iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 7: Which laptop replacement is better?

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 7

With the Magic Keyboard, this iPad Pro vs. Surface Pro 7 face-off seems a little more even than it did before Apple found the right keyboard for its high end tablet. Yes, the new iPad Pro is here (and it’s one of the best tablets) and it’s time to see how well it stands up as a PC replacement.

At first glance, it seemed like an easy decision, as the iPad Pro 2020 is definitely the best tablet on the market (for those with big budgets), and its predecessor held its own against the best laptops. It’s also much more stylish than the  Surface Pro 7, its display is one of the best around and its new A12Z processor is touted as providing speed enhancements. Also, the Magic Keyboard provides a better keyboard and display stand than the Surface’s kickstand.

This is why we do the head-to-head testing, as surface-level looks and spec charts aren’t the total package. In this iPad Pro vs. Surface Pro 7 face-off, we’re taking both through a round-by-round battle to see which aspects Apple and Microsoft win, respectively.

We’ve just published our iPad Pro Magic Keyboard review (as well as our iPad Pro 2020 review) and have updated this face-off based on our results — to have a better sense of how it compares with the details we got from our Microsoft Surface Pro 7 review.

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 7: Specs compared

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 7: Performance

Apple claims that the iPad Pro 2020 is a powerful beast that scorches most PC laptops. That was actually true when the 2018 model came out but, right now, it is no longer the case according to the latest benchmarks.

It’s not surprising: the “new” A12Z is actually the same processor as the A12X but with one more GPU core activated. The frequency continues to be 2.48GHz, just like with the iPad Pro 2018. And while it has more RAM (6GB), the speed is only marginally better than the previous generation: Geekbench 5 gives it 1,114 points in single-core and 4,635 points in multi-core.

Here comes the surprise, though. Thanks to its Intel Core i7-1065G7 4-core processor, the Geekbench 5.0 test gives the Surface Pro 7 a 1,235 score for single-core and 4,878 for multi-core. The top Surface Pro 7, released in 2019, is actually faster than the iPad Pro 2020. It also has 16GB of RAM in that test. And Microsoft‘s 2-in-1 tablet is no speed demon compared to other portable hardware in the PC front.

However, we should consider two more things. The graphics on the iPad Pro 2018 were considered on par with the Xbox One S, beating the Surface Pro 6 of the day by a very large margin — and even Ryzen-based laptops with Vega graphics. With one extra GPU core, we can expect the 2020 model to perform even better and possibly still come ahead of the 10th generation Intel Iris Plus graphics of the Surface. We have to test this, however.

Second, synthetic benchmarks are not indicative of overall performance and we know that Windows has considerably more overhead than iPad OS. The difference is not so big between both platforms. 

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 7: Display

The screen of the iPad Pro 2020 hasn’t changed from the 2018 model. It continues to be an IPS panel, just like that of the Microsoft Surface Pro 7. 

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro model has a 2732 x 2048 resolution, which translates to 264 pixels per inch. The 12.3-inch Surface Pro 7 has a 2736 x 1824 resolution, with 267 pixels per inch. 

We rated the iPad Pro 2020 for 559 nits of brightness, which trounces the 395-nit Surface Pro 7. The iPad Pro also wins on color reproduction, producing 122.9% of the sRGB color gamut, while Surface Pro 7 hit 102%.

The iPad Pro 2020 also wins on the screen refresh rate, which is 120Hz vs the 60Hz of the Surface Pro 7. While many will say that 120Hz will eat the battery faster, the fact is that — thanks to its much more optimized architecture — the iPad Pro 2020 may have a much longer battery life than the Surface Pro 7.

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 7: Design

The iPad Pro 2020 wins this round. Even while maintaining its 2018 design, Apple’s slate simply looks much better than the Surface Pro 7. Apple’s symmetrical, minimalist design with tiny bezels makes the Surface look boring. It even makes the much-enhanced Microsoft Surface Pro X look dated.

In terms of sleekness, the iPad Pro 2020 wins at 11 x 8.4 x 0.23 inches, as the Surface Pro 7 is considerably thicker at 1.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches. The Surface Pro 7 is also considerably heavier than the iPad Pro at 1.74 pounds for the Core i7 model versus 1.41 pounds for the iPad.

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 7: Cameras

The iPad Pro 2020’s cameras have received an impressive upgrade. On the back there are now two 12-megapixel sensors with wide and ultra-wide lenses — plus a flash. There is also a new key technology: a LiDAR sensor that holds the secret of the Apple Glasses and the future of computing itself.

The LiDAR is a laser and camera system in which the former gets fired in a pattern across whatever is in front of it and the latter measures the distance each photon travels, instantly building a 3D map of your surroundings. And Apple’s implementation does it at 120 times per second. 

This sensor allows the iPad Pro to integrate virtual reality and physical reality with the level of sophistication needed for realistic augmented reality, with virtual objects getting behind real objects or digital textures getting applied to real things with amazing precision. 

On the front, the iPad Pro has a True Depth camera for solid biometric authentication and 7MP selfies and FaceTime.

The Surface Pro has a puny 5MP front-facing camera and a 8MP camera on the back. There was never a competition to begin with.

