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Compare Surface Pro 8 vs iPad Pro 12.9

This review compares the Apple iPad Pro 12.9″ 5th Gen (2021) to the new Microsoft Surface Pro 8 to be released in October 2021. Both tablets are based on 13″ screen size and are suitable as a laptop replacement when used with their respective detachable keyboards that come with a touchpad.

Before going further, we recommend viewing the introduction review by Microsoft’s engineering team.

I. Form Factor

Tech SpecsApple iPad Pro 12.9 5th Gen (2021)Microsoft
Surface Pro 8
Release DateMay-2021Oct-2021
Form Factor
Dimensions280.6 x 214.9 x 6.4 mm
11.05 x 8.46 x 0.25 in
287mm x 208mm x 9.3mm
1.3 in x 8.2 in x 0.37 in
Weight682 g (Wi-Fi),
684 g (5G)
(1.50 lb)
889 g
1.96 lb
GlassScratch-resistant glass,
oleophobic coating
TBC
MaterialsBack: AluminumAnodized aluminum
ColorsSilver, Space GrayGraphite, platinum

About the Weight Issue

Apple iPad Pro 12.9 5th (2021) is slightly heavier than the 2020 version and weighs 682 grams, a weight that we feel is at the threshold of a handheld or tabletop device. It is also significantly thinner and is much more comfortable to hold with the hand, reading news or eBooks, or surfing web pages. The form factor is a good compromise between a handheld with a large screen. I have no problem holding the Apple iPad Pro 12.9 in both hands or cradle it on one arm, to watch a movie or read a book for up to an hour.

The weight of the Surface Pro 8 is similar to previous versions and hovers around the 800 grams range. We opine the weight is over the threshold where we would consider it comfortable to hold for a long period of time.  It is still perfectly fine to hold it in the arm or hands occasionally but not as long as the iPad Pro 12.9″.

The Casing Material

The metal casing for both devices is constructed using aluminum. For the Surface Pro, this is a deviation from the previous model which uses magnesium alloy and PVD finishing. Magnesium is 75% lighter than steel, 50% lighter than titanium, and 33% lighter than aluminum. That said, it was not enough to make Surface Pro the lightest tablet in the market as there are other factors to consider.

The Glass Type

Last but most importantly, according to Corning, Microsoft Surface Pro officially uses the Corning Gorilla Glass up to Surface Pro 6, and includes the following devices Surface Laptop 2, Surface Go, Surface Book 2, Surface Studio 2, Surface Hub 2S. There is no official information on what type of glass is used for Surface Pro 7, and also the upcoming Surface Pro 8.

We are speculating that Microsoft is following Apple by not stating the brand of the glass used. However, they could still come from Corning (as the OEM) but co-developed or customized to each brand. In any case, we believe the glass used on the Surface Pro 8 should be as good, if not better than the last Gorilla Glass used on the Surface Pro 6.

Verdict on the Form Factor

Considering the desirable tablet design in terms the size, weight, material, the Apple iPad Pro 12.9″ is the better option because it is a hybrid with the best of both worlds: as a tablet and a laptop replacement.

  • It is thinner and lighter than any tablet of the same size, which makes it ideal as a handheld device.
  • It has a 12.9″ display screen almost as large as a 13″ laptop.
Surface Pro 8 Top View
Surface Pro 8 Top View

II. Display

Tech SpecsApple iPad Pro 12.9 5th Gen
(2021)
Microsoft
Surface Pro 8
Display
Screen TypeLiquid Retina XDR display with ProMotion
PixelSense™ Flow Display
10 point multi-touch
Screen Size12.9 in13 in
Resolution2732 x 2048 pixels, 4:3 ratio
265 PPI 
2880 x 1920 , 3:2 ratio
267 PPI
Refresh Rate120 Hz adaptive120 Hz dynamic
(60 Hz Default)
FeaturesProMotion technology
True Tone
Anti-reflective coating with 1.8% reflectivity
Oleophobic coating
HDR Support
GPU Ink Acceleration
Dolby Vision® support

Both tablets have almost the same screen size, resolution, and PPI. The Surface Pro series was the first among the two to have a screen size of 13″.

Surface Pro 8 Screen

Refresh Rate

The Surface Pro 8 also has a dynamic refresh rate up to 120 Hz, which behaves the same as the adaptive display of the iPad Pro 12.9″ which Apple called the ProMotion technology. This helps in smoother scroll and responsive touch, reduces their stylus latency, and also saves battery life.

