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Compare Microsoft Surface Go 3 and Apple iPad Air 4

The Microsoft Surface Go 3 is the latest Tablet from Microsoft to be released this year and is a worthy alternative for the Apple iPad Air series.

In general, anyone who picks the Microsoft Surface Go 3 would prefer to use Windows App and its compatibility with existing laptops and notebooks. The files work seamlessly across any platform as long as they are using Windows. This is the key advantage of the Surface Go 3.

Apple iPad Air will be suitable for use as a standalone tablet most of the time, even though it can also share basic, universal files such as documents, PDFs, images and even Excel worksheets.

So the decision to pick the Surface Go 3 or iPad Air 4th Gen may not be based on the hardware specifications but the operating system and applications.

The Surface Go 3 cost $598 for Intel Core 3 (WiFi) with 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD, and the Apple iPad Air 4 cost $729 for the 256 GB version with Wi-Fi + Cellular.

Compare Form Factor

Tech SpecsMicrosoft Surface Go 3Apple iPad Air 4th Gen
Release DateSep-2021Oct-2020
Form Factor
Dimensions245 mm x 175 mm x 8.3 mm
9.65 x 6.9 x 0.33 in
247.6 x 178.5 x 6.1mm
9.74 x 7.02 x 0.24 in
Weight554 g (Wi-Fi)
(1.2 lb)
458 g (Wi-Fi)
460 g (Wi-Fi – Cellular)
(1.01 lb) 
GlassCorning Gorilla Glass 3Scratch-resistant glass
oleophobic coating
MaterialsMagnesiumBack: Aluminum
ColoursPlatinumSilver, Space Gray, Rose Gold, Green, Sky Blue

The Apple iPad Air lives up to its name to beat the Surface Go 3 in the weight category. Not only is the difference in weight of 100 grams substantial, but it is also thinner by a hefty 2mm.

The iPad Air also has more choices of colours and comes with classic scratch-resistant glass. Is this unbranded glass better than Corning Gorilla Glass 3? We will say both glasses should be about the same when it comes to scratch and crack resistance unless either one is the latest Ceramic Shield or the Gorilla Victus.

Read also: Compare Ceramic Shield and Corning Gorilla Glass Victus Test Results 

Operating System

The Surface Go 3 runs on Windows 11 in S Mode.

What is Windows 11 in S Mode?

The Windows 11 in S Mode only runs Windows programs downloaded from the Microsoft Store for security and performance reasons.  If you plan to install an application outside of the Microsoft Store, the device needs to be permanently switched out of S mode.

There’s no charge to switch out of S mode, but you won’t be able to turn it back on. The switch is a one-way switch and you will be stuck with a full Windows 11 on the small tablet, which is not a good idea.

If you switch out of S mode, the will be more flexibility for applications, such as the ability to use 32-bit (x86) Windows apps that are not available in the Microsoft Store in Windows. But since the switch is permanent, it is better to check for other restrictions such as 64-bit restrictions.

For the Surface Go, it is not recommended to switch out of S mode because the OS and applications are optimized for faster boot times, longer battery life, and better security. Do not forget that the Surface Go only has an i3 processor with up to 8GB RAM at most.

How is iPadOS compared to Windows 11 in S Mode?

The iPadOS is specifically designed and optimized for use on iPad tablets. Furthermore, the applications in the store can only be used for iPad and are completely different from macOS.

The Windows 11 in S mode in the Surface Go 3 is essentially the same as the desktop OS but restricted only to Microsoft Store apps. However, these apps can be used for Windows 11 as well since they are the same OS. That said, it is not ideal because the Surface Go hardware will be slow to run a full desktop version software, which is why we recommend sticking with the S mode and Microsoft Store for the Surface Go.

Compare Hardware

Tech SpecsMicrosoft
Surface Go 3
Apple iPad Air 4th Gen
System chipIntel (see below)A14 Bionic chip (5nm)
with Neural Engine
ProcessorDual-core Intel® Pentium® Gold 6500Y processor
Dual-core 10th Gen Intel® Core™ i3-10100Y processor
Hexa-core
2×3.0 GHz Firestorm
4×1.8 GHz Icestorm
GPUIntel® UHD Graphics 615Apple 4-Core GPU
RAM/Storage4GB or 8GB RAM (LPDDR3)
64 GB (eMMC drive)
128 GB (SSD drive)
4GB/64GB
4GB/256GB
Storage expansionMicroSDXC Card ReaderNo
SensorsAmbient light sensor
Accelerometer
Gyroscope
Magnetometer
Touch ID (Top Button)
Three‐axis gyro
Accelerometer
Barometer
Digital Compass
Ambient light sensor
Speakers2W Dolby stereo speakers2 stereo speakers
3.5mm EarjackYesNo
MicrophoneDual far-field studio mics2
StylusSurface Pen
BlueTooth 4.0, AAAA battery
Apple Pencil (Gen 2)
Bluetooth, wireless charge
Detachable KeyboardSurface Go Type CoverSmart Keyboard Folio
Magic Keyboard

