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Microsoft Surface Pro Core M3 7th Gen – 4 Gb/128 Gb Ssd/Windows 10 Pro M1796 2 In 1 Laptop The Surface vs iPad rivalry goes back a long time, even before the “what’s a computer” fiasco. But, with both the Surface lineup as well as the iPad lineup becoming more diverse each year, the great cause for debate amongst Apple and Microsoft fans never seems to go away.
As someone who has an iPad Air 3 for multimedia purposes, I recently was intrigued by Surface Go 2 and decided to buy one with my Microsoft Rewards points. In its design and compactness. the budget-friendly Microsoft mini Surface tablet seemed a lot like Apple’s own iPad Air, but with the benefits of full-blown Windows. Yet, it also seemed quite different, too.
While it is true that iPad Air 3 is now a generation older (you can now buy iPad Air 4 with slimmer bezels,) does the Surface Go topple the iPad for me? Let’s find out.
First up in this comparison is price and specs. Apple’s iPad Air 3 originally sold in May of 2019 starting at $500. The Surface Go 2, meanwhile, starts at $400, but with some caveats. In my opinion, if you’re looking for the best price on a budget, the iPad might be better for you. But for a portable tablet that can really do most common things your PC can, the Surface Go 2, hands down, wins (more on that later.)
Please do note that there is now the iPad Air 4 for sale, too. The iPad Air 3 is considered “outdated,” by Apple, but fact remains that it’s still out there for sale at other retailers, and it’s something that people might want to buy if they don’t want to spend money on the latest iPad Air.
Anyway, no matter which iPad Air 3 you pick up, you’ll get the same processor and RAM onboard — Apple’s A12 Bionic processor, and 3GB of RAM. Only storage is that outlier, with the budget $500 model coming with 64GB only, and an additional 256GB of storage bumping the price as high as $700. You also can find a keyboard case from Logitech, which gives the iPad a Surface-like Type Cover with a trackpad, for an additional $150. In total, I spent $650 on my iPad.
Surface Go 2, meanwhile, is very different. While $400 covers the “budget” model with an Intel Pentium 4425Y processor, and 4GB of RAM, and 64B of eMMC storage, you also can find a “higher-end” Surface Go 2 with a faster Intel Core m3 processor inside as well as 8GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage. This, though, bumps the price up to $629. And, the Type Cover Keyboard is an additional $129.
In total, you’d have to spend $758, to get the same Go 2 that I have, not including the price of the $100 Surface Pen. If you’re going for the budget model, though, you’d save money, only having to spend $510, but be aware, the Pentium processor isn’t as fast as the M3, as I touch on towards the end of this piece.
Now, for the design. In this area, I feel as though iPad Air and Surface Go 2 share some heritage. As tablets, both devices are super portable and super light. I still prefer the Surface Go 2’s design though, mainly for its in-built kickstand.
iPad Air comes in at 1.02 pounds in weight and about 0.24 inches in thickness. It also has an aluminum enclosure in either Space Gray, Silver, or Gold colors. Oh, and there’s a proprietary Smart Connector on the bottom, for connecting a keyboard cover.
Surface Go 2 is in the same area but only comes in one color, platinum. Weight comes in a little bit more at 1.2 pounds, and the thickness is about 0.33 inches. The difference is small when compared to the iPad, but it does feel just a tiny bit heavier than the iPad, though I think most people won’t notice, especially when the kickstand is out. (This is something you can’t do on iPad, without a case.)
As for connectivity, the iPad doesn’t do too well. If you’re in the iOS ecosystem like I am, then you’ll be happy with the Lighting port onboard the iPad. It’s one universal Apple port for charging, as well as connecting accessories. However, you’ll need a dongle if you want to plug USB things into an iPad. Most dongles are quite expensive (at $20-$30) due to the proprietary connection. I do want to mention, though, that the new iPad Air 4 fixes this with USB-C as its primary connection.
Surface Go 2 has USB-C, as well as Surface Connect, the POGO keyboard connector, and expandable storage with a micro SD card slot. Yes, you’ll still need a dongle with the Go 2, but USB-C dongles are more readily available and cheaper than Lighting adapters. Surface Connect and USB-C also mean that you can charge via that port, or via USB-C, too. I also appreciate the SD card support on the Go, as it means you can bump storage as you want, which you can’t do on iPad.
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Review: Microsoft Surface Pro X (2020)
I have to confess that I was wrong in my original review of the Microsoft Surface Pro X. Not about my 3/10 rating of the product. I stand by that. What I was wrong about was my brazen prediction that the product would be discontinued in a year. I guess that’s a testament to what you can do with a $1.6 trillion market cap.
For those who don’t remember the original Surface Pro X—and I don’t blame you—the big news about this device, the “X” factor if you will, is that it did not run on an Intel chip but rather on Microsoft’s own silicon, an ARM CPU designed with Qualcomm called the SQ1. As I noted in my recent review of the new Mac Mini, Microsoft isn’t alone in pushing out its own microchips. It’s become downright fashionable these days for tech companies to dabble in chip design.
