iPad iPad Air 2 vs new Surface 3?

Discussion in 'iPad' started by johngwheeler, May 4, 2015.

  1. johngwheeler macrumors 6502

    Dec 30, 2010
    I come from a land down-under...
    I'm in the market for a new tablet to replace my iPad 2.

    I had just thought I'd buy an iPad Air 2 or its successor, but then the MacBook was realeased, which gave me pause for thought regarding what I want to get out of a mobile device.

    To confuse matters, the MS Surface 3 has also been released, and I was quite impressed when I played with one a couple of weeks ago.

    Although I realise most people will favour Apple products here, I'd like to hear your views on how the iPad Air 2 and Surface 3 compare. I would almost certainly buy a keyboard for both iPad & Surface, so would be looking at the device for both entertainment and work purposes.

    My thoughts so far:

    1) iPad is a known quantity - I'm familiar with iOS and have a collection of Apps I know and use. Advantage iPad

    2) iPad performance may be better than Surface 3. Advantage iPad

    3) Surface can run full versions of Windows software (MS Office and other Windows software is important for me). Advantage Surface - assuming there is no iOS equivalent.

    4) Surface + keyboard may be a bit heavier than iPad + keyboard. Advantage iPad

    4b) Surface screen is slightly larger, and supports multiple resolutions. Advatage Surface.

    5) Windows 8.1 or 10 may be less satisfactory in a tablet than iOS. To be confirmed.

    6) Surface + keyboard is more expensive than iPad + keyboard. Advantage iPad

    Any thoughts?
  2. Adamantoise macrumors 6502a

    Aug 1, 2011
    I've been contemplating a Surface 3 myself for weeks now, I'm a regular on the Surface subreddit. I was ready to order one, and was only waiting until I could read the Anandtech review.

    If I were to get a tablet, I would get Surface 3 Pro ... Or a retina Apple iPad Mini 2; Surface 3 has a sub par battery life and none of the x86 games I want to run are worth running on it (DOTA2 gets < 20 fps).

    It's a great device for someone, just not for me. I'll stick to laptop form factor, and maybe order an iPad mini tomorrow (they're under 300 bucks on Amazon, it'll be my first tablet).

    I mean, I think about the use case now ... and it simply doesn't fit the bill for me, that battery life and slow charging time is just unacceptable to me.
  3. johngwheeler thread starter macrumors 6502

    Dec 30, 2010
    I come from a land down-under...
    Surface 3 charging time?

    Hmmm, interesting. The reviews I read gave it a pretty good rating for real-life battery. Over 8 hours of video playback at 75% brightness. However, I do recall one review said that the battery took about 1 hour per 5% charge! That would be atrocious if true; you wouldn't even be able to charge it overnight. Maybe the reviewer wasn't using the official charger?
  4. FSMBP macrumors 68020


    Jan 22, 2009
    I was just contemplating this question for my mother-in-law: iPad Air 2 or Surface 3?

    You can do a lot with a Surface but that also means getting into more trouble (ex. downloading malicious programs). iPad has a walled garden (which is great) but limits its functionality.
  5. sracer macrumors 604


    Apr 9, 2010
    I believe that the question ask yourself is...

    "Do I want a device that is primarily a notebook that can operate as a tablet, or primarily a tablet that can operate as a notebook?"

    If it is the former, then a Surface 3, Asus Chi, Acer Switch, etc. would be fine. If it is the latter, then an iPad Air 2 (or wait to see if an iPad Pro is announced) with a high quality keyboard cover and accessories would be a better fit.

