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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  • piroroadkill - Monday, February 11, 2013 - link

    How about they put all the bulk in the keyboard section, attach it permanently, and get rid of the kickstand? That way you could use it anywhere, even on your lap! Sounds much better.

    Seriously though, this is a painfully awkward gimmick, and I'd much rather have an ultraportable laptop.
    Reply
  • Patrice - Monday, February 11, 2013 - link

    I'm a prof photograph and film maker. I use my PCs with adobe production suite and other sotfwares. I have a light version on my laptop too when on a shooting but I thought that the Surface Pro, with a smaller footprint would be the perfect tool as an enhanced monitor and controler (different applications) for my cameras. My wife received an ipad 4 for Christmas and since then I tried to find a usefull application beyond what a 15 year old would do with the thing unfortunately I'm still on the quest of findings something productive (work related) beside converting my ipad into a slate (which I don't need) or a remote control for my tv or my pc.

    The surface pro looks like a good, (I do not intent to edit or do any post prod on it) idea but if I understand correctly the product has the same disease as the ipad stuff; no video input! I understand Apple's business model to brickwall the user whitin the "I"universe but MS? Why can't I use the Surface as a monitor? After all it offers more than decent quality? Why should it be limited to an AV output??? If my understanding of the product is right, that's a big no no for me, I'm still stuck with a laptop.

    The battery drama is real only when you compare the product with non-computer product like Android and the i stuff, I do not have any problem with that as I have a ton of very good batteries that will power the Surface for a long time except that I would need a 12vdc charger (lighter plug) that is not offer on MS shop.

    Why is it that when buyng a $1200 I have less technical details then buying a $10 toater? Tried to get an idea about power consumption; over the battery stuff, there is no info, idle power amps, low work load, heavy. I know it depends but would be easy to set a minimum and maximum. The point being that this piece of hardware should be used in more remote location and situation for people than needs the power and freedom of use, this is not for the kids chatting on facebook, this is for working people that needs to do the other stuff.
    Reply
  • crispbp04 - Wednesday, February 13, 2013 - link

    it has a usb3.0 port, how do you not consider that an option for av input? Reply
  • Soda-88 - Monday, February 11, 2013 - link

    Does anyone know what type of SSD is in the Surface Pro? Is it replaceable with bigger mSATA drive for example? Reply
  • Soda-88 - Monday, February 11, 2013 - link

    Nevermind, just saw this:
    Update: It looks like the C400 SSD is an mSATA drive, likely similar to the one we reviewed here a while back.
    Reply
  • Marq - Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - link

    I feel anandtech is spot on with their view of microsofts product: essentially an ultra book with tablet capabilities. If you were to take such a view you'll find the surface pro rather pleasing. It's funny the way some argue against it. They say the androids and ioses can do the same things and are worth more. A 128gb iPad @ 900usd needs an additional Bluetooth keyboard, can't take USB and is stuck at how much it's given. What's the difference? Yes it gets 9hrs of life. But it can't do photoshop; it can't do GIS applicationS it can't do serious video editing. This device and many others like it (Lenovo, Samsung etc) strides the boundary between tablets and ultra book.

    This and upcoming generations will make mobile computing true. The androids and iPads are stuck by their oses limitations and will never be able to do what this device does (and they are not meant to).

    I will seriously consider this over the MacBook Air if I didn't have one already. The life is similar but the surface pro is smaller and comes with a pen to boot.
    Reply
  • dijuremo - Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - link

    Surface Pro is easily the fastest tablet on the market today.


    The Samsung ATIV Pro 700 has been out since December of last year packing the same CPU, 4GB of ram and 128GB SSD. Claiming that the Surface Pro is easily the fastest tablet on the market just sounds as if you were paid to write this review....

    http://www.samsung.com/us/computer/tablet-pcs/XE70...
    Reply
  • JLQ - Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - link

    So far I've actually enjoyed using this device except for the fact that there are no WinTab drivers for the Wacom digitizer. That means no pressure sensitivity in many graphics applications like Photoshop and Corel Painter, which is a huge bummer for me. Lisa Gade is the only reviewer that I've seen that discusses this.

    For now, I'm waiting and seeing if WinTab drivers will be provided in the near future. Otherwise, I'm making do with ArtRage for the time being, given that it supports Microsoft's newer pen API and thus does register pressure-sensitive input. Touch controls (pan, zoom, rotate) are an added plus.
    Reply
  • Imaginer - Saturday, March 30, 2013 - link

    I agree with you. I too enjoyed light gaming, CADing, and used ArtRage. Corel Painter 12 doesn't support pressure, but finger pinch zoom and two finger rotate works. I do not understand the people saying the better option is making do with price equivalent of a ARM tablet and a laptop.

    For as I used my Kindle Fire, I wished I can view things as smoothly as my PC and work with it better in terms of input, both hardware and software. I like my Envy 14 1st generation laptop, but I have and still do an awkward disconnect with using my Intros with it. Even placing the digitizer on tip of the Envy's keyboard still is awkward for lap use as I have to remove it for keyboard use.

    Hence I am glad and have gotten a Surface Pro. I was considering the Samsung ATIV 700T, but if its keyboard dock was heavier with a second battery and maybe second removable mSATA SSD, I would have picked that instead.

    I hope some group, either one, solves the pen capability in Painter (and PhotoShop and others too).
    Reply
  • Bytre - Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - link

    My 128GB has a samsung mzmpc128hbfu-000mv. AS SSD clocks in at 471.31MB/sec read, 252.33MB/sec write on the sequential test. 89.4GB free out of the box, 110GB total capacity (as measured by c: properties). Reply

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