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    Digital OB/GYN: I know I need a tablet, but which one?


    Stylus (pencil/pen)

    Both devices allow users to input information with a stylus. The iPad Pro has an optional $99 Pencil, and the Surface Pro 4 has an included Pen. The Apple Pencil (which cannot be attached to the iPad Pro when not in use) is much larger than the Surface Pen, has internal sensors to detect pressure and also the angle of your hand; unfortunately, Apple does not publish the number of sensors within the device.

    The Surface Pen, which has internal magnets that allow it to be stored on the device when not in use, reportedly sports 1,024 degrees of pressure sensitivity, has an integrated digital eraser on the back, and even allows the user to program the eraser so that when it is pressed, programs open automatically (its default program is OpenNote).

    While I’ve always loved the concept of a stylus, I’m still a Bluetooth mouse, trackpad, finger-tapping user. In fact, I always find that when I’m using a tablet and wearing a white coat, my stylus ends up in my pencil pocket and stays there until I  buy a new device.


    The iPad Pro’s $169 Apple Smart Keyboard lacks a touchpad and is not backlit. It pales in comparison with the Surface Pro 4’s $129 keyboard, which has a highly sensitive trackpad and adjustable backlighting for a great natural typing experience. If you are hoping to use either of these devices as a laptop replacement, a keyboard is a must.


    When it comes to battery power, with general usage, the iPad Pro lasts longer than the Surface Pro 4 due to the iPad Pro’s 10,307 mAh battery, which is nearly twice the size of the 5,087 mAh Surface Pro 4’s battery. I have found that both can last close to 8 hours depending on the application being used, WiFi connectivity, and number of times the device is turned on and off, but the iPad Pro seems to always have a little more in the tank at the end of a grueling day.

    With respect to raw computing power, the iPad Pro utilizes the proprietary 2.26 GHz dual-core Apple A9X 64-bit processor, while different versions of the Surface Pro 4 have the ability to be configured with the Intel Core m3 2.2 GHz processor, the 3.0 GHz Core i5, or the behemoth 3.4 GHz Core i7 chips. The bigger the processor, the worse the battery power of the Surface Pro 4, since more power is needed to drive that big processor.

    At the entry level, both devices offer seamless computing experiences, but when it comes to running native healthcare applications such as an electronic health record (EHR), the Microsoft Surface is the clear winner.

    The success of the Surface Pro 4 in the healthcare computing arena comes from the fact that it is running true Windows, so it can easily run Windows applications. This means that all the computing power is dedicated to the desired program. The iPad Pro has to run a remote connection to a networked computer, so the experience is dictated by the speed of the remote connection and the ability of the iPad to process that information. The iPad does not handle EHRs with ease unless there is a specific application that can be downloaded in the iTunes App Store that is designed for the device.


    Although the features of the latest iPad have been dramatically improved, it still looks and feels like a very large iPad. While it may be an ideal device for designers or those in industries with many iOS native applications, I found it to be lacking when I tried to use it with patients.

    The Surface Pro 4, when coupled with the Microsoft Type Cover, is a true desktop/laptop replacement. It’s responsive, easy to use, and reliable. This is my third Surface family device and it’s the best one to date. Although I wish it had more than 8 hours of battery power, I can accomplish most of my daily tasks without reaching for my charger. The device is ready for primetime healthcare use.


    1. Schooley B, Walczak S, Hikmet N, Patel N. Impacts of mobile tablet computing on provider productivity, communications, and the process of care. Int J Med Inform. 2016;88:62-70. Epub 2016 Jan 25.

    2. Levine BA, Dan Goldschlag D. A healthcare-focused tablet primer. Contemporary OB/GYN.2013;58(3): 40-44.


    Brian A. Levine, MD, MS, FACOG
    Dr. Levine is Practice Director at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, New York, New York.


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