iPad Pro Vs. Surface Pro 3 Vs. Wacom Cintiq

As we have come to expect, Apple's latest announcement of the iPad Pro has caused quite a bit of controversy. Apple fans love the update and the additional accessories, while critics claim that they simply ripped off other products that are already available. Let's take a closer look.

The original iPad really created the tablet market back in 2010. When it was first announced, I remember hearing the critics shouting about how it was simply a larger iPod touch with less features than an iPhone and wondering why it had such a huge bezel! Although this was technically true, it didn't stop the iPad from revolutionizing the computer market and remaining the top producer in the tablet market since. I also thought it was overrated when it was first announced, but I have to admit that I love my iPad for casual surfing and watching videos.

Today, it feels like a new iPad competitor comes out on a weekly basis. Amazon sells the Fire, most electronic companies sell Android-based tablets, and Microsoft has created the Surface Pro laptop/tablet hybrid. Today, Apple holds 32.5 percent of the tablet market by only selling 2 tablets, the Air and the Mini.

Critics of the iPad and most tablets in general complain that most tablets are nothing more than a website surfing device and certain things, like typing on the screen, are so cumbersome that it's not even suitable for writing emails. Apple has responded to the haters and the changing market with the iPad Pro, a larger, more powerful iPad with a slick keyboard and "Apple Pencil" addition. But we have to ask ourselves, is it really that different from a standard iPad? Windows fans have been quick to attack the iPad Pro by calling it a Microsoft Surface ripoff, while Apple fans would point to Apple's undeniable ability to perfect concepts before they are thrown into the market (not always the first, but certainly the best).

In case you haven't seen it yet, here is the promo for the iPad Pro:


Let's Compare the iPad Pro to the Microsoft Surface Pro 3


iPad Pro: 12x8.68x.27 inches

Surface Pro 3: 11.5x7.93x.36 inches

Winner: iPad Pro


iPad Pro: 1.57 pounds

SP3: 1.76 pounds

Winner: iPad Pro


iPad Pro: 2,732 x 2,048 pixels

SP3: 2,160 x 1,440 pixels

Winner: iPad Pro


iPad Pro: Apple A9x

SP3: Intel Core i5 or i7

Winner: Surface Pro 3


iPad Pro: 4 GB

SP3: 4–8 GB

Winner: Surface Pro 3


iPad Pro: 32–128 GB

SP3: 64–512 GB

Winner: Surface Pro 3

Operating System:

iPad Pro: iOS 9 (Apple's standard iPad/iPhone operating system)

SP3: 100% Windows 10

Winner: Debatable, but professionals will choose Windows 10


iPad Pro: 1.2 MP Front, 8 MP Rear-Facing

SP3: 5MP Front, 1080p Rear-Facing

Winner: iPad Pro


iPad Pro: Headphone, Lightning

SP3: USB, Mini Display, Headphone

Winner: Surface Pro 3


Apple Pencil: $99

Surface Pro Pen: Included

Winner: Surface Pro 3


iPad Pro: $799–$1,348

SP3: $799–$1,799

Winner: SP3 is cheaper for identical configurations

The Rest of the Story

Just looking at specs only tells a small portion of the story, though. Perhaps the biggest argument has nothing to do with these products, but rather the software that we all want and need to run on them. As it stands right now, the Apple iPad is almost worthless when it comes to editing photos and videos (at a professional level). The apps that are currently available that are capable of "editing" are consumer-grade at best. Although Apple has announced that Adobe will be creating pro level apps "capable of editing 50-megapixel images," it still doesn't seem that useful if you can't share files between your Photoshop application on your computer and the application on your iPad Pro.

The Surface Pro 3 can of course run any software (it's running a full version of Windows). The problem is that most "professional" photo and video software is simply not optimized to run on such a small screen and be controlled with touch. Yes, you can connect a mouse to your Surface Pro 3, but if you do, you may as well just buy a more powerful standard laptop.

So, we are left with the iPad Pro, which can't even open the programs that we use on a daily basis and we have the Surface Pro 3, which can, but in many cases is more difficult to use than a standard laptop. At least the iPad's operating system and apps are 100 percent designed for touch.

