core does start to look a bit feeble next to the Windows Surface RT's (likely) quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 innards. And the Windows Surface Pro should leave them both in the dust, with its Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge powers.

In terms of memory, the Surface RT offers the same 32GB and 64GB options as the iPad, while the Surface Pro comes in super-sized 64GB or 128GB configurations.

Microsoft Surface vs iPad 3 – screen

The iPad 3's Retina Display sets the bar for tablet displays very high indeed. Microsoft will be using a ClearType HD screen (with an as-yet-undisclosed resolution) in the RT Surface, and a ClearType HD screen with 1080p resolution in the 8 Pro Surface. So neither match the 2048x1536 pixel coverage of the iPad 3. But 1080p is still plenty for the human eye – and it’s on a larger 10.6in screen compared to the iPad’s 9.7in effort.

Microsoft Surface vs iPad 3 – OS

iOS 5 on the iPad is attractive, smooth running, and bursting with great apps. And iOS 6 is just around the corner, bringing Apple's virtual assistant Siri to the iPad. While Microsoft might not yet have the apps to compete with Apple's mobile OS, what we’ve seen of Windows 8 so far looks brilliant.

Microsoft Surface vs iPad 3 – connectivity

Connectivity is the iPad's Achilles heel – and the Surface is packed with ports. The Surface Pro has a Mini DisplayPort for outputting to a monitor, as well as USB 3.0 and a microSDXC port. The Surface RT dials things back with USB 2.0, microSD (up to 64GB) and Micro HD connectivity, but it still beats the iPad's single dock connector.

The Surface also has great add-on options: Microsoft has grabbed headlines with its Touch Cover, a 3mm, magnetically attaching cover that includes a pressure sensitive keyboard. Microsoft's also created the Type Cover – a more solidly built effort that packs physical keys and a multi-touch trackpad into its 5mm thick frame.

Microsoft Surface vs iPad 3 – verdict

While the iPad 3 may have a more stable OS, better screen, and greater app offerings initially, Windows has the hardware advantage. With more powerful slates that have greater connectivity the Surface could bridge the laptop/tablet gap where the iPad fails. And with the price being touted as between US$600 (£380) and US$1000 (£635), Apple should be very worried indeed.

But with the Surface RT not due out until around October, and the Surface Pro due in early 2013, Apple has plenty of time to play catch-up before the iPad's next annual refresh.

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