As highlighted above, the Apple iPad Air has the advantage of a higher storage option up to 256 GB, barometer, digital compass. On the other hand, the Surface Go has the classic 3.5mm ear jack, and Micro SDXC card reader which are not available on the iPad series.

The Surface Go uses the Surface Pen that is powered by an AAAA battery, which we consider inferior as compared to the Apple Pencil with wireless charging capability. Nevertheless, the battery lasts quite long and it is recommended to keep a spare AAAA battery in case it runs out in the evening when stores are closed.

Compare Display

DisplayMicrosoft Surface Go 3Apple iPad Air 4th Gen
Screen TypePixelSense™ Touchscreen
10 point multi-touch
Liquid Retina display
LED-backlit Multi‑Touch
IPS LCD Display 
Screen Size10.5″10.9″
Resolution1920 x 1280 , 3:2 ratio
220 PPI
2360 x 1640, 1.44:1 ratio
264 PPI
FeaturesNilTrue Tone display
Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
Fully laminated display
Antireflective coating
1.8% reflectivity

The Apple iPad Air has a slightly larger display, better resolution and higher pixel density.

Compare Connectivity

Tech SpecsMicrosoft
Surface Go 3
Apple iPad Air 4th Gen
SIM Type NanoNano
eSIM
Cellular Network GSMLTE/HSPA
Wi-FiWi-Fi 6: IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax Wi‑Fi 6 (802.11a/b/g/n/​​ac/ax); 2.4GHz and 5GHz; simultaneous dual band; speeds up to 1.2 Gbps
Bluetooth 5.15.0, A2DP, LE, EDR
GPSNo (LTE for location services)A-GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO
Connector1 x USB-C
1 x Surface Connect port
1 x Surface Type Cover port
1 x USB-C
Smart Connector
Magnetic Connector
NFCYes No
RadioNo No
Infrared PortNo No

The Surface Go 3 does not have GPS as it uses LTE for location services, and it has NFC which is missing in all iPad series.

Since the Surface Go 3 is powered by the Surface Connect Port, the USB-C port can be used for other purposes such as data transfer, external monitor or other port extensions.

Compare Cameras

DisplayMicrosoft Surface Go 3Apple iPad Air 4th Gen
Rear Camera
Rear camera Specs8 MP12 MP (wide), f/1.8
Video recording1080p4K: 24/30/60 fps
1080p: 30/60fps
Front Camera
Front Camera Specs5 MP7 MP, f/2.2
Video Recording1080 p1080p: 60fps

The cameras used on the Surface Go 3 are of lower resolution, and there is not much information regarding the hardware such as stabilisation and or camera modes at this time. For the Apple iPad Air, it is a different story as it has undergone more iterations and improvements than the Surface Go series.

The Apple iPad Air has better quality cameras and features which are not listed here but includes:

  • Five-element lens
  • Hybrid IR filter
  • Backside illumination sensor
  • Live Photos with stabilization
  • Autofocus with Focus Pixels
  • Tap to focus with Focus Pixels
  • Wide colour capture for photos and Live Photos
  • Panorama (up to 63MP)
  • Exposure control
  • Noise reduction
  • Smart HDR 3 for photos
  • Auto image stabilization
  • Burst mode
  • Timer mode
  • Photo geotagging
  • Image formats captured: HEIF and JPEG

The above is just for static images not including videos, and the latest iPad Pro version has even more features such as the cinematic and night mode.

Compare Batteries

Tech SpecsMicrosoft Surface Go 3Apple iPad Air 4th Gen
Battery Capacity28 Wh28.6 Wh
Battery LifeUp to 11 hUp to 10 h
Fast Charging 18W

Both tablets have similar battery capacity and advertised battery life, which is dependent on the usage. They are also non-removable and do not support wireless charging. iPad Air 4th Gen also supports 18W fast charging using a USB Type-C port.

Read more: 
Compare Surface Pro 8 vs iPad Pro 12.9
Surface Pro 7 Design Review

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