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 7: Keyboard

The Surface Pro 7’s optional Type Cover is a good keyboard. Microsoft has been fine tuning it for much longer than Apple has done with its Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro 2018, which still feels like a ZX Spectrum chiclets keyboard. For about $99 you can get a Type Cover for your Surface Pro and make it into a laptop. The Smart Keyboard still goes for $199, which is pretty expensive.

But if you think that’s costly, you will think the new Magic Keyboard is crazy expensive: $299 for the 11-inch version and $349 for the 12.9-inch version. Ugh. 

The Magic Keyboard has a better hinge-design than the Type Cover, allowing you to move your iPad to adjust its viewing angle, rather than move the angle of the kickstand. 

The keyboard itself feels a lot like the ones in the new MacBook Pro 16-inch and the critically praised MacBook Air 2020. Its keys simply provide better feedback than those of the Type Cover.

The Magic Keyboard is worth the money for some, but if you are looking for a laptop that bad, maybe you will be better off with the base model Air, which is $100 less in total and has double the storage built-in. However, I will give the iPad Pro the edge here, just out of design excellence and innovation.

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 7: Stylus

This one is hard to pick a winner for, as different people have different preferences when it comes to the stylus. Both the iPad Pro 2020 and the Surface Pro 7 have perfectly capable — and optional— pressure sensitive pens.

I’m partial to the $130 Apple Pencil 2. While it is more expensive that Microsoft’s $99 Surface Pen, it feels better to me, seems to perform better, and I like how it magnetically attaches to the iPad Pro to charge. It’s an effortless and very elegant solution.

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 7: Ports

This is a clear win for the Surface Pro 7. While the iPad Pro 2020 only has one USB-C port, the Surface Pro 7 offers an array of ports and expansion possibilities to drive external displays and connect to docking stations. These include one USB-C port, one USB-A, one Surface Connect Port, a MicroSDXC card reader, and the kicker, a 3.5mm headphone jack the iPad Pro doesn’t have. 

The result of these expansion abilities is that the Surface can do things like running two 4K displays. The PC can’t do this at the same level as a dedicated high end graphics card, but it is still an amazing feat for a 2-in-1. 

The iPad Pro 2020 depends entirely on a single USB-C port — and expensive dongles — for any kind of expansion. 

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 7: Battery life

The iPad Pro 2020 nets a big win here thanks to its nimble A12Z processor, which promises better efficiency than the power-hungry 10th generation Intel Core i7. 

It wasn’t close, either. The iPad Pro lasted 10 hours and 16 minutes on the Tom’s Guide Battery Test (web surfing at 150 nits of brightness), which is longer than the Surface Pro 7’s somewhat underwhelming battery life of 7 hours and 52 minutes. 

A possible reason for this is that Intel laptop-class chips are still no match for the power management and low consumption of ARM architecture chips, which were designed for mobile devices from the start. The A12Z is a 7-nanometer chip vs the 10-nanometer manufacturing process of the 10th generation Intel Core i7 that has been crammed into Microsoft’s tablet.

There’s a reason why Microsoft worked with Qualcomm to create the SQ1 processor that powers its next-generation Surface Pro X, which will eventually replace the regular Pro line once developers move their software to this new platform.

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 7: Software

The software — what you can really do with a device — is what ultimately decides whether or not a laptop or tablet is good for you.

A disparity between iPadOS and Windows software may make Microsoft’s PC a more ideal option than Apple’s tablets for certain types of professionals and creators. While the Surface Pro 7 has the ability to run any Windows program, including the full suite of Adobe applications, the iPad Pro can’t run all MacOS programs. 

Contrary to what Apple says, if you are professional or prosumer photographer, filmmaker or musician, your “next computer” just can’t be an iPad Pro. It’s simple: if the iPad Pro 2020 can’t run full professional apps like the entire Adobe CC line — and no, Photoshop or Premiere Rush for iPadOS are not it — then Apple’s tablet can’t be a true computer replacement that stacks up with the Surface Pro 7.

iPadOS is maturing in iPadOS 14, and gained impressive new inking tricks, including Scribble, which converts handwriting to text. That being said, iPadOS’ capability to be your next laptop (or laptop replacement) largely hinges on whether or not you require apps that work together, or if Apple’s sandboxed ecosystem is something you can’t work around.

iPad Pro vs. Surface Pro 7: Verdict

Even with Apple’s A12Z Bionic processor, an excellent design that’s still top-notch and the iPad Pro 2020’s longer battery life, Apple’s new slate didn’t beat the Surface Pro 7 with much room to spare. 

While it took home some categories in this iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 7 face-off, the iPad Pro may not be a true laptop replacement for professional users who need specific apps. Microsoft faces similar issues with its own Surface Pro X, its answer to the iPad Pro. Still, the iPad Pro 2020 seems like the ideal computer for a certain segment of users — like artists and dabblers or those who, like me, use it for writing and the occasional video. 

If you are looking for a laptop replacement that can do everything a laptop can, then you’ll likely lean to the Surface Pro 7. But the iPad Pro is the best detachable tablet in this face-off, even if its victory isn’t by a huge margin.