Microsoft Surface vs. iPad 3: What $499 Tablet Should You Purchase

By Michael Nunez on October 17, 2012 7:26 PM EDT 0

microsoft surface 3
Can the Microsoft Surface beat the iPad at the $499 price point? (Photo: Microsoft)

The tablet war is heating up. Later this month, Microsoft will make a dramatic entrance into the tablet market with the release of its new Windows 8 own-brand tablet dubbed Microsoft Surface. The Microsoft Surface will be released to compete directly with the king of tablets, the Apple iPad, at the $499 and up price point.

The newest version of the iPad, which is often referred to as the iPad 3 among members of the media, was released in March 2012 and is expected to be updated on Oct. 23, the date that Apple has schedule a major press event in San Jose. Although there's currently lots of buzz surrounding the expected releases of a smaller version of the iPad, unofficially dubbed "the iPad Mini," industry experts suggest that the iPad Mini will not be made available until mid-2013, leaving room for Apple to sell a slightly upgraded version of the existing iPad. The hardware and software in the iPad 3 will reportedly remain the same, but the rumored upgrade will feature a Lightning Connector and offer access to LTE 4G.

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The same week that Apple is holding its major media event, Microsoft will be releasing its new touch-based operating system, Windows 8, along with its own-branded tablet, Microsoft Surface. The Microsoft Surface is being marketed as a full-size tablet that's capable or becoming the primary computing device for any user. The most talked about feature on the Microsoft Surface is a keyboard cover that allows users to input information more easily than on any other tablet on the market.

There's a lot of information to parse when debating whether to buy a Microsoft Surface or an Apple iPad, which is why we thought it would be best to compare the two devices and how each might benefit different users. Without further ado, here's how the iPad compares to the Microsoft Surface:

Operating System: The Microsoft Surface runs on Windows 8, the latest iteration of Microsoft's flagship software and one that represents a dramatic shift of the company's business practices. Windows 8 is being marketed as an operating system that has powerful touch controls in addition to traditional mouse and keyboard options. Users will find the standard Windows desktop beyond Microsoft's new Live Tiles function, which should be familiar and easy to use for anyone that's not ready for the new design. Microsoft will also be vamping up the Windows Store to compete with the Apple App Store.

The Apple iPad 3 runs on the newest version of Apple's mobile operating system, iOS 6. Apple iOS 6 is packed with more than 200 new features and has been called the best version of their mobile operating system to date, aside from a few miscues. One of the many new functions in iOS 6 is the app called Passbook, which allows users to aggregate all receipts, flight information, movie tickets, store vouchers and more all in one place. Additionally, legacy functions such as Siri have been updated substantially.

Winner: Tie (Windows 8 provides familiarity, Apple iOS provides more apps)

Display: The iPad 3 comes equipped with one of the best screen on the tablet market. The screen itself is 9.7 inches, which is slightly smaller than the Microsoft Surface's screen; however, the iPad is able to show images with better detail and sharpness. The iPad has a 2048x1536 resolution and packs in 264 pixels per inch.

The Microsoft Surface has a 10.6-inch screen, which is slightly larger than the iPad's, but is not quite a sharp. Microsoft Surface is only able to display images at a 1280x720 resolution and is only able to pack in 139 pixels per inch. When it comes to the screen on both of these devices, there's no content.

Winner: iPad 3 (better resolution, more pixels per inch)

Performance: The Microsoft Surface is equipped with a powerful NVIDIA processor, but very little information is known about how well the processor will perform. "Nvidia's 1.4GHz T30 Tegra 3 quad-core processor powers Surface RT," reports PC World. "Similar Tegra 3 processors are in many of the leading Android tablets, and even Apple's own processor on the iPad has its roots in the ARM architecture." The Microsoft Surface will also have 2GB of RAM and 32 GB of internal storage with an expandable memory slot.

The Apple iPad 3 runs on a proprietary Apple A5X dual-core processor. The Apple A5X runs at 1.0GHz and is paired with a quad-core PowerVR SGX543MP4 graphics processor. The tablet also has 1GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage with no expandable memory slot.  

Winner: Tie (No formal tests performed between Apple A5X and Nvidia Tegra T30)

Conclusion: There isn't much separating the Microsoft Surface from the iPad 3 in terms of hardware. The iPad 3 has a better-looking screen, but we don't think that's enough to declare it the winner. Both devices also have very similar hardware, which makes it harder to choose a winner. When it comes down to it, the battle between Microsoft Surface and the iPad will be determined on whether consumers prefer Windows 8 or iOS.

If you're unsure at this point, here's something to consider: The iPad's operating system already has 700,000 apps available for it, while the Microsoft Store has only a small fraction of that. In addition, both systems are able to run most popular functions such as web browsing and creating business documents. The iPad already has a large user-base established and won't be going anywhere soon. The availability of apps will only continue to grow. Windows 8, however, is an unproven operating system that could eventually be declared unsuccessful. If you're looking to purchase a tablet device before the end of the year, we believe that you have to choose the incumbent.

Winner: iPad 3 (good hardware, huge app market, proven popularity)

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