Microsoft beats Apple’s iPad Air 2 to fastest tablet title

Apple’s unfeasibly thin iPad Air 2 is one of the world’s best-selling tablets. But is it the fastest? Not according to our lab experts.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 has topped our tablet speed test ahead of the Air 2. Despite Apple’s claims that its flagship full-sized is “as powerful as many personal computers”.

Our results weren’t much better at for Apple at the compact end of the market. Its £319 iPad mini 3 proved slower than Tesco’s budget-friendly Hudl 2, which costs only £99. Read on to find out how 10 of the most popular tablets around placed in our speed test.

Tablet reviews – see expert reviews of 80+ tablets

tablet speed test infog

How we test for tablet speed

To assess a tablet’s speed, we use the industry-recognised Geekbench software. It puts tablets’ processors through their paces by seeing how quickly they can complete simulations of real-world tasks.

Their performance is then quantified to give a final numeric score – the bigger the score, the faster the tablet. So if you’re somebody who doesn’t like to be left waiting for apps and web pages to load, then only the highest scorers will do.

According to Geekbench, the explosive Surface Pro 3 is 20% faster than any of its rivals, which include flagship tablets from the likes of Apple, Google and Amazon. Elsewhere, Samsung’s tablets are way off the pace – the Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 is down in sixth place, and only around half the speed of the Surface Pro 3.

The Apple iPad mini 3 brings up the rear – it’s almost three times slower than the Surface Pro 3. That’s not necessarily surprising for a compact tablet. But it’s more shocking to discover that it can’t even keep up with two of its 7-inch competitors, the Asus MEMO Pad 7 ME572C and Tesco Hudl 2.

Here’s how all the runners and riders finished in our Geekbench tests:

  1. Microsoft Surface Pro 3 128GB i5: 5069
  2. Apple iPad Air 2: 4046
  3. Google Nexus 9: 3537
  4. Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 2014: 3060
  5. Apple iPad Air 32GB wi-fi: 2687
  6. Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1: 2650
  7. Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5: 2594
  8. Asus MEMO Pad 7 ME572C: 2351
  9. Tesco Hudl 2: 2084
  10. Apple iPad mini 3: 1790

Should you buy a Surface Pro 3 for its speed?

Microsoft claims that the Surface Pro 3 can replace your laptop, while giving the versatility of a tablet. The most popular 128GB version has plenty of storage space, while its Windows 8.1 operating system will soon be upgraded for free to Windows 10. And when it comes to sheer power alone, it’s the closest that any tablet currently comes to a PC. That’s mainly because of its ultra-powerful Intel Core i5 processor.

The Surface Pro 3 also strikes a more unwelcome similarity to laptops – its price. You’ll have to shell out £849 for the 128GB model, and even the cheaper 64GB version starts at a lofty £639. And that’s before you add Microsoft’s detachable Type Cover keyboard for another £110.

On the other hand, you can get another podium-placed tablet for less than £300. The Google Nexus 9 – with its striking 1536×2048 resolution screen and imperious 8MP camera – is the quickest Android device, leaving the several Samsung and Amazon tablets trailing in its wake.

Battery life and screen quality are important too

But speed isn’t everything. Even cheaper devices like the Hudl 2 have enough oomph to ably flit between BBC iPlayer and your web browsing app. Our full speed tests also check whether a tablet can apply its Geekbench score in practical scenarios such as video streaming from YouTube and transferring large amounts of data.

The very best tablets combine rapid processing with a long-lasting battery, simplicity of use and a dazzling screen. Only the models that tick all our lab test boxes earn the gold medal that is Which? Best Buy status.

More on this

Best Buy tablets – discover the tablets that scored best in our lab tests
How we test tablets – find out more about what makes a Best Buy tablet
Laptop reviews – models to consider for more powerful computing

17 replies

  1. You just compared an apple (the fruit, not the company) to an orange and declared one is faster! The MS surface pro uses a full fledged intel mobile processor, which is just a laptop with no keyboard but a touch screen on it. The iPad is built on a low powered ARM processor. Not even the speed testing software you used is going to be compatible with each other to give accurate results.
    If this was on a click baiting site, I would have just ignored it and moved on. But this is Which? and I am a firm supporter and subscriber for nearly 20 yrs or so and have to comment on this inaccuracy. You are going to reply that it is still a tablet, but you would be wrong. At least make the fact that both are entirely different machines clear in your statement.

