Category Archives: Microsoft

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New Surface Pro 5 2017 with 4,096-level Pen

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New Surface Pro 5 sports pen with 4,096 levels and tilt

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New Surface Pen for Surface Pro 5, with increased levels, tilt, and a rubber eraser

Microsoft has now readied the new Surface Pro 5, which is actually just called the Surface Pro, for release (so I guess it’s time to party like it’s 2013, when the first Surface Pro came out). The new SP is available for preorder. This updated 2-in-1 tablet/laptop has some very interesting offerings for the art crowd.

The biggest difference is the new Surface Pen, which has 4x more levels of pressure sensitivity, making it 4,192, like the new Lenovo Active Pen 2. It also has tilt including shading. It will have the usual button that opens OneNote and other apps. The pen requires an AAAA battery.

This isn’t the Wacom-Microsoft pen we’ve been hearing about (at least, no one has said there’s any Wacom connection is so far). Microsoft is still going with N-trig.

The new pen also still has a rubberish eraser, and hopefully will still have the nib kit with a variety of nibs with different points and textures in a nib kit, like the current Surface Pen.

If the new pen sounds like the Apple Pencil, it underlines how Microsoft sees the iPad Pro as the rival to this version of the Surface Pro. Indeed, the upgraded pen may tilt the scales for artists frustrated with the iPad Pro’s inability to use desktop programs and inefficient file organization.

I’ll have to try out the new pen before knowing if it’s really as sensitive as Apple Pencil. Up to now, I haven’t been that big a fan of the Surface Pen for drawing, but this new one sounds like a different ballgame.

Surface Dial works on Surface Pro 5

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Surface Dial

Though the new Surface Pro “5” doesn’t look all that different from the Surface Pro 4, it will also work with the puckish Surface Dial, which brings up an array of on-screen menus aimed at designers.

Now, whether or not the Dial will be of much use on a small screen is hard to say. I’m a believer in the potential of the Dial, but right now it doesn’t seem like a must-have accessory. It makes more sense on the gloriously large Surface Studio.

Surface Pro 4 vs. new Surface Pro 5 2017

The pen is the biggest difference. The old Surface Pen had 1,024 levels and no tilt. This one will have tilt for shading; it’s unclear what else they mean by tilt, since they only mention shading. The Apple Pencil both has angle sensitivity with the tip and shading with the side.

Windows Ink apps include Sketchable, Plumbago, Mental Canvas, Drawboard PDF, and StaffPad. Of course, you can use the pen with any program, including Adobe Creative Cloud.

The pen will have backwards compatibility with all the Surfaces going back to Surface 3, including the Surface Book and Studio. It won’t work on the earlier Surface 2 and original Surface Pro, which were Wacom-penabled. It’s safe to assume it will only deliver previous levels of pressure sensitivity on those.

New Surface hinge makes kickstand more adjustable

Another aspect that’s different and consequential for digital artists is that the attached kickstand will go lower then previous ones. The updated hinge is deeper. The angle is designed to work better for those using the pen. So now the pen use is built into the design.

The new design also has more rounded edges and is “softer,” more Apple-like.

Like its Surface cousins, it comes in configurations of Intel 7th Gen. M3, i5, and i7.

The PixelSense screen of the Surface Pro 2017 is the same size and resolution as the PixelSense SP4–sharp, but not 4K.

The company says the new Surface Pro will get up to 13.5 hours of battery life. That reflects a considerably stronger processor. The processors are now Kaby Lake (7th gen) not Skylake (6th gen). Photoshop rendering and video processing should work faster on this.

The new Surface Pro 5 pen is sold separately, as are the Dial and Type Cover. (The Surface 4 included the Surface Pen.)

The new Surface Pro’s graphics cards will be Intel HD Graphics 615 for the M3, 620 for the i5, and Iris Plus Graphics 640 for the i7. These are next-generation and a bit faster.

The high-res PixelSense screen will be 10-pt. multitouch, 12.3″ diagonal, with a 3:2 aspect ratio, which we like.

The keyboard is upgraded with improved key travel.

Each model will weigh about 1.7 lbs or 766-786g, making it easy to carry around.

Microsoft is talking about how it goes from “laptop” mode to “studio” mode to “tablet” mode.

Apple may be getting nervous about the new Surface Pro 5. On the other hand, perhaps the competition will spur Apple to make a real laptop or even a monitor with an active digitizer.

Microsoft does plan to make a Surface Pro with LTE.