Surface Pro 8 Screen
Surface Pro 8 Screen

Anti-Glare

It is also noted that the Surface Pro 8 display is still missing an anti-reflective, anti-glare, and oleophobic coating for their touch screen display. It seems that Surface Pro users still need to use third-party tempered glass protectors for their screens. On the other hand, Apple’s screen is so good that it would be a waste of money to buy another protector.

Display Features

The Windows Ink has been around since 2016 or 2017 with Windows 10 Creator’s update, and it is the first time a Surface Pro screen supports Dolby Vision for more accurate rendering and details.

Apple iPad Pro’s Liquid Retina XDR display supports more HDR video formats, such as Dolby Vision, HDR10, or HLG.

Surface Pro 8 Dolby Vision
Surface Pro 8 Dolby Vision

Verdict on the Display

With all the above considered, the Apple iPad Pro display has a better design than the Surface Pro 8.

III. Hardware & OS

Tech SpecsApple iPad Pro 12.9 5th Gen
(2021)
Microsoft
Surface Pro 8
Hardware & OS
Operating SystemiPadOS 14.5.1,
upgradable to iPadOS 14.6
Windows 11
System chipApple M1
16‑core Neural Engine 
Intel (see below)
ProcessorOcta-core
4 performance cores
4 efficiency cores 
2 Options:
Quad-core 11th Gen Intel® Core™ i5-1135G7 Processor
Quad-core 11th Gen Intel® Core™ i7-1185G7 Processor
GPUApple 8-core GPUIntel® Iris® Xe Graphics
RAM/Storage8GB/128GB, 8GB/256GB,
8GB/512GB, 16GB/1TB,
16GB/2TB
RAM: 8, 16, 32GB (LPDDR4x)
SSD: 128GB, 256GB, 512 GB, 1TB
(Removable)

The Windows 11 OS has improvements for touch devices such as larger icons which are easier for fingers to press and more user-friendly.

According to the video, they have options for the Core i3 version in addition to the Core i5 and i7 listed. The new design now supports up to 23W TDP, which is the first in the pro line.

Surface Pro 8 Inside
Surface Pro 8 Inside

Heat Issues

Our experience with Apple iPad Pro 12.9″ is that the temperature rarely gets too hot to be noticed. We can turn and hold the iPad Pro in any orientation and side, without worrying about getting burned by the hot air from the exhaust vent. The reason is simply that the iPad Pro does not need to have any air vents.

But when it comes to Intel-based devices, more has to be done about the heat, and the Surface Pro is no exception. For the Surface Pro, the Intel Core i7 version has an internal fan for active cooling, while the Intel Core i5 version does not have any fan as it is based on passive cooling (i.e. heat dissipation).

According to Surface Pro 7 user feedback for a Core i5 system:

  • The idle speed is around 35 to 45 deg C; This is equivalent to a glass of lukewarm water, which is the limit of comfort.
  • A medium load is 45 to 55 deg C; This temperature is fine for touching but is unacceptable for prolonged holding.
  • A heavy load can be as high as 55 to 70 deg C; This is absolutely unacceptable unless you plan to wear gloves.

To deal with the heat issue, the Surface Pro 8 has a new Carbon composite thermal dissipation system, which is touted as the most advanced cooling solution yet. It uses a vapor chamber, three heat pipes, and three graphite heat spreaders. Extensive testing was conducted to tune the parameters for how and when the fan speed ramps up based on workload, and to deliver the lowest sound level possible. Below is an illustration of the airflow and venting. All the above is to deliver 46% faster computer and 75% boost in graphics processing compared to Surface Pro 7. 

This means that there is a restriction whereby you cannot place your hands or hold the Surface Pro 8 where the air vents are and are the same restriction as to the previous Surface Pro.

Surface Pro 8 Venting for Airflow

If you need to hold the tablet in your hand, the Surface Pro 8 will not be suitable due to the vents and hot air. You can turn and hold the iPad Pro in portrait or landscape orientation without worrying about the hot air, but the Surface Pro 8 is designed for landscape orientation and is best used by placing it on a tabletop.

Storage Wise

Apple iPad 12.9″ 5th Gen has included a new option for 2TB SSD, but the Surface Pro 8 only has 1TB maximum storage, same as the Surface Pro 7 released in 2019. Even if the Surface Pro 8 does not deserve a 2TB option,

Microsoft could have made the upgrade more worthwhile by offering a faster 1TB SSD speed upgrade. One thing good about the Surface Pro 8 is that the SDD is user-removable, which means if there is a 2TB option in the future, the user can just change it himself. The downside is perhaps, anyone can also remove the SSD easily.

Surface Pro 8 Removable SSD
Surface Pro 8 Removable SSD

The Nano SIM slot is just located below the removable SSD slot.