    Tablet experience with Windows devices all hinge on the availability and quality of Modern UI apps. If there is a Modern UI version of the apps that you would most likely use on a tablet, then you'll be fine with a Windows tablet... but if they don't exist, or of poor quality, then tablet experience will suffer... greatly.
  6. Charliebird macrumors 6502a

    Mar 10, 2010
    I have a SP3 and an iPad Air 2. The iPad Air 2 is a much better tablet but doesn't replace a full fledge computer. The SP3 is a solid computer but I don't use it much as a tablet. So if you have access to a computer already get a iPad. If your needing an everything device look at the Surface 3 or Surface Pro 3.
  7. johngwheeler thread starter macrumors 6502

    Dec 30, 2010
    I come from a land down-under...
    I think you've nailed the question. After some consideration, I think what I'm after is a notebook than can ocassionaly act as a tablet.

    I have an iPad 2 (old but adequate as a tablet for reading, browsing and media), and a rMBP 15 (powerful, for serious work but less mobile).

    I'm after a very mobile computer that will allow me to a bit of work when travelling, but also OK for the lighter mobile entertainment & consumption activities suited to a tablet.

    I've been looking hard at the rMB, which would be an excellent travel computer, but not so good in the tablet role (can't remove the keyboard). I think the iPad Pro, if it happens, will be an iOS device aimed at a different audience.

    Being able to run a full OS (Mac OS, Windows or Linux) is a requirement I think.

    At the moment, it looks like the best fit is a 2-in-1 hybrid, so probably a Surface.

    Thanks for helping me focus my thought processes!
  8. mi7chy macrumors 603


    Oct 24, 2014
    Depends on what you want to do on the tablet. iPad is mostly for consumption but Surface 3 is even better such as having a full browser with ad blocker and support for extensions like Videostream for Chrome that allows streaming local 1080p content over WIFI to Chromecast+TV. A single universal full browser also eliminates the need for a lot of required apps since mobile browser can't properly display sites like Twitch.tv, YouTube and many others. Where Surface 3 excel is with creativity with precision pen and productivity with keyboard/trackpad and ability to run desktop class software. Price wise the Surface 3 4GB/128GB, type cover keyboard and precision pen bundle at Costco for $699 is a bargain compared to $699 iPad Air 2 2GB/128GB.

    What the Surface 3 can do that iPad can't.
  9. becneel macrumors member


    May 9, 2015
    The iPad air 2 is a beautiful piece of work, but the Surface Pro 3 pretty much destroys it in terms of performance and specs.
  10. iThinkurBeats macrumors newbie


    May 8, 2015


  11. becneel macrumors member


    May 9, 2015

    That is excellent !
  12. GreatDrok macrumors 6502a


    May 1, 2006
    New Zealand
    I travel a lot so my combination is a laptop (MacBook Pro now, used to be an Air) and an iPad mini. Sure, the iPad can't do all the stuff a laptop can but it works really well as a tablet, starts quick, stable, lots of useful applications that work in a tablet form and it has a long battery life. Best of all, I can use it on a plane easily since it is so compact. My laptop is a brilliant laptop and isn't compromised by trying to be a tablet too and the keyboard and trackpad are excellent as is the screen.

    This combination works well for me and it also gives me around 19 hours of battery since I can use the tablet to save me starting up the laptop for many things. Personally, I think MS has completely lost the plot because their surface devices don't work well as a laptop - the kickstand works if you have a flat surface but you can't use it on your lap realistically and the keyboard isn't up to real laptop standards, nor is the trackpad although you can always poke your finger at the screen but then the UI is a mess of old and new so that doesn't really work that well. I'm sure others will disagree but in the end, a Surface is an MS product with all the history that entails including the paucity of decent applications for the tablet part, plus the Windows applications which are variable in quality at best as well as not working with the touch UI. I can run MS Office on both my iPad and my MacBook Pro so other than Windows games (which the surface really isn't suited for) and the generally fiddly nature of the thing I don't see the point.
  13. zhenya macrumors 603


    Jan 6, 2005
    As someone who owns both an iPad Air 2 and a Surface Pro 3 I can tell you that they both have significant advantages, and significant drawbacks.

