Microsoft Surface Pro vs. Apple’s iPad Pro [A Clear Winner?]

CG Director Author Petar Vukobratby Petar Vukobrat   /  Published 

Microsoft’s Surface Pro is undoubtedly one of the most alluring portable PCs on the market — and that’s really saying something given the sheer number of options that are currently available.

A sleek tablet with thin bezels, a keyboard cover that offers a much better typing experience than one would expect, and a myriad of unique features that, at least on the surface (no pun intended), make it seem like the ideal device for the vast majority of users.

That’s not really the case, though, and it pains us to say it.

Panos Panay, Microsoft’s chief product officer, is always the first to step foot on stage and wax poetic about all the many devices that are currently being sold under the Surface umbrella.

He focuses on how Surface products enable creatives around the globe to enter the oft-mentioned “state of flow,” and how they can so easily become an indispensable tool in one’s arsenal.

He doesn’t, however, talk about how they’re notoriously hard to repair, how one has to spend an additional two hundred dollars to use said Surface Pro in the way in which it was advertised (with a keyboard type cover and pen), how Windows still isn’t particularly touch friendly, how their devices still use a proprietary port for charging, and so on and so forth — the list of drawbacks and limitations is much longer than one would expect.

Still, you could make a similar laundry list of snags and downsides for any of Apple’s products as well — there’s no such thing as a “perfect” computer (or tablet, for that matter).

Microsoft Surface Pro — A Device Both Flawed and Alluring

It’s impossible not to look at one of Microsoft’s latest Surface Pro devices and not start watering at the mouth.

This Redmond-based tech giant is one of the few companies in the world that can match Apple in terms of craftsmanship and design.

That, unfortunately, is where the similarities end.

The Surface Pro is, at its core, a jack of all trades and a master of none.

It’s not a particularly good tablet because of its size and the fact that it’s running Windows doesn’t help its case either. The OS itself simply isn’t “tablet-friendly” and that’s probably not going to change any time soon.

The internals, too, warrants a mention.

Surface 2-in-1s — Pro In Name Only

Surface Pro devices all run on U-series CPUs from Intel.

Surface Pro Specs

Image Credit: Microsoft

Now, make no mistake: they’re by no means underpowered or incapable, but they can only draw so much power and are thermally constrained.

For regular tasks like web browsing and maybe some light creative work (Photoshop or, say, Lightroom), they’ll definitely suffice.

If, however, you’re doing anything more “serious” — by which we mean more demanding — then you’d be wise to look elsewhere.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro is no slouch performance-wise, but it’s not a workhorse nor a particularly thick computer with a beefy cooling solution.

Its design comes at a cost — and we mean that in more ways than one.

iPad Pro — It Packs a Punch

Apple’s latest iPads, on the other hand, are vastly more powerful than one would ever expect.

They’re astonishingly thin, beautiful, and yet more capable than nearly all thin-and-light ultrabooks on the market.

The reason why is quite simple: they’re “packing” the same Apple-designed chipsets as some of the very best MacBooks: the M1 and M2.

These SoCs have taken the world by storm and are renowned for both their power and efficiency.

Do these iPads need such mighty internals? Of course not, but it is a great way of future-proofing yourself.

Apple’s M1 and M2-based iPad Pros can handle all kinds of workflows with aplomb, and that’ll keep being the case even a few years down the road; they have ample performance headroom.

Operating System Limitations

Windows, unlike iPadOS, is a full-fledged, feature-rich operating system with very few (if any) limitations.

Surface Pro Windows 11

Source: Microsoft

That, in and of itself, is a huge benefit. Still, if the device running it isn’t particularly powerful, you’re not really going to gain much from it.

An open, unrestrictive operating system cannot flourish or deliver if it doesn’t have enough harnessable “juice” underneath the hood.

For the iPad Pro, the opposite holds true: power you can’t put to good use is essentially wasted.

You can, for instance, install any software you so desire on a Surface Pro, but it’s probably not going to run all that well.

The device itself will be able to handle light-to-moderately demanding projects, but as soon as you start delving into the nitty-gritty it’ll pretty much fall apart — as is only natural.

It is, at its core, a tablet running Windows.

iPadOS offers very little freedom in this regard, but the few pro-grade applications that it does have all run without issue. They run incredibly well, in fact.