Sensors

Tech SpecsApple iPad Pro 12.9 5th Gen
(2021)
Microsoft
Surface Pro 8
Storage expansionNoNo
SensorsFace ID
Gyro
Accelerometer
Barometer
Digital Compass
Ambient light sensor
Face recognition
Accelerometer
Gyroscope
Magnetometer
Ambient light sensor

Ambient color sensor
Fingerprint Sensor (Keyboard)
Speakers4 stereo speakers2 Dolby stereo speakers
3.5mm EarjackNoYes
StylusApple Pencil (Gen 2)
Bluetooth, wireless charging
Surface Slim Pen 2
with wireless charging
Microphone5Dual farfield studio mics
Detachable KeyboardYesYes, with storage for slim pen

Both tablets seemed to have the same type of sensors, but the Apple iPad Pro has an additional barometer for measuring air pressure and altitude. Both tablets support face recognition but do not have built-in fingerprint sensors. Although not explicitly stated, iPad Pro also has a magnetometer most commonly used for the compass.

On top of the ambient light sensor that we see on most devices, Microsoft has a new ambient color sensor that detects the surrounding light and adjusts the screen content according to different light sources.

Surface Pro 8 has a fingerprint sensor on the Surface Pro keyboard for biometric signing in.

Surface Pro 8 Biometric Signing In
Surface Pro 8 Biometric Signing In

Audio

Surface Pro 8 has two Dolby stereo speakers and dual farfield studio mics which is said to deliver crystal clear sound for the conference calls. Apple iPad Pro 12.9″ has at least twice the number of stereo speakers and microphones, in a thinner and smaller casing.

Compare Apple Pencil 2 and Surface Slim Pen 2

Tech SpecsApple iPad Pro 12.9
5th Gen (2021)
Microsoft
Surface Pro 8
StylusApple Pencil (Gen 2)
Bluetooth, wireless charging
Surface Slim Pen 2
Bluetooth 5.0, wireless charging
Stylus Size166 x 8.9mm diameter
20.7 grams (0.73 oz)
136.8 x 11.3 x 6.3 mm
13 grams (0.46 oz)
Stylus Battery LifeUp to 12hUp to 15 hours

Both styli connect via BlueTooth and use wireless charging for their non-removable battery. Both styluses are useful for drawing, sketching, coloring, and taking notes.

The Apple Pencil Gen 2 has a round profile except for a flat edge for magnetic attachment, and it is also longer by about 29mm and is almost 60% heavier at 20.7 grams. It may sound like a lot, but the Apple Pencil does not feel heavy.

The Surface Slim Pen 2 is designed with a rectangular, slim profile with rounded corners. The design intention of the slim profile is to enable it to be stored in the Surface Keyboard. Despite a lighter weight, Microsoft claimed that it has a battery life of 15 hours that is 25% more than Apple Pencil Gen 2.

The new Slim Pen 2 leverages the tactile signal supported by Windows 11 and next-generation custom Silicon, Microsoft G6, to enhance the natural feel and interactions of the pen, through an added haptic motor. This is tuned to mirror the feedback you feel when you use a pen on paper.

Surface Slim Pen 2

Keyboards

Both tablets come with very capable but expensive keyboard accessories.

  • Apple: Magic Keyboard, $349
    • Weight: 710 grams (1.6 lbs)
    • Controls the tilting angle of the tablet
    • Powered by iPad (through smart connector at the back of iPad)
    • Backlit
    • Touchpad
    • USB-C Port is only used to charge the iPad Pro, but not directly:
      • Do not connect a USB-C cable between iPad Pro and the Magic Keyboard.
      • For charging, connect the USB-C cable directly to charge the iPad Pro.
      • If the iPad Pro USB-C port is in use, then connect the USB-C charge cable to the Magic Keyboard, which will then charge the iPad Pro.
Magic Keyboard
Magic Keyboard

 

  • Microsoft: Surface Pro Signature Keyboard, $259
    • Weight: 281 grams (0.62 lbs)
    • Powered by Surface Pro 8 (through magnetic connector)
    • Backlit
    • Touchpad
    • Storage and charger for Surface Slim Pen 2
    • Does not control the tilting angle of the tablet

Overall, the Microsoft Surface Pro Signature is better than Apple Magic Keyboard due to its lighter weight and ability to store and charge the stylus.

However, the Surface Pro 8 and keyboard system has a flaw: The more you tilt the tablet, the more space it needs behind the tablet. This will not work with a small table when there is not enough space for the stand.

On the other hand, the Apple Magic keyboard does not have this limitation regardless of the tilt angle, the base remains the same fixed size.

