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Why I'm Torn Between an iPad Air and a Surface Pro 2021

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Key Takeaways

I like the 11-inch iPad Air and the Windows Surface Pro 7, but for very different reasons.The iPad wins for ease of use and its fantastic keyboard.I love that I can run nearly any Windows app on the Surface. Sascha Brodsky / Ach5

I love my Windows Surface Pro 7, but my 11-inch iPad Air wins when it comes to getting things done. 

On the outside, both tablets look very similar. They're rectangular, silver-ish slabs I've tricked out with pens and keyboards, sport rugged designs, and are light enough to be easy to carry. It's not an easy decision to reach for the iPad—the Surface has so many things going for it that I prefer it to the iPad in some instances.

These models are among the latest tablet hybrids released by Microsoft and Apple, and they represent two different design philosophies.

The Surface Kickstand is Brilliant

When you dive deep, the Surface starts to look more appealing. I love the unique kickstand that props it up at just the right angle, and the optional keyboard accessory is perfect for its size. 

There's also the matter of the Windows versus Mac operating systems. I'm platform agnostic, but I tend to prefer Macs because the tight integration of hardware and software means things just work. Downloading updates is just much less of a hassle on a Mac. They happen quietly in the background without interrupting my work. 

With Windows, I'm constantly told I need to update my Surface for some critical reason. Sometimes, the Surface even seems to restart itself and go through a long bootup process. I'm sure there's a way to change this setting, but the Windows options are such a confusing mess that I haven't bothered to figure out how.

But Windows is still more efficient for work if you ignore some of the inevitable snags. I find the file system more intuitive, and Word on Windows offers innumerable little shortcuts that make writing easier. The contextual menus in Word, for example, let me easily copy and paste text while removing pesky formatting with a single click. On Mac, you have to navigate to the window bar and find "Paste and Match Style." It's a small thing, to be sure, but doing this multiple times a day can interrupt workflow.

"The Surface has so many things going for it that I prefer it to the iPad in some instances."

Meanwhile, on my Surface Pro, I love that its stylus has a button on the side that can be customized to launch apps. It's convenient to open the Windows Journal app when I want to jot down some notes quickly.

As a gadget lover, there's simply a lot more to obsess over on the Surface from a hardware perspective.

Microsoft's Journal App Offers Elegant Simplicity

The iPad is Efficient, but Boring

The iPad is a wonderful device, of course, but its design feels almost too pared down at this point. Without even a Home button, the iPad is just a monolithic slab. I'd like a few more buttons to customize.

But there's no denying the iPad works no matter what you throw at it. The rock-solid operating system means I never have to worry about malware or strange crashes in the middle of a work session.

The iPad also wins when it comes to essential accessories. As much as I admire the Surface stylus and keyboard, the iPad has them beat. My Magic Keyboard for iPad is a transformative device that lets me work and play whenever I want. By contrast, the Surface keyboard is a little tricky to deal with. It's constantly detaching when I least expect it and the stand on the Surface is useless when it comes to typing while lying down.

In spite of its faults, however, I just can't quit the Surface. I love that I can run nearly any Windows app on the Surface. And even though the iPad offers millions of high-quality apps, it feels limiting. In the end, the Surface is a more exciting device, even though it may not be as practical as the iPad.

It's a good thing I have both.