Face-Off: Apple iPad Air vs. Microsoft Surface 2

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With its impressively light design and fast new A7 processor, the iPad Air has quickly become the large-screen tablet to beat. But Microsoft is hoping to steal the spotlight with its Surface 2. The follow-up to the Surface RT, Surface 2 is an improvement on all fronts with a more powerful processor, full HD display and enhanced Windows RT 8.1 operating system. Which tablet is the better choice? We threw them in the ring for a head-to-head brawl to find out.


Apple's latest iPad is as elegant as ever. A mixture of the original iPad and the iPad mini, the aluminum-and-glass Air features thinner bezels and chrome accenting around its chamfered edges. The Air's mute button and volume buttons line its right edge, while the Home button sits below the display. The power button is up top, and two speakers are on the bottom edge.


MORE: Apple iPad Air Full Review

Microsoft's Surface 2 features the same sturdy VaporMG (magnesium alloy) body as the original Surface, but there are some notable differences. We're fans of the second-generation Surface's austere industrial design and silver paint job. More important, a new two-stage kickstand makes it easier to use this slate in your lap. 


MORE: Microsoft Surface 2 Full Review

The 9.7-inch iPad Air measures just 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.29 inches and weighs a scant 1.05 pounds, making it the lightest big-screen tablet on the planet. That's far thinner and lighter than the Surface 2, which measures 10.8 x 6.8 x 0.35 inches and weighs a hefty 1.49 pounds

Winner: iPad Air. The Surface 2 sports a built-in kickstand and slick styling, but the Air is more attractive and lighter.

Ports and Expandability


The iPad Air is fairly limited in the ports department, offering a lone Lightning port for charging and accommodating accessories. The Surface 2, by contrast, benefits from a full-size USB 3.0 port, allowing users to plug in a full-size mouse or keyboard, as well as USB hard drives. You'll also find a microUSB port on the right edge, and a microSD card slot underneath the kickstand.

Winner: Surface 2. Having a full USB port allows the Surface 2 to support more peripherals, and (unlike the Air) you can expand the storage.



The iPad Air's 9.7-inch, 2048 x 1536 Retina display is one of the best on the planet, offering a level of detail the Surface 2's 10.1-inch 1920 x 1080 ClearType display simply can't match.

The Surface 2's screen offered quality images while watching a 1080p trailer for "X-Men: Days of Future Past." Unfortunately , colors on the Surface 2 appeared oversaturated, and blacks were less accurate than those we viewed on the iPad Air . In one scene, the character Mystique's blue skin and red hair popped against a pitch-black background when viewed on the Air. The same scene looked decidedly flatter on the Surface 2.

MORE: Tablet Buyers' Guide 2013: 5 Questions to Ask Before You Buy

Similarly, images on the Air looked crisper than on the Surface 2. Lines in Mystique's face were sharper and easier to see on the Air than on the Surface, and the hairs on the character Beast's face stood out more.

With a brightness rating of 411 lux, the iPad Air's display easily outshined the Surface 2's screen, which mustered 364 lux.

Winner: iPad Air. The iPad benefits from a brighter and sharper display, as well as better color accuracy.



The iPad Air's bottom-mounted speakers pump out audio that envelops the listener. The high-pitched, synth-heavy sounds of Chvrches' "Recover" sounded loud and clean. The Queens of the Stone Age's "Little Sister" sounded equally fantastic, with its guitar riffs reverberating.

The Surface 2 features digitally enhanced speakers on its left and right edges that Microsoft says provide fuller-sounding audio. That's true, the speakers' overall volume was exceptionally low. While listening to the same Chvrches track we noted that the synthesizer sounded a bit hollow. The Queens of the Stone Age's heavier-hitting song could hardly break through the low din of our newsroom.

On the LAPTOP Audio Test, however, the iPad Air registered just 67 decibels of sound. That's far lower than the Surface 2's 78 dB rating. That said, neither slate could match the tablet category average of 80 dB.

Winner: iPad Air. Though it sports digitally enhanced speakers and a higher decibel rating, the Surface 2 just couldn't match the iPad Air's fuller sounding speakers.

Operating System & Interface

Preloaded with iOS 7, the iPad Air's software has a clean and more modern look, as well as some needed enhancements. These include a new Notifications Center menu and Control Center for quickly adjusting settings.

The iOS 7 also has improved multitasking capabilities. Users can now double tap the Home button to launch a thumbnail view of all their running apps. From there you can just swipe a thumbnail up to close an app. However, you still can't interact with multiple apps at the same time. Windows RT 8.1 goes further with a split-screen viewing mode, which lets you multitask with two Windows 8 apps on one screen at the same time (take that Apple).


