The iPad Pro and the Surface Pro are very different devices with one major thing in common: they each have a pressure-sensitive stylus, meaning these are more than just tablets… they are digital canvases with all of the advantages of the “copy, paste, transform, rotate, undo, save” digital medium, while maintaining the natural feel of a pen/pencil/brush on paper.
Digital art requires a big investment up-front, and so it’s important to know your needs and weigh the pros and cons of the Surface and the iPad pro against each other. COST is a big one, so let’s get that out of the way first.
With $1175, if you go the surface route, you can get:
Surface pro 3 (12 inch, 3:2 ratio, i5, 128 gigs… middle-of-the-line) running Windows 10
Type Cover (keyboard, trackpad, screen cover, all in one!)
Microsoft Office (included in my costco bundle)
Manga Studio (GREAT drawing application)
Anime Studio (GREAT animating application)
With $1125, if you go the apple route, you can get:
iPad Pro (9.7 inch, 4:3 ratio, 32 gigs) running iOS
Autodesk Sketchbook (most full-featured drawing app)
Adobe Ideas (long abandoned, but still my favourite)
The first thing you’ll notice is, going the iPad route, you don’t get the Smart Keyboard, or the larger size screen, if you want to keep it cheap. The larger screen and the keyboard are cheaper if you go the Surface route.
The styluses each have their pros:
The Apple Pencil charges very quickly, lasts for a long time, feels like a pencil and is simple and well built. It works well with the iPad to cancel out your palm when its resting on the screen, and it has a pretty manageable pressure curve.
The Surface Pen is powered by one AAAA battery, which I’ve never had to replace in the couple years (ish) that I’ve had it. The Pen really does feel like an expensive pen, very sturdy. The Pen also has function buttons right on the pen, which saves a LOT of time. The pressure curve is also manageable.
Each also has its cons:
The Apple Pencil isn’t fully compatible (pressure and tilt) with a lot of great iOS drawing apps (yet, anyways). It is quite large compared to the Pen, and the weight is balanced sort of funny, so I end up holding it unlike any writing utensil I’ve ever used (choked up about half way). The Pencil also tends to “cut out” during long lines, or quick lines, which breaks lines mid-way. This can be pretty annoying at times.
The Surface Pen, on the other hand, has pretty inadequate palm detection. My low-tech work around is to wear a stretchy glove with the fingers cut off.
Both work pretty well. The surface Pen is set to give me more consistant line width, and the Apple Pencil is set to give me more variety in width. Both work great.
One thing the Pen does better than the Pencil is dots. Dots! of all things. The pencil can’t really do dots, especially dots of varying pressure. The Surface Pen has no problem with this… SO if pointillism is your thing, that decides it right there.
The iPad has iOS, with it’s app ecosystem, iCloud integration, and it’s amazingly intuitive touch and gesture based tablet experience. Surface has a full desktop version of windows 10, meaning you can run ACTUAL software. Photoshop, indesign, all the full versions, all run without any problems (i just so happen to prefer manga studio).
Each has its downside, of course. With the iPad, you aren’t going to find one app that does it all. functionality will always be split across apps, and sometimes, they don’t play nice with eachother. Thankfully, iCloud seems to solve many of these file-sharing problems. Windows 10 on the surface runs great with a keyboard and mouse, but the “tablet mode” interface leaves MUCH to be desired and is slow and awkward and clunky.
Other things to note about hardware:
The iPad charger is tiny (usb to lightning), the iPad itself is very light and thin. It’s got a great camera, great battery life, and feels very solid. With the smart cover, it lays back at a good drawing angle. The surface pro screen is a great size for drawing, it has a USB 3 port, expandable storage, built-in adjustable stand, as well as a video output for dual-monitor set ups.
The downside to the iPad pro (or at least this model) really is that the screen feels a bit too small, but intuitive pinch-zooming makes the smaller screen manageable. The surface’s charger is really big and gets really hot, and is a huge pain to roll up and put away. The surface’s battery doesn’t seem as adequate as the iPad’s.
I’ll sum it up like this: When it comes to the general feel of the devices, I use the surface at a desk or on the table. The surface just doesn’t feel comfortable to use anyhwere else, but I use the iPad on the couch, lying on the bed, as I walk around my church/office and only occasionally at the table.
Bonus Round: The Camera
I bought my surface pro 3 about a year and a half ago, maybe even longer… before the iPad pro was announced, for sure. I bought it personally. I bought it for drawing.
The iPad pro that i get to play with, was purchased for it’s 4k camera and on-board INCREDIBLY SIMPLE video editing capabilities. It wasn’t purchased so that i can draw on it, that’s just a happy extra. Just for fun, here’s a comparison of the Surface pro 3 and the iPad pro Cameras:
The iPad pro’s camera is superior in EVERY single way.
The surface pro gives you more bang for your buck if you’re on a budget… But the iPad pro is a better tablet, and fun to draw on.
I have a lot of fun drawing on the iPad, it feels intuitive. In its simplicity, it gets out of the way and just lets you enjoy creating… but i’m glad i didn’t buy it for drawing. But I am WAY MORE productive on the Surface pro. It’s very powerful. In its functionality, it makes sure I have the tools to produce anything I can imagine.
The iPad inspires imagination, but lacks the practicality to help you follow through that vision to completion (unless your version of completion is “post it on my tumblr”, which is fine, but not what I need). The Surface really lacks imagination, but it is so powerful that if you bring imagination to it, it’s the only device you’ll ever need.
If you can only afford one, and you want to produce as well as create, get the Surface pro. Since I got my pro 3, they’ve come out with a smaller “regular” surface (closer to the original surface pro and the pro2), as well as the Surface pro 4. For me, the pro 3 works great, and i feel no need to upgrade. Also, the Pro 3 runs CIRCLES around the iPad pro. For example: this entire blog post, with all the text input/editing, photo re-sizing, writing over pictures, getting the drawings off the iPad/pictures off my phone/etc and putting them together and uploading them to wordpress… was all done on the Surface, because it’s an ACTUAL COMPUTER. It just works better for that stuff. The way the iPad functions, it assumes you already have a macbook pro or another computer to do the real heavy lifting… The surface aims to replace all of your computers AND tablets, and does it very well.
But if you already have a real computer and all you really want to do is draw, use the internet, and have access to an insane amount of cheap apps, OR (like me) need a powerful, portable video creating studio, the iPad pro is the way to go.
You can draw on both, though, so that’s good.