LumaFusion, for instance, has been blowing our minds for years. And now, with Blackmagic Design bringing its staggeringly capable non-linear video editor to iPadOS, users will be able to edit professional-grade videos whilst on the go — for free.

That’s the thing: iPadOS has (many) more limitations, but it caters to certain niches and workloads with incredible success.

iPadOS Features

Image Credit: Apple

The only question you need to ask yourself is: what exactly do you need from this portable tablet/tablet-like device?

A full-fledged computer for you to work on your projects while you’re out and about? Or, perhaps, a supplementary kind of device that will aid you in your creative endeavors?

There’s a world of difference.

iPad Pro vs. Surface Pro — Workflows explored

If you’re thinking about buying either a Surface Pro or an iPad Pro, you need to have a very good understanding of your personal workflow and its overall complexity.

The Surface Pro is an incredible device, but it’s not all that powerful — by which we mean appropriate for the most demanding consummate professionals.

Apple’s iPad Pro, on the other hand, has power for days but is only great at certain things and types of work.

Both options will excel at basic, everyday tasks. That much is a fact. You do need to be a bit more specific, though.

Will you be dealing with any external drives and media? What about SD cards, cameras, hubs, and the like?

How often do you take handwritten notes?

And battery life? Do you need a device that’ll last you through the day or will you most often be chained to a wall outlet?

There is a slight overlap between these two products, but they are catered towards different audiences, and that’s definitely something you need to keep in mind.

Let’s get a bit more specific.

For Video Editors

Video editing on a Surface Pro is only possible if you’re dealing with relatively simple projects.

Maybe a 4K edit of footage shot on your phone or a mirrorless camera (8- or, at best, 10-bit H.264), but even in that case, you’d probably have to create proxies.

Apple’s iPad Pro, on the other hand, is a lot more powerful in that regard.

Once DaVinci Resolve is released, you’ll be able to cut up H.264, H.265, and even Blackmagic RAW footage as if it were nothing!

Davinci Resolve iPadOS

Image Credit: Blackmagicdesign

You can expect a very similar experience when compared to Apple’s latest MacBooks — the M1 and M2 SoCs are spectacular for video editing.

Their beautiful, color-accurate displays will also come in clutch for grading and making subtle (and yet hugely important) changes to your footage.

An iPad Pro might seem incapable because of its simplistic operating system, but a weak device it certainly is not.

For Graphic Designers

This is where things get a lot more competitive.

The Surface Pro is by no means a powerhouse, but it can handle Photoshop and Illustrator quite well.

We’re not talking about the most complex projects here, mind you, but you would definitely be able to get your work done while on the go.

The iPad Pro would still be the slightly better option though, depending on your kind of work. Affinity Photo, Affinity Designer, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and so many other applications are available and are much more powerful and feature-rich than you’d expect.

Better yet, creating your designs on a display as beautiful as the one on an iPad Pro is an experience unlike any other.

iPad Pro Screen

Image Credit: Apple

ProMotion (120Hz), full P3 color gamut support, multi-touch, fully laminated, and bright beyond measure. What more could you ask for?

You’ll instantly feel more connected to your work — it is a superb sensation. And if this sounds like a bit of marketing hogwash, it really isn’t; the iPad Pro excels at these things. Apple’s 2nd generation pencil is just the icing on the cake.

The Surface Pro has a beautiful display as well, but the device itself tends to get quite warm once stressed and the OS running on it isn’t going to offer you nearly as pleasurable of an experience if you’re looking to lie back on the couch and forgo the (optional) keyboard accessory.

Windows 11 is polished, but it doesn’t bring anything truly meaningful in regards to touch-related navigation and everything related to it.

Think of it as a computer that, coincidentally, can be detached from its keyboard and used in a wholly different way. This, however, makes it both a subpar laptop and an insufficiently “polished” tablet — the worst of both worlds.

Now, make no mistake: it is an incredibly versatile device, one that, depending on your needs and preferences, might just be the perfect purchase.

You should, however, be aware of its — few but still potentially debilitating — limitations.

For Illustrators

The latest Surface Pros (the ones that support Microsoft’s updated Slim Pen) have narrowed the gap when it comes to digital drawing and illustration. Still, the iPad Pro reigns supreme.

In fact, it might just be the only device of its kind worth considering. That, in a way, is what they’re most known for amongst creatives: the incredible user experience which they provide and the potential with which they are inherently imbued with.