MORE: Apple iOS 7 Tips and Tricks

Windows RT 8.1 still stands out with its Live Tile interface, which delivers live updates to your Start screen. It's easy to pin apps to the Start screen, as well as move them and resize them. We also appreciate the Bing Smart Search feature, which lets you search your device, the Web and Skydrive all at once. The Windows Start button has made a return of sorts, but it's a neutered version of what we've been asking for.


MORE: Windows 8.1 Tips and Tutorials

As with the original RT, users are limited to using Windows 8 apps, as traditional desktop programs are incompatible with the OS. That leads to the issue of the operating system's split personality between the desktop and Start screen modes. Apps on one aren't usable between the other, and the only reason you'd use the desktop is to access Microsoft Office.

Winner: Draw. Windows RT 8.1 is more dynamic and makes it easier to multitask, but iOS 7 is more unified and easier to use.


Anyone who purchases an iPad running iOS 7 gets free access to Apple's iWork productivity suite, which includes Keynotes (for presentations) Numbers (spreadsheets) and Pages (word processing). The Air also benefits from a huge library of productivity apps. 


MORE: iWork for iOS Review and iWork for Mac OS X Review

However, the Surface 2 comes with the much more established and familiar Microsoft Office Home and Student, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Notes. The Windows Store has some good productivity apps, such as Lync and Yammer, but Apple's tablet has a broader selection.


MORE: Microsoft Office 2013 Tips—Word 2013 | Excel 2013 | Powerpoint 2013 

A distinct advantage of the Surface 2 is the ability to use two apps on the screen at once via the Snap feature. And while some printers support the iPad Air with Air Print, the Surface 2 works with most printers via USB. Being able to have finer cursor control when editing documents via a touchpad (inside the Touch Cover and Keyboard Cover) or external mouse is yet another plus.

Winner: Surface 2. Having Office built in and superior multitasking makes the Surface 2 a better business tool.


Apple's iPad Air is the first iPad to come loaded with the company's 64-bit, dual-core A7 processor, the first such chip to make its way into a tablet. The Surface 2 sports Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 4 chip. On benchmarks that run on both iOS 7 and Windows RT 8.1, the iPad Air came away the winner.

The Air completed the Sunspider Web benchmark, which tests a device's ability to process Javascript, in just 395 milliseconds. That barely beats the Surface 2's time of 411 milliseconds. Both tablets, smoked the category average of 896 milliseconds.


On the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, the iPad Air notched 14,850 and the Surface 2 a lower 13,777. Once again, both slates blew past the tablet category average of 7,726.

MORE: Top 10 Tablets

Anecdotally, both tablets fired off photos quickly and switched between apps instantly. Interestingly, the Surface 2 booted faster than the iPad Air, coming to life in just 17 seconds versus the Air's 23 seconds.


The Air changed orientations from horizontal to portrait quicker than the Surface 2, 0.7 seconds versus 1.5 seconds. In a different test, the iPad Air opened the game "Asphalt 8: Airborne" in 8.3 seconds. The Surface 2 opened the app in 8 seconds. We didn't see any slowdown or lag while playing the game on either slate. 

The iPad Air's camera app captured photos much quicker than the Surface 2, firing off images in the blink of an eye. The Surface 2's camera app hesitated about 0.5 seconds before capturing a photo.

Winner: iPad Air. This round was close, but the edge goes to the iPad, which bested the Surface 2 in various benchmarks and offered slightly better everyday performance.


The iPad Air's lighter weight makes the prospect of taking photos more likely, and it's 5-MP camera is fairly good. A photo of a large planter with coniferous shrubs and a small tree looked clear and colorful, with sharp lines and little to no noise. The same shot captured with the Surface 2's 5-MP camera took on an almost purple tinge, though details were still clear. The color in the Air's shot looks almost overly warm, but it's more pleasing to the eye.


A photo of the Flatiron Building in Manhattan taken with the iPad Air looked crisp, though the blue sky had visible artifacts. The sky looked better on the Surface 2's shot, but the camera didn't adjust properly to the shadows blanketing nearby buildings, making them appear as though they were in complete darkness.


A 1080p video near a busy intersection shot with the Air looked bright and colorful. Details, such as the parallel lines of a nearby building's brick facade, were easily visible.


A video of the same location taken with the Surface 2 was a bit rougher around the edges. Buildings were grainier and colors were flatter.

The iPad Air's front-facing camera took excellent photos, capturing individual beard hairs and small lines in our shirt. The Surface 2's front camera images weren't as colorful or sharp.


