Ok, I’d been looking around for a Surface I could try out. Even though I have my doubts about Windows 8 and especially RT I also am excited about a lot of the features that these operating system(s) have. But amid the parts that I hate and parts I love, there is the simple fact of the pure and simple comparison of Surface + Windows RT versus iPad + iOS 6. Thanks to Brad Wilson I was able to do a physical comparison between the Surface and the latest iPad. Here’s what I got out of both with a summary to wrap it all up nice and neat.
iPad vs. Surface
The first thing I did was take a good look and check out every physical corner, fold, rounded corner, seal, button (or lack thereof) flick panel and “kick stand”. This first comparison was done between only the tablets themselves, no keyboards were attached.
Screens & Touch
Both devices started fine. Both screens swiped the active panels or app icons back and forth with no problem. These things were smooth and simple. The applications started fast on the iPad, a bit slower on the Surface. Just to make sure I had some apples to apples comparisons, I loaded Google Maps via browser along with iOS 6 Maps (which are still horrible * ) and Bing Maps (which also are still horrible * ). Google Maps via browser of course is slow on tablets, regardless of which tablet. This makes for a frustrating experience with mapping and routing. I look forward to having a decent Google Maps app on either of these platforms again, I’m however not holding my breath, but if they’d just cooperate and stop their nonsensical fighting that would be splendid.
As for construction both devices are light years ahead of any other tablet out there. Weight however is a little frustrating, as both are pretty heavy devices to hold in one hand for any extended period of time. Many of the Android Tablets are dramatically lighter. The feel however, touch of the screens, the kick stand, and about every single thing is comparable in quality between both devices. To put it simply, Microsoft and Apple have done a spectacular job at hiring the right manufacturing facilities to build their devices and have done a good job in designing the devices.
Will the Surface hold up as well over time as the iPad? Especially with the kick stand and other parts, the Surface does have a little more risk around these elements. Give a 5 year old a Surface and I’d put hard money on the fact that 5 year old will make that kick stand give way in short order form regular wear and tear. The iPad of course, doesn’t have any of these concerns – it’s a single, well built, strong device. The screens I hear however, favor the Surface, but so far have seen no evidence that one or the other screen is stronger than the other.
Alright, this is where there is no competition. Surface has almost no applications in comparison to Apple’s iPad. This is of course barely a fair comparison at this time since it has been on market for a few weeks and the iPad for years. The iPad has had the App Store to build off of and millions of developers while the Surface has had almost nobody except Microsoft’s internal developers & immediate partners. Barely anything beyond that exists. This however, makes the few applications the Surface does have almost impressive. However…
The applications that do exist have one big problem. Especially the native application Microsoft itself has built, such as the messaging and email client. They’re buggy. It is state no simpler than, “They are buggy.” I’ve seen it over and over again on Twitter, Facebook and every other social media and critique outlet. Let’s take a few applications for a test drive.
Applications – iOS 6 Maps & Bing Maps
The maps, Bing and iOS 6 Maps are both complete crap. They’re years behind Google Maps. So in this case we’re comparing a limited feature map set against another limited feature map set. Overall as for options, Bing Maps at least has transit. On the driving front, since I don’t do this myself (*see below), the driving instructions and traffic are useless to me. However, I did check out driving directions and traffic – both are moderately competent at getting this information. No more so than Google Maps though. As for finding things in cities or urban areas that have high livability – such as Urban Seattle, Portland, San Francisco or New York – both are horrendous.
Biking, neither of the maps applications have biking directions. I guess the rather large contingent of developers that bike to work everyday in New York City, Portland, San Francisco just don’t matter to Microsoft or Apple. They’ve just left that out. It’s pathetic in my opinion, as Google Maps has extensive and informative biking information and logistics planning. Bing & iOS Maps 6 both I’d rate as unmitigated distaters except for those that live an average suburban auto dependent lifestyle. Everybody else – i.e. a dramatically large part of the tech sector for one, is left out.
Walking – again, both maps are broken. Transit, don’t even get me started on how behind and outdated both of these maps options are. Finding great coffee shops and… oh just forget it. Don’t get either of these devices for the mapping. You want a mapping device get an Android Tablet or an Android Phone. Hands down, no competition.
Applications – Evernote
Evernote has simply become a huge part of my day to day flow. I pay for the unlimited or extreme or whatever version they call it. I don’t want any limites and I find it more than worth the money (they could even raise the price 2x and I’d still pay it). So how does Evernote play out on the Surface vs. iPad. Well two things made this interesting. Over the time I started and am finishing this write up, Evernote completely updated and revamped their user interface and thus the user experience changed. Fortunately for either product, for the better.
But… when I first logged into the Surface and tried to get Evernote going the swiping and determinig what a right click was or double tap was extremely frustrating. The Surface made the iPad Evernote version seem intuitive, simple and usable by comparison. Both allow almost identical functionality, but with the surface the challenge is finding out how to get at that functionality.
So in this category, the iPad is hands down an easier to use Evernote device. Once you get used to it, does that really matter? Probably not. But I’m not sure why someone would want to buy, purposefully a device that has a learning curb.
Overall, I found the Surface pretty sweet in a number of ways. However, I know for a fact, that those things I found sweet are things an early adopter, nerd, geek, techno type would find sweet. Not the person who just wants to get things done and carry on with life. The person who wants to just view internet content or write an email, go with an iPad. If you want some simple, suburban driving directions to help avoid traffic, either device will do. If you want to just get on with life with a sexy and easy to use device, the iPad is fine.
I could go on about the USB and this and that feature, but Microsoft has horribly missed the mark in that way. These are devices for short term use, not working. If you get a Surface with the intent to work, get ready to get a carpal tunnel operation in a few years. I wouldn’t advise using either device for any significant amount of work. If you want to do work, get a laptop or proper computer. Apple and Microsoft have many to choose from.
In the end, if you have an iPad, stick with it. If you have no tablet and want to get one – go with either an Android tablet or an iPad depending on if you want a controlled garden of elegance (iPad) or want total freedom of devices and interoperability (Android).
With that, cheers and good luck being happy with whatever you get.
* Some context needs to be added to the maps situation. I don’t drive, not because I can’t but simply because I find it a horrendous and wasteful activity for my time. I might sound or come off aloof, but I don’t mean to, but simply – I have zero use for a map application that only provides driving directions or traffic. I haven’t had to deal with these problems in almost a decade now, even back when I did drive. So thus, driving and path finding through traffic are not one of my problems. What I do use maps for however are walking, biking and transit directions. All the better if the transit directions actually provide real time information as Google Maps does in some of the more advanced partner cities like Portland, San Diego, etc. Also I want street level information that is accurate and defines the businesses and other related information. Google Maps does this, but iOS 6 Maps and Bing Maps are outdated and routinely provide inaccurate information compared to Google Maps. Not to say Google Maps couldn’t use improvement here or there, but it is by far years ahead in information and capabilities versus the other two.