Surface 3 vs iPad Air 2: What You Need to Know

Apple kickstarted a revolution when it unveiled the original iPad and Microsoft’s upcoming Surface 3 2-in-1 is here to take the reigns back.

In theory, owning an iPad should have meant that you never had to pick up your PC again. You could read your emails, make use of the latest apps and browse the internet with just a finger, an iPad and an internet connection. Suddenly, computing was more personal. The original Surface tablet from Microsoft was designed to deliver on the dream Apple was never able to achieve with the iPad. The iPad was great for browsing websites and passively consumer media, it wasn’t so great at productivity. You needed to add a keyboard and purchase apps that didn’t always work well with the other productivity apps you had, like Microsoft Office.


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The original Surface and Surface 2 were fine iPad competitors, but they had some flaws. Their screens were wide, but not tall enough to guarantee a notebook-like experience. What’s more, you couldn’t add any apps you wanted to. Instead, you could only access what was available to you through the Windows Store.

Read: Surface Pro 3 to Tackle the iPad Air 2 this May


The Surface 3 addresses those early issues and so much more. Here’s how the Surface, Microsoft’s latest entry-level tablet compares to the iPad Air 2.


Surface 3 vs iPad Air 2 – Design

It’s hard not to call the iPad Air 2 design formulac at this point. Apple has delivered mostly the same slate design for years, peppering different versions with different edges and changing materials to suit its design language. From display to back the iPad Air 2 is 6.1 mm and weighs 0.96 pounds. There’s a front-facing iSight Camera and a TouchID fingerprint reader flanking its 9.7-inch 2048×1536 resolution display. Physical volume buttons, a Lightning port, speaker grille and rear-facing 8 megapixel camera with autofocus are the only things that interrupt its polished aluminum side and rear shell.

The iOS 8.1.3 update runs great on the iPad Air 2.

Read: iPad Air 2 Review (2015)

The new Surface 3 really is Microsoft retooling its Surface Pro 3 for a a budget minded consumer. Both the Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3 are silver slates with sharp sloped edges. The Surface 3 has a 10.8-inch widescreen 1920 x 1280 resolution display that adopts the same aspect ratio as the iPad. As such, it’ll feel a lot less awkward in the hand to an iPad user than the Surface 2 did. A noticeable black border surrounds the display and houses a touch-sensitive Windows button and two front-facing speakers. There’s a 3.5 megapixel front-facing video camera for chatting too.


The iPad Air 2 doesn’t have a kickstand around back, but the Surface 3 does. This kickstand now has three positions so that users can get the best angle possible. It’s not as generous as the Surface Pro 3’s freely adjustable kickstand, but its progress.  Above where that kickstand flips out is a rear-facing 8-megapixel camera that supports autofocus just like the iPad Air 2.

Surface 3 vs iPad Air 2 – Internals

The Surface Type Covers are back for the Surface 3 in a big way, and they still work the same way. The Surface 3 Type Cover costs $129 extra and docks into the bottom or left edge of the device, depending on how you’re holding it. A microUSB charging port is the only way this device gets any power at all because Microsoft has vanquishes the Surface 2 charging port for good it seems. There’s a MicroSD card slot, headset jack mini DisplayPort and a full sized USB port. iPad Air 2 buyers are only getting a headset jack and Lightning Port so in terms of expandability, the Surface 3 wins outright I’d say.

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Inside, is a tougher call. The iPad Air 2 uses Apple’s latest A8X processor and a motion coprocessor are the fastest Apple has ever delivered. That being said, there’s only one context we can judge them in and that’s Apple’s products. Suffice to say the processor isn’t performance challenged.

The last two Surface tablets ran Windows RT. This was because Microsoft hopped to deliver better battery life and something called Connected Standby. Connected Standby allowed the original Surface devices to pass on notifications for new emails and more even when they appeared to be off. More power efficient processors and better software means that using Windows RT and an NVIDIA processor are no longer crucial for the best mobile experience. AS such, the Surface 3 runs Windows 8.1 and is powered by an Intel Atom x7 processor.


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In short, you can download apps from the Windows Store and also run apps in the Desktop, like iTunes for example. Microsoft says users can expect about 10 hours of battery life from the Surface 3 while watching video. Apple says that the iPad Air 2 delivers about the same. Both devices have an Ambient light sensor and a gyrometer. The Surface 3 has proximity sensor too, while the iPad Air 2 offers a barometer.

Surface 3 vs iPad Air 2 – Conclusion

Clearly, if you’re a hardcore Apple user you are going to want to stick with what you know. The iPad is still the best tablet someone not interested in productivity of any kind can get their hands on. That being said, the Surface 3 comes very close to being the default choice for almost everyone. $499 gets you a Surface 3 with 2GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. that’s three-times the storage of the entry level iPad Air 2. Microsoft is planning on launch Surface 3 devices with built-in 4G LTE technology on T-Mobile and Verizon in June.

Read: What is Windows 10?


The only minuses for the Surface 3 now is its still struggling store and the impressive mount of add-ons Microsoft hopes users buy. The switch in processor addresswa that app issue head-on and so will Windows 10 when it arrives as a free update later this year