Winner: iPad Air. Apple's tablet captured sharper images with brighter and more accurate colors.



With 475,000 apps optimized for the iPad, Apple's App Store far outpaces the Windows Store's selection of 100,000 titles. Despite the recent additions of Facebook and Flipboard, the Surface 2 is missing such crowd favorites as Instagram, Pandora, Spotify, Snapchat and YouTube. There's no sign of "Candy Crush Saga" or "Angry Birds Star Wars II," either. In fact, Microsoft’s Windows Store is missing about 75 percent of the most popular apps found in Apple’s App store .

Winner: iPad Air. The Apple App Store wins hands-down.

Battery Life


The iPad Air turned in one of the most impressive performances yet on our LAPTOP Battery Test, lasting a marathon 11 hours and 51 minutes while continuously surfing the Web over Wi-Fi with the display brightness set to 40 percent.

MORE: 10 Tablets with the Longest Battery Life

Microsoft's Surface 2 lasted 9 hours and 19 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which is a major improvement over the first-generation Surface. However, the Air lasted longer over a more power- hungry LTE connection (10:47) than the Surface did over Wi-Fi.

Winner: iPad Air. Offering 2 hours of more endurance gives the Air the advantage.



With the iPad Air's incredible popularity comes a veritable smorgasbord of accessories. There's everything from wireless keyboard cases and connected thermostats to remote-control cars and iPad-specific stands. Of course, you can also pair almost any Bluetooth-enabled device with the slate.

Microsoft offers three first-party keyboard covers, the Touch Cover 2, Type Cover 2 and Power Cover. The Touch Cover 2 sports a capacitive backlit keyboard, while the Type Cover features a physical backlit keyboard. The Power Cover includes a physical backlit keyboard with a built-in battery pack.


The biggest problem for Surface 2 users is the price of these accessories. While Apple users can purchase a keyboard case for the iPad Air for $99, Microsoft's Touch Cover 2 will cost Surface 2 customers $119. The Type Cover 2 costs $129, while the Power Cover costs $199.

Third-party options also include the Maroo Surface 2 Folio Case, which features a keyboard for just $49.99.

Winner: iPad Air. Not only are there significantly more accessories available for the iPad Air, but they are also generally less expensive than Microsoft's items.


A based Wi-Fi-only iPad Air with 16GB of storage costs $499. The base Surface 2 features more storage, 32GB, for $50 less. Unfortunately, Surface 2 users only get access to 18GB of that space, as a massive chunk of it is taken up by Windows RT 8.1 and various pre-installed apps. You're able to use far more of the iPad's storage.

A 32GB iPad Air comes in at $599, while a 64GB costs $699. If you need some serious space, you can get a 128GB Air for $799. The most storage you can get out of a Surface 2 is 64GB for $549. That said, the Surface 2 has a microSD card slot, something the Air doesn't provide.

The Air is also available in 4G LTE models at an additional cost. A 16GB LTE version, for example, costs $629 and rises by $100 as you move up the line, topping out at $949 for a 128GB LTE-enabled Air. The Surface is not available with any cellular connectivity options.

Winner: Surface 2. The iPad Air is available in more configurations than the Surface 2, but Microsoft's slate offers expandable memory and a lower price.



Taking eight out of 12 rounds, and tying one, the iPad Air is the clear winner of this bout. Apple's tablet offers a sleeker and lighter design, a brighter and sharper screen, and better sound. Most important, the Air boasts a much broader and better selection of apps. Plus, the Air lasts more than 2 hours longer on a charge. Having a wider array of accessories is yet another advantage. 

That said, the Surface 2 is a major improvement over its predecessor and is a solid choice for those who emphasize productivity. The split-screen multitasking, new kickstand position and keyboard options make this tablet a serviceable laptop replacement. However, you'll need to step up to the much pricier Surface Pro 2 to enjoy the full benefits of Windows.

Ultimately, the iPad Air is the better choice of these two slates for the vast majority of tablet shoppers.


Author Bio
Daniel P. Howley
Daniel P. Howley, LAPTOP Senior Writer
A newspaper man at heart, Dan Howley wrote for Greater Media Newspapers before joining Laptopmag.com. He also served as a news editor with ALM Media’s Law Technology News, and he holds a B.A. in English from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
Daniel P. Howley, LAPTOP Senior Writer on
Add a comment
  • Alex F. Says:

    By the way the Surface still wins. I'm a student and from a student perspective it is still the best. the iPad was pretty cool thought I have both and think Microsoft office is easier to use than iWork. by the way did any one notice that in the photo of himself the headphones were off in the IPad Air but they were on at the Surface shot kind of rigged got to say and if you look at the properties on the photos it shows it went through Photoshop to make it look bad sorry but its rigged look at every photo and video and it will be rigged. sorry thanks for the comparison though Daniel! Sorry to be mean. Love the comparisons by the way!

