Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: there’s a new tablet powered by a souped-up mobile processor, with a detachable keyboard and a magnetic stylus. It promises way better battery life than a laptop and runs most of the same apps, with LTE support to always keep you connected, although the size and weight come at the expense of things like a headphone jack. In short, it promises to be that mythical holy grail that can bridge the gap between a phone and a full-fledged laptop.
But while the two devices sound similar in concept, they represent two very different ideas of what this category of device should be. The iPad Pro is an iOS device that’s been elevated to do more than an iPhone, thanks to a larger display, a keyboard, a stylus, its own operating system, and even mouse support (sort of). Frankly, the iPad Pro was a clear response to Microsoft’s Surface Pro, which popularized the idea of adding a detachable keyboard and stylus to a powerful tablet so you could work done with a slate.
Now, Microsoft’s new response to the iPad Pro — in the Surface Pro X — in turn looks towards the iPad’s strengths by distilling the Windows 10 experience down to a more portable and mobile-friendly form that borrows features like better battery life, instantly resumable work, a slimmer form factor, and ARM-based processors.
There are obvious differences here: the Surface Pro X is a more traditional PC. It has a user replaceable SSD, multiple USB-C ports, and it’ll run plenty of familiar apps like Office and Chrome exactly like you’d expect if you were coming from a more traditional laptop. There’s more user control over what you can install and how you’ll use it, especially compared to the notoriously locked-down iPadOS (née iOS). It has a trackpad and a mouse.
Microsoft is promising up to 13 hours of battery life, compared to the iPad Pro’s 10 hours. The Surface Pro X also features a larger 13-inch display, although it’s similar in size and thickness to Apple’s larger model.
The future of computing also isn’t cheap, no matter who you buy it from: the Surface Pro X starts at $999. The Type Cover and Surface Pens are sold separately, for $139.99 and $144.99, respectively, or you can buy them in a bundle for $269.99. That’s a total of $1,268.99 for the full Surface Pro X experience.
It’s still too early to say how the fight will shake out
Apple’s iPad Pro is similarly pricey, starting at $799 for the smaller screen and $999 for the Surface Pro X-sized model. The Apple Pencil is another $129 on top, while Apple’s Smart Keyboard costs either $179 or $199, depending on your tablet’s size, which shakes out to either $1,098 or $1,327 to start. All told, you can easily pay as much as a comparable “real” laptop from either Apple or Microsoft as you can on their more mobile-focused alternatives.
It’s still too early to say how the fight will shake out: iPadOS is brand-new and has a lot to prove when it comes to turning an iPad into a main computer. And there’s still some big question marks as to whether Microsoft’s new SQ1 processor can actually keep pace, especially given the past failures of ARM Windows devices (like the original Surface RT, for instance). It’s the same question at its core: can you rely on the iPad Pro or Surface Pro X to replace your laptop all the time, instead of just most of it.
“What’s a computer?” is the question Apple’s infamous iPad commercial asked two years ago, setting off a still ongoing debate across the internet about the future of portable PCs. A year later, the Surface Pro X is Microsoft’s clear response. Whether either of them really do have the right answer to that question remains to be seen.
Surface Pro X vs. iPad Pro specs
|Specification||Microsoft Surface Pro X||Apple iPad Pro (12.9-inch)||Apple iPad Pro (11-inch)|
|Display||13 inches||12.9 inches||11 inches|
|Resolution||2880 x 1920||2732 x 2048||2388 x 1668|
|Processor||Microsoft SQ1||Apple A12X||Apple A12X|
|RAM||8GB, 16GB||4GB, 6GB||4GB, 6GB|
|Storage||128GB, 256GB, 512GB||64GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB||64GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB|
|Ports||USB-C (2x), Surface charging port||USB-C||USB-C|
|Dimensions (in.)||11.3 x 8.2 x 0.28||11.04 x 8.46 x 0.23||9.74 x 7.02 x 0.23|