by James A. Martin

Surface RT v Retina iPad: The Kindle, Netflix Challenge

Feb 27, 20132 mins
Tablets blogger James A. Martin pitted his Microsoft Surface RT tablet against a Retina iPad to compare how they fared when streaming Netflix videos and reading Kindle e-books. The tests turned up a few interesting surprises.

Last week I was KO’d by allergies and a cold. I spent Monday in bed sneezing, gorging myself on Girl Scout Thin Mints, and watching the last half of American Horror Story’s first season on Netflix. I also got a start on the Netflix original series House of Cards. If you have to be sick, this is not a bad way to do it.

Out of curiosity, I streamed the TV programs through Netflix’s Windows app on my Microsoft Surface RT tablet instead of on Netflix for my iPad (third generation). The Surface’s display size is 10.6 inches, compared to the iPad’s 9.7 inches, and it delivers a bigger picture that nearly fills the Surface screen. (There are thin black bars above and below the video image.)

The iPad, by comparison, has a smaller video window surrounded by much thicker black bars. But the iPad’s video image is noticeably brighter and crisper, thanks to its Retina-display with 2048 x 1536 resolution at 264 pixels per inch (ppi). The Surface’s display resolution is 1366 x 768 at 148 ppi, which produced perfectly acceptable but fuzzier and slightly darker video images. Audio sounds slightly richer on the iPad as well.

The first screen shot below is from the Surface; the second is from the iPad. If possible, zoom your browser window in a bit. You should see crisper text in the iPad screen shot vs. the Surface. )  

Netflix Surface

Once I’d had my fill of video, I went to finish reading the novel Beautiful Ruins, which gave me an opportunity to compare the Kindle apps on Surface and iPad. Given the iPad’s superior display, e-book text looks crisper. Also, the Kindle iPad app has an “X-Ray” feature that gives you background on the characters, events or topics mentioned on any given feature. (Not all e-books support the feature, however). The Windows Kindle app currently doesn’t support X-Ray. It does, however, give you five font size choices vs. the iOS Kindle’s two choices. You can also pin the book you’re reading to your Surface’s start screen, a convenient touch.

When it comes to streaming Netflix videos and reading Kindle e-books, a Retina-display iPad has the advantage. The Surface isn’t too far behind, though, and it offers a few things the iPad doesn’t.