  • Seb Says:

    Nice review, although I think I'll still go for the Surface. I'm going to use it for university and MS office, the ports, storage and value are my most important factors.

  • Marla Says:

    THANK YOU so much for this insightful and helpful article!

  • Oli Veale Says:

    To begin with, I would like to say that the surface 2 does not have a micro usb port, it is a mini HDMI. the adapter can be bought off the Microsoft store but is extremely over priced. I am also thinking of switching to an Ipad as my surface is doing many things that it shouldn't (freezing and problems with Bluetooth) is it worth swapping. I need productivity apps for schoolwork. Advice please?

  • Will Says:

    It's fantastic how the Ipad managed to surgically remove the headphones from the guys neck in the "like for like" photo's!

  • Vijay Says:

    Can I load windows xp,windows 7'in my apple iPad Air let

  • mookie Says:

    This article is a bunch of croc. Windows tablet is a full blown desktop pc plus a TABLET, so unless you are a teen that does not know how to utilize a windows pc or just an Apple fanboy, any windows tablet is clearly better than an ipad or androi.

  • Sullivan Says:

    I have there surface 2 and I feel like after using an iPad, I've come out of the dark ages! The review here is a bit bias towards the iPad.
    Design: practical over pretty, please! The surface's two level kick stand is something so basic, I don't understand why Apple can't integrate on their devices.
    Display: I was amazed at the picture quality of the surface and the screen is much bigger, making the surface a winner here.

  • Varun Says:

    You compared all things but didn't compare the most important thing like - on iPad you can not even save a file, you just need to leave it open or email it. Which is completely nonsense and makes it useless for any small work. Surface 2 does not have these problems, it works like a proper computer. I think it should be given much more weight age. This kind of functional restrictions in ipad makes it a pretty toy vs surface proper tablet which you can use for actual work. How can you not compare these most improtant things before giving your verdict?

  • Kris Says:

    Good review
    I think Productivity portion should have been little more narrative;
    And need clarity in definition is required

  • Mysticfist Says:

    I don't know but when i read this review i just get the idea you are a big apple fan. I do not always agree with the results.

  • Yogesh Says:

    hahahahaha, Review is totally written by a Apple Fan...
    Do You Know how much Cost do Apple Pay For Single iPhone??
    its just 15,000 to 20,000 INR
    and they sell it for 45,000 to 50,000 INR

  • drew Says:

    is the surface a surface 2 pro or RT

  • Raj Says:

    Before I even read this, I knew the iPad was going to win. No because it is the best device, but because the author was programmed to want to edge out the iPad in subjective comparisons to have "credibility" within the tech world. What kind of world do we live in where Apple is king of everything tech.

  • oliver thornton Says:




  • Will Swan Says:


  • will swan Says:

    this is wrong the ipad is worthless and everyone should send them back. surface is much and i would buy on if i didn't live in a trash can.

  • nicogalijk Says:

    I can't take this comparison serious if the reviewer decides the camera on one device is better even though the whites on said device aren't even white.


  • David Says:

    It looks like the author decided his apple product would 'win' before he started writing his 'comparison'.
    The problem is that he puts way too much emphasis on subjective categories like design, camera output, etc., and doesn't give enough weight to things that most people care about like expansion and cost.
    And by the way, if a tablet costs $300 more, it should be capable of alot more.

  • Daniel Ferdinand Says:

    This is F*ck*ng garbage!!! You are apple fan!!! That's all

  • thomas Says:

    well, the battery life, it depends on the number of applications running on the tablet. if you are just enjoin some mp3, it will definitely last much longer than playing a vedio game.

    here is a tablet compare chart http://tabletvs.net/chart
    it is showing the average battery life in common use. ipad air's battery life is in the middle, not very long not very short.

  • Sylvain Says:


    Un grand merci Daniel pour les informations que tu nous à donné.
    J'ai fait plusieurs sites pour enfin prendre une bonne décision et avec tes commentaires j'ai pu enfin choisir.Merci encore pour ton excellent travail.

