Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro & 9.7-inch iPad Pro
The best Apple has to offer, the iPad Pro aims to blend productivity with media consumption. Productivity improvements come mostly from iOS 10’s new split-screen multitasking features and by adding accessories. The Apple Pencil, which costs $99, is comfortable to hold and easy to use. It works great for taking notes at work or school, and creative types can use it for drawing and inking.
The larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro comes with a 2732×2048 (264ppi) IPS display and weighs either 713 or 723 grams (a little more than 1.5 pounds) for the Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi + LTE models, respectively. Weight drops to 437 or 444 grams (just less than 1.0 pound) for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, which comes with a 2048×1536 (264ppi) IPS display. Both Pros include Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor, four external speakers (and 3.5mm headphone jacks), 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO, and Apple’s speedy A9X SoC.
There are a few other differences between the two Pros beyond screen size and weight, partly because the two different models were released several months apart. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro’s True Tone display adjusts the white point in response to ambient lighting, and it also supports the DCI-P3 color gamut. There’s also a much improved antireflective coating applied, which is the best I’ve ever seen and makes a huge difference in screen legibility. The smaller Pro also has better cameras: resolution increases from 1.2MP to 5MP for the front-facing camera, while the older 8MP f/2.4 camera gets updated to the 12MP f/2.2 module from the iPhone 6s, adding the ability to record 4K video and improving slow-motion video to 1080p120 or 720p240 instead of 720p120.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S3 is a premium Android 7.0 tablet that sandwiches an aluminum frame between edge-to-edge glass on the front and back and weighs in at 429 grams (0.95 pounds). The 9.7-inch 2048×1536 SAMOLED display covers 97% of the DCI-P3 color gamut and also includes a blue light filter to reduce eye strain while reading.
Inside is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC and 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM. There’s only 32GB of internal storage, though, which is pretty limiting for a tablet. Fortunately, additional storage can be added with a microSD card. There’s also a 6000mAh battery that supports Adaptive Fast Charging.
Like the 9.7-inch iPad Pro it’s competing with, the Galaxy Tab S3 blends media consumption with productivity. Its HDR-ready display and four external speakers that adjust audio response when the tablet is shifted between portrait and landscape makes it a “9.7-inch home theater solution,” according to Samsung. Its productivity play is similar to the iPad’s, namely multi-window capability from the OS coupled with Samsung’s S Pen and optional keyboard accessories. The S Pen, which comes bundled with the tablet, uses Wacom technology to provide pressure and angle sensitivity. It also does not use batteries so it never needs to be charged.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 is more of a laptop with a detachable keyboard than a true tablet. It’s built from PC components and runs Windows 10, which makes it more suitable for productivity than media consumption—basically the opposite of the pure tablet options.
The Surface Pro 4 comes in more configurations than can be listed here for the fanless model that includes an Intel Core m3-6Y30 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB PCIe SSD, all the way to $2699 for a dual-core Intel Core i7-6650U, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB PCIe SSD. The battery capacities also vary based on CPU choice. While the base model is similar in price to the 12.7-inch iPad Pro once you factor in what Apple charges for accessories, the higher SKUs make them more like laptop replacements than tablets considering the performance and price.
All Surface Pro 4 models come with a 12.3-inch 2736×1824 (3:2 aspect ratio and 267ppi) display, dual front-facing speakers, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and a microSD card reader. The magnesium chassis looks professional and keeps weight in check (766 or 786 grams). The Core i5 and Core i7 models are not able to be passively cooled like the Core m3 model and must use a fan for cooling.