What About the Cintiq 13HD?

I've only casually used both the Surface Pro 3 and the Cintiq 13HD, but I have read a lot about both units. I assumed that the Cintiq would be the choice of professional photographers, retouchers, and animators, but I was wrong. It seems like the majority of artists prefer the Surface Pro 3. Of course, most of the complaints that people have with the SP3 also exist with the Cintiq; they both run Windows and many of the programs we all use are not optimized for touch on such a small screen.

Here's a great comparison from a professional animator:

It's All About the Software

I have little doubt that the iPad Pro will be fantastic when it comes to its hardware. Sadly, the hardware is only half of the story. Without applications that are complete enough to pull us away from our desktops and laptops, I'm not sure that the iPad Pro will actually take off as a professional photographer's work station. I'm sure photographers will be excited to edit their photographs on the iPad Pro in the beginning because they can, but if it isn't easier or faster, they will quickly go back to their standard computers.

The real future of computing exists in operating systems and applications that scale based on the screen size and input method. What if iOS 9 and OS X were one operating system and you could use a standard iPad view while using your finger to navigate the web, but when you plugged in an external mouse, keyboard, and monitor, it would switch over to an OS X type view? Adobe Photoshop would look standard with a mouse plugged in, but would then change to another UI when the Apple Pencil was plugged in.

Microsoft is working on this as we speak and nobody at all seems excited about it. 

When Apple inevitably "steals" this idea, everything will change and the iPad Pro will finally be a professional tool. Until that day, I fear that the iPad Pro may simply be a sexier, less productive version of the Surface Pro 3.

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Louis Leblanc's picture

I've been on the edge of buying a Surface Pro for while - partly waiting for Apple's take on it. I think you nailed it Lee. With only iOS on the iPad Pro, it simply cannot replace a laptop. It will remain in a world of work-arounds and compromise...

Ett Venter's picture

"The iPad was designed and developed (IOS) for content consumption, not creation"

I'm not sure if you've watched any of the keynotes apple has done in the last couple of years, but they constantly talk about how they're designing the iPad to create content. This is particularly true for the iPad Pro - they didn't stop going on about how great it is for content creation.

Whether or not it IS great for content creation is a different story - but Apple certainly didn't create the iPad just for consumption.

Sean Shimmel's picture

With these types of posts, it's always intriguing to hear from street level users such as with those whom Lee has posted.

Here goes with a few of my own observations:

1. IPad software... some are arguably BETTER on such a device. Procreate is a compelling example with its trove of features blended into the wantonly perfect touch controls (albeit for traditional artists and not photographers... but the possibilities compel).

2. As a photographer AND illustrator, the Apple Pencil is in fact a quite an exciting addition. The single-pixel, nuanced precision combined with pressure sensitivity and tilt components are of themselves worthy decision points. I'm sure the Surface Pro stylus is utterly responsive, but for my illustration, the added finesse of the Apple Pencil pulls me right in.

3. Cintiq 13" HD... there are actually multiple versions... the 13" that only works in tandem with a computer and the Companion series that operates on its own. My Wacom Cintiq tethered to my Macbook Pro at home or a Starbucks is a wonderfully complete combination... although my own vision of photography requires little detailed retouching (color and contrast tweaks). Here's a couple examples of the subtle details that can be achieved.

Here's an example of 2 recent illustrations on the Cintiq 13" HD/Macbook Pro combo. The photography on the rest of my blog involved minimal retouching with the Intuous Pro tablet.



4. As for Photography and retouching, a laptop and Wacom Intuous or Bamboo tablet seem perfectly fine. The "offset" between the hand and the virtual surface is much less an issue with photography than with traditional drawing and painting.

John Sammonds's picture

The whole problem is not who made the best whoes is quicker and who ripped off who its down to the likes of the end user. I have a Wacom Bamboo, a Cintique 13 HD an imac and mac book pro. The Ipad Pro is at the moment a must as it offers me freedom to work where ever I am without a cable tethering me to some form of device. BUT if it Lightroom and Photoshop wont run its of no use (the mobile vertions drive me mad) its of no use so its wait and see the next offering. The ipad I would love would be a 21inch screen with a blistering CPU and a stack of ram and 1TB storage. A mind blowing graphics tablet, with the pencil.