  • J Simpson Says:

    I thought this was a fair comparison with *Mostly* unbiased conclusions. Which I applaud since there are a horrible amount of terrible comparisons out there mostly focusing on IPad with the Pro(?)... Anyway, I can personally attest to a longer battery life as my surface 2 played Netflix straight for almost ten hours on a thirteen hour trip with at least a quarter battery still left. Also, I feel like "design" is a pointless category since it's all subjective, unless it's specific to it's designed functionality, which in my humble opinion the surface 2 wins hands down (built in kickstand, ports, micro SD). The Air being a bit lighter and thinner isn't a selling point for me personally. The Surface is about as heavy and thick as an iPad 2 so it obviously isn't too much. I would have personally given the accessory category to the surface since having HDMI out, Full USB compatibility, and Micro SD automatically open up a world of accessories useable (worth mentioning if your going to mention IPad being Bluetooth accessory compatible). Also, I believe the accessories specific for the surface are far more useful. Just one more note. In reference to your claim that the surface only has 18gb* usable storage, this must be a typo or mistake. Mine has 25.3gb free storage on a 32gb machine. I think it's worth mentioning since about 10gb more useable storage at $50 less is a much bigger gap than your claimed 2gb extra. Also, it misleads people about a product which seems irresponsible.

  • Steve Brooks Says:

    This report truly identifies that Apple now need to invest in allowing more access via the USB .... I mean if Microsoft can allow a USB drive to connect why can't Apple. This will be a deciding factor in the future mark my words

  • Rann Xeroxx Says:

    Some of the things that you either glossed over or did not cover at all make the Surface 2 a far more productive device. 1) USB port: You can plug in and use tens of thousands of devices into the Surface and they will work. I will plug my DVD burner into it and burn data DVDs all the time. Heck, even a flexible LED light can be used on the device. Barcode scanner, etc. 2) HDMI port: At work I use my Surface as a RDP device. I plug a large 22" monitor to it and RDP into my corporate VDI with my full USB keyboard (with a USB hub and mouse and headset attached). I will then use the Surface screen for my Lync client and video chat. 3) You can map and connect network shares with the Surface, including network printers. In fact if you turn on the Server service on the Surface, you can share out your own drives and shares on the network. 4) Home Group: If you have other Windows PCs at home you can connect the Surface to the Home Group and then share resources between them like connected printers or music files. 5) Share: Metro has the share button in the Charms menu that allows integrated interactions between apps. You can take your web page and hit the share and send the link to a friend, or a offline reader, etc. Lots of uses from various apps for this. 6) Mouse: Let me say that again, MOUSE! Even Android allow mousing, this should have its own category.

    I could go on and one. And this is with the RT version of Windows tablets. With Baytrail you now can get a 8" full Win8.1 tab for $299. IPad iOS is just so limited and neutered compared.

  • Loren Says:

    The iPad Air has Safari browser, and you can add Chrome browser. With Surface, I do believe you are limited to the IE browser -- not sure I like that. If using mainly browsers, I would say the Chromebooks are a good choice, and if apps are your thing, Apple has the best -- as in best tablet. The Microsoft offerings are more like portable Netbooks -- sort of interesting. If bought at a lower price, Surface 2 may be a bargain -- maybe say $299 - $349 with keyboard.

  • Loren Says:

    Those photos look the old difference beween Fujifilm and Kodak film. One is cooler than the other. Bluer greens vs. yellower greens. Both could be adjusted. Same here, as the Surface may indeed be the truer color, with the Apple being just a warmer and more saturated look. It is all in what ya like, and it is all changeable by way of photo editor.

  • JRimmer Says:

    What annoys me about reviews like this is that firstly, the machines were created for different purposes , so a direct comparison is useless , the Surface is pertly a business tool and only people who want that option are likely to be looking at it and secondly , I am sick of hearing how the Microsoft store does not have the major apps. Apps were originally created to get around the fact that webpages did not fit so well on a small screen and the web browsers were not good , why on earth is it a factor if the youtube app or FB app has only jut come out, the Surface has a fully fledged browser , who would use any of these apps to access a web page when you can have the full web experience..of course this only covers certain apps but the main web pages are often the ones we actually use regularly and so are all coverred anyway

  • Denver Says:

    Well explained.. Great comparison

  • Charles Thompson Says:

    The battery life on Surface 2 is 14:22 according to engadgets review.


  • duqjag Says:

    I have a Surface 2 and think this was a fair review. One big difference - and the reason I switched from Android to MS windows was because of the SkyDrive deal (200GB for 2 years for free). It is so seamlessly integrated. I love how my pics (which are amazing on my Nokia 925) sync up (full size) to the cloud. It's just awesome!!!!

  • David Alphanzo Says:

    Great write-up!!! I find the findings of this comparison very interesting. This comparison between the iPad Air and the Surface 2 was top notch!

    Well done, sir.

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