    There are two major drawbacks that any Windows device will have as a tablet. First is battery life, which, because of the fact that they run legacy Windows programs, will be ALL over the map depending on what you have installed or running at any given moment in time. I am more cognizant of the power consumption of stuff I have running than 99% of the general population will be, but my long-term average battery life on the SP3 is still about 5.5 hours. I can push it to 7-8 if I shut everything down on the desktop and only use Metro apps, and make sure the screen is at 30% or less, but that takes work and there is definitely a lot missing from that experience (for example, I have to keep a desktop browser open if I want access to my gmail account and chat). It also runs the risk of depleting a good portion of the battery at any given time when it is put to sleep - most of the time it won't - but you can't count on putting it to sleep in your bag for a trip, and picking it up 6 hours later with the same battery you had when you packed it. It's not reliable.

    The other factor is that it just doesn't work nearly so well as a general purpose computing appliance. The battery issues outlined above certainly contribute to that. The lack of Windows Store apps further exacerbates the problem - with few music apps that can play music in the background under low power with the screen off. Few apps that really give you the kind of notifications we are used to getting with iOS or Android, and few apps at all that are optimized for touch. Sitting on the couch, with some practice, using the desktop with touch turns out to work surprisingly well, but other times, say using it on the counter while cooking, without better touch-optimized apps it's just frustrating.

    Don't get me wrong - I still love my SP3 as a laptop with a bunch of flexibility. But I'm nowhere near ready to get rid of my iPad.
  14. Billy95Tech Suspended

    Apr 18, 2014
    There is Microsoft Office in the App store for the Ipad and it is free i think! :)
  15. Altis macrumors 68030

    Sep 10, 2013
    It hardly matters when you can't listen to a YouTube video and write an email as the same time. Or write a paper while referencing a PDF. Or just not have your web browser reload your page, causing you to lose you spot, whenever you switch back and forth. It's funny because it's Apple's mantra that the specs come second to the experience, and I think it applies against them here.

    As for the Air 2 vs Surface 3, I'd say that it really depends on what you need the device for.

    iPad: Lighter, easier to transport, better tablet apps, easier to use with finger touch, more secure with TouchID (and convenient).

    Surface 3: Pen input (at $50) with pressure sensitivity, attachable keyboard with trackpad (at $130), larger display, USB ports (for thumb drives, mouse/keyboard, printers, even plugging in your phone), user accounts, multitasking, monitor port (can be docked and used as a full desktop computer), runs desktop applications, file system that lets you control your files and folders.

    It's almost unfair to compare the two as they are more different than similar, it seems. The Surface 3 adds an absolute ton of usability that you might need in a computer that's still missing in the iPad.

    The 64GB Air 2 is $600, while the S3 with keyboard is around $630, so depending on what keyboard you buy for the Air 2 (and the lack of USB ports means it'll be a Bluetooth keyboard), the iPad is actually more expensive with the keyboard than the S3 is. You can add the pen for a total of $680 for the whole S3+pen+typecover. (The pen is fantastic on a tablet and I really don't get why the iPad hasn't bothered with adding that capability)

    I think it's worth noting that Windows 10 should dramatically improve the experience on the Surface 3. 8.1 is not that great for this form factor (or any, IMO), but W10 will be designed with the Surface lineup specifically in mind.

    The iPad seems to be better suited at more simple tasks or entertainment being done on the go. Even then, things like getting movies or TV shows onto it for a trip can be more a lot more tedious than it is when you have a USB port and a file browser.

    I do wish the base model had the RAM and storage of the upgraded model, or that the pen was included.

    TL;DR: It all depends on what you want to do with it. The Air 2 is great for basic stuff on the go, but the Surface 3 can do a lot more and more easily.
  16. amagus, May 11, 2015
    Last edited: May 11, 2015

    amagus macrumors newbie

    Jan 24, 2007
    I picked up a Surface 3 (4GB/128GB version) last week and am liking it so far. I got the Surface Pen but no keyboard and I'm primarily going to be using it as a note taking/pdf annotating device, so the pen and OneNote/Drawboard PDF are my "killer" apps, and anything else it can do is gravy to me. Frankly, I find the Type Cover keyboard is a little ridiculous in price so I'm going to wait for a deal on one before picking one up (eg there are tons of Type Covers for the Pro 3 on ebay for about half price now that it's been out for a while).

