In 2015 Apple launched the first iPad Pro, a high-performance version of its iOS tablet aimed at both creatives and mobile workers looking to do more than be entertained on a cross-country flight. It was also a direct shot at rival , which had already showed a tablet could easily be a decent laptop replacement given the right accessories.
While older non-Pro iPads can be used with Bluetooth keyboards and passive styluses, the 2018 iPad Pro is designed for use with Apple's own Smart Keyboard and second-gen (older iPad Pros and the work with the original Pencil), placing it in direct competition with Microsoft's two-in-ones. And although both tablets might be "Pros" with some feature overlap between them, there are things that could definitely push you one way or the other. Here are five ways to discover which one is right for you.
On the upside, if you're shopping for either the 2018 iPad Pro or Surface Pro 6, you don't have to worry too much about it being immediately replaced with a new model. While rumors are swirling on new iPads, they aren't for the Pro, which was announced last November. (more sooner than later, though.) Likewise, the Surface Pro 6 was announced last October, so it's unlikely to get a full update anytime soon.
OS: The beginning (and possibly the end) of the discussion
For many, the iPad Pro's mobile operating system makes it a complete nonstarter compared to the Surface Pro running on full Windows 10 Pro. Having Windows 10 means you can run full versions of traditional Win32 software and much more that Apple's iOS simply can't.
With iOS you're limited to what's available in Apple's App Store. While that app catalog is in the millions, you might not find mobile equivalents for the full desktop software or legacy applications you need. (Ironically, you can't even fully develop iPad apps on an iPad.)
Apps aside, iOS can't handle workflow the same way Windows 10 can on the Surface Pro 6. Being able to have two, three, four or more apps open on one screen with differently sized windows and quickly switch between them, but also move text, images or data between them is something you take for granted with a desktop OS. Also, while Apple does just about anything to get you to stick to its devices, Microsoft continues to work on ways to let you jump between working on an iPhone or iPad (or Android device) and Windows 10.
With iOS 11 and 12, working between open apps has gotten better. For instance, thegives you access to local and cloud-stored files and you can drag and drop text, images and files between apps. But working with multiple apps is still basically limited to having two apps open side by side, filling the screen. You can then drop a third app on top of those, but it has to be from your dock.
Gestures are required to juggle the windows and open and switch apps or just get to the home screen. If you already have an iPhone without a home button you may already have these mastered, but otherwise it'll take time and practice to get them straight. It works, but it's all simply not as easy or as efficient as working in MacOS.
Accessories that matter: Keyboards and pens
If the OSes and their different capabilities didn't steer you toward a model, maybe the keyboards and styluses will. After all, a large part of what makes these "Pro" models are these accessories and oddly neither of them are included with the tablets.
For the Surface Pro 6, Microsoft's basic Type Cover is $129, or there are the fancier color versions covered with Alcantara fabric for $169, although Microsoft is currently letting you bundle one at no additional charge. Apple's Smart Keyboard for the 12.9-inch is $199. Both give you a good typing experience, but the Surface Pro tablet's built-in hinge makes for better positioning and, more importantly, the Type Cover has a touchpad.
As for writing and drawing on their screens, the performance is nearly indistinguishable between the two tablets: Both are excellent and improved from prior models. Apple's $129 Pencil has a slightly better feel on the iPad's screen, but the Surface Pen, $99, has different tips to change the feel if you want. Also, while the Surface Pen works on any Surface PC, the first-gen Pencil won't work with the new iPad Pro and the second-gen isn't backward compatible.
Plenty of ports vs. many, many dongles
The Surface Pro comes prepared to connect to peripherals. There's a Mini DisplayPort for an external monitor, a full-size USB 3.0 port for, well, anything that plugs into one of those, and Microsoft's Surface Connector that powers the tablet can also connect to the Surface Dock, which has two Mini DisplayPorts, Gigabit Ethernet, four USB 3.0 ports and an audio out. There's also a microSD card slot.
With just one USB-C port on the iPad Pro you'll need to buy adapters to connect to an external display, Gigabit Ethernet, an SD card reader or add a USB 3.0 port. The iPad Pro's magnetic Smart Connector is currently used only for the Smart Keyboard cover.