    1. Apple markets the iPad Air 2 as a device that’s “as powerful as many personal computers”, inviting comparison with both laptops and the Surface Pro. Our testing is designed to find out whether that kind of adspeak stands up to scrutiny.

    2. My original S pro i5
      comes in second lol.
      so apple will release a tablet at the same time as fourth version of SPro
      but cannot beat the first one ?

    3. yet you are ok with ios to android versions?
      also remember ios cannot multitask either (not now)
      its like comparing DOS to NT and saying DOS is faster.
      I think apple have more than enough advantage in their (d)iOS

  2. If you wanted to do a fair test then why didn’t you test iPad Air 2 vs Surface pro 3 with i3 cpu where cpu frequency in both devices would be similar @1.5GHz. But in that case the iPad would won. You simply ‘forgot’ to mention that the i5 cpu can run @ up to 2.9GHz in turbo mode. No wonder it scored better than iPad’s 1.5GHz cpu.
    Or you could test it against Surface 3 – not pro with Atom cpu , but again the iPad would won.
    I am not also sure where did you get the iPad mini 3 results from? On the Geekbench site it sores in a range of 2400 – 2500 points which is much better than yours 1700.

    1. I’m pretty sure that the i3 would also beat the Air 2. Not in everything but pretty much. Core frequency is but part of the story.

    2. On Geekbench site the scores are as follows:
      Surface Pro 3 with i3: 1680 / 3569
      iPad Air 2: 1814 / 4665
      Of course raw speed is not everything and Surface might be better device for some due to stylus and a full OS but this so called ‘test” focuses mainly on speed and yet it provides false results as if it was prepared by 10 year olds.
      I would expect much more from people who call themselves experts.

  3. LOL…. and your point is caller? Such an Apple fan boy…. The Surface Pro 3 is a tablet, the very same marketing as the Apple iPad Air 2…..get over it! Apple must love fan boys like you…. bet you have their latest smart watch too. Me? I do loads of research before I buy anything and that includes an iPod, iPad, Surface Pro 3, Nokia 1020 ect…I don’t just look for a stale Apple…. move on, there’s more to life than just Apple

  4. This article is completely incorrect. If you actually go to the geekbench website itself you can see that the iPad mini 3 officially has a score of 2434, not 1970. This puts it ABOVE the other two 7 inch tablets here. It’s also worth mentioning while that the iPad Air 2’s score is officially 4528 (compared to the Surface Pro 3’s official score of 5506), it’s no surprise considering the Surface Pro 3 costs £300 more than an iPad Air 2. I don’t know how they got the scores posted in the article, and am disappointed with Which? for misinforming people.

  5. The Surface Pro isn’t a tablet. It has a cooling fan.

    It is laptop without a keyboard with a Intel cpu that requires a lot of power and can run Windows desktop applications.

    Android and iPad use low power ARM chips, have long battery life and don’t require a fan to cool them.

    Apples and oranges.

  6. Okay, raw processor scores are faster for the Surface. No surprise. Is that tablet faster? That’s a different question. In such cases raw Geekbench scores don’t mean much and it’s lazy journalism to post them as if they do.

    iOS and Android, and their apps, are both optimized for slower processors and use fewer resources. Windows apps are designed with no such considerations, and developers basically figure they can ignore such concerns. How do the actual usage experiences compare? That’s a question that means something.

  7. All this moaning about apples and oranges….

    This was a speed focussed report, not functionality or cost. The top 3 included the best of Apple and Android tablets but not the best Windows tablet* which in fact is an i7 which by one score on Geekbench comes out at 5519!!

    If you want to moan about cost then you can’t compare the iPad to most of the Android tablets out there as they are much more expensive!

    *Before there are even more moans… YES it is a tablet as per the definition of the word See Collins dictionary – “8.(computing) a handheld personal computer that is operated by touch screen or digital pen.”

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