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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  • Mumrik - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    I'm pretty sure Anandtech's core demographic wants all the details possible. Reply
  • pfroo40 - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    The depth and detail of reviews on Anandtech are precisely why I read them. If I want biased and superficial reviews there are plenty of tech sites I can go to. Reply
  • vision33r - Tuesday, February 05, 2013 - link

    In the Post PC Era today, majority of folks don't really need a high spec tablet. Most work is done by an app that's touch friendly and easy to use. Folks are getting by with an ARM based tablet for general web duties.

    It's tough to price something for this much productivity while most folks don't really need the power.

    A $200 used iPad is sufficient for most folks to do light web, Facebook, and email.

    Very tough to justify such a device for media consumption.
    Reply
  • Fleeb - Tuesday, February 05, 2013 - link

    "Apple has remained curiously quiet on this front, but I suspect that too will change in good time." Reply
  • karasaj - Tuesday, February 05, 2013 - link

    That has nothing to do with Surface Pro... imo. More really criticism designed at the pricing of Surface RT, or possibly Atom based W8 tablets. Surface Pro is essentially analogous to the MBA. Reply
  • c4v3man - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    An iPad is a joke, especially at $200+ for a used first gen. While it works, so does their Pentium 2 400Mhz pc running windows 98.

    Anything else in the 200 price range is going to far exceed the real life performance of an iPad. And they'll have a warranty. And a non-replaceable battery that is suffering at this age.
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Friday, February 08, 2013 - link

    Sadly, because Apple products hold their value well irrespective of actual worth, they hold their value well irrespective of actual worth. See how it works? Reply
  • Arsynic - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    This device isn't aimed at consumers but rather productivity folks. My boss would love one of these. Physicians and nurses would love this.

    Surface RT (when it has more apps--in time) will suffice for everyone else.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    Just a guess, but I'd say that most physicians and nurses would be fine with lighter, non-fan Atom Win8 platforms. I can't imagine their programs needing the horse power of a Core i5. :) Reply
  • cknobman - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    Not really.

    Atom cpu power is starting to approach the realm of tolerable but Intel still neuters the platform with abysmal graphics.

    So no Atom Win8 platforms (centered around a touch driven graphical interface) are not going to cut it.

    We attempted to try that at my workplace and the Atom platforms were quickly tossed out in favor of Core platforms.
    Reply

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