Anonymous's picture

I think exactly like you. For now if you are creating content, the best way it still desktop computers. If you are a consumer, iPad may be your best choice.

Windows Continuum is revolutionary because it changes the way we thing about OS system. I remember Ubuntu for Android had this kind of structure, and it was 3 years ago the prototype was released:

Apple is solid. I love working in their desktop system and I don't see making the switch for Windows any time now, but for me is clear that they are no trying hard to be innovative. I saw some videos of Windows 10, and well, Apple should work harder because in the future the competition may easily surpass them.

Kalista Anton's picture

Since the Apple company produce some high-quality products, It's easy to say iPad pro would be the winner among these 3. But as far as I know, I strongly recommend you guys to go for Wacom Cintiq, if you are a professional artist. I didn't use Apple pencil yet though. Here are some of the best and cheap 6 tablets for artists.. http://www.bnsofts.com/2015/09/6-cheap-and-best-tablets-for-artists-2015...

Don Fitzsimmons's picture

As a Windows developer (and part-time photographer), my opinion is very biased, but I think the SP3 is a truly great machine for photographers. I've been using the SP3 exclusively for about 6 months now. I use it in a docking station with a normal monitor and keyboard most often, but it's very useful for quick LR work or PS work on the go and it's nice that my tablet is really my day-to-day computer as well.

I think the iPad Pro will appeal to some, but for photographers and video editors, it's going to be tough to compete with the good laptop/desktop. The SP3 comes closest.

I wrote a review about the SP3 from a photographer's perspective a while back: http://donfitzsimmons.photography/essays/2015/02/surface-pro-3-for-photo...

Jimmy Schaefer's picture

lol silly consumers, Apple wants you to think the two are comparable item/product or even competitors... you can't even compare a Surface device to a iPad they are two totally different things... Let me break it down for you in simple terms, You would not compare a 12inch iPhone to Windows based Tower Computer would you? No but thats what this is exactly. This iPad Pro... is a IOS device, it runs IOS apps it uses IOS Xcode and swift to develop on, Fucking thing can't even zip or unzip files... Now the surface pro is a full blown PC with a windows OS, yeah its in the shape of a tablet but that because they choose it to be. It still windows OS.

Why not compare android to mac OS X then... again a mobile OS vs a PC OS....

Ladies and gentlemen, this is Chewbacca. Chewbacca is a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk. But Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor. Now think about it; that does not make sense!

Daris Fox's picture

This is a MS centric post, so don't read if you're not interested in MS.

MS's Continuum project as you said, doesn't get much attention. This is because of the media that bashes MS on every front they can ignoring all the while the fallacies of other systems.

Continuum will be available on every mobile device, whether it's a phone or a tablet and that will take advantage of the App Eco-System rather the desktop but considering where Intel is pushing their processors it won't be unheard of for some desktop apps to be made to run. Currently rumours for the 'Surface' phone which uses an Intel processor and Windows 10 Mobile is slated for mid next year.

As to Apps, MS has also made it very easy to port apps across so if Adobe releases any touch centric editor for the iPad it should follow very shortly to the MS Store. This said Adobe has some very neat ideas of what to do with the Surface as was demoed last year:

However there is a lot of anger and hatred to all things MS in the tech community, some of it is legitimate but most of it is now misplaced. This is one of the key reasons that apps just don't get ported across. A real game changer will be HoloLens, I'd love to see to what Adobe will cook up for that and it's one of the few techs to come out of MS that made everyone sit up and pay attention.

Hybrid tablets and possibly phones are certainly a future. MS is gambling everything on this with their hybrid OS. Apple is still determined to silo their products allowing little integration much to the detriment of their user base. Being able to use the same programs, settings and tools on my tablet and the workstation is a major time and cost saver.

At the end of the day though, Apple will still be successful with their tablet due to the higher margins they have on it. However I do think the media is getting rather jaded as the last few product refreshes have been anything but exciting and in comparison to the PC market evolution under-powered.

Sergio Tello's picture

Oh yeah, the classic blame the media post.