    I had an iPad 3 last year which I sold when I got my 6 Plus (or iPad Nano as I call it) and felt it had become redundant since it pretty much runs all the same software. I don't miss it at all. As for how I feel about the Surface 3 after a week:


    • The pen is seriously awesome. I've was surprised at how fast, precise and accurate it was, and was also surprised at how good OneNote's handwriting recognition is, especially for cursive writing. Being able to call up OneNote from anywhere with a single click or screen capture with a double click is icing on the cake. Also, I don't write music but check out StaffPad if you want an example of the innovation Pen+Touch is capable of (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_PgKyqE3RU). I'm really looking foward to Microsoft taking Pen+Touch interfaces to the next level, since Apple isn't doing anything in this space.

    • Kickstand has been way more useful than I imagined it would be. I've been using all 3 positions in various situations and now I'd miss not having it even when mostly using it as a pure tablet. The wide open position surprisingly makes the on-screen keyboard a workable solution when I have to type something out in a pinch.

    • Build quality is top notch...the closest you'll get to Apple levels of quality in the Windows world, although it still doesn't quite match the Apple's crazy attention to detail (eg the microUSB plug on the charger not sitting flush with the device is something that would never happen on an Apple product)

    • It's nice to be able to run full desktop apps even with a less than ideal touch UI than to not be able to run them all. I was pretty giddy when I got Civ 5 to run pretty decently...games like this simply don't exist on iOS.

    • Benchmarks show the Atom x7 is not a fast processor, but subjectively I find it's plenty fast enough for what I'm using it for.

    • Split screen mode is very, very useful. I was delighted the first time I clicked a hyperlink in an email and the split screen functionality automatically kicked in.

    • microSD, 2 USB ports, mini-DisplayPort...ports galore.


    • Windows app store is really sad compared to iOS app store. Not nearly the same breath and quality of apps, and the app store is polluted with a ton of junk that makes finding the worthwhile stuff harder. And even when the same apps exist, they can be glitchy (eg Flipboard has these random lags that you don't see in the iOS version).

    • The above wouldn't be a big deal to me if there was a decent touch browser (many iOS apps I use regularly are just front-ends to websites anyway), but IE is the only game in town for Modern UI and I'm finding myself wanting something better. Hopefully the Edge browser in Win 10 fills that hole.

    • Battery life isn't terrible, but it isn't great either. I'm getting about 7 hours of usage at best. Charging is slow too...in fact I would have preferred a proprietary charging solution if it means cutting the charging time down (or better yet USB Type C).

    • Graphics-wise you're only going to be playing either simpler tablet games (eg Angry Birds-type) or 5+ year old desktop class games and on pretty low settings. Civ 5 runs though, which is all I cared about.

    • It's still Windows, which means more of learning curve compared to iOS, and a confusing mess of settings and functionality split between Modern UI and the desktop UI. Tablet use would be a lot better if you could spend all your time in the Modern UI for everything (eg where's the Modern UI file browser?).

    Hopefully Windows 10 shores up some of the shortcomings I'm finding. I think the Surface 3's value proposition is high if 1) you can use the pen and/or 2) there are desktop class apps you want to run. Otherwise yeah an iPad would be better.
  17. johngwheeler thread starter macrumors 6502

    Dec 30, 2010
    I come from a land down-under...
    Excellent Review!

    I've had a Surface 3 for nearly a week now, and would agree with everything you've said.

    It is a different category of device to an iPad or Mac laptop - and does have some compromises - but I find the overall user experience pretty positive.

    As a tablet, it is pretty "meh" as many of the full-screen metro apps are of mediocre quality, but as a small computer, it's great.

