Apple iPad Pro vs. Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs. MacBook Air

How does the new big-screen iPad size up against the competition?

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
3 min read
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The idea of a tablet that is as useful as a laptop is one that tablet-makers have been pushing since even before the iPad's original introduction. Apple's new iPad Pro makes a similar pitch, and is aimed at office and creative professionals, as well as more mainstream entertainment consumers.

For tablets and hybrids that use Microsoft Windows, it's an easier argument to make, as these devices can run exactly the same desktop applications as laptops and desktops. Devices running mobile operating systems, such as Android or iOS, are restricted to their own native applications and special versions of programs such as Photoshop or Microsoft Office, which are often not as flexible or full-featured as the versions on Windows or Apple's OS X operating system for Mac computers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

By adding a bigger, higher-resolution screen, keyboard cover and active stylus, plus new feature-packed versions of Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and other iOS apps, the iPad Pro is pitching itself as a true laptop replacement. But does it measure up?

We'll have to wait to get hands-on with the device to say for sure, but in the meantime, we can compare the specs and features of the iPad Pro with both the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and the similarly priced 13-inch MacBook Air . For the list below, we took the base model of each, and added a sold-separately keyboard and stylus if available.

Base model price (in US dollars, plus keyboard and stylus if available)

Apple iPad Pro: $1,067 ($799 + $169 + $99)
Microsoft Surface Pro 3: $928 ($799 + $129)
Apple MacBook Air: $999

Screen size/resolution:

Apple iPad Pro: 12.9-inch; 2,732x2,048
Microsoft Surface Pro 3; 12.0-inch, 2,160x1,440
Apple MacBook Air: 13.3-inch; 1,440x900


Apple iPad Pro: Apple A9X
Microsoft Surface Pro 3: 1.5GHz Intel Core i3
Apple MacBook Air: 1.6GHz Intel Core i5


Apple iPad Pro: 32GB/RAM unknown
Microsoft Surface Pro 3: 64GB/4GB
Apple MacBook Air: 128GB/4GB


Apple iPad Pro: 1.57 pounds (713 grams);
Microsoft Surface Pro 3: 1.76 pounds (798 grams); 2.42 pounds with keyboard cover
Apple MacBook Air: 2.96 pounds (1.35kg)

Battery life:

Apple iPad Pro: 10 hours (Apple estimate)
Microsoft Surface Pro 3: 7:28 (CNET battery drain test)
Apple MacBook Air: 18:00 (CNET battery drain test)

But if Apple is throwing a gauntlet down at Microsoft's Surface Pro, it may not go unanswered for long. Microsoft is said to be planning an October 2015 introduction of its next tablet, which is very likely to be called Surface Pro 4 .

Sarah Tew/CNET

We'll test the performance, battery life and usability of the iPad Pro when it's available in November, which is when we'll really be able to see how it measures up to a full Windows or OS X computer. In the meantime, our initial impressions of what each device is best suited for is as follows:

  • Apple iPad Pro: Potentially able to replace laptops and hybrids for many productivity tasks, but it remains to be seen if it feels practical for all-day, every day use, or if app switching and file management will be awkward.
  • Microsoft Surface Pro 3: Works better when paired with its keyboard cover, as Windows still feels more at home on a laptop or desktop than a slate, but it offers the best of the Windows experience in a very portable package.
  • Apple MacBook Air: The most traditional of the bunch, the MacBook makes for especially easy navigation, thanks to its best-in-class touchpad.

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