Daris Fox's picture

Yes, MS isn't blameless but you do see a lot of biased reporting against them. Many reviews focus on the negatives instead of the positives of their software and platforms. When you read an Apple review when you see a negative point it's almost always qualified or 'softened'. Also consider security, it took a long for media to start reporting Apple and Android security/privacy flaws to the general public yet any little security or privacy issue that MS has and it's the Barbarians at the Gates mentality.

Case in point I introduced a photographer to a Surface Pro and his first comment was 'This wasn't as bad as 'media' said it was'. I use Media as I don't want to name sites. Another case in point, people blew the Windows 8 issue out of proportion and when Win 8.1 it came out MS fixed a lot of short comings that people complained about and yet the media still trotted out the old tropes.

MS gets little credit for the amount of research and development they do either let alone the fact unlike Apple/Google (through Motorola's suit and also their Codecs ) they are willing to license their patents and IP.

Even when you talk to people they still refer to MS's old behaviour and not the 'modern MS;.

Sergio Tello's picture

All you have to do is read the comments here and you'll get a general idea of how most people feel about Apple products. Even these article is a veiled attack on the new iPad. You'll never admit it tho'

Lee Morris's picture

I literally own 3 iPads so I'm certainly a fan. They just can't replace my main computer for photo or video editing.

Jason Ranalli's picture

If I'm doing post work on the road or off my workstation I just want a laptop and a simple small Wacom tablet. I won't look like a trendy surface tablet guy in front of others but I'll be able to get everything done seamlessly and quickly rather than having to compromise with these beautifully elegant but falling-short solutions.

Being someone who has worked in technology for 20 years at this point what amazes me about entities providing software(whether it be in house engineers or a company like Apple) is that they often are so enthralled that something can be done rather than whether it should be done or that it makes sense. Just because some version of PS can be run on an iPad tablet doesn't mean I would ever want to edit photos on it as the ergonomics are just as important as the ability to load software.

Sean Shimmel's picture


My main caveat, however, in defense of an iPad is the sheer transparency of interaction between user and device such as with apps like Procreate for art (subtly featured in some parts of the iPad Pro announcement)(check it out as an example of perfection, even if you're not into drawing and the art thing). I currently use my Macbook Pro and Cintiq HD 13 (even mobile at a Starbucks is not as cumbersome as you'd first guess) and love the precision and control... yet it's not quite the same as the responsive touch, zoom and rotate fluidity I experience on my iPad (at least for artwork). The only elements lacking compared to the laptop and Cintiq are stylus-precision (even with the Wacom Creative Stylus, smooth lines are almost impossible) and palm rejection.

But I speak all of this from my art side. Photography is another matter, indeed. And with that, I readily agree. I process all my photography on my laptop.


Jason Ranalli's picture

A reasonably sized laptop with a small Wacom takes up a very small footprint frankly - I feel like I could do that anywhere.

Sean Shimmel's picture

Jason, I like how you think.

The only downside is with my illustration and the offset between tablet and screen. Otherwise with photography... perfection.

And for those wondering about the tablet choice-dilemma of small/medium/large... it all comes down to whether you gesture with wrists or arms.

For me, the small is expansively large as I work in minute detail and celebrate the large, on-screeen interpretation.

Small is quite big.

J Lev's picture

Has anyone thought about connecting the iPad Pro to a MacBook with Duet and being able to use full versions of LR and PS?

I'm curious to see how/if it will work, would be a good alternative to the Wacom tablet at around the same price range too.

Rob Giannese's picture

Astropad app with ipad pro with pencil = solution (for me anyway)

Jared Bell's picture

I do feel it's a little early to judge the iPad Pro considering it's not even out yet. I was impressed with the Adobe demo during the keynote and I guess the proof will be in the pudding, but it is just too early to make a decision.

Doc Pixel's picture

You MUST have a detailed opinion about something you've never tried or worked with.

You're doing this internet commenting thing all wrong. /s

Lee Morris's picture

I think my statements are still pretty fair. It comes down to software and if Adobe can create amazing programs then it will actually become a professional device. Without the software it's not that useful.

