by Jim Lynch

Should you buy the iPad Air 2 or Surface 3?

Oct 26, 2015
iPadLaptopsSmall and Medium Business

Is Apple's iPad Air 2 a better buy than Microsoft's Surface 3?

Apple’s iPad Air 2 is its best iPad yet, but is it a better buy than Microsoft’s Surface 3? For some users it’s a question that doesn’t have an easy or quick answer. One redditor recently asked if he should buy the iPad Air 2 or Microsoft Surface 3, and he got some interesting answers in the iPad subreddit.

I’ll share my own thoughts below, but here’s the original question along with some of the answers in the iPad subreddit.

Zrakk asked his question:

Why would you get an iPad Air 2 instead of a Surface 3?

I’m thinking about buying one of these tablets but I don’t know which one is closer to my requirements. I’m an 4th year electrical engineer student and need to read PDF, PPT and transfer files with my classmates (this isn’t a must have though).

For context, I already have a Macbook Pro, an iPhone 6 and a decent win-laptop for specific programs in my career.

More at Reddit

His fellow redditors responded with their thoughts:

Willup: ”I think it comes down to preference. There are advantages to each one, and they’re essentially converging over time. I think the most important question is whether or not you like Windows and how plugged into either ecosystem you are.

The Surface will provide you with a much more “desktop”-like experience. You won’t get that on on iPad. I have friends who love their Surfaces–they’re also completely removed from the Apple ecosystem and usually prioritize customizability over all else.

However, the iPad is easier to use, lighter to carry, and the number of productivity apps is greater. Coupled with a keyboard, the iPad can run all the Office products that you might need just as well as the Surface would. And there are some amazing PDF readers for iOS that sync with Dropbox and whatnot. And if you already have other Apple devices, plugging in deeper to the ecosystem has a lot of benefits (text message handoff, etc…). And with split screen mode on the Air 2, the iPad has really stepped up its productive abilities.

If you search through this sub, you can find some good threads where people explain their favorite apps, work flows, etc, and see how the iPad might fit your needs. It can run PowerPoint, is amazing for PDF reading and annotating, and you shouldn’t have any issue sharing files whether you’re using Dropbox, Drive, iCloud, etc…

So, if you like Windows and down mind carrying a little extra weight, go with the Surface. It has a great build quality (so I’m told) and will be more similar to a traditional laptop experience. Personally I would go with the iPad, but I’m plugged into the ecosystem, love the number of apps that are available, and like having a device that is productive but also great for reading in bed or watching Netflix.”

Pogiface: ”I find my iPad to be useless. Do you know iOS doesn’t have a torrent client in the app store? I had to jail break it to just get that function. I feel with a surface at least I can run whatever apps I want without some jailbreak or constant issue. My iPad has a Sim slot which I can’t interact with in any way, I can’t text from it, or check my balance sending a text from it, also useless.

An android tablet or surface would have a been much more useful for me, plus anything with an SD card slot to easily expand memory or save files.”

Frumply: ”With your use case either will work. As a consumption device ipads are superior, and for convenience I would go for the mini — form factor allows for much easier 1-hand operation, and there is very little loss in viewing space. Since you’re on the ipad sub I assume you’re just looking for a push in this direction, you should be able to find a use for the product no issue.

Long term I suspect the Surface would be more useful. I’ve been in controls engineering for ~10yrs, recently I’ve started using OneNote for most of my note-taking — got an order in for a Surface Pro, which will likely replace my engineering notebook. Being able to use a stylus that’s treated as a separate input layer from touch is very convenient. Assuming SP4 becomes my main I’ll probably still carry my Mini 2 around — it can be a very convenient sub device for reading spec sheet PDFs and manuals.”

RougeCrown: ”The iPad Air can do less than the Surface, but what it does, it does REALLY well. Ipad Air is worse than the Surface as a laptop, but beats the surface as a tablet. I don’t subscribe to the camp of one device does everything, so I would pick the iPad air over the surface any day. ”

More at Reddit

Why I’m not a fan of hybrid devices like the Surface 3

I have never been a fan of hybrid devices like the Surface 3. To me it seems like you are getting the worst of both worlds by trying to force one device to perform the functions of two devices. The Surface might be perform okay as a laptop or tablet, but it’s probably not going to perform as well as an actual tablet or laptop. It’s sort of a kludge that tries to combine the form factor and functionality of both devices.

The iPad Air 2 is a fantastic tablet, and it doesn’t try to be a laptop. Oh sure, you can buy a bluetooth keyboard for it and it works very well in that sense (I have a Logitech keyboard for my iPad Air 2). But the iPad Air 2 never tries to be an actual laptop, it’s not competing with OS X laptops or Windows laptops. The iPad Air 2 is first and foremost a tablet.

If I needed an actual laptop, I’d use a Macbook or Macbook Pro. OS X was designed for desktop and laptop use, unlike iOS. To try to glom one operating system into a hybrid device to serve two separate uses just doesn’t make any sense to me. But your mileage may vary in that sense, and so a hardware hybrid like the Surface 3 could do well for some folks.

The iOS and Windows app ecosystems trump each device’s hardware

So often when we think about these buying decisions we focus too much on the hardware. But does that really make sense? When you buy a Surface 3 or iPad Air 2 you are buying entry points into the Windows and iOS app ecosystems. Yeah, the form factor and functionality of the hardware matters, but software is the real reason we buy devices.

So ultimately, I think it really gets down to the application needs for each user.

I prefer to stay within the iOS and OS X app ecosystem. I haven’t used Windows in many years and have no desire to do so again. So the iPad Air 2 works incredibly well for my needs. I’m quite comfortable and happy with the apps I can get on my iPad Air 2, and I don’t need Windows applications.

But if you’re a Windows fan then clearly the Surface has much to offer in terms of Windows applications. There may be some Windows applications that are absolute must-haves for some users, and in that case the Surface 3 is the way to go for those folks.

So before making any buying decision, I recommend stepping back and asking yourself what you need the iPad Air 2 or Surface 3 to actually do for you in terms of software. Once you’ve answered that question, you’ll have a good idea which one you should buy.

What are iPad Air 2 and Surface 3 customers saying about their devices?

I was curious to see what actual users of the iPad Air 2 and Surface 3 were saying. So I dropped by the customer reviews for both devices at Amazon. Currently the Surface 3 tablets have an overall 4 star rating, and the iPad Air 2 tablets have a 4.5 star rating.

But what are customers saying about each product? Head over to the Apple iPad Air 2 and Microsoft Surface 3 pages and check out the user reviews for each product listed there. Pay particular attention to the “verified purchase” reviews since those folks actually bought the product and have hands-on experience with it.

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