    I do find the schizophrenic nature of having *different* applications for tablet & desktop modes to be very clunky, somewhat confusing, and far from elegant, but hopefully Windows 10 will address this to some degree.

    This is the first time I've used a stylus, and can really see the use of this for note taking or drawing - it's pretty slick. I do hope that Apple looks into this with the next iPad.

    As an aside, I haven't really noticed any problem using the Windows desktop via a touch interface, so I can't really see why so many people object to the idea of touch with Mac OS. Provided the UI elements are sufficiently large to accurately hit them, it seems pretty easy to use the OS with your fingers.

    In summary, the Surface 3 with Windows 8.1 is not as smooth and seamless an experience as using an iPad, but it can do quite a lot more, and this seems to be a worthwhile compromise.
  18. Newtons Apple Suspended

    Newtons Apple

    Mar 12, 2014
    Jacksonville, Florida
    Wait for the Surface Pro 4!

    It will be well worth the wait!
  19. rosario1990 macrumors 6502

    Feb 1, 2015
    Dhaka, Bangladesh
    No doubt ipad air 2 is awesome one. On the other hand surface 3 is slightly less then ipad air 2.
  20. sracer macrumors 604


    Apr 9, 2010
    Not really. Any deficiencies of the Surface 3 will not be resolved with the SP4 since the root of the issues are software not hardware.
  21. sasha.danielle macrumors regular

    Mar 15, 2015
    This is a combo that makes so much sense to me. The iPad Airs are too big to use alongside a laptop. There's not nearly enough a difference is portability. This will especially be the case for me as I'm waiting on my rMB. There's only a pound difference, and I would generally find the Mini more usable I think. It's better as a reader and considerably lighter. The Air I find is too big to read in bed with. I also use it when I teach; it lets me walk around the classroom with my notes right in front of me. But I would prefer to have a smaller device, the Mini, when I do that.

    That said, I had my laptop completely fail me and right now, until I get my rMB, I'm completely depending on my iPad Air 2 as my main machine. I use a Logitech Keys to Go BTKB with it (which is probably comparable to the Surface keyboard. I find it usable in a pinch, but in no way ideal. If I was doing 10% of my workload in this way, I wouldn't be bothered, but in no way would I like to do work for extended periods of time on a keyboard like this. I've used a Surface keyboard, and I don't think it would work any better.

    To me, keyboards like these are used when you just don't want to be carrying around a laptop, but the Surface is so close to a laptop, I just don't see the benefit (especially considering the awkwardness of that stand. It's also a really huge tablet, which I suppose some might need, but I fail to see how that size is useful.
  22. Newtons Apple Suspended

    Newtons Apple

    Mar 12, 2014
    Jacksonville, Florida
    We will see as the SP4 will have Windows last edition installed, Windows 10 which is rumored to be greatly improved, also.
  23. sracer macrumors 604


    Apr 9, 2010
    But Windows 10 will be available for the Surface 3 as well. So I don't see how that makes the SP4 "worth the wait".

    Windows 10 in its current form has some of the tablet-centric features removed... it is my understanding that the Charms bar is no longer present. Also, it isn't Windows itself that makes the Surface sub par as a tablet but the lack in the quantity of quality touch-optimized Modern UI apps. That is not going to be resolved with the introduction of the SP4 or Windows 10.
  24. amagus macrumors newbie

    Jan 24, 2007
    I find many of the touch targets in desktop mode to be too small to hit without having to focus for a second which is distracting (like with notification icons). I found a workaround though which is pretty neat. There is a utility called TouchMousePointer that has a mode which can turn the entire screen into a giant TouchPad with mouse pointer control. It makes the desktop experience much much better when using as a tablet in many cases.

    This is kind of an example of the both what's good and bad about an open platform like Windows. You lose a bit of the out-of-box ease of use of iOS, but the openness of the platform means you can customize the device to fit your workflow if you're willing to spend the time to tweak it bit. I'd still recommend an iPad to the "grandma" types without a second thought.

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