Anthony Cayetano's picture

People seem to underestimate IOS 9 largely because it's a "Phone OS"... As a budding developer myself, IOS 9 has huge multithreading and multitasking improvements and is extremely memory efficient. And yes, in theory, it now can run a full Photoshop App while maintaining a very long battery life. And yes, it can be used as a desktop OS with full Microsoft apps. And with the A9 chip, I would not expect it to be sluggish either. I forsee the A-series chip going OSX as well and tis a matter of time when Photoshop and Autodesk apps will be ported to this new powerful platform.

Thomas Roscoe's picture

I don't think there is no real competition between the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and the Apple IPad Pro for the reason that they cater to two different kinds of consumers. The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 caters to on-the-go professionals who would want a powerful hybrid that can run desktop applications, while the IPad Pro, in my own opinion, should not be a "Pro" version since it has a very small number of professional applications and it can't run desktop applications, but nonetheless, it has very impressive specifications for a tablet with this dimensions, so I think it should be more of laptop replacement for students and not professionals, since at least it has a keyboard which is must for long typing. When it comes to hardwares, I think the surface pro 3 wins. As can be seen here http://versus.com/en/apple-ipad-pro-vs-microsoft-surface-pro-3, the Surface Pro3 has the much more powerful Core i7 processor as well as a much more capable operating system which is windows 8.1, but as mentioned in the article, the OS side is debatable.

Chris Miles's picture

I'm an artist and I agree. the Ipad pro looks awesome but the first thing I checked after watching the promos was can it run photoshop. I am SO waiting for an iPad that can run photoshop!! Come on Apple! The pen looks awesome though. They got that engineering task out of the way.

Ahmed A.R.'s picture

Dell is reportedly making it's own version of the Surface but with 4K, 100% Adobe RGB IPS screen, i7 CPU, and +10 hours of battery. I think this is what photographers and artiest been waiting for

Also, Lenovo introduced the Ideapad Miix 700 earlier this month.

Topher Pettit's picture

Another point that was missed, Microsoft has a new hardware announcement on Oct 6 where a new Surface Pro 4 is likely to be announced and we can do this comparison all over again.

Jaleel King's picture

One thing people seem to be ignoring, is how difficult it is to get content on and off of ANY iDevice. This is huge when you're talking about content creation! How does one get media on and then off if you can't easily connect additional media to it. The other issue is no expanded media. What happens when you run out of space on an iPad Pro?

I really enjoy my iPad but also find it equally frustrating at times too. There is NO comparison between the Ipad Pro and a Surface Pro, which will be getting refreshed before Xmas btw; NONE. You can't connect an external hdd to any iDevice with out jailbreaking it or needing some expensive connector. You can't expand the memory of the Pro like you can with a Surface.

Now with the new Intel chips even Microsoft is facing stiffer competition from other manufactures who are creating Surface like tablets with even better specs than both Ipad Pro and the current SP3! In few short months things will change for the tablet market and the iPad Pro will be single biggest loser. Wish it was actually an Pro because it ran OX S. BTW Microsoft just announce an event in late Oct for the SP4 that will be telling.

Karl-Filip Karlsson's picture

adobe RGB space on the Ipad pro?? The most impotent to have like a retouch screen after a photosession

David Reece's picture

Thanks for the informative article. I have only one comment...The Samsung Galaxy Tab 12.2 beats the iPad Pro on nearly every bullet point...and it's already nearly three years old. Don't get me wrong, this new offering looks nice, but why pay 2X what I paid for my Tab several years ago?

Paul Szilard's picture

IMHO all h/w purchasing decision should come from 1) intended use and 2) intended s/w - only THEN should one choose a hardware that is most suitable.

In our home we have an iPad Retina, iPad Mini Retina and an Acer Windows 10 tablet, as well as my Samsung Galaxy Note 4, so I have experience with IOS, W10 and Android.

In summary, I was excited when I got the W10 tablet, thinking that I can now have access to any Windows programs, however I found that the constant need to toggle between on-screen keyboard plus the lack of processing power that is required for most decent programs, have been a serious let down. Additionally there are very few programs on the Windows platform that can be used well using a touch screen. They don’t support swiping, pinch and zoom etc. at best you have a touch mouse pointer substitute, which is very unsatisfactory.

