By some standards, the Microsoft Surface Pro is the best-ever hybrid of tablet and laptop, combining a full windows 8 OS with an Intel Core i5 CPU, and a best-in-class detachable keyboard cover.
But, at over $1,100 if you include a 128GB SSD and the keyboard, it's also very expensive, especially if a slim Windows 8 touch-screen ultrabook, Atom-powered tablet, or something non-Windows-based would work for your needs.
The following is a quick survey of the major alternatives to the Surface Pro, from other Core i5 tablets to Apple's new 128GB iPad.
Windows 8/Core i5 tablets (Example: Acer Iconia W700)
The closest competitors to the Surface Pro are other tablets and hybrids with Intel Core i5 processors -- essentially full-featured ultrabooks squeezed down to tablet form. Acer's Iconia W700 fits the bill, and includes a space-age-looking dock, as does Samsung's new .
Strengths: Mainstream power and performance
Weaknesses: High prices, shorter battery life
Trading out the Core i5 for an Intel Atom processor gives you much-improved battery life (more than 10 hours in some cases), but also drops down the performance significantly. Prices for Atom tablets and hybrids are lower, but probably not low enough considering the difference between an Atom-powered system and one with a Core i5. Other current examples include the , the Dell Latitude 10, and . Prices generally run $500 to $800, with keyboards and docks included at the higher end of that range.
Strengths: Excellent battery life, lower prices
Weaknesses: Weak performance
Windows RT/ARM tablets (Example: Microsoft Surface RT)
Only a handful of Windows RT products have been announced, much less released, with the main one being the Microsoft-branded Surface RT. It has a similar name and looks very similar to the Surface Pro, which may lead to consumer confusion.
Strengths: Includes Office software, good battery life
Weaknesses: Sluggish performance, limited app selection, can't run off-the-shelf Windows software
iOS/Android tablets (Example: 128GB Apple iPad)
Maybe you don't need Windows at all. If your tablet is mostly for video streaming, casual gaming, e-book reading, and other consumption tasks, one of the current breed of larger-screen, high-capacity tablets might be right for you. Apple's recent upgrade of the iPad to 128GB of storage puts it in the same category as most ultrabooks when it comes to capacity. But, the inflated price may make a Windows 8 product more attractive. For significantly less, you can try a 10-inch Android tablet, such as the new Google Nexus 10; however, its SSD options are limited.
Strengths: Easy to use, tons of inexpensive apps and media services
Weaknesses: Not considered productivity tools by most, limited to app store software
Is Microsoft's Surface Pro the ultimate tablet? Or would you be better served (or save money) with one of the alternatives listed above? Let us know in the comments section below.