The 2048 x 1536 pixel count on Apple's tablet dwarfs the Surface's 1366 × 768 screen, but Stevie Bathiche, director of research at Microsoft's Applied Sciences Group, said his company's screen is actually easier to read.
Bathiche is the "co-inventor of the Surface," according to his company profile, and he offered some reasoning behind the markedly smaller resolution during a Reddit IamA Oct. 16.
Although many prospective buyers expressed disappointment when Microsoft announced the lower-res screen, Bathiche wrote there are many other factors that determine how people perceive detail.
He explained the higher resolution display on the iPad actually makes the human eye less sensitive, which in turn means that articifical light sources and reflections can bring down the all-important contrast.
All about the MFT
"The true measure of resolvability of a screen called Modulation Transfer Function (MTF), not pixels," Bathiche wrote. "MTF is a combination of both contrast and resolution.
"There are over a dozen subsystems that affect this MTF number. Most folks just focus on one number out of dozens that affect perceived detail. Without good contrast resolution decreases.
"Basically, as resolution/DPI increases the eye becomes less sensitive. So as a result, the amount of light in a room and the reflections off the screen have a huge effect on the contrast of the display.
"In fact, a small amount of reflection can greatly reduce contrast and thus the perceived resolution of the display."
Bathiche added that in-house tests have shown less light is reflected off the Surface RT's screen, compared with the iPad, and test subjects are indeed perceiving more detail on the tablet.
He added: "While this is not official, our current Cleartype measurements on the amount of light reflected off the screen is around 5.5-6.2 percent, the new IPad has a measurement of 9.9 percent mirror reflections.
"Doing a side by side with the new iPad in a consistently lit room, we have had many people see more detail on Surface RT than on the iPad with more resolution."
The Microsoft Surface RT tablet goes on sale next week, so users will be able to test those claims for themselves.