Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Microsoft Surface and Apple iPad 3 Head to Head

I was in a recent discussion about the Microsoft Surface and how it will be received by the consumer market. Obviously there are a lot of emotional reactions. Everyone is speculating about the price points, comparing features, and wondering if average consumers will even care. I would argue that there is a technical aspect to this that does make sense to discuss and debate … after all, you can compare screen resolutions or count apps in the app store … but then there is a purely marketing aspect that overrides any technical considerations. No, it doesn’t mean the specs don’t matter, but it does mean that you can have poor specs and great marketing and still succeed, and the best specs in the world won’t fix a poor marketing campaign.

All of the discussion and speculation got me wondering, how does this offering compare to the iPad? I can’t offer an objective opinion because I’m not an iPad user. I have a Samsung Series 7 slate that I purchased to write my book, and have been using Windows 8 on it since the Developer Preview. I love it. It does exactly what I want. When I am heads down writing prose or code, I’m on my dual screen monitors with a big external keyboard. When I’m casually browsing emails, participating in social networks, editing or commenting on manuscripts or watching videos, I’ve got my slate in hand. The battery lasts a long time (I enjoy watching movies any time I’m flying from Atlanta to Seattle, and always have plenty of battery left over) and the experience is just nice.

That, however, doesn’t mean it is not lacking or inferior. Of course this is a full version of Windows 8 on a Pentium chip that requires a fan to cool it so it is a lot thicker than an iPad. I have friends with iPads who love it. It’s thin. It’s easy to carry around. It is fast, snappy, and does the trick … so from that perspective, it’s tough for me to say one really “wins” over the other. The people used to the iPad, love it, the ones used to the Windows 8 slate, love it. Having said that, I was a former iPhone user and switched to Windows Phone 7 and had no desire to go back (no, didn’t receive anything from Microsoft for that statement, either, I truly had the choice and ended up turning it over to my daughter because I loved the Windows Phone so much).

OK, enough about speculation, let’s see what we can be objective about. Here’s a technical comparison that I believe accurately reflects the two models. Disclaimer: this is what I’ve gathered to the best of my ability by examining the data available online. I do not warrant the accuracy here and I welcome all feedback and updates. The specs here do not represent any official statement or correspondence from either Microsoft nor Apple. Here’s what I came up with:

 

iPad $499

Surface $499

iPad $599

Surface $599

iPad $699

Surface $699

Storage

16 GB

32 GB

32 GB

32 GB

64 GB

64 GB

Display

2048x1536

1366x768

2048x1536

1366x768

2048x1536

1366x768

Camera

1080p

720p

1080p

720p

1080p

720p

Back Camera

720p

720p

720p

720p

720p

720p

Weight

1.44 lbs

1.5 lbs

1.44 lbs

1.5 lbs

1.44 lbs

1.5 lbs

Thickness

9.4mm

9.4mm

9.4mm

9.4mm

9.4mm

9.4mm

Includes keyboard?

No

No

No

Yes

No

Yes

RAM

1 GB

2 GB

1 GB

2 GB

1 GB

2 GB

CPU

2-core 1 GHz

4-core 1.5 GHz

2-core 1 GHz

4-core 1.5 GHz

2-core 1 GHz

4-core 1.5 GHz

Battery

10 hours

8 hours

10 hours

8 hours

10 hours

8 hours

HD Video out?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

USB 2.0?

No

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

Ambient light?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Accelerometer?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Gyroscope?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Compass?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Microsoft Office?

No

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

Again, I welcome any corrections or updates if I’m off. Let’s take a look line by line:

Storage

This one was interesting to me. The entry level model for Surface actually has twice the storage of it’s counterpart, and other models are on par with the price.

Display and Cameras

Clearly the iPad3 wins in this category. With a super high resolution display it blows the Surface out of the water, and has a higher resolution front camera to boot. I would have to really hold two of these devices side by side to determine how much of a difference that makes – the video really doesn’t concern me, I am perfectly fine with 720p, but the display is something that can make a major difference if you are staring at the tablet all day long.

Weight and Thickness

These appear to be so close that you can’t really declare a winner. Right on par in both aspects.

CPU and RAM

Unless my information is off, it looks like all price points of the Surface are double RAM of the iPad3 (2 GB vs. 1 GB). The CPU is a quad core NVidia T30 that clocks up to 1.5 GHz compared to a dual-core A5x that clocks up to 1.0 GHz but I wouldn’t read that as a win for one over the other – regardless of cores or clock (which changes, by the way, to preserve battery) we’d have to see head-to-head bench marks to determine if the CPUs are really being utilized in a way that makes one truly faster than the other.

Battery

These are all based on claims and not actual data, so it’s tough to say the 2 hour difference is significant. Microsoft may be conservative or they may be off – you’d have to set up an experiment with comparable streaming video, browsing, or other “high cost” activities on both devices to truly compare. It looks like on paper the batteries should be comparable.

Peripheral Support

To me the Surface wins hands-down here. If you don’t care, it’s a moot point, but I like my USB drives and other peripherals and the fact that the Surface has a USB 2.0 port I can plug them right into.

Sensors

The systems appear to have a similar array of sensors.

Microsoft Office

This is to me hands-down the most important comparison. This is not based on my personal bias, but practical experience. My Samsung slate is often mistaken for an iPad on planes just because it’s a tablet and Apple has certainly marketed their product well enough to make it seem that all tablets are iPads. What gets interesting, however, is when I’m editing PowerPoint presentations, book manuscripts in Word, or catching up on Outlook emails on my device. That’s when people lean over and go, “Oh, wow, how did you get Office on there?” When I explain it’s the Windows version on a Windows machine, I consistently get “oohs” and “ahhhs.” Of course, I have mixed feelings about this one. WindowsRT will be limited to Windows Store apps, which include Office, so that’s good … but the next thing I typically say, which is “Yeah, I can run ALL of my Windows 7 software on this” simply won’t hold true for Surface until the Pro version comes out later next year.