Speed vs. battery life
||iPad Pro (12.9-inch, 2018)||Surface Pro 6 (2018)|
|Price||Starts at $999, £969, AU$1,529||Starts at $799, £784, AU$1,349|
|Optional keyboard||$199, £199, AU$299||$129, £125, AU$200|
|Optional stylus||$129, £119, AU$199||$99, £60, AU$140|
|Base configuration plus keyboard and stylus||$1,327, £1,287, AU$2,027||$999, £969, AU$1,689|
|Display||12.9-inch Retina display, 2,732x2,048 resolution (264 ppi)||12.3-inch PixelSense display, 2,736x1,824 resolution (267 ppi)|
|Processor||A12X Bionic||8th-gen Intel Core i5, i7|
|RAM||Not disclosed||8GB / 16GB|
|Storage||64GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB||128GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB|
|SIM card support for cellular model||Nano-SIM; eSIM||None|
|Wireless||Dual-band 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1|
|Ports||USB-C, Smart Connector||Mini DisplayPort, Surface Connect, Surface Type Cover port, MicroSDXC, USB 3.0, 3.5mm headphone jack|
|Cameras||Front: 7-megapixel TrueDepth with support for Portrait mode and Portrait Lighting, rear: 12-megapixel||Front: 5-megapixel with support for Windows Hello, rear: 8-megapixel|
|OS||iOS 12||Windows 10 Home|
|Dimensions (HWD)||11 x 8.5 x 0.23 inches||11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches|
|Weight||1.4 lb, 0.63 kg||1.7 lb, 0.77 kg|
|Battery life||Up to 10 hours||Up to 13.5 hours|
The Surface Pro comes in multiple configurations that start at $799 in the US and go up to $2,299 for one with an Intel Core i7 processor, integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620, 16GB of memory and a 1TB SSD (we reviewed ).
With the iPad Pro you can pick between different amounts of storage and two screen sizes. The smaller 11-inch model starts at $799, while the 12.9-inch, which is more comparable in size to the Surface Pro, starts at $999. (None of these prices include a keyboard or stylus, either.)
Microsoft's tablet might seem like a no-brainer here for performance, but the fact is the iPad Pro's A12X Fusion chip is designed for intensive tasks -- from huge spreadsheets and presentations to 3D modeling and 4K video editing. And remember, the hardware is optimized for App Store apps. Regardless of the new iPad Pro you buy, you're going to get the same performance, which can't be said for the Surface Pro. You can check out benchmark results at the end of this story to see how the 2018 iPad Pro matches up against a Surface Pro 6 with a Core i5 processor and 8GB of memory.
People have come to expect a long battery life from tablets and that's pretty much because of the iPad. The thing is, the more powerful the iPad gets and the more efficient Intel's processors are, Windows 10 tablets have edged closer on battery performance
In our video streaming battery rundown test, the iPad Pro lasted 13 hours, 16 minutes. The Surface Pro 6, on the other hand, tapped out at 11 hours, 11 minutes.
In the end, despite the iPad Pro's capabilities, the Surface Pro comes closer to the feel and features of a traditional laptop. On the other hand, there's a good chance you simply don't need a traditional laptop experience or desktop OS for your life and work and a powerful tablet with a good keyboard is plenty (even if it's expensive and doesn't have a trackpad).
The better laptop replacement
Microsoft Surface Pro 6Sarah Tew/CNET
The latest Surface Pro tablet doesn't make any radical design changes, but the performance jump makes it viable as a mainstream performance laptop replacement.
The better tablet
Apple iPad Pro (12.9-inch, 2018)Sarah Tew/CNET
The iPad Pro is in many ways the pinnacle of tablet hardware design, but its high price and software limitations narrow its appeal to creatives willing to bend to its current compromises.
Don't really want a tablet after reading all of this? Consider the laptops with great trackpads -- and the Surface keeps its sibling's touchscreen, too.(for Apple fans) or (for Windows lovers). Both are top-notch superslim
Note: The tests below were done with a 2018 iPad Pro and a 2018 Surface Pro 6 with a Core i5 processor and 8GB of memory.