I wanted to produce a good photo portfolio demo on W10, but the supplied Microsoft program is so under featured that I wouldn’t even think of it as a product Beta. I could find NOTHING else that provided swipe and pinch-zoom. In contrast both iOS and Android provide excellent apps, as both the OS and the apps have been designed from the ground up of the touch platform.

Anyone claiming that there are no pro grade apps for video, photography or audio on iOS (and Android to a lesser extent), is merely showing their ignorance. On iOS I use iMovie, and can cut a YouTube video in just a few minutes. You need to pick the right tool for the job. You wouldn’t want to use a Swiss Army knife to cut down a 10 foot tree any more than you would want a chain saw in your pocket. Same applies to mobile devices.

So summing it up, for me at least:
1) If I want to operate MS Office products I would consider a W10 tablet + Bluetooth keyboard
2) For virtually everything else I think an iPad is my 1st choice, with Android as a viable lower cost alternative

In future, years from now, I expect more convergence.

Lastly, combining a Bluetooth keyboard (and mouse?) with iPad (Pro or other) or even an Android tablet, would make a suitable content creation travelling platform. None of these devices are designed to run a 100,000 photo database, or cutting a feature film, so pick the right tool for the right job!

Jack Wu's picture

Reading through all of the posts here so far, I can tell ALL of you (except for Surface owners of course) have not had ANY hands-on experience with Surface 3/Pro 3 with it's refined N-trig pen, and thus severely limited in your scope of view when it comes to tablets. I see the majority of iPad/Macbook owners wanting a complete solution from Apple when it is already available; in the form of Surface Pro 3. It is not just another 'Windows tablet' like all the others.

So to all the iPad/Macbook owners here, I challenge you to go into a Microsoft store and try one out. Whether it's Surface 3 or Pro 3, I guarantee you will come out feeling impressed. Especially it's N-trig pen.

Disclosure: I'm a post-grad engineering student whom uses Onenote extensively everyday. As a photography hobbyist using desktop LR/Photoshop combo on SP3, with a pen, the experience is near flawless.

Roberto Estaraneta's picture

I gave up on windows about 10 years ago and never looked back. I switched to apple OS and I was impressed by how reliable their products were and how solid their OS was. In those 10 years I have bought only 2 apple computers. Rarely did I have a crash on either one. I bought a Samsung slate 7 Windows but the pen was useless. I wanted it to draw on the go and since the it ran full Photoshop and illustrator I thought it was a good choice. Then I bought the Cintiq hybrid but returned it without opening the box once I heard news of the IPad pro. I thought my prayers were answered!!!! Well, I just came back from returning the IPad pro. It was a huge let down. The pen was lagging with the Sketch book app. Then I tried other apps and the palm rejection was non existent. The screen was not responsive, often had trouble clicking on links. In total I tried about 5 painting/drawing apps. I feel as if I had just broke with the love of my life. It hurts to let you go Apple, but I just don't know you anymore...

Rolf Guest's picture

The tilt in Apple's Pencil is a gimmick at best... or like it's something new. Its built into Wacom devices and you can adjust brush settings for tilt in Photoshop. I don't get the hoo-ha about the Pencil other than it drives fanbois wild. Pretentiousness. Who wants to pay an extra $100 for something that there are no professional options for? Why? There are no professional reasons to own an iPad other than your company may have decided to start using them... you just want one or want to feel important, because iOS doesn't adhere to industry standards-no matter how bad you want it to. It's like forcing a sphere through a square hole. If I'm doing any serious designing using Apple products, it'll be with a Mac or a PC and a Cintiq. I'll take Linux and Krita over iOS. iOS can't compete with a full-fledged OS, let's get that straight. Maybe later but definitely not at present, so who are the supporters? They can't be both savvy and serious if they prefer an iPad over Surface Pro or Cintiq Companion. Mobility? Come on now people, lets be serious here, the iPad just doesn't do it... okay, maybe for the pretentious or brand loyalists. You're just a sad fan if you can't admit that. Buy an iPad because you want it, but don't try to validate your inflated ego by lying to others who are looking for real solutions.