You can see or order the new Surface Pro (5) at Microsoft. Or see/order it on Amazon

See our article on the 10 top tablet PCs for art.

Read our homepage article to learn all about drawing tablets.

Surface Studio review

Microsoft Surface Studio review: Supersize me?

Microsoft Surface Studio: big, skinny all-in-one

Microsoft Surface Studio review

At work using multitouch on the Microsoft Surface Studio.

Microsoft Surface Studio review

Along with the refreshed Surface Pro 4 with Performance Base, Microsoft has just released this large all-in-one, the Surface Studio, that will go nicely with a Starbucks Trenta (that’s the 31-oz. cup). How big is it? It’s 28″ and has lots of features, including four input methods for the touchscreen–with all that caffeine, you’ll be as productive a semi-octopus. I got to try it out and penned this Microsoft Surface Studio review.

Features

Resolution: 4500 x 3000 (192 DPI)
Color gamut: sRGB, DCI-P3, Vivid Color Profiles, individually color calibrated
Touch: 10-point multi-touch
Aspect Ratio: 3:2
Surface Pen
Zero Gravity Hinge that folds to 20 degrees

Processor: Quadcore 6th Gen Intel i5 or i7
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M 2GB or NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M 4GB
Memory:  8GB, 16GB, or 32GB RAM
Storage: 1TB or 2TB
Dimensions: 25.09 x 17.27 x 0.44 in. (637.35 x 438.90 x 11.4 mm)
Weight: up to 21.07 lbs (9.56 kg)
Ports: Four USB 3.0
Full-size SD card reader
Mini Displayport
headset jack

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Cameras: Windows Hello  5.0MP front-facing camera, 1080p HD video

What’s in the Box?

Surface Studio
Surface Pen
Surface Keyboard
Surface Mouse
Power cord

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Surface Studio folded on Zero Gravity Hinge

Get  a free Surface Dial with pre-order: Shop Shop Surface Studio

The Microsoft Surface Studio has an amazingly thin, 12.5 mm 28″ PixelSense screen with 10-point multitouch and comes in models from i5 with 16 GB to i7 with 32 GB RAM. With a light touch of the Zero Gravity Hinge, the screen folds to any angle down to 20 degrees, similar to the angle of a drafting table. This is positive, because 20 degrees is the best angle for ergonomics–it’s “neutral” on your wrists.

The GPU options are 2GB NVIDIA GeForce with 1 or 2 TB memory. You should be able to have lots of fun and games on those. It even has XBox Wireless built in. Though its primary use will likely be art and design, can use it as an entertainment center, art studio, monitor, or very expensive drafting table.

The lower-end models of the Surface Studio, if you can call something this fancy lower-end, use the GTX 965M and the highest-end one has the GTX 980M. Both of these are from last year, and considerably less powerful than the latest GTX 1070. So if you’re working in CAD programs, it won’t be the fastest that’s possible. For Adobe programs and most 3D use it would be fine.

Surface Dial and Mouse

The Surface Dial is a sleek-looking puck that reminds me of gizmos of the future from the movie Sleeper. You place it on the screen, where it can open up the Radial Menu, or use it as a color picker. It’s even got haptic feedback. You turn it to access various settings, such as opening up menus of tools, palettes, or brush options. The dial has a black magnetic bottom that gets some traction on the screen, but doesn’t stick like a refrigerator magnet, you have to hold it.

The curvy Surface Mouse also can be used directly on the screen. So there are four possible touchscreen options–the mouse, the dial, the pen, and your fingers. Perfect if you like to accessorize. The Dial may feel gimmicky, and if you’re into keyboard shortcuts, turning the Dial may slow you down. Others may enjoy its tactility.

Adobe didn’t work with Microsoft on the Radial Menu, so it doesn’t offer granular support for the programs, and it’s not customizable in the same way as Wacom ExpressKeys. You make adjustments in Windows Settings. The dial will work via Bluetooth with the Surface Pro 3, 4, and Book (Surface Pro 3 and up) but the on-screen functions will only work on the Surface Studio.

It’s not that easy to say what the advantage is over something like the Wacom Feel Driver’s on-screen radial menu for tablet PC. That’s not an option for the Surface, but if you prefer an easily accessible on-screen menu, you might want to try the Tablet Pro app.

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Surface Dial with Radial Menu

The power cord comes with a release grip, which is convenient since you might not be moving this around that much.

Screen

The screen is glossy, and if you don’t want that you’ll probably need a custom-made screen protector. With 13.5 million pixels, it’s 63% over 4K. Or, since the Surface Pen has a variety of nibs, some of which provide some bite, you could draw with one of these nibs. You can quickly switch color profiles, which are individually calibrated.

The sharp resolution, individualized color profiles, endless angle adjustability (to 20 degrees) and inviting 3:2 aspect ratio all make quite a feast for art. Adobe RGB Is not specifically supported; instead it’s DCi-P3, 25% larger than sRGB and similar to the iMac Retina.

Portability

Not much. But at around 21 pounds, it’s more portable than some desktops. And it looks really nice. The Bluetooth keyboard is full-size but light, with good key travel.

The Microsoft Surface Studio is basically a huge Surface Pro 4 with higher specs. Storage won’t be a problem, at least not for a while, with 1 to 2 terabytes.

Battery Life

9-16 hours, not bad at all.

Drawing on the Surface Studio

The Surface Pen is included, and gets 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity via its N-trig digitizer, and same with its eraser end. That’s a far cry from the new, compact Wacom MobileStudio Pro‘s 8,192 levels, but hey, who’s counting. 1,024 is plenty and enough for a smooth pressure curve. S

However, compared to Wacom’s offerings, the Surface Pen isn’t quite there in terms of fluidity, and there’s no tilt or rotation sensitivity. It also requires more pressure than a Wacom pen to make a mark on the screen.

With something this expensive, it’s disappointing to not have tilt. It seemed like less of a compromise in the smaller Surfaces, since those were portable and could replace laptops and tablets. But this is a studiobound art tablet. It has lots of redeeming features, including the thinness, hinge, and relative lightness, as well as all the other good stuff (like the way over 4K display). This could work very well for photo editing.

The Zero Gravity Hinge  with 80 custom-set springs feels wonderfully weightless and the screen simply floats up and down, coming to a firm rest at 20 degrees–it doesn’t go all the way flat. As with the computer’s smaller cousins, the Surface Pen sticks magnetically to the upper-right side of the frame.

The screen is glossy, but not glarey and it doesn’t feel too slippery. It didn’t bother me that there was no “tooth” or screen protector.

The Studio would suit some people great, but others might prefer something Wacom. You can read some creatives’ reactions to the Studio in this Endgadget article. One who gave a quick Microsoft Surface Studio review lamented the lack of tilt sensitivity.

Pros

Gorgeous display would impress clients
Effortlessly adjustable hinge goes to ergonomically sound 20-degree angle
Will work with Creators 10 update focused on 3D and augmented reality
NVIDIA GPU
ample ports
full touchscreen, pressure sensitivity
3D-friendly
Pen has several nibs with varied textures
Dial has a lot of potential in future applications including Creators 10

Cons

Pricey (though Microsoft says it’s a great value, and you are getting a lot, but still)
Lack of tilt sensitivity for pen
Processor not the fastest or latest

The Verdict

I’m a bit wary of investing this much into an all-in-one, because of the speed at which computers obsolesce. You can keep a Cintiq around longer than the average computer, and Cintiqs hold their value longer. The Cintiq Companion 2 and the Wacom MobileStudio Pro can be attached to a larger monitor so that you can draw on and see your creation on the larger screen.

The Surface Studio is not the first large all-in-one, but it’s certainly the most powerful. Some Wacom-alternative companies have put out all-in-ones but they are seldom seen, and don’t have high specs like this one.

The Surface Studio has great build quality. Its hinge is graceful. There are plenty of ports. It’s gorgeous and would wow clients who walk in–which can be quite valuable.

If size and power are what you need, and you want the convenience of the hinge, this might be all you need.

Get a free Surface Dial with pre-order: Shop Surface Studio

end of Microsoft Surface Studio Review

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Wacom and Microsoft: Pen pals at last

Wacom and Microsoft partner to make pens with 4,096 pressure levels

The Windows 10 Anniversary update will bring welcome advances in digitizer technology this coming holiday season 2016.

Microsoft has inked a deal with Wacom to work together to make Wacom AES and Microsoft pens cross-compatible with Microsoft devices. These “dual protocol pens” will be made by  Wacom and work on Windows 10 devices. Some details have been released at the WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering Conference) in Shenzhen.

Wacom’s AES, short for Active Electrostatic, has replaced Wacom’s traditional EMR in Wacom Penabled tablet PCs, such as the ThinkPad Yoga 14 (Wacom’s Cintiqs still have EMR). The new pens will be for AES and Microsoft tablets across devices from large to small. Microsoft now uses N-trig digitizers in its own Surface line, and Vaio is using the N-trig DuoSense pen on the review of the Z Canvas 2-in-1 tablet PC.

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Wacom-Microsoft pens. From WinHEC slide presentation.

These remarkable, yet-to-be-released Wacom pens using the Microsoft Pen Protocol have dispensed with buttons and erasers, making them more Apple Pencil-like.

The devices would sport a 240Hz pen speed and 120Hz touch speed.

Giving tilt a whirl

The new Wacom pens, called G13 or Generation 13, will feature tilt sensitivity to offer natural drawing angles. Right now, tilt is not available on most Penabled tablet PCs, nor on the Microsoft Surface line. (The Enhanced Samsung used on its Wacom-Penabled pen tablets currently offer some flexibility with tilt.)

The new pens’ 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity is unprecedented–feels like just yesterday when MS was Micro-splaining to us that 256 levels of the Surface Pro 3 was perfectly fine?

I doubt the 4,096 levels will be a world-changing difference from 2,048, and indeed, 256 wasn’t too bad. But each increase seems to bring a slightly smoother pressure curve.

Simultaneous finger and touch

Other advances including more universal implementation of simultaneous finger and touch input, to the joy of finger-painters everywhere.

Palm rejection, lower latency, and more responsive trackpads are also listed in the directives discussed in the slideshow put on at the WinHEC conference.

If you’d like to see all the WinHEC presentation slides, they are available on this technically oriented Microsoft blog.

Wacom will create and make the Windows-Ink capable pens. From then on, Wacom’s pens will have both AES and Microsoft N-trig-based tech. N-trig is currently used in the Surface line.

Companies join the universal pen club

Companies that make pens and touch controllers are expected to jump onto the bandwagon, including Wacom, Sunwoda, and APS on the pen side, and, on the controller side, Wacom, Synaptics, Goodix, Elan, EETI, and Atmel.

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Elan is playing a role in the push toward universal digital inking solutions. Photo: Tablets for Artists

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It’s all a group effort. Slide from WinHEC.

As you can see below, Microsft aims its pen tablets at all ages and people in varying professions. Who doesn’t need a pen?

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Slide from WinHEC presentation

Now, lest we be naive, these companies aren’t doing all this ONLY to make life easier for the artistically inclined. They wish to increase the population of pen users, and it’s working. The first Microsoft Tablet PCs, back in 2001, were a big flop with the public, though embraced by artists who saw their potential. It took Apple’s iPad to bring the gadget-using public into the tablet fold.

The more pencil and paperlike digital pens can get, the more people will use them, or so the company’s reasoning goes. And they seem to be right–pen tablets are expected to double in 2015 to 20 million, up from 10 million in 2015.

Universal’s the word

Microsoft may be going universal, but it’s not abandoning the N-trig tech that powers its popular Surface tablets. N-trig is an Israeli company that created this tech; Microsoft purchased the company in 2015 for  $30 million. N-trig tech will still be present in the “DNA” of the new pens. But Wacom, with its many devices and long history. will be the one creating and manufacturing the new pens, using the Microsoft Pen Protocol under Wacom’s UPF (Universal Pen Framework).

There will be a firmware update for older Wacom digitizers that are G11 and G12. How that will work remains to be seen.

The upshot is that it’s all getting closer to the Apple Pencil, and to the modest wooden pencil as well. According to Wacom President & CEO Masahiko Yamada, “Supporting multiple protocols makes our pen incredibly fast and easy for people to write intelligent notes, be creative, and get productive when using Windows Ink on their Windows 10 devices…”

Echoing this message of harmony, Kevin Gallo, corporate VP of MS’s Windows Developer Platform, “Windows Ink makes it easy for people to turn their thoughts into actions…. People that use pens with their Windows 10 devices are happier, more engaged, more creative, and productive.”

Digital inking push

I’m including some photos from CES showing the move toward universality.

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At Wacom’s universal ink spot at CES. Photo: Tablets for Artists

This new effort coincides with a push by Wacom in the digital-inking space. Wacom showed off its inking initiative during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) earlier this year with these funky digital crayons, each with a unique ID, that allow worldwide collaboration with consistent colors. (These were just for show and I don’t know of any plans by the company to sell them, unfortunately.)

Masahiko Yamada also mentioned digital stationery as a product to develop. The Digital Stationery Consortium began on Jan. 7, 2016 and will be implemented across a range of business sectors.

 

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A universal digitizer? This tablet, displayed at CES, allows the use of different types of pen on the same tablet. Photo: Tablets for Artists

I don’t this is going to affect Wacom EMR, which is still used in the Intuos, Cintiq, and some tablet PCs. Please check our post categories to see which tablets we’ve reviewed have which type of digitizer.

The word “universal” is music to my ears. It’s just so much easier. Chargers, pens, and other accessories are so much more accessible when you don’t need a different one for every device.

A reminder: the free upgrade to Windows 10 is ending on July 29, 2016, and some of these changes are going to be included in the next Win10 update, so if you’re holding back, you might want to take the plunge to Windows 10.

With this announcement of a Microsoft-Wacom pen pal pact, it looks like late 2016 has holiday cheer in store for digital artists.

end of Wacom and Microsoft: Pen pals at last

 

 

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Surface Pro 5 and Surface Book 2 to be released … sooner or later

Surface Pro 5 and Surface Book 2 coming this year, or next–sharper screen, longer battery life

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WIndows of the mind

Rumor has it that Microsoft will soon be unveiling the Surface Pro 5, as early as May 2016.

There’s limited info right now, but basically it sounds like a snazzier version of the Surface Pro 4. While the SP 4 ran about five hours with video, the SP 5 could get up to 7. That’s pretty good for a machine that’s slated to have a sharp-as-a-razor 4k display. The screen will not be any larger, though, you’ll still need to get the Surface Book if you want a larger screen (13.5 in. vs. 12.3 in.).

The Surface Pro 5 will either continue using Intel’s Skylake processor, or move on to the next iteration, the Kaby Lake.

Supposedly, the pen will be rechargeable, a welcome trend away from batteries.

Hopefully, the new Surface Pro 5 will also iron out the problems that have plagued a lot of Surface Pro 4s and Surface Books. That would be a nice coat of “fresh paint” for customers.

Surface Book 2 also in the works

Surface Book 2: The Sequel has also been greenlighted, possibly with a June, 2016 premiere or maybe it will be 2017. That’s the problem with rumors–they have no consistency or reliability. Let’s hope these new devices do.

It would make more sense for it to be 2017, so that the new Kaby Lake processor is ready for rollout. That might edge these machines into becoming the souped-up powerhouses they could be.

Or, it could be as soon as June, 2016, to coincide with a Windows 10 update.

Microsoft has a part of its site dedicated to Surface art and artists. This is one of the videos from that, featuring Mulga, an illustrator/designer/muralist.

 

Microsoft: Power cord recall for Surface Pro 1, 2, and 3

Microsoft recall of power cords for Surface Pro 1-3

Due to overheating concerns, Microsoft  issued a voluntary recall of AC power cords for the Surface Pro, Surface Pro 2, and Surface Pro 3, if they were sold before March 15, 2015 in the U.S., and July 15, 2015, anywhere outside the U.S. The recall was announced on Jan. 21, 2016.

According to the company, the overheating can be triggered by cords that are tightly wound or bent, which can get damaged that way and become a fire hazard. They stress that the problem affects only a very few users. But, for safety, they recommend that you no longer use your existing cord, regardless if it appears damaged or not.

To fill out the form to get your replacement cord, go to the Microsoft page here.

The new Surface Pro power cords don’t have this issue, and they match the ones sold after March 15th, 2015 in the U.S. and July 15, 2015 elsewhere.

The recall does not apply to the power brick, which is the power supply, but only to the AC power cord, the part that attaches to the electrical outlet. Here’s a photo:

 

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This problem and the recall ONLY affect the Pro, Pro 2, and Pro 3, not the Surface 3, Surface RT, Surface Pro 4, or Surface Book, and not to cords for docking stations for the Pro, the Pro 2, or Pro 3.

Microsoft says users should safely dispose of or recycle their existing cords in accordance with local regulations. You don’t return the cord to Microsoft, you just request a new one. All replacement cords will come directly from Microsoft. They will issue one new one per device.

Again o get your new AC power cord, go to this page on the Microsoft site.

This article has more info on the recall.

If you have an affected Surface Pro, Surface Pro 2, or Surface Pro 3, please stop using  your existing power cord, dispose of or recycle it safely, and send go to the Microsoft recall page to order a new one.