For many college students, a tablet is better for studying than a laptop. Tablets are often cheaper, more portable, and faster than their bulkier cousins. Two of the leading names in the tablet world are the Apple iPad and the Microsoft Surface.
Which is the best tablet for college? Read on to see how these two tablets compare. For the purposes of this comparison, we’ll be paying special attention to the top-of-the-line models from each company: the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and the Apple iPad Air. Of course, if you are on a tight budget, you could always opt for earlier tablet models.
1. Surface vs. iPad: Price & Storage
Apple’s iPad line starts as low as $299 for a 16 GB iPad Mini, and goes all the way up to $799 for a 128 GB iPad Air. Arguably the best iPad in Apple’s lineup, the cheapest iPad Air starts at $499 for a 16GB model. There is also a 32 GB iPad Air for $599, and a 64 GB for $699.
Microsoft’s Surface line also has quite the difference in prices. The Surface Pro 3 starts at $799 for a 64 GB model, with the most expensive Surface Pro 3 costing $1,949 for a 512 GB model. The 128 GB model cost $999, with the 256 GB model cost depending on your chip option. The 256 GB Surface Pro 3 with an Intel i5 costs $1,299, while the i7 variant costs $1,549.
The iPad Air is certainly cheaper, but only if you’re satisfied with a tablet that’s 128 GB or less. If you need a tablet with more on-board storage than that, you’ll have to shell out more for a Surface.
Students should keep in mind that education discounts are available. Apple is offering $50 gift cards with the purchase of any iPad, along with savings up to $30 for students. Student savings for the Surface line may vary, but a look at Microsoft’s store suggests that students can save about $130 on a Surface Pro 3.
2. Surface vs. iPad: Screen Size
Comparing the flagship tablets of the iPad and Surface lines isn’t exactly an apple-to-apples situation. While the price may vary greatly between these two tabs, there’s more than just cost to consider.
In terms of screen size, the Surface Pro 3 offers a 12-inch experience. If you want something smaller, you could go with a Surface 2, which has a 10-inch screen. In contrast, the iPad Air has a 9.7‑inch screen. If you want a smaller iPad experience, you could go with the 7.9‑inch Mini.
3. Surface vs. iPad: Quality of Accessories
Check out the Verge’s review of the Surface Pro 3 above.
Both the Surface Pro 3 and iPad Air have a ton of third-party accessories available, along with official accessories from Microsoft and Apple. The Surface Pro 3 ships with the Surface Pen, which is designed to provide a more naturalistic writing and drawing experience. The iPad Air has a number of stylus options, with many iPad fans favoring the Adonit Jot Script stylus.
While you might want a stylus for taking notes in class, the tablet accessory that is most important to a college student is the detachable keyboard. Nobody wants to type an entire term paper using the on-screen keyboard. The official Surface Pro Type Cover comes in five colors, and offers backlit, proximity-sensing keys. PC Mag gave this keyboard cover a solid review, but noted the case sometimes feels flimsy, especially given the price.
When it comes to the iPad Air, you can either go with a Logitech keyboard case, or Apple’s own wireless keyboard. Which option you go with depends on your own personal sense of ergonomics, though a keyboard case is nice because it also protects your screen. If you opt for the full wireless keyboard from Apple, you’ll probably also want to grab an iPad stand. Both the Apple wireless keyboard and the Logitech keyboard case have gotten solid reviews from consumers and tech experts.
4. Surface vs. iPad: Battery Life
Check out the Verge’s review of the iPad Air above.
Apple states that you can surf the web on an iPad Air for between nine and ten hours on a single charge, depending on whether you’re using Wi-Fi or cellular data. The Surface Pro 3 is fairly comparable, with Microsoft stating the Surface Pro 3 has up to nine hours of battery life. A recent update to the Surface Pro 3 improved battery consumption.
5. Surface vs. iPad: Final Thoughts & Conclusions
Can’t decide between an iPad Air and a MacBook Air? The Verge video above compares the MacBook Air against the Surface Pro 3.
If you asked Microsoft how the Surface Pro 3 stacked up against the iPad Air, they might argue that the comparison is moot. The real question Microsoft has been asking consumers on their website is how the Surface Pro 3 compares to a MacBook Air. Microsoft designed the Surface Pro 3 to compete against both other tablets, as well as premium laptops. If that’s the kind of tablet that appeals to you, the Surface Pro 3 might be the tablet you’ve been dreaming of. Then again, that premium feel comes at a premium price…and that price tag may be too steep for some students.
As for the iPad Air, this tablet is likely to appeal to people who are already ensconced in the iOS ecosystem. If you already own an iPhone, there are lots of benefits to making an iPad your primary tablet. The iPad Air also gets high marks for lightweight design, and for a friendly OS that is expected to get even friendlier with iOS 8. However, some people may prefer a larger screen, even if it means getting a heavier tab. For many college students, however, a smaller tab is appealing because it takes up less space in a backpack.
Ultimately, the choice between these two tabs comes down to personal preferences about display size, your favorite OS to work in, and overall cost (including accessories).