The fight is on. After years of studiously avoiding creating an iPad with a keyboard, Apple went and did it in September. In one fell swoop, the iPad Pro, complete with its 12.9-inch display, optional add-on keyboard and stylus, took the fight directly to the Microsoft Surface Pro 4.
Microsoft has successfully carved itself out a niche with its lightweight Windows hybrid. Apple wants a piece of the action. The question is, does Apple's device warrant consideration, or is it a mere pretender to Microsoft's crown?
Form factor and design
From a distance, the iPad Pro and Surface Pro 4 look very similar. Both are tablets that can be used on their own, and with the attached, optional keyboards. As tablets, there isn't too much between them in terms of looks. The iPad Pro looks and feels very much like a large iPad Air 2, while the Surface Pro 4 is slightly more angular around the edges.
More noticeable is the relative size of the two tablets. The iPad Pro is physically larger, both wider and taller than the Microsoft machine. Surprisingly, though, it's considerably slimmer and also lighter than the Surface Pro 4 by around 50g or so (the precise weight differences depends on the models being compared).
Probably the main reason behind that extra weight is that the Surface Pro 4 has a built-in kickstand, whereas on its own the iPad Pro is just a straight tablet. It's also worth noting that the extra thickness allows the Surface Pro 4 to squeeze in a more useful array of connections, with a full-sized USB 3 port, mini-DisplayPort output and microSD card slot to the iPad Pro's minimalist, single Lightning connector.
The biggest points of difference between the two tablets arise when their respective keyboards are added. Apple and Microsoft have taken dramatically different approaches. The Surface Pro 4's keyboard simply attaches to the spine of the tablet, magnetically, and relies on the kickstand to prop the screen up at an angle - any angle you like - for typing.
The keyboard can be laid flat on the desk for typing or folded at the top edge to create a more comfortable angle for your wrists, and there's a built-in, clickable touchpad, too.
The iPad Pro's keyboard attaches in a similar way to the Surface Pro 4 - magnetically, via a docking contact on one of its long edges, but that's where the similarities end. Instead of that adjustable kickstand, it's the cover keyboard itself that props up the tablet, the rear portion folding over to create a Toblerone-shaped roll.
This has the advantage of providing a flat base, making the iPad Pro more comfortable to use on your lap, but a far less flexible when it comes to setting it up at the most comfortable working angle for you. There's also no touchpad, which feels a little odd in a laptop-style device.
The last thing to address here is typing comfort, and both tablets perform well here. On each keyboard, the keys are spaced sensibly apart from each other, and this contributes to speedy, mistake-free touch-typing, however for serious typists, the superior travel of the Surface Pro 4's keys makes it the more satisfying device to type on.
Winner: Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Next: Who has the best display?