Microsoft Surface v Apple iPad
Microsoft is taking on the Apple iPad with its new Surface tablet, but which should you buy?

Microsoft has marked its latest venture into the tablet world with the worldwide launch of its first self-branded tablet - the Surface - on 26 October.

Surface's launch was not a surprise, as the Windows giant is keen to compete with Apple's flagship iPad. Apple made its iPad Mini and iPad 4 announcements in San Jose on 23 October, when Apple CEO Tim Cook took a swipe at the Windows 8 tablet.

"What we're reading about is a fairly compromised product," said Cook in reference to the Surface, adding: "I suppose you could design a car that flies and floats, but I don't think it would do all of those things very well."

While taking a call on Apple's net earnings on 25 October, Cook emphasised his belief that Apple fans would continue to flock to the iPad to fulfil their tablet needs.

But Microsoft has also been busy taking a swipe at Apple. Microsoft executive Steven Sinofsky took the Surface for a ride, attaching a pair of skateboard trucks and longboard wheels to its bottom just a week ago.

"Couldn't resist taking it out for a spin ... #surface," he tweeted along with a photo of himself riding the tablet as a skateboard.

The rivalry between Apple and Microsoft goes back to the early days of the home PC, with the balance of power in computing tilting first one way, then the other, over the decades.

So, which way should you go now?

To help you make a good buying decision, we present a detailed comparison of specifications, features and key differences that might help you make up your mind.

iPad 4 v Microsoft Surface: Display

Apple's latest iPad comes with its visually enhanced Retina Display, which makes it ideal for use as an entertainment device. Though the iPad's display size of 9.7in is smaller than the Surface's 10.6in, the former provides greater pixel density at 264ppi (pixels per inch), as opposed to the latter's 144ppi. The iPad also supports a superior display resolution at 2,048 x 1,536 pixels. The Surface manages only 1,366 x 768 pixels.

The iPad 4's display also features scratch-resistant Gorilla glass protection with oleophobic coating, while the Surface uses ClearType technology for scratch protection and enhanced image clarity. The other key element that could drive the visual experience Apple's way is the larger number of tablet specific apps available at the Apple Store compared to only Kindle-based apps for the Surface. As there is no quality app support for books and magazines on the new Windows tablet, the iPad 4 will definitely look better.

iPad 4 v Microsoft Surface: Dimensions

Both Surface and iPad 4 are just 9.4mm thick. But the latest iPad is 0.5mm thicker than the newly released Galaxy Note 10.1 N8000.

The iPad is 28.4g lighter than the Surface, but is 52g heavier than the Note tablet. The difference in thickness could be the key for the lightweight profile of the Galaxy Note.

iPad 4 v Microsoft Surface: Operating System

The iPad 4 runs Apple's latest mobile operating system, iOS 6, which adds more than 200 new features to the previous iteration of the software, including a new Maps app with turn-by-turn navigation and a new flyover view. It also includes updated Siri, Facebook integration for contacts and calendar, Passbook and several more.

Apple is reportedly planning to release a new version of the operating system - iOS 6.0.1 - in the coming weeks and this could come preloaded on the latest iPad. The company has reportedly started testing the upcoming version of iOS with several carrier partners in the US. In addition, Apple is also testing iOS 6.1, which is slated to release some time after the Christmas holidays.

The strong point of Microsoft Surface is the addition of Microsoft's Office 2013 suite, which paves way for an easy, portable and highly productive device with multi-touch screen capability. On the downside, the Surface runs Windows RT, the legacy-free version of Windows 8 that prevents you from running older Windows programs.

iPad 4 v Microsoft Surface: Processor

The Surface tablet is powered by an Nvidia T30 quad-core processor clocked at 1.4GHz, while the iPad ships with the revamped A6X processor which is reportedly twice as fast as the older A5X processor architecture found in iPad 3. The new A6X processor on the iPad is a dual-core processor with quad-core graphics.

The Surface also features an additional USB port for supporting game controllers and together with the new SmartGlass app, the Windows tablet holds great potential for power-hungry mobile gamers. The iPad 4 also sports an USB 2.0 port for gaming, but a stronger quad-core processor coupled with Nvidia graphics could tilt things in favour of the new Windows tablet for gaming, particularly since Microsoft is already such a strong player in the games market, with the Xbox 360.

iPad 4 v Microsoft Surface: Lightning Dock Connector

Apple's tablet joins the Lightning Dock connector bandwagon with the release of iPad 4. The new 8-pin connector replaces the 30-pin connector on the older iPad - the iPad 3. The Lightning dock connector is thinner, lighter, smaller and reportedly more durable than earlier dock connectors. The other key element is that it's all-digital and reversible, so it doesn't matter which way round you plug it in.

The Surface, on the other hand, features micro-HDMI and microSD connectors for all your multimedia needs.

iPad 4 v Microsoft Surface: Camera and Speakers

Microsoft Surface features two 720p HD cameras, one on the front and one on the rear. The Windows tablet also sports a pair of stereo speakers with twin microphones for improved audio in video calls.

The iPad 4 has a 720p, 1.2MP secondary camera for video calling and a 5MP, 1080p primary camera for capturing stills and video recording. It has just a single speaker.

iPad 4 v Microsoft Surface: Connectivity

Surface lacks both 3G and 4G capability, but adds 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 support found on the iPad, which ships in 3G/4G/LTE, Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + Cellular models. The iPad also supports dual-band 802.11n, which offers download speeds of up to 150Mbps.

iPad 4 v Microsoft Surface: Storage

The Surface RT tablet comes in two models: 32GB and 64GB. In contrast, the iPad 4 supports the regular choice of 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. In addition, the Windows tablet features a microSD expansion slot that can be upgraded up to 64GB. The iPad 4 has no scope for microSD expansion.

iPad 4 v Microsoft Surface: Battery

Microsoft claims to deliver up to 8 hours of battery backup on a single charge on its new tablet, while Apple promises an impressive ten hours on Wi-Fi or nine on the mobile data network. The iPad 4, boasting a 11,560mAh battery, is rated to deliver about 720 hours of standby time, twice as long as that of the Windows tablet.

iPad 4 v Microsoft Surface: Pricing

Microsoft's Surface RT tablet starts at £399 for the 32GB model, while the base model with black Touch Cover costs you £479. The 64GB with Touch Cover is priced at £559, while spare Touch or Type covers cost you £99.99 and £109.99 respectively.

The iPad 4 is a little more expensive, starting at £399 for just the 16GB model, going up to £559 for the 64GB, while Wi-Fi + Cellular iPads start at £499 and go up to £659 for the 64GB model.

The Verdict

Price is definitely going to be a key factor in determining the winner between the novice (Windows tablet) and the veteran (Apple's iPad), as they are neck to neck on several features. Surface sold out on its first day of pre-orders on 18 October, and shipments of the £399 model were reportedly pushed back three weeks.

Microsoft's Surface RT is the cheaper tablet and cuts the deal as a good productive device with keyboard support, access to Microsoft Office 2013 and support for gaming controllers. The iPad 4, however, steals the limelight with its superior display technology, wider app-support through its App Store and better factory-rated battery life, which add up to a superior entertainment device. Those looking for a budget tablet for office work should opt for the Surface, while the iPad 4 is perfect for entertainment freaks.