You can, by all means, use an iPad Pro as your one drawing tablet and make a living off it.

Apple Pencil Showcase

Image Credit: Apple

It’s not as precise or layered as a professional-grade Wacom, but it’s a whole lot more capable than one would ever expect.

The Surface Pro (8 and 9) is a lot better for drawing these days than it was in the past, but if you want the absolute best drawing experience — and, moreover, want to have a superb drawing tablet with you whilst on the go rather than a hybrid 2-in-1 — the iPad Pro is without a doubt the better, more well-rounded option.

It does, however, depend on the style you’re going for and its complexity. That, too, needs to be underscored. Your style, inevitably, dictates your hardware- and software-related needs and preferences.

For Music Producers

The iPad Pro simply isn’t going to cut it for music production — at least not if you’re super serious about it.

It can suffice, make no mistake, but it’s not exactly as versatile or capable in this regard as Apple would like you to believe.

Then again, music production is a somewhat relative “umbrella term” — it encompasses many different workloads; no two creators are the same nor do they share the same needs.

One thing to note, though: this, too, could “easily” change in the (perhaps somewhat near) future.

Video editing on an iPad Pro was possible thanks to LumaFusion, but it wasn’t an experience that would suffice for the most serious and professional among us. There were simply too many limitations.

With DaVinci Resolve, however, that’s undoubtedly going to change (and very much for the better).

Apple could (and most probably will) release an iPad-friendly version of Logic Pro.

Ableton Live 11 also has native M1 support which means that it, too, could eventually get released for iPad. When that might happen, however, still remains to be seen.

You should never buy a device based on the faint potential of it eventually growing and evolving. Buy it only if it satisfies your needs and wants right now.

For Content Creators

This one’s up for debate. What kind of content will you be creating?

Publishing your work online is a lot simpler on a device running Windows (or macOS for that matter). Ditto for multitasking.

If you’re dealing with numerous different file formats and have a versatile workflow (one that involves different kinds of content) then a device with a more feature-rich operating system would definitely be the way to go.

iPad OS Apps

Image Credit: Apple

If you’re creating videos, though, or designing something in Canva (as opposed to dealing with layered, intricate projects in Photoshop), then an iPad, too, might be worth considering.

You should also do a bit of research if you’re leaning more towards the Apple side of things — a few high-profile applications (like Instagram, for instance) still haven’t been updated to support (and harness) the bigger diagonal that an iPad brings to the table (as opposed to a regular phone).

What’s Better: Surface Pro or iPad Pro?

They are, essentially, geared towards different user groups.

An iPad is more of a supplementary device, one that excels at media consumption and certain types of content creation.

A Surface Pro, on the other hand, is basically a 2-in-1 portable computer that can be used for drawing. Just because there’s an overlap doesn’t mean they can (or should) be compared.

As always, it all depends on what you need and want.


Let’s go over a few potential questions you might have regarding this particular topic:

Is the iPad Pro Good Enough for Creative Work?

Absolutely! We’re talking about a tablet that is more powerful than most ultrabooks!

It has both the power and the necessary software support to deliver no matter one’s creative workflow.

You should, however, be aware of its OS-based limitations before pulling out your wallet and making an investment.

Is Microsoft’s Surface Pro Good Enough for Illustrators?

The Surface Pro 8 and 9 are definitely a great choice for illustrators.

They do tend to get quite warm and their battery life is lacking, but if you can overcome these hurdles — and absolutely need Windows and all the many benefits it provides — then don’t think twice about it.

Is Apple’s iPad Pro Worth It?

It’s an expensive device, there’s no doubt about it, but if you can really harness its potent internals and jaw-dropping display — to say nothing if you’re a designer or illustrator — then it is, by all means, worth the asking price.

Just keep in mind that the Apple Pencil is sold separately, and the same goes for any keyboard accessory you might come across.

Over to You

Have you ever used either of these devices and, if so, what was that experience like?

Let us know in the comment section down below and, in case you need any help, head over to our forum and ask away!

CGDirector is Reader-supported. When you buy through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Petar Vukobrat

I first sat down in front of a Pentium II in 1999 and it feels like I’ve been sitting in front of a computer ever since.

And, well, until mankind comes up with something better and more entertaining, that’ll keep being the case.

If you have any questions — or just want to talk about all things PC and Apple — leave a comment down below!


Also check out our Forum for feedback from our Expert Community.

Leave a Reply