The ideal tablet for avid note-takers and artists alike should be powerful and capable of running all your favorite apps, while also being a good slab for doodling and scribbling. But with so many options to choose from, ranging from 2-in-1 convertible laptops like the MSI Summit E13 Flip Evo or 2-in-1 tablets like the iPad Pro or Surface Pro with optional keyboard accessories, pinning down the right one can get complicated.
If you're weighing your options for an all-encompassing work tablet, both the new M1 iPad Pro and Surface Pro X have a lot to offer. They pack custom ARM chips that promise all-day battery life, vibrant displays with plenty of room to take notes and draw, and both require additional purchases for keyboards and styluses.
But both have some major differences. Whether you're concerned about sluggish apps, pricey accessories, app compatibility, or you just want the one with the best display, there's a lot to consider before spending your hard-earned money on either the M1 iPad Pro or Microsoft Surface Pro X.
Performance and Battery Life
Although the Surface Pro X and iPad Pro both run on custom ARM chips (processors built to consume less energy without sacrificing power), they offer vastly different experiences. As we wrote in our review of the Surface Pro X, Microsoft's SQ2 ARM hurt the Pro X's performance more than it helped. Although it scored fairly high on our benchmarks, few apps could take full advantage of that power. Browser performance was only impressive when tested in Microsoft's Edge browser—Chrome was significantly slower—and third-party apps such as Slack or Spotify ran poorly as well.
Many other programs (such as Obsidian and Blender) wouldn't run at all, though, as they hadn't been updated to support Microsoft's custom chip. With a battery life of just under ten hours in our tests, though, it has plenty of juice to get you through a day's work, so long as it can support all that work.
The iPad Pro doesn't have that problem. Like the latest MacBook Air and Pro, it runs on Apple's custom M1 ARM chip, which has consistently come out ahead in our tests for both battery life and performance. Every app we tested on the iPad Pro ran flawlessly, all without any struggle or fuss. The iPad Pro lasted 9.4 hours in our tests, putting it just ahead of the Surface Pro X, although the difference is almost negligible as either will last at least a day.
Our Pick: iPad Pro
If you're looking to do more than spend time in your browser or Microsoft's own apps, you're probably better off with the iPad Pro. Unfortunately, the Surface Pro X can't run most traditional Windows apps, and the Microsoft Store isn't nearly as packed with apps as Apple's App Store, so your options are limited on the Pro X. As for what does actually run, Adobe Adobe recently updated Photoshop to support Microsoft’s ARM chip, Zoom runs without many issues, and Microsoft's own Office apps work well. Still, you’ll have a harder time finding programs that will run on the Pro X than most other Windows tablets or laptops.
Apple's App Store doesn't have that problem. While it won't run any full-blown desktop apps like the Surface Pro X can, iPadOS is powerful on its own, and you can find an app for nearly anything you need. Although, you can run desktop remotely apps on your iPad through services like PocketCloud if need be.
For illustrators, there's Procreate, a feature-rich sketching app that's great for beginners and pros. Students can pick from the growing pile of notetaking apps available on iPadOS, including Goodnotes and Notability, both of which allow you to handwrite your notes using the Apple Pencil. Whether you're using the iPad to get things done or kick back after a long day of work and play a game or watch a few videos, the iPad has no shortage of options.
There is one caveat, though: many apps on the App Store will cost you some extra cash, with at least a few likely to require a subscription of some sort. You can find free options, but you probably won't be able to find all the bells and whistles unless you dish out a little extra cash. Some apps are worth that extra cost, but it's something to consider when planning to make a big purchase.
Our Pick: iPad Pro
The first thing you'll notice if you look at the Surface Pro X and iPad Pro side-by-side is that their displays have different aspect ratios. The Surface Pro X has a 3:2 aspect ratio, while the 12.9-inch iPad Pro has a 4:3 aspect ratio. Both are fine and suited for viewing videos and working in documents, but the 3:2 aspect ratio is a bit longer in portrait mode. Both displays have a 120Hz refresh rate, which will help those using their tablets to create illustrations or edit photos and videos.
