Tablets have gotten more powerful over the years, but even top-tier 2-in-1s like Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Apple’s iPad Pro are still a step away from replacing laptops for many business users. They do provide a very attractive alternative to lugging around a notebook on business trips, but these flagship tablets start at anywhere from $650 to $900 and can easily climb to $1,500 or more after you configure them and add in the cost of a keyboard case and stylus. That kind of expense is hard to justify for a device that’s secondary to the laptop a business worker needs for everyday use.
That’s where smaller second-tier tablets can come in. Apple’s 9.7-inch iPad and Microsoft’s new Surface Go for Business carry significantly lower price tags than the iPad Pro and the Surface Pro, yet they’re still powerful, well-built and ready for business. Can they replace a laptop entirely? Not for most people, but neither can their more expensive siblings. And for short trips, they do provide a lighter alternative that lets workers get the job done without overly burdening them with gear.
After checking them out on short day trips, I took the sixth-generation iPad and the Surface Go for Business on a business trip to Europe. To see how they compare, I used them for everything from writing documents and running spreadsheets to emailing and showing presentations.
To make these tablets road-ready, I equipped each one with a stylus and a keyboard case to make typing easier than using the on-screen keypad. With the Surface Go, I used Microsoft’s $100 Pen stylus and the $130 snap-on Surface Go Signature Type Cover. With the iPad, I used Apple’s original Pencil stylus ($99), but for this iPad model, the company doesn’t make a cover that’s equipped with a keyboard. So, I used Logitech’s $100 Slim Folio iPad Keyboard Case, which you can get through Apple’s online store and at other outlets.
While the Surface Go for Business starts at $449, my test machine came in at around $830 with its accessories. The iPad starts at $329, but the model I tested added up to around $760 with accessories. That’s still hundreds of dollars cheaper than the top-flight tablets from Apple and Microsoft with their accessories.
Both tablets weigh about a pound on their own and roughly 2 pounds with the case, stylus and AC adapter included — about half what most corporate laptops weigh in at. I found that they both hit the Goldilocks sweet spot for business travel: Not too heavy, not too underpowered, and not too expensive.
Read on to see which one came out on top in my tests.