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Surface Pro 7 vs. iPad Pro: Can Microsoft's top 2-in-1 take on Apple's high-powered tablet?

Microsoft souped up the Surface Pro 7 with new processors and graphics, while the iPad Pro has new powers with iPadOS.

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Surface Pro 7 

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you blinked In the middle of Microsoft's Surface Event on Oct. 2, you might have missed the Surface Pro 7 announcement. Squeezed between the new Surface Laptop 3 and Microsoft's future dual-screen Surface Duo Android phone and Surface Neo dual-screen tablet with Windows 10X software for dual-screen devices, the Pro 7's staid update didn't stand out. It was also overshadowed by the Surface Pro X, a 13-inch tablet running Windows on a Microsoft-custom version of a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, the SQ1 Arm chip.   

Microsoft's top tablet PC gets a bump up to the Intel Ice lake-equivalents of their predecessors and the higher-end models running Core i5 and i7 processors have Intel Iris Plus Graphics -- a boost over the base Intel UHD integrated graphics in the Surface Pro 6. The Pro 7 also has a USB-C port in place of Mini DisplayPort. It is not, however, Thunderbolt 3

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Those changes should be enough to keep it competitive with other Windows 10 two-in-one devices. But is it enough to keep people from going with an iPad Pro to use as laptop replacement instead? The current iPad Pro hardware is nearly a year old, however Apple just released iPadOS, an updated iPad version of iOS with new features to help feel more like a desktop OS

The feature that generated a lot interest when iPadOS went into beta was the addition of Bluetooth mouse support. While that might sound like a big step toward turning an iPad into a legitimate laptop replacement, the reality is a bit of a letdown, as CNET's Scott Stein discovered while testing the iPadOS beta. That feature is hidden deep in the accessibility menu, and for good reason -- it's not a traditional mouse implementation, more of an extra pointing and clicking device for those who have trouble with touchscreens. 

That means comparing the iPad Pro to Microsoft's Surface Pro 7 to see which is the better laptop alternative or tablet is still a pitched battle. There is certainly some feature overlap, but there are also things that could definitely push you one way or the other.

Specs


iPad Pro (12.9-inch, 2018) Surface Pro 7 (2019) Surface Pro 6 (2018)
Price Starts at $999, £969, AU$1,529 Starts at $749, £799, AU$1,249 Starts at $799, £784, AU$1,349
Optional keyboard $199, £199, AU$299 $129, £125, AU$200 $129, £125, AU$200
Optional stylus $129, £119, AU$199 $99, £60, AU$140 $99, £60, AU$140
Display 12.9-inch Retina display, 2,732x2,048 resolution (264 ppi) 12.3-inch PixelSense display, 2,736x1,824 resolution (267 ppi) 12.3-inch PixelSense display, 2,736x1,824 resolution (267 ppi)
Processor A12X Bionic 10th-gen Intel Core i3, i5, i7 8th-gen Intel Core i5, i7
RAM Not disclosed 4GB / 8GB / 16GB 8GB / 16GB
Storage 64GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB 128GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB 128GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB
SIM card support for cellular model Nano-SIM; eSIM None None
Wireless 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6), Bluetooth 5.0 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
Ports USB-C, Smart Connector USB-C, Surface Connect, Surface Type Cover port, MicroSDXC, USB-A, 3.5mm headphone jack 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 Front: 5-megapixel with support for Windows Hello, rear: 8-megapixel
OS iPadOS Windows 10 Home Windows 10 Home
Dimensions (HWD) 11 x 8.5 x 0.23 inches 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches
Weight 1.4 lb, 0.63 kg 1.7 lb, 0.77 kg 1.7 lb, 0.77 kg
Battery life Up to 10 hours Up to 10.5 hours Up to 13.5 hours
01-tablet

Adobe Fresco on the iPad Pro.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Surface Pro 7, regardless of what's inside it, is going to get you a true desktop experience as it's running full Windows 10 and behaves like a traditional laptop. The iPad Pro, even with the improvements in iPadOS, can't handle workflow the same way as Windows 10 and still is best as a tablet. 

Multitasking, for example is improved and the iPad's Files app gives you access to local and cloud-stored files now. The updated OS makes it possible to connect external drives and open, copy and save files on the iPad like PDFs, videos, photos and documents. But the experience still pales in comparison to Windows 10. 

The Surface Pro is also more flexible when it comes to connecting to peripherals like an external display, mouse and keyboard. Again, despite the hidden mouse support, iPadOS still has a mobile interface that doesn't work with a mouse. Maybe eventually Apple will be able to pull off something like Samsung's DeX environment, but iPadOS isn't there yet.

Performance is tricky

Microsoft's tablet might seem like a no-brainer for performance, especially with its new Intel processors, but the fact is the iPad Pro's A12X Fusion chip is designed for intensive tasks -- from 3D modeling to 4K video editing. The hardware is optimized for App Store apps and, regardless of the current iPad Pro you buy, you're going to get the same performance, which can't be said for the Surface Pro and its multiple configurations.

Not everyone can live by apps alone, however. While you can now have a desktop-class Safari browser, you might find yourself missing the desktop versions of other software before long, especially if you need them for getting work done. Also, we haven't tested the Surface Pro 7 yet, so there's the possibility it could hold its own against the iPad Pro. 

Disclosure: CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.  

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Surface Pro 7's updated components and new USB-C port will likely keep it a top two-in-one pick. 

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.

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Mentioned Above
Apple iPad Pro (11-inch, Silver, 64GB, 2018)
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