The iPad Artist, Part 2: iPad Air (2019) vs Surface Go

Diving immediately into the process, I decided that I wanted a gadget beefy enough for it to not feel like a functional compromise.
Ideally, a portable art machine would cost around half as much as my laptop did. Armed with a budget of ₹42,000 ($600), I came to realise rather quickly that there were only two real options for me: Apple’s newly released iPad Air, or Microsoft’s Surface Go.

There were several good reasons I had for considering the Surface, key among them being:

  • My primary device already being a Windows 10 laptop, I wouldn’t have to spend time learning new keyboard shortcuts and getting used to new UI paradigms; the experience would largely be the same.
  • I wouldn’t have to buy new software, given all my existing purchases would work on my new device.
  • A “full“ desktop experience in tablet form factor.
  • A type-C port! As someone with half-hearted resolve to charge all my devices with a single cable, this would have been a nice step forward for me. Also, access to a wider variety of accessories and interfacing with external devices would have been a nice plus.

All of that being said, here’s what the iPad Air had going for it:

  • It already had an established user base of artists, which meant that every workaround or solution for most problems specific to my use case would have readily available documentation.
  • A top-to-bottom experience optimised specifically for tablets (which is occasionally to its detriment, such as still-fledgling mouse support, but is, for the most part, a pro)
  • Apps! So many top-tier tablet apps, and all of them invariably touch-optimised. On Windows 10, besides Microsoft’s half-decent first party apps and third-party offerings that you could probably count on one hand, it’s not really a top-to-bottom touch-centric experience, which was something I was specifically on the lookout for.
  • Significantly greater performance, courtesy of the rock-solid A12 chip and a generally fluid OS. I got to use a friend’s Surface Go, and the overall fluidity of the experience was… passable, at best.
  • An extension of the previous point, the Apple Pencil had consistently better latency. The Surface Pen was no slouch and largely matched the Apple Pencil’s quality of experience, but on heavier workloads, such as multilayered Affinity Photo documents, the latter was far less troublesome; nearly no glitches or stroke stutters when compared to the Surface Pen.

After around two months of flip-flopping, I came to the conclusion that as a standalone, strictly tablet + stylus setup, the iPad wins out. I already had a mouse-and-keyboard interface for interfacing with an arguably more “full-fledged” operating system and granular software (solely After Effects) in the form of my laptop; what I realized I wanted to do was to complement that setup, not duplicate it.

And so it was that I took the plunge into getting myself the Wi-Fi-only 2019 model of the iPad Air, with 64GB of internal storage.
This also meant that the cables I had to use to charge my various devices would continue to be an unhealthy mix of lightning, micro-USB and proprietary ones, but hey! I get to charge my phone and my soon-to-be primary work device with the same cable, so that’s a neat little plus.

My next post in this series will be a short one, centered around the accessories that I found myself buying in order to make the iPad work as a primary device over my laptop. Stay tuned!