The problem with the original Surface Pro X—one of the big problems, anyway—wasn’t the CPU itself. It’s that the software wasn’t even close to being in place to support it. Yes, Windows and Office had been updated for the new chip, but not much else. The “Pro X,” as it’s known in Redmond, was really at its best when running a web browser. And for that, Microsoft wanted you to pay up to $1,500.
Well, the second generation of the Surface Pro X is here, and for all intents and purposes it is really the same computer as before. Microsoft has made some cosmetic upgrades, including a new platinum color option and an updated keyboard/stylus combo (though the bundle still costs an extra $205). And the signature 3-GHz SQ1 CPU has been upgraded to the 3.15-GHz SQ2.
Base pricing hasn’t changed, though the top-end model (with 16 GB RAM and a 512-GB SSD) now tops out at a heady $1,800. Key specs, including weight (1.7 pounds), thickness (8 millimeters), a dazzling 13-inch touchscreen (2880 x 1920 pixels), an integrated gigabit LTE modem, and a pair of USB-C ports used for connectivity, haven’t changed either. Curiously, Microsoft now boasts “all-day battery life” on the Pro X, though after testing it three times on my video rundown test, my review unit only eked out seven hours and 15 minutes of life, a mere 45 minutes more than the 2019 model. You’d have to kill the brightness to nearly nothing to approach the promised 15-hour life span.
Just as I was completing this review, Microsoft finally delivered a beta version of its x64 emulator, available for Windows Insiders members. This is a huge step that’s been (too) long in the making, finally arriving a full year after the launch of the SQ1 chip.
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Performance: iPadOS vs Windows 10 in S-mode
The other big part of the iPad vs Surface debate always comes down to software. While Surface has historically done badly in tablet mode, it has the benefit of Windows 10, which when paired with the Type Cover, feels right at home compared to what you get on a desktop PC. iPadOS, meanwhile, had made lots of gains, with multitasking, as well as support for keyboards and mice. This area is one of the hardest to pick a winner for me, as I really love iPadOS, but also love the versatility of Windows 10, too.
Anyway, the problem I had with the iPad Air 3 is that you’re still getting mobile apps from the App Store. While it is true that the iPad feels more intuitive than Surface as a tablet, for reasons I’ve discussed and compared before, the apps you get are still designed for mobile experiences. This often means apps (like Microsoft 365 apps) are limited in scope compared to macOS or Windows 10 counterparts.
There’s no hiding it, though, I do love the way that iPadOS feels. For a device with only 4GB of RAM, the iPad Air 3 is super snappy, especially when it comes to using the keyboard. iPadOS is well ahead of Windows’ tablet mode, but for real work, the iPad falls behind.
Now, for Surface Go 2. While you can unlock the full potential of Surface Go 2 by going to the Windows Store and leaving S-mode (to download any other app you want, not just store apps,) I kept my device in this locked-down mode. With Microsoft’s Chromium Edge browser, I was able to enjoy most the things I would on my dedicated laptop. For web browsing and multi-media, the S-mode is just fine. The Core m3 processor also keeps up with all my tasks and never caused any slowdowns. As many reviewers have pointed out, the budget model with the Pentium processor isn’t the same.
I do like the Surface Go 2 for the iPad Air 3 or a couple of reasons. First off, the performance is great, for a Windows device, it’s quite snappy. Second, it allows me to expand the screen and plug into a monitor, and get more work done, using full-blown desktop apps. Third, the Type Cover makes it feel like a laptop. While the iPad can do all of this (except for the monitor support,) Surface Go 2 pulls ahead for me, thanks to Windows 10. It’s just great to have a tiny Windows PC on the Go
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WiFi, LTE, Security, and webcams
This final section will touch on two things that are important during a global pandemic. Webcams, LTE, and device security. Apple and Microsoft have their own solutions here.
Surface Go 2 sports a 5MP 1080p front-facing Windows Hello webcam. This webcam is excellent for Teams and Skype Calls. I even used it for our Podcast, and the difference between it and the $40 1080p webcam I use was barely noticeable. On the rear, meanwhile, Surface Go 2 has an 8MP camera. Good enough for quick photos of whiteboards, etc.
iPad Air 3, meanwhile, has a 7MP 1080p FaceTime HD camera on the front, and an 8MP camera on the rear. The front camera is just as good on the Surface, especially for FaceTime calls.
In terms of security, I give the Go 2 the upper hand. With Windows Hello, you don’t need to touch your device to log in. On iPad Air 3, you have to touch the home button each time to get into the device. The Touch ID sensor also adds to the bulk of the iPad, which is why Apple removed it on the Pro models and relocated it to the power button on iPad Air 4.
In terms of LTE. The Surface Go 2 supports only the Core m3 model, and it comes at a $100 premium. All iPad Air models have LTE as an option, at a $129 premium.
Surface Topples iPad for me
Although the Surface Go 2 is an expensive endeavor when compared to the iPad Air 3, I think it’s the better buy. I really love the versatility of the Surface Go 2. I really do love how compact it is, and the built-in kickstand. The display and inking experience also is better for me, and I prefer having full desktop apps, rather than mobile versions as it is on iPadOS. No doubt, Microsoft could make changes to tablet mode to help improve Surface Go 2 as a tablet, for daily use, and getting work done, it feels a bit better than any iPad.
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