The Best “Productivity Tablet” – Surface or iPad?

Dec 20, 2012

Tablets are great because they are easy to carry; they are quick to start up and jump right into action on. They are also easy to hold in one hand while reading. They are especially easy to navigate around with one hand by swiping. All those advantages lend themselves to doing quick tasks—work tasks. Tasks such as writing a quick email, entering or reviewing recent to-dos, or editing documents.


I use a Surface RT and I use an iPad. So you may wonder which I feel is the best Productivity Tablet. I have been using both for a while, and my answer is “it depends.” Whether the iPad wins or Surface wins depends on which “productivity functions” you intend to use your tablet for.

iPad Wins for Media and Entertainment

First, let’s eliminate which is the best “entertainment” or “media tablet,” even though that’s not really relevant here since we’re talking about productivity. The iPad wins hands down for media and entertainment. There are more fun apps, more choices of new movies to download, and better games. And it’s more intuitive to use for these sorts of things. The sound is better (speakers are louder), and the screen on the newer iPads has a sharper resolution. The Kindle eBook app is much better on the iPad than on Surface. So again, iPad wins hands down for general media and entertainment.

Productivity: iPad Wins in Some Cases

Getting back to productivity, the iPad still wins in some settings. For example, if you are going to be mainly working on the web or just checking your email, then get an iPad. The mail app on the iPad is slightly better than the one on Surface RT, and I find web navigation to be smoother on the iPad, and slightly faster—particularly when going back to a previous page.

Microsoft Office Applications: The Surface Trump Card

Are you wanting to use full-fledged copies of Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint? Okay, this is where the advantage fully shifts to the Surface. Microsoft has delivered full-featured copies of these productivity applications on Surface. The third party products on the iPad that attempt to imitate these just don’t make the grade. I am consistently writing articles in Word, and using SkyDrive to switch over to edit on my main computer, and then back to the Surface again to continue while traveling. Same with PowerPoint. It all happens smoothly on the Surface. The Type keyboard cover works great—I almost feel like I am on a laptop. I can get real work done.

Office Apps on iPad?

Now, that said, rumor has it Microsoft is planning to release versions of its Office applications on the iPad sometime in 2013. However it remains to be seen on how “full” these copies are. The news is that these apps will primarily be for viewing Office documents, and that only very basic editing will be allowed. And of course Outlook will not be in the mix. And again, I know there are third party apps on iPad that allow editing Office docs, but they’ve never really worked for me. Editing on the web can work in limited cases.

Outlook: The Surface Pro’s Trump Card

Which brings us to Outlook. By now you know Outlook does not run on the Surface RT, but will run on the Surface Pro. If you require a full version of Outlook (many of us do), then of course the Surface Pro (or some other tablet running Windows 8 Pro) is the only way to go for a full-fledged productivity tablet. And as I’ve pointed out before, you need a full version of Outlook to manage MYN/1MTD tasks in Outlook. The Surface Pro comes out in January, but I am worried about its battery life—it may be quite disappointing. But there are other Windows Pro tablets that do have great battery life, and that are shipping now (if you can find them in stock that is).

Browser Plugins: The Other Trump Card for Surface Pro

One more thing to mention here. Many in-house corporate business applications are accessed through web interfaces. Such interfaces are easier to develop and maintain, and they are usable on more computers. Internal applications such as corporate purchasing systems, time tracking, travel systems, and so on, all have all been moved to the web, and so you might think they could be used on any mobile device.

Well, unfortunately, many of these depend using browser add-ins to function, and so they won’t work on the iPad Safari or even the RT version of Internet Explorer since you cannot install the plug ins there. This is another place Surface Pro will shine since its copy of Internet Explorer does allow you to install all add-ins. The Surface Pro (or another Windows Pro tablet) may be the only tablet that allows full access to all your corporate business tools.


So that’s it for your productivity tablet decision points between iPad and Surface. Obviously I have ignored Android tablets and non-Microsoft Windows 8 tablets—too many choices to cover here. But I hope this gets you going now.


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3 Responses to The Best “Productivity Tablet” – Surface or iPad?

  1. CountUSC says:

    I have to say that I’m a new person now that I’ve come across your TWC book. Haven’t even read it all yet, but it has been a lifesaver!

    One of my challenges with this system is that I’ve now configured Outlook 2013 (Microsoft Partner Network License) to work beautifully with MYN. However, I have another desktop at work and a Windows 8 Slate that all are running Outlook 2013 connected to the same Office 365 Exchange services. My question, if you haven’t guessed it by now, is that keeping all the setting among the 3+ Outlook installations is a nightmare, especially with my role as a software architect and constantly rebuilding my computers and reinstalling the newest software, OS, SQL, etc.

    I don’t recall seeing any advice in your book or online here on how to backup/restore or otherwise sync Outlook settings. Any advice here?

  2. Michael Linenberger says:

    To CountUSC
    Couple thoughts. First, my experience is that most of the settings are saved on the Exchange server, so I am surprised they do not show up automatically in the same account on the other machines. Next, I find after you have made the settings a few times it only takes 5 to 10 minutes to put them in again. Of course, I am pretty fast at this. Finally, no, there is no way to otherwise export and import the settings. Actually there is one way, the MYN version of the ClearContext software installs all the settings when you install it. But install can take 10 minutes, so I wouldn’t use ClearContext just for that. Here’s a link:
    Hope this info helps a bit!

    • Brian says:

      Thank Michael – I will check and see if Office 365 will sync those settings across my multiple PCs.
      Your tools have helped me immensely as I have recently moved from back-office consulting to software technical sales management.

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