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How the iPad Air Compares with the New Microsoft Surface 2 Pro Tablet

With the introduction of its iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display, Apple continues to dominate the tablet computing marketplace and holds a significant global market share. In this article, Jason R. Rich compares the iPad Air with the Microsoft Surface 2 Pro tablet.
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So, you're shopping for a new tablet. Maybe you're a dedicated Windows PC computer user and you're hesitant to invest in an iPad, which uses a totally different operating system. Or maybe you've seen all of the ads for the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and you're considering it instead of an iPad Air because you think it's a more viable business tool.

Pros and Cons of the Microsoft Surface Pro 2

In fact, the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 is a powerful tablet; it does run the actual Windows Pro 8.1 operating system and all full-featured software designed for this operating system (not just mobile apps). Thus, it runs the full versions of Microsoft Office applications (sold separately). Software that's running can be multitasked, so several different programs can be running on the tablet at once, thanks to its Intel Core i5 processor.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 2 also has a rechargeable battery that lasts up to 10 hours and is fully compatible with the Microsoft SkyDrive cloud-based file sharing service (which makes wireless syncing of your documents, data, and files a straightforward process).

The Surface Pro 2 is also portable. The tablet has a 10.6-inch (diagonal) multitouch display, weighs 2 pounds, and measures 10.81 inches by 8.61 inches by 0.53 inches. The screen offers a resolution of 1920 x 1080; and for internal storage, you can choose between 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB. Another feature that's built into the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 is a full-size USB 3.0 port, which makes connecting it to peripherals and a charger very easy.

Figure 1 A Surface Pro 2 with optional keyboard cover and pen stylus

As an option, the Surface Pro 2 offers an external, detachable keyboard that offers a true tactile typing experience. This transforms the tablet into more of a lightweight notebook computer. However, as a stand-alone tablet, the Surface Pro 2 can also be used with a virtual onscreen keyboard and/or pen-shaped stylus (included).

If you're a Windows PC user and want to stick with the Windows 8.1 operating system, acquiring a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 tablet may be the way to go, but the investment won't be a small one. The Surface Pro 2 starts at $899.00 for a unit with 64GB of internal storage. However, you'll also probably want to invest in a Microsoft Touch Cover (with built-in keyboard), which will cost an additional $89.00, and/or an optional Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse (Surface Edition), which will set you back an additional $69.99.

Many other accessories, from an adapter that allows you to connect the tablet to an HDTV ($39.99), to a screen protector and a wide range of cases, are also available. Then, you need to invest in software.

If you want the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 to run Office, you'll need to purchase a copy of the software, along with any other software you want to run on the device. The problem is that Windows software for PCs is much more expensive than apps designed for mobile devices.

Also, what's a bit misleading about the Microsoft Surface tablets are what the different models are actually capable of. The original Microsoft Surface (which starts at $349.00) and newer Microsoft Surface 2 tablets (which starts at $449.00) are relatively inexpensive, but they don't offer the same computing power or the capability to run Windows 8.1 software that's offered by the Surface Pro 2.

The Surface and Surface 2 tablets run mobile apps designed for use with a tablet, not the same software that's currently running on your Windows-based PC.

So, when all is said and done, if you want the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 so you can maintain full software, data, document, and file compatibility with your existing desktop and notebook computer(s), plan on spending $1,000 to $1,500 or more, which is about what you'd spend for a thin, lightweight, full-powered notebook computer that runs Windows.

iPad Air Is a Worthy Adversary... and Much More Popular

Now, let's take a look at the Apple iPad Air. It starts at $499.00 for a 16GB, Wi-Fi-only model. But, if you want a 128GB Wi-Fi + cellular model, plan on spending $929.00.

Regardless of which iPad Air model you choose, it runs using Apple's A7 chip, it weighs between 1.0 and 1.05 pounds, and it measures 9.4 inches by 6.6 inches by 0.29 inches. The iPad Air also has a battery life of about 10 hours. Its multitouch Retina display measures 9.7 inches (diagonally).

Figure 2 An iPad Air with optional cover

The iPad Air runs iOS 7, which is a proprietary operating system designed by Apple for its mobile devices, including the iPhones and iPads. There are more than one million apps available for the iPad, and they're typically priced between free and $9.99 (although some will cost a bit more).

Right out of the box, the iPad comes with a handful of apps built in, including Contacts (for contacts management), Calendar (a scheduling app), Reminders (for to-do list management), Notes (a text editor for note taking), Mail (for managing multiple email accounts), and Safari (a powerful web browser for surfing the web).

These core apps are compatible with and will sync data with Microsoft Outlook, as well as online-based contact management, scheduling and to-do list applications from Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft Exchange, and other services.

All these apps are also fully compatible with Apple's iCloud online-based file sharing and data syncing service, plus they're compatible with the Mac versions of these apps, which come preinstalled on all Macs, so data between these apps automatically and seamlessly syncs between the iPhone, iPad, and one or more Macs linked to the same iCloud account.

No, the iPad Air does not run Microsoft Office (yet — there are rumors of an imminent Office for iOS announcement). However, it does run the free iWork for iOS apps, which include Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. Pages is compatible with Microsoft Word, Numbers is compatible with Microsoft Excel, and Keynote is compatible with PowerPoint.

These iPad/iPhone apps, as well as the Mac versions of them, are available for free. Several third-party apps, such as Smart Office 2, Documents To Go: Premium Office Suite, and QuickOffice also offer Microsoft Office compatibility using the iPad Air.

From the iCloud.com website, online versions of Contacts, Calendar, Reminders, Mail and Notes, as well as Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are available from any Internet-connected computer (including a PC) that has a web browser.

Thus, collaborating with or sharing data, documents, and files with your other computers and mobile devices, as well as with other PC and Mac users, is a seamless experience using an iPad. So although the iPad doesn't actually run Windows, it does run apps that are most likely fully compatible with the software that you're currently using on your PC or Mac.

In terms of other functionality, both the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and iPad Air offer solutions for using the tablet with Skype (and other voice-over-IP solutions for phone and video calls). You can also use the device as a digital music player; to watch HD videos; play games; read eBooks; and handle other popular personal computing, work-related, and entertainment-oriented tasks.

For example, both tablets run popular apps/software—such as Evernote (for note-taking and information organization) as well as Netflix (for streaming TV shows and movies—if you pay the monthly subscription fee). Both devices also have built-in speakers, and a front- and rear-facing camera for taking pictures, shooting video, or participating in video calls.

Final Thoughts...

When it comes to choosing between the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and the iPad Air, the big question to ask is this: Do you really need to be running Windows on your tablet, or will apps that are compatible with your Windows or Mac software allow you to handle your mobile computing needs?

Also, how much are you willing to spend for a tablet that's capable of handling the tasks you require? The rest comes down to a matter of personal taste. You need to decide which tablet fits better in your hands and will best adapt to your daily work habits, and which user interface and operating system will you be most comfortable using.

Both the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and Apple iPad Air are extremely powerful tablets that are capable of handling a wide range of tasks. Both can potentially replace the need to carry around a heavier notebook computer while on the go, and both can keep you connected to the Internet.

In terms of customer appeal, the iPad Air continues to be considerably more popular among casual and business users than the Microsoft Surface Pro 2, despite Microsoft's extensive, multimillion dollar ad campaign that touts why the company believes its tablet is superior.

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