With the launch of iPad Pro this week, Apple joins the laptop-replacement game.

Once a realm populated almost solely by Microsoft’s Surface Pro, the versatile-tablet market is suddenly the place to be. Google is expected to add its Pixel C device to the competition later this year.

The mobility and adaptability of laptops led consumers to flock to them over desktops.

Now manufacturers hope those same traits make these enhanced tablets a natural progression past laptops.

Laptop replacement

The core properties of modern laptop-replacement devices is the same: cross the tablet’s versatility and ease of use with the programs, productivity and general computing experience of laptops.

All three devices provide a tablet device with removable keyboard cover. The idea is that without the cover, the tablet is nimble and fun to use, as consumers love. With the cover, the tablet is easier to type with and enters a somewhat docked-like state.

With this more serious, productivity-minded turn comes a focus on laptop-level applications and programs. Since each product aligns with a different app ecosystem, this is where the devices and experience start to differ.

iPad Pro

Out this week, iPad Pro brings a large-format, high-performance device to the iPad family.

Apple already has a strong performer in the iPad Air 2, but the Pro is the fastest device in the line and has the most memory, likely to help with the multitasking features present in iOS 9.

The Pro is big and light, offering a large 12.9-inch screen and a body just a half a millimeter thicker than Air 2. Notable features from past Apple releases, like Apple Pay and the TouchID sensor, are present on the Pro.

Where it starts to break out from standard iPads is the accessories. Apple Pencil, a stylus created exclusively for iPad Pro, turns the device into a drawing tablet and notebook. Smart Keyboard is the Pro’s implementation of a keyboard cover, enabling easier typing. There are similar accessories available for other iPads, but these are (for now) exclusively made for iPad Pro.

Unlike Surface, which runs full Windows, iPad Pro runs iOS. This is great for users with large iOS purchase libraries and multimedia bought in the Apple ecosystem, but might not be what users looking to leave their laptops behind are looking for.

Productivity apps on tablet are great and come close to their desktop counterparts, but they don’t seem to be all the way there yet. The whole experience may seem a little light to power users interested in managing files and working with niche features or programs.

Apple has crafted a premium product, but it comes with a price. The Pro is the most expensive iPad, starting at $799 for the 32GB Wi-Fi model. Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard aren’t included, either, adding $99 and $169, respectively, to the total package price should you spring for these seemingly essential add-ons.

Surface

Surface and Surface Pro have marked their territory in the laptop-replacement space by stuffing laptop-class hardware into a tablet and pairing it with the ability to run full Windows.

Surface devices weren’t the first tablets to run full Windows, but they were the first to do it with the full backing and support of Microsoft.

The ability to run full Windows means that those with specific productivity needs or an already-established Windows workflow can run the apps they are used to running.

Microsoft has three main Surface tablets available, each with defining points and features.

The entry level device is Surface 3, a tablet with a 10.8-inch screen running at a resolution of 1920×1280 pixels. It’s powered by a quad-core Intel Atom processor and has external ports for USB 3.0, MicroSD and external display capabilities through Mini Displayport.

The base Surface 3 costs $499 for the 64GB storage, 2GB RAM version.

A stylus (Surface Pen) and keyboard cover (Type Cover) are not included with the base Surface 3 package. Those accessories cost less than the Apple equivalents at $50 and $129, respectively.

Surface Pro 4 takes everything Surface 3 does and makes it better, bigger or faster.

Like the rest of the line, it runs full Windows, but it has a larger screen (12.3 inches) running at a higher resolution (2736×1824 pixels). It’s available in three processor flavors: sixth-generation Intel Core m3, i5 or i7.

The pen is included with Surface Pro 4, though users wanting the Type Cover will have to purchase it separately. Surface Pro 4 starts at $899 for the 128GB storage/4GB RAM m3 processor version. Models with more storage and memory are available for more money.

Surface 3 is the way to go for users who want full Windows in an inexpensive package, but power users will probably benefit from the upgraded specs and larger screen in Surface Pro 4.

Where Surface 3 and Surface Pro 4 are tablets with options to make them more like laptops, Surface Book is a laptop with the ability to turn into a tablet.

Taking aim at the MacBook Air, Surface Book is the most powerful and best-specced device in the Surface line. Surface Book isn’t a laptop replacement device, being primarily a laptop itself, but it has enough unique features that it’s worth mentioning to users interested in laptop and tablet hybrid products.

Surface Book’s internals are fast, packing in Intel i5 and i7 processors. A version with a discrete graphics card is available for gamers and those with heavy graphics requirements in their workflow.

Surface Book’s defining feature is its removable 13.5-inch, 3000×2000 pixel display. It can be detached from the laptop, seamlessly transforming Surface Book from notebook to tablet.

Battery life isn’t great for tablet mode, which is why Microsoft probably downplays the feature in saying the detached screen can be used as a “clipboard,” but the technology clearly has potential.

Surface Book commands the highest base prices in the Surface line, starting at $1,499 for the 128GB storage/8GB RAM Intel Core i5 model.

We’re in transitional times with laptops and tablets. With tablets picking up more laptop features and improving the quality of the non-lap experience, notebooks will need to innovate to mark their space in travel bags and backpacks.

For more information on iPad Pro, view Apple’s product page at apple.com/ipad-pro/. Microsoft maintains a hub for Surface products at microsoft.com/surface.

This is the opinion of Times Online Project Specialist Andrew Fraser. He’s on Twitter at @andrewfraser.