Apple’s iPad has dominated the tablet market and enjoyed the limelight since its release in 2010. Coincidentally or otherwise, Microsoft’s first steps into the tablet world with their Surface tablet have coincided with the long anticipated release of Apple’s iPad Mini. Will Microsoft’s tablet be a major competitor for Apple? How do the two tablets compare? A careful consideration of their hardware can help answer these questions.
Looking to the Hardware
For the past few years, Apple has had control over the high end tablet market with its sensationally successful iPad tablet, a genre defining device that intimidated competitors to the point that most tablets on the market are designed around the shadow of the iPad. They’re lightweight, they’re small, they’re relatively inexpensive—they’re everything the iPad was not. But the Mini has changed all of that.
The iPad Mini offers an A5 dual core processor (the kind used in the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S), 512 MB of RAM, 16-64 GB of storage, and an iOS6 operating system. The Mini’s powerful hardware supports its 7.9 inch display, 1024×789 resolution, 1.2mp and 5mp front/back cameras, lightning connector, and ten hours of battery life, all without weighing more than a pound. (The Mini weighs in at 308 grams—or 0.68 lbs. to be exact.)
The Microsoft Surface on the other hand boasts a NVIDIA T30 processor, 2GB of ram, 32/64 GB of storage, and the Windows 8 operating system. With the power of all that hardware, it supports a 10.6 inch display, 1366×768 resolution, HDMI/USB ports, and an estimated 8 hours of battery life. Of course muscle is heavy, and the MS Surface is no exception, weighing a massive 680g, which is about 1.5 lbs.
How Do They Compare?
While the two are similar in many ways, the differences truly do set them apart. MS Surface’s NVIDIA T30 is a quad core processor (commonly used in Android devices) that’s approximately 50% more powerful than the A5 on paper. But in practice, it’s hard to imagine many people taking advantage of a quad core processor on a tablet device when desktop software is only beginning to do so.
The massive gap in available RAM definitely favors the Surface and helps accomplish Microsoft’s vision of a laptop replacement tablet; however it falls short in the eyes of many users for not offering network connectivity options besides Wi-Fi. Some are also skeptical of their front and rear cameras, described only as “720p” (which roughly equates to 1mp.)
Pricing for the Surface varies between $499 and $699 depending on storage options and whether or not you would like their $100 keyboard cover. The cover comes in five colors and allows you to type while it’s protecting your screen, a feature that wasn’t lost on Oprah who has called the Surface “one of my favorite things.”
On the other hand, the Mini will cost you between $329 and $529 depending on your storage options or between $459 and $659 depending on your LTE network connectivity. Sharing almost identical cost with a device that really only trumps the Surface in terms of it cameras might make some consumers skeptical, but it’s unlikely to matter to the tablet market.
Apple’s products have been critiqued for years by Windows enthusiasts who point out Apple’s cost to hardware ratio has always been detestable. While the Mini is no different, this cost to hardware gap wasn’t a deterring factor for the success of the iPhone or the iPad, so there’s little reason to think the Mini will be any different. Are the 5mp camera, iOS6, weight difference, and lightning connector worth enduring a tablet with 1/4th the RAM, a drastically weaker processor, and a smaller display? My suspicion is that Apple enthusiasts will say yes, and those who are loyal only to the quality of the hardware will say no.
In summary, if you need a tablet with more computing power and can live without internet access while you’re not at a Wi-Fi hotspot, the MS Surface is ideal for you. If you’re looking for a smaller iPad that still retains a lot of the power of the full-fledged version, the Mini is a no-brainer—and that’s not just a dig at Apple’s fan base.
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