The tablet wars are no longer a two-horse race between Apple and Google.
There’s only one question that really matters when a new tablet is launched: is it better than the iPad? Up until now, no single product has been able to muster a genuine challenge.
In a report released yesterday it was predicted the iPad series of tablets will increase its share of the tablet market to 62.5% this year. That leaves all its many and varied competitors scrabbling around for just one-third of the market.
Most of those competitors are currently Android tablets, but Microsoft has now entered the market with a big splash. Its announcement this morning of the new Surface family of tablets sees it going head-to-head with Apple in the tablet market. But can it succeed? We stack Microsoft’s Surface up against Apple’s latest iPad to see how the two compare.
Surface for Windows RT
Two models of Surface have been announced by Microsoft: Surface for Windows RT and Surface for Windows 8 Pro. It’s the former that will be a direct rival to the iPad. The Windows 8 Pro model, on the other hand, will be a more powerful (and more expensive) version that is pitched directly against the new wave of Ultrabooks, as well as Apple’s MacBook Air.
Apple’s iPad has a 9.7-inch screen. A number of tablet manufacturers have chanced their arms with devices packing smaller screens, but – despite constant rumours of an ‘iPad mini’ – Apple has seen no reason to follow suit. Microsoft would seem to agree that, when it comes to screen size, bigger is better. Its Surface for Windows RT has an even bigger screen than the iPad – a 10.6-inch display that offers plenty of space for doing anything from watching movies to working on spreadsheets.
A remarkably long battery life is one of the key selling points of the iPad. Even the latest model, which manages slightly less battery life than the iPad 2, will still keep chugging along for up to 10 hours. Microsoft’s Surface will need to at least match that kind of performance – the portability of tablets means that a long battery life is a must. The iPad features a 42.5-watt-hour (Wh) battery, while the battery in the Surface for Windows RT is 31.5Wh. It will need some clever power management to stretch as far as the iPad.
Another headline feature of the new iPad is its Retina display. With a screen resolution of 2048×1536, this offers a pin-sharp, incredibly clear visual experience. The exact resolution of the Surface for Windows RT is one of a number of details yet to be released by Microsoft. It says the device will be HD (not full HD, though the Surface for Windows 8 Pro will be), which would suggest the resolution of its screen could be 1366×768.
One place where the iPad continues to lag behind its rivals is in terms of connectivity. Apple’s focus on retaining control of its products means there are no USB inputs and no microSD slots on an iPad, so you cannot boost the storage of your device and you can’t easily plug in an external device. Microsoft’s Surface for Windows RT, by contrast, has a single USB port and a microSD slot – offering it far more flexibility in this particular area.
Size and weight
Both the Surface for Windows RT and the new iPad have undeniable ‘wow’ factor when it comes to looks – and there is little to separate them in terms of size and weight. The new iPad (non-3G) weighs in at 652g, while the Surface for Windows RT tips the scales at 676g. Both are super-skinny – the iPad just 9.4mm thick, the Surface for Windows RT just pipping it at 9.3mm.
Wi-fi connectivity is a given on any tablet, and both Microsoft’s new Surface and Apple’s iPad offer it. However, higher-end models of the iPad also offer 3G connectivity (and 4G if you happen to find yourself in a country that supports it). There’s currently no mention of either Surface tablet offering either 3G or 4G.
Surface Pro tablet Crucial specs
|Surface Pro tablet Crucial specs|
|Windows 8 operating system|
|Intel third-generation Core i CPU|
|903 grams/31.85 ounces|
|10.6-inch ClearType "Full HD" Display|
|42 watt hour battery|
|Ports: microSDXC, USB 3.0, mini DisplayPort video|
|Storage options: 64GB and 128GB|
|Front and rear-facing "HD" cameras|
The Surface for Windows RT runs a version of Windows 8 that is specifically designed for tablet computers. It won’t run Windows software other than Microsoft Office (though the Surface for Windows 8 Pro will offer the full Windows operating system). However, apps for the device can be downloaded from the Windows Store. Apple’s iPad runs iOS 5 (soon to be upgraded to iOS 6). This operating system also runs only iOS apps – though there are an enormous variety of them to choose from.
Surface RT tablet Crucial specs
|Surface RT tablet Crucial specs|
|Windows RT operating system|
|Nvidia ARM CPU|
|676 grams/23.85 ounces|
|10.6-inch ClearType HD Display|
|31.5 watt hour battery|
|Ports: microSD, USB 2.0, micro HD video, 2x2 MIMO antennae|
|Storage options: 32GB and 64GB for Windows RT|
|Front and rear-facing "HD" cameras|
The Surface for Windows RT offers either 32GB or 64GB of storage space. Apple’s iPad comes with 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of storage. Microsoft’s product edges it here, however, since it also has a microSD slot – making it possible to easily boost the tablet’s storage space.
The defining factor in whether the Surface for Windows RT can mount a genuine challenge against the iPad is likely to be price. An entry-level iPad costs £399 – can Microsoft’s new tablet better that? If not, it will face an even tougher challenge in wooing a market in which two-thirds of the customers are already opting for Apple. But with plenty still to be revealed about this new challenger, we’re looking forward to seeing how it fares.
The 10.6-inch touch screen will give the Surface a bigger display than the 10.1-inch Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab 2. Microsoft has not announced the specifics of the display resolution yet, but it did confirm a 16:9 aspect ratio.
The “Full HD display” Microsoft mentions in its spec sheet for the Windows Pro version suggests a 1,920×1,080 pixel resolution. That might also imply a 1,280×720 display (aka 720p) on the vanilla “HD” Windows RT Surface tablet.
For the CPUs, the Surface with Windows RT will use an Nvidia ARM CPU, which most likely means a quad core Tegra 3 chip, like you’ll find in the Asus Transformer Pro TF300. On the Windows 8 Pro Surface, Microsoft confirm a full-fledged third generation “Ivy Bridge” Core i5 quad core chip like the chips in current Windows laptops.