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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  • ghost03 - Monday, February 11, 2013 - link

    Most of what you say is accurate, but I disagree that this can be compared to the MacBook Air (or any ultra book for that matter.)

    A key feature of laptops is that they function on your ...lap... (or other surfaces which are not flat or angled.) Juggling the kickstand and the hinged keyboard is cumbersome at best for most non ideal use scenarios. And frankly, if I am set up with a flat table and room to work, I hope I have my 15" notebook with me.

    This is an attempt to satisfy too many interests--likely a victim of design by committee--and it is not a product that I can see many people enjoy using.
    Reply
  • utdcometsoccer - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    I've used it some and I found it was a joy to work with! Also, strangely the dual use design - tablet and laptop suits me because I don't want to carry a tablet and a laptop if I don't have to. Reply
  • rburnham - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    Agreed. Seeing it compared to ARM tablets seems unfair in the context of this article. Reply
  • GotThumbs - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    Agreed. It's basically the upgrade from the Tablet PC's before the IPAD was born. I still have a Motion Tablet PC (LS800) in my office and the only reason I don't have Win8 installed on it is the screen resolution limit. The Motion Tablet PC resolution is a very small/old 800 x 600.

    I like the fact that Anand did a dual comparison between today's tablets and ultra-books for the Surface-pro. Regarding the issues on lap use, I believe the addition of a keyboard dock similar tot he transformer would allow the Surface to convert between being a tablet and ultra book when the user needed/wanted.

    All in all, I think MS has a good start. Now with newer/smaller CPU's from Intel or AMD (if they can get their die smaller) will allow MS to be even more competitive.

    At the end of the day, each consumer has to figure/know what their needs are to select the right tool for them. Tablets are great for content, but still very limited to APPs. A tablet that can run full programs for those needing that kind of flexibility stands above Android and IOS devices.
    Reply
  • AssBall - Tuesday, February 05, 2013 - link

    Possibly a little more in depth than need be for the target demographic. Reply
  • AssBall - Tuesday, February 05, 2013 - link

    On second thought though, that's exactly the kind of info that makes the target market drool. Reply
  • PsychoPif - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    It's exactly for those kind of insight that I come here. If I wanted an half assed job, I'd read the engadget review. Reply
  • Spunjji - Friday, February 08, 2013 - link

    Right on. Reply
  • mmrezaie - Friday, February 08, 2013 - link

    but I still like to know gpu comparison between this and iPad 4. Reply
  • B3an - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    Stupid comment is stupid. Go back to Engadget or the Verge. Reply

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