Let's compare the two tablets and see how they really fare against each other.
Before we dive in, let's recall the big picture when it comes to each device. The iPad Air is the next iteration of the iPad, but it's half a pound lighter. It also has the new A7 chipset and a 5MP iSight rear camera. Oh, and Apple promises up to 10 hours of battery life, too.
The Surface 2 is the successor to the Microsoft Surface. It runs Windows RT 8.1 and promises up to 28 days of standby time, though most reviews online show about six to seven hours of real-world use.
iPad Air vs Microsoft Surface 2: Display
These days, when you're buying what is essentially just a big slab of screen, the display really matters. Here, we have a 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 display on the iPad Air versus a 10.6-inch 1920 x 1080 display on the Surface 2.
The winner in terms of sheer resolution and sharpness is the iPad Air. At normal viewing distances, you really wouldn't be able to tell the difference. But side-by-side, you'd probably be able to tell which one is best. But don't strain your eyes, because we're telling you now it's the iPad.
iPad Air vs Microsoft Surface 2: Processor and performance
There's more to performance than just plain old hardware. You can put a 200 horsepower engine in a motorcycle and it will fly, put that in a 5,000-pound truck and it's a different story. Likewise, chipsets and processors in tablets and smartphones don't tell the whole story.
Here we have Apple's new A7 chipset with 64-bit architecture powering iOS 7. Apple claims that, thanks to the A7, the new iPad Air is going to be eight times faster than the previous model.
The Microsoft Surface 2 has NVIDIA's Tegra 4, which has had performance issues depending on the device and software running.
Given our experience with iOS 7 and Windows RT 8.1, we can safely assume that the overall user experience as a result of performance will be better with iOS, and therefore, the iPad.
iPad Air vs Microsoft Surface 2: Battery life
Apple promises up to 10 hours of real world use with the iPad Air. Microsoft seems to only offer standby times, but most reviews online show six to seven hours of real world use.
Perhaps for many prospective buyers, the battery life isn't as important if the tablet is going to be for home use. But if you plan on taking a tablet with you on your commute, you'll definitely want the iPad for that extra juice.
One interesting thing is that reports on the web are mixed regarding battery life on the Microsoft Surface 2. Some claim that it's great, others are not impressed. The ones who tend to be excited about it are reviewers who are comparing it to its predecessor, so you may want to take that into consideration if you plan to buy it.
iPad Air vs Microsoft Surface 2: Apps
When you buy a tablet, you're really buying it for one main reason: apps. You're running browsers, social networking apps, productivity apps, games and so on. It's really one of the biggest considerations, or at least it should be, when buying a new tablet.
Hands down, the iPad Air wins here. If there was one consistent thing reviewers disliked about the Microsoft Surface 2, it was the lack of apps.
iOS has always had the biggest number of quality, tablet-designed apps when compared to Android or Windows. That hasn't changed, and it becomes more obvious once we start comparing the iPad to other tablets.
If you're not going to use a browser only - and why would you? - you should strongly consider the iPad Air over the Surface 2.
iPad Air vs Microsoft Surface 2: Pricing
Perhaps the one thing that the Surface 2 has going for it is pricing. Starting at $449, it's $50 cheaper than the iPad Air. If money were truly an issue, and $50 wasn't worth getting a better overall tablet experience, the clear winner is the Surface 2.
However, we believe that in most cases you get what you pay for. Not only will you get better battery life with the iPad Air, it's a lighter and more svelte tablet, too.
Then there are the apps. Sure, the iPad Air starts at a hefty $499, and cost up to $929 if you get a 64GB model with Wi-Fi + cellular connectivity, but you're buying into the richest app ecosystems available today.
It's clear that in every category that matters, the iPad Air edges out the Surface 2 We do wish that it wasn't such a landslide victory in this comparison, but that's the reality of it.
Where Microsoft is really lacking is in its app selection. There aren't very many good apps for the Surface 2, or on Windows RT 8.1. Perhaps developers are going where the sales and money are, and that makes sense.
When it comes to build quality and weight, battery life, apps, display and performance, we give this one to the iPad Air in every category. Oh, and obviously the Apple tablet takes it in the value category, too. For the money, you just get more bang for your buck with Apple tablets.
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