Magic Keyboard Tilting – Base remains fixed depth.
Surface Pro needs a bigger table to tilt backward

Verdict on the Hardware

Overall, the Apple iPad Pro 12.9″ is still better than the Microsoft Surface Pro 8 but not for the accessories, which includes the Apple Pencil Gen 2 and Magic Keyboard.

IV. Connectivity

Tech SpecsApple iPad Pro 12.9 5th Gen
(2021)
Microsoft
Surface Pro 8
Connectivity
SIM TypeNano SIM (LTE models)
eSIM
Nano SIM (LTE models)
eSIM /LTE Advanced
Cellular NetworkGSM / CDMA / HSPA
/ EVDO / LTE
Yes
Wi-FiWi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax
dual-band, hotspot
Wi-Fi 6
Bluetooth 5.0, A2DP, LE, EDR5.1
GPSYes, with A-GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO, QZSSNA
NFCNoNo
RadioNoNo
Infrared PortNoNo
ConnectorUSB-C 4 (Thunderbolt 4)
DisplayPort, Magnetic
2 x USB-C® with USB 4.0/Thunderbolt™ 4
3.5mm headphone jack
1 x Surface Connect port
Surface Type Cover port
Compatible with Surface Dial off-screen interaction

The Surface Pro 8 does not have any GPS like the earlier versions, but it comes with LTE options using Nano-SIM, and other good features:

  • It has two USB-C with USB 4.0/Thunderbolt 4: This means each port can transfer up to 40 Gbps or 5,000 MB/s theoretically. This is converted to about 4.88 GB/s.
  • It comes with a 3.5mm headphone jack as most laptops do provide.
  • It has a Surface Connect Port mostly used for power supply, but can also be used for high-speed data transfer or external monitor. Since it has two USB-C 4.0 port, the Surface Connect Port can be used mostly for power supply only.
Surface Pro 8 Side View
Surface Pro 8 Side View

V. Cameras and Video Recording

Tech SpecsApple iPad Pro 12.9 5th Gen
(2021)
Microsoft
Surface Pro 8
Rear camera Specs12 MP, f/1.8, (wide), 1/3″,
1.22µm, dual pixel PDAF
10 MP, f/2.4, 125˚ (ultrawide)
TOF 3D LiDAR scanner (depth)
10 MP
Video recording4K: 24/25/30/60fps
1080p:25/30/60/120/240fps
720p: 30 fps
4K
Front Camera Specs12 MP, f/2.4, Ultra-wide,
122 deg FOV
IR Camera
5MP (See below)
Video Recording1080p: 25/30/60fps1080p

The Surface Pro 8 has a better featured front camera for video conferencing than the rear camera.

There are two front cameras. The first is an IR camera for Windows Hello face authentication, which adapts to changes in appearance such as facial hair, using AI.

Surface Pro 8 Front Camera Array
Surface Pro 8 Front Camera Array

The other is a 5MP front-facing RGB, FHD camera with large 1.4 micro pixel sensors with optimizations for low light conditions.

Surface Pro 8 Camera Optimization

VI. Battery

Tech SpecsApple iPad Pro 12.9 5th Gen
(2021)
Microsoft
Surface Pro 8
Battery Capacity10,840 mAh (40.88 Wh)50.2 – 51.5 Wh
Battery LifeUp to 10 hUp to 16 h
(typical)
Wireless Charging
Yes
No

The battery life is not quite an apple to apple comparison and is also dependent on the type of usage including the amount of network access, screen display, sound, etc. The Apple iPad Pro supports wireless charging like most of its other devices.

VII. Conclusion

The Surface Pro 8 is suitable primarily as a lightweight laptop alternative or replacement, with the option to convert into a tablet. It is more comfortable to use the Surface Pro 8 when placed on the table only. It is not stable to place on the lap and is too warm to be operated handheld over a prolonged period of time. For us, we feel the main reason to pick the Microsoft Surface Pro 8 is for productivity work with the familiar Microsoft Office, CAD design, or Adobe software that we are familiar with on the PC.

We like the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard design as it incorporates storage and wireless charging for the Surface Slim Pen 2. This is a smarter design than Apple’s approach to handling the Apple Pencil since Gen 1.

For the Apple iPad Pro 12.9″ is also a good hybrid but excels as a tablet more than a laptop replacement. We feel the Magic keyboard is overpriced, and it is too heavy – it is even heavier than the iPad Pro 12.9″ tablet. The Apple Pencil 2 magnetic catch design is ideal, perhaps only in Apple’s office where they are not afraid of accidentally dropping the expensive pencil.

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