The Surface Pen

While you don’t get a keyboard with Surface Pro, Microsoft does bundle a digital pen with the device. Based on Wacom’s technology (presumably Electro-Magnetic Resonance), the SurfacePen supports 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity. The pen itself is passive, all of the power consuming circuitry is contained within the display stack itself. A weak EM field is generated by Surface Pro which enduces a current in the digital pen that then powers its resonance circuit, which in turn impacts the EM field and is used to determine the position and angle of the pen itself. Surface Pro will recognize the pen starting from about an inch above the display. The pen won’t work on Surface RT as the requisite Wacom EMR grid and logic don’t exist on that tablet.

It's not clear to me whether or not Microsoft is using Wacom's RRFC to enable capacitive touch in addition to digital pen support. Regardless, I didn't notice any impact on touch response when using Surface Pro without the digital pen.

The Surface Pro pen doesn’t store anywhere inside the device, but it can be docked to the magnetic power connector as long as you’re not charging the tablet. The magnetic dock doesn’t charge/power the pen in any way, it just holds it in place. The tablet is a bit awkward to hold with the pen in place, and there’s also the problem of where do you store the pen if you’re using the tablet while plugged into the wall, but I suppose it’s better than nothing.

Microsoft does a good job of palm rejection with the pen in use, although I did occasionally have to erase an errant line or two caused by the edge of my hand in a drawing app.

Tracking and responsiveness were both excellent in using the pen. I’m not much of an artist but I did have a good experience sketching with Surface Pro’s pen. Creative professionals who are already Wacom users will probably appreciate the inclusion. Surface Pro doesn’t really offer the same drawing surface area as some of the larger Wacom tablets, but I can see how it’d be a nice addition for those who don’t want to carry around a separate drawing tablet.

You can configure Surface Pro to work in second screen mode, allowing you to use the entire display as a pen surface while using the integrated miniDP out to drive your display to an external monitor. In this mode Surface Pro approximates a Wacom digital tablet, although without the software customization that you get with those tablets. The biggest issue I had in second screen mode is the lack of a toggle to switch between pen and mouse positioning, Surface Pro operates exclusively in the former.

In pen positioning, every point on the Surface Pro display corresponds to a similar location on your external display. To draw something in the upper right corner you need to move your pen to the upper right corner of the Surface Pro display and draw there. Wacom’s own tablets let you switch to mouse mode, allowing you to use the pen as a mouse to place your cursor wherever you want it. Pen mode is something you may or may not be able to get used to, but it’s worth pointing out that the inflexibility is a limitation of Surface Pro’s pen implementation.

 

Touch and Type Covers Surface Pro as a Tablet
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  • kyuu - Friday, February 08, 2013 - link

    I'm looking to get a mobile device with part of my tax return. I have zero interest in an iOS or Android tablet. What I'm looking at currently:

    1) Vizio's Hondo-based Tablet PC that was shown at CES.
    2) Vizio's 2nd gen thin+lights, 14" model with touch screen and AMD A10

    So basically, an ultrabook (thin+light) or a tablet are the only mobile devices I'm interested in. A normal laptop is too heavy and bulky for me to reguarly take with me out of the house. The Surface Pro would be in consideration, but the price is a little higher than I'm willing to spend (and should *really* include one of the covers).
    Reply
  • atl - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    42W 2 cell battery means 2 x 6 amps Li-ion cells (probably cut at 90% to increase cycles).

    As Li-ion charges from 0% to 70% at 1C, it requires 6amp charger.
    Supplied charger just doubles the fast-charge period
    Reply
  • kawatwo - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    Would like to see some Win 8 tablets with Core I3 and weight under 1.5 pounds. 2 pounds is a bit heavy for a tablet. Needs to include the Type keyboard as well. But overall what an awesome device. I'm sure other PC makers will get it right in the not real distant future. Reply
  • jeffkibuule - Friday, February 08, 2013 - link

    Acer will have a newer version of the W700 with a 7W SDP Ivy Bridge chip that is 20% thinner than their current model (around 8mm), so it's certainly possible. Reply
  • phillyry - Saturday, February 16, 2013 - link

    Graphics would blow on an i3 and make the touch based interface borderline unusable. Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    I think Microsoft got into building their own hardware here because they felt forced to; no one was building the kind of quality device they wanted. I think Nokia and HTC need to step their games up too if they don't want a Microsoft phone to come along and take their business away (or relegate it to the cheap seats). I like this approach, and hope they do kick the phone industry on the pants, because none of them are what I'd really call "good". (I'm talking ALL smart phones, not just Win 8 phones - phones that really don't take much of a back seat to anything else on the market, overall.)

    THE one thing that kills the Surface for me is the 16:9 screen. that's okay for a tablet I suppose, but the Surface isn't about being "okay", and I think it's a slam in the face of a real quality experience. It puts the iPad out of the picture in every other way (in my opinion), but in this way, the iPad still pretty much kills everyone else.
    Reply
  • Netscorer - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    Nobody else is building these because there is not enough demand. Microsoft can afford to chuck up all the costs that gone into Surface as marketing for Windows 8 OS, but if you are a typical PC manufacturer who operates on razor thin margins, you won't be able to afford to do what it takes to create an iPad killer. Add to this that neither Intel, nor Microsoft are giving you much of a slack on prices for core and Windows and that market for $1000+ laptops is already very small to begin with and you get the picture. Reply
  • SilthDraeth - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    I know it was a windows 7 tablet, but it to runs on a core i5 and 2gb of RAM. Have you guys never bench marked it, to include it in the graphs, in comparison to the newest? Reply
  • Silma - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    While it is perfectly clear to me that with a much bigger processor power consuption will be bigger than a way slower arm, hence it is to be expected that ultrabooks/surfaces can't have the same battery life as an iPad or nexus tablet, I don't understand the extreme différences seen in video playback benchmarks.

    On this benchmark I would of course expect Windows 8 offering to use a little more power than on an ios / android tablet due to the overhead of a bigger os, but here the différences are huge.

    Here I think Microsoft and Intel could optimize greatly the power usage for 720p and 1080p mp4 playback.
    Reply
  • andrewaggb - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    Agreed. Reply

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