First Windows 8 ad:

First Surface ad:

So what’s the bottom line?

I think this appears to be a very innovative product that I’m excited to try out. I just may get one for my wife or daughter and see how they enjoy it and whether or not they feel limited by the available apps. Whether we decide it’s awesome and far better than the iPad3 doesn’t really matter, however. Sure, it makes a difference, but what will determine overall success is how well Microsoft markets the product … and that’s still up in the air, although the hype is now beginning for both Windows 8 and Surface.

What do you think about the recent announcements? What are your thoughts on features, specifications, and price points? How about all of the other manufacturers releasing their line of Windows 8 products … is any particular model standing out as a clear leader in innovation, design, and, yes, I’ll say it, ability to kick iPad’s ass?

Comment below.

19 comments:

  1. You should compare available storage. How much of the 32GB on the Surface will be available for me to use?

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    Replies
    1. Great point. On a 32 GB iPad, is it truly 32 GB "free" and not counting OS/etc.? Will be curious about the Surface, I did see that question come up yesterday and it looks like some of the space will be taken up by the host OS, so that makes an interesting comparison.

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    2. Surface usable storage is reportedly about 20gb. Source: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/11kyja/iam_panos_panay_gm_of_microsoft_surface_amaa_ask/c6ndsu8

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    3. That would explain why the entry level Surface gets 32GB. If Windows takes about 12GB it would leave a mere 4GB for the rest. Also interested to know how the iPad compares here.

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  2. A compass and magnetometer is the same thing.

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    Replies
    1. Sure ... I updated the table just to list "compass". Thanks!

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  3. I think the RT vs Pro distinction will bite them. I suspect a great number of people will mistakenly get an RT device and be outraged that it doesn't run older Windows software.

    Microsoft needs to make that fact crystal clear. I looked at the "Which Surface For Me" page yesterday and the bullet list of things the RT lacks did not include running older apps! You had to read the text below the bullet list to find that out. That really needs to be bullet number 1 and in bold.

    NOW is the only point in time when Microsoft can do anything to avoid a backlash of epic proportions. If consumers truly understand that the lower cost RT doesn't run older apps they may question it's usefulness, but they won't buy it and regret it.

    At these prices I won't be getting an RT device for sure. The situation in which I could get excited about a Surface would be if I traveled frequently, and I wanted to replace my notebook with a Surface Pro.

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  4. I'm surprised you don't mention NFC / Near Field Communication as big plus for the Surface (admittedly will depend on how it is put to use, but at least the capability is there)

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    Replies
    1. That's a good point - I left it out though because I haven't seen a practical application of it yet.

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    2. I don't think it has NFC.

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    3. USB is good if ARM drivers for what you attach are available...

      And BTW, I've never seen a more annoying Captcha...

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    4. I just saw an article last night that says that Surface is NOT including NFC because of the magnesium shell!

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  5. Apps! Your forgot number of apps;)

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    Replies
    1. I don't see number of apps as a useful metric. To compare apps we need to pick some key apps based on popularity and compare functionality. Windows 8 will definitely be behind in this in many respects, but ahead in cases like Microsoft Office. It is a big unknown whether the gaps will fill out over time or not, chicken-and-egg (i.e. company X doesn't want to build app for Windows 8 until it proves popularity, but popularity depends on company X providing their app). Great point.

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  6. 3G / 4G LTE another comparison. Surface looks enticing and I'm keen to get my hands on one, but at UK price of £399 (without keyboard) and no 3G or LTE I'd then need a USB dongle to get connectivity on the go. Price of the dongle is not an issue but the fact it sticks out and gets snapped off is :-(

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    Replies
    1. Another great point. I purposefully left this out because there is not an option for Surface, and it costs $130 to add that option on the iPad side, making side-to-side comparison moot.

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  7. USB is good if ARM drivers for what you attach are available...

    And BTW, I've never seen a more annoying Captcha...

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  8. Another important point is that surface pro will have a thin stylus not a big thumb like the bamboo stylus just miming a finger). It will be a good little machine certainly.
    I've ordered a RT surface that must come the 26th (the 30th at worse). So I'll be able to say more at that time. I'll certainly buy a Pro when available. It's a geek attitude, not a real need...
    Cause I'm sure RT surface is a big deal for most users.
    Ones that argue running old windows apps is a problem on RT are totally forgetting that on IoS and Android tablets you can't definitively run any windows apps ! And for what I can see this is not really a problem avoiding these machines to be sold and reaching the success...
    RT surface is perfect for a wide range of users.
    Pro surface "seem" to be more interesting for developers, that's right, but I think it is a mistake. I'm developing with a big machine 16GB memory, SSD, 3 23/24" screens... How a little tablet can be a serious alternative to such a professional setup ? It will never replace a good big PC with lot of wide screens to work... When I wrote the very long paper about Jounce, how to do this with a single little screen ? Not possible (having word on one screen, VS on a second one to write test apps, and some docs on 3rd screen). When I'm working with Photoshop, even on a 24" I find there is no place for all the panels and not enough space for my drawings !
    People who will buy RT surface will sure be glad, and I'm afraid those that will be disappointed are the ones that will buy very expensive "pro" models thinking it can replace a laptop or a desktop PC... It will never replace a real PC, even nor a 17" asus laptop... It's another kind of machine for another kind of use.
    So buy RT surface now and create RT apps now :-)

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  9. I'm getting my Surface RT now because A) I've wanted a better device for using OneNote than my WP7 or a laptop, and I held off getting a tablet for this, but B) I want to get into the Windows Store marketplace sooner rather than later.

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