As for resolutions, the Surface Pro X boasts a resolution of 2880 x 1920 with a pixel density of 267 PPI. That's only slightly higher than the iPad Pro's 2732 x 2048 display and its 264 PPI. That said, the numbers don't tell the whole story. As we noted in our review of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the tablet's LiquidXDR Display (which has a contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1) is impressively capable of producing deep blacks while maintaining a high brightness of up to 1600 nits, while the Surface Pro X maxes out at 450 nits and has a 1,500:1 contrast ratio. If you're looking for the tablet with the absolute best display, there's no beating the iPad Pro.
The Pro X's display does have one advantage over the iPad Pro: its built-in kickstand makes it possible to stand up without any additional accessories. As long as you've got a sturdy table or desk the Surface’s kickstand supports enough angles to suit your viewing needs. It even makes taking notes with a stylus easier by keeping the tablet at an angle. Meanwhile, there's no way to prop up the iPad Pro without buying an additional accessory or with whatever you've got lying around the house.
Our Pick: iPad Pro
Price and Accessories
For all their similarities, the price difference between the M1 iPad Pro and Surface Pro X is stark—at least at first.
The iPad Pro starts at $1,100, which will get you 128GB of storage and Wi-Fi connectivity. You can dial that all the way up to $2,400 for 2TB of storage and LTE connectivity. All models with storage up to 512GB come with 8GB of RAM, while the 1TB and 2TB models come with 16GB. That may not make a huge difference in your day-to-day life, but that extra bit of power may give the 16GB models a bit more longevity with future updates.
You have fewer options with the Surface Pro X, which starts at $1,500 for the latest model and comes with 256GB of storage and 16GB of RAM. For an additional $300, you'll get double the storage with the same 16GB of RAM.
That's all before factoring in any accessories, which are crucial to the experience for both the iPad and the Surface.
For the iPad Pro, you can get the excellent but pricey Apple Pencil, which will add $130 to your cart, or the Magic Keyboard, which costs $350 for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Even if you get the entry-level iPad Pro, nabbing both accessories will add nearly $500 to your purchase, which makes the iPad Pro's initially lower price a bit less enticing.
If you want to slap a keyboard onto the Surface Pro X, Microsoft's Surface Pro X Keyboard costs $140, while the Surface Slim Pen is down to just under $100 now. So, while the iPad Pro might be cheaper upfront, its pricier accessories bring its cost significantly closer to the Pro X's.
As with apps, the iPad Pro benefits from Apple's ecosystem of third-party accessories, too. If the Magic Keyboard's high price tag is out of the question for you, there's Logitech's Combo Touch keyboard, which turns your iPad into a more Surface-like tablet, complete with a kickstand. At $230, it's still not cheap, but you'll be saving a good chunk of money that you can just put towards your Apple Pencil or a few quality apps for your new tablet.
Our Pick: iPad Pro
And the winner is...
Thanks to the new M1 chip, the new 12.9-inch M1 iPad Pro is faster than ever, still lasts at least a full day on a single charge, and has the entire App Store for you to pick and choose from. While accessories like the Magic Keyboard and Pencil quickly add to the bill, you have way more options on the iPad Pro both for software and extra hardware.
On the other hand, unless you're certain you'll be able to run every app you currently need and will need in the future, it's hard to recommend anybody purchase the Surface Pro X right now. Its display, while great, still falls behind the iPad Pro's new LiquidXDR display. Microsoft's custom ARM chip prevents the Surface Pro X from running most apps other laptops can run, and even those that do run don't run well unless they've been optimized for the new processor.
If more apps get updated to support Microsoft's custom chip, or the company's own emulation improves, things might change, but right now the iPad Pro is a far better investment than the Surface Pro X for nearly anybody who's looking for a premium hybrid tablet.
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