iPad Air vs. Surface 2: 9 Considerations - InformationWeek

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10/23/2013
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iPad Air vs. Surface 2: 9 Considerations

Microsoft's Surface 2 and Apple's iPad Air are poised for a head-to-head showdown. Here are nine ways to decide which is better for you.

 Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes
Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes
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Apple CEO Tim Cook said Tuesday that many companies were skeptical when the iPad debuted, but almost every tech player has since rushed to produce tablets of their own. Indeed, as Cook was introducing the company's new iPad Air, Microsoft had started selling its newest product intended to invade Apple's turf -- the Surface 2.

Microsoft's original Surface flopped notoriously, but the company has showed no signs of intimidation with the new and improved iteration. With a base cost of $449, the Surface 2 is priced to compete head-to-head with the $499 iPad Air.

Which device might be a better match for your needs? Here are nine factors to consider.

1. Both devices are thin and light.

The iPad Air is fractionally thicker at 7.5 mm than Sony's Xperia Tablet Z, currently the world's thinnest tablet. The Air is lighter than the Xperia, however, at just 1 pound. This gives Apple claim to the most portable full-size tablet.

[ Learn what the iPad Air doesn't have. See Apple's Reveal: What Was Missing. ]

The Surface 2 is a bit bigger but isn't a chore to carry around; it measures just under 9 mm thick and weighs 1.5 pounds, putting it in the same range as the iPad 4. Basically, if the iPad Air or Surface 2 is too heavy for your tastes, you probably need to spend more time lifting weights at the gym than deliberating tablet purchases.

2. The Surface 2 has a slightly bigger screen.

The Surface 2 has a 10.6-inch, 16:9 screen with 1080p resolution. The iPad Air has a slightly smaller 9.7-inch screen but more pixels. The screen is also surrounded by a slimmer frame, styled after the one in the iPad Mini, which makes the screen look bigger.

3. Both devices emphasize productivity but in different ways.

The Surface Pro 2 comes preloaded with Office Home and Student 2013 RT, which now includes Outlook RT. New iPad Air owners, meanwhile, are entitled to free downloads of Apple's productivity and creative apps iWork and iLife.

Office has the edge in familiarity, compatibility with collaborators, and depth of features. But iWork offers enough tools to satisfy most users' needs. It's also a cross-platform tool that supports real-time teamwork among remote collaborators, due to the introduction of iWork for iCloud.

The Surface was always geared more toward lap use than the iPad, thanks to its built-in kickstand and abundance of keyboard accessories. Now, with its new kickstand's two-position design, the Surface 2 is even easier to use on the lap than before, giving it a potential edge over the iPad Air. But many iPad users have already shown their willingness to embrace third-party keyboards, so it's unclear how this advantage will play out.

The Surface 2 also boasts true multitasking within the Modern UI. iOS 7 provides new ways to move between open apps, but Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 allow users to run several touch apps at once, no jumping required. The size of the Surface 2's screen limits heavy multitasking -- but if your workflow involves copying and pasting data between apps or other multitasking needs, it might serve you better than the iPad Air.

4. Both devices offer outstanding construction.

With the iPad Air, Apple is unlikely to relinquish its reputation as the industry's leader in industrial design. Even so, the Surface 2's high-quality construction is comparable. Despite being surprisingly light and easy to hold, the Surface 2 feels solid and luxurious thanks to its sturdy magnesium alloy case.

5. The Surface 2 is speedy but probably not as fast as the iPad Air.

Early benchmarking tests indicate that the Surface 2, which runs on Nvidia's Tegra 4 chip, is much more responsive than its predecessor. The iPad Air is probably faster, though. Apple's super-responsive new iPhone 5s is using a version of the iPad Air's desktop-class A7 processor, Apple promises that the Air will be its fastest, most powerful slate to date.

6. The Surface 2 is more convenient to use with peripherals.

As usual, Apple's pursuit of thinness has resulted in another iPad without built-in peripheral ports. With cloud storage becoming more common, ports might not be the necessity they once were. Still, for many, the iPad is a hassle because it can accept USB drives only via an accessory. The Surface 2, in contrast, includes both a USB 3.0 port and a micro SD slot.

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Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/26/2013 | 1:55:10 PM
re: iPad Air vs. Surface 2: 9 Considerations
Yeah, I've heard some gripes about the new iWork too. Haven't had a chance to check it out yet, since I've been spending time with a Surface 2 and Windows 8.1. But it sounds like not everyone is happy, even if it's free. Apple makes great hardware and operating systems, but some of their individual software applications can be hit and miss.

The train comment is interesting. I agree with some of the broad strokes you've observed-- if someone is using an iPad, they are probably reading/gaming/watching, and if someone is working on a spreadsheet, you can bet it's on a Windows machine. But at least in San Francisco, I see relatively few Windows machines being used for more than work--e.g. for games. I carry my Surface around because it's often easier than carrying a full laptop, and I certainly think Win 8.1 touch devices are fine for reading/gaming/watching-- but inside the city, I've only seen one other person with a Surface. I actually see a ton of people working (writing, coding, spreadsheets, graphics, etc) on MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros; if you're going by SF-area cafe patrons, the Apple laptops command about half the market. And based on my observations at conferences and events, tech journalists and analysts seem to carry around Apple devices about 4:1 versus Windows devices.

Just goes to show that the device market is hard to read, and that anecdotal experience is tricky to apply. I think the explosion of device types, workflows and use cases is why some people under-appreciate how productive iPads can be, and why others underestimate both how dominant a product like Office really is, and how important Windows will continue to be for years to come.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/25/2013 | 8:48:38 PM
re: iPad Air vs. Surface 2: 9 Considerations
It's true-- the device variety is staggering. This article focused on the Surface 2 and the iPad Air because they're similarly-priced, full-size tablets with luxury build quality. They differ in different ways, but with one going on sale the same day the other was announced, a direct comparison was interesting.

But we ran another article today that looks at the tablet market a bit more fully, including the Surface Pro 2, the newly discounted Surface Pro, and other new contenders, such as Dell's Venue 11 Pro.

Last year, one could blame slow Windows 8 device sales on lousy hardware, to an extent. But this year, the devices are much better, and Windows 8.1 makes everything much more cohesive. Some of these devices are going to be compelling packages-- but I'm not sure how many $500-ish non-Apple tablets the market will support, especially with some of them offering relatively minor differentiation.

Ultimately, it's a good problem for buyers-- lots of choices.
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