The iPad with Retina display and the Microsoft Surface RT tablet have much in common: their approximate 10" display size, 1.5 lb. weight, a $499 starting price tag, multi-touch IPS displays, and mobile CPUs that offer long battery life while requiring no cooling fan. They're both high quality products with metal casing and extreme attention to detail when it comes to design and build quality. That's where the similarity ends. Where the iPad is about gentle curves the Surface RT is aggressively rectilinear with not a curve in sight. The iPad runs iOS with an incredibly simple and fast UI while Surface RT runs Windows 8 RT, which is much more complex but also more powerful for those who want a computer-surrogate.
And that's the most important difference between these two tablets. M Surface RT gives you the Windows 8 experience, but on a low power ARM (Tegra 3) CPU with long battery life and no noisy fan. The fourth generation iPad with Retina display gives you a turnkey device that offers easy access to entertainment and multimedia, the web and email. I'd wager that folks who purchase MS Surface are Android tablet defectors who want much of the power of a PC in a more portable and power-friendly package. Those who buy the iPad want a no-maintenance lifestyle device that's literally about fun and games first, and computing second.
There are currently 5,000 apps for Windows RT (it can't run Windows 7 apps, for that you'll need MS Surface Pro or similar tablets from Acer, Lenovo, Asus and others). That's a tiny number but the big names are there like Netflix, Slacker, Hulu Plus and Evernote. That number will likely grow quickly since Microsoft and Windows have serious momentum and market share in the world of laptops and computers.
But the iPad has more than a quarter million apps available RIGHT NOW. If you don't want to buy a $500+ tablet and wait to see what apps come down the pipe, the iPad is ready right now with a fantastic selection of games, multimedia apps and Office compatible suites. Speaking of Office, MS Office 2013 RT along with the full IE 10 web browser with Flash are the Suface RT's killer one-two punch. For those looking for a powerful mobile office, you get real MS Office here and not a much pared-down mobile offering. And IE 10 does everything the desktop equivalent does so that means you can go to hulu.com to play watch videos (no Hulu Plus subscription required), play Flash games in the browser and more. The only minus for IE 10 on RT is that the full range of plugins and Java aren't yet available.
Both tablets are very quick and relatively secure. Surface comes with a slew of apps that require a network connection (news, weather, sports, social network integration), so perceived speed will depend on the quality of your Internet connection. But the OS itself is very fast.
Both tablets have good battery life, though the 4th generation iPad with Retina display lasts longer. We're averaging over 9 hours of mixed use on the iPad vs. 8 for the Surface RT.
The iPad late 2012 is a better pick for shutterbugs: it has a 1.2MP front camera with BSI and a capable rear 5MP with fast lens and BSI that can shoot 1080p video. The surface has dual 720p cameras that are good for video chat and not much else.
Though the MS Surface RT has a lovely 1366 x 768 Gorilla Glass 2 IPS display with wide viewing angles and pleasing colors, the Retina iPad running at 2048 x 1536 trounces it for text sharpness, high contrast and colors that pop.
Here's our fourth generation iPad with Retina display vs. MS Surface RT comparison smackdown video: