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microsoft surface book review

Microsoft Surface Book Review: a laptop-first 2-in-1

Microsoft Surface Book Review: Solid laptop, detachable art tablet

by Tablets for Artistsmicrosoft surface book review

 

See it on Amazon.

See it at the Microsoft Store.

UPDATE: Many users have had a short battery life and other problems. Microsoft last issued and update on Dec. 2 and 17th,  but the power management has not been addressed. Their suggested workaround, is to not use sleep mode, where the battery drains, but rather hibernate. Windows Hello may be the core of the problem.. You can say good-bye to Hello by shutting it off in Settings> Accounts > Sign-in options.

UPDATE #2: Another firmware update has been released for the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 on Jan. 27, 2016. This one is for Bluetooth, battery, and fingerprint sensor, but though the battery drain issue anecdotally is better, it’s still there. To see more about updates, check this page on Microsoft’s site.

Type of tablet

2-in-1 convertible

Specifications

Magnesium build, including keyboard
Windows 10 Pro
12.30” x 9.14” x 0.51 – 0.90” (312.3mm x 232.1mm x 13.0 – 22.8mm)
Screen: 13.5” PixelSense display
Resolution: 3000 x 2000 (267 PPI)
Aspect ratio: 3:2
1700:1 contrast ratio gives you deep blacks
10 point multi-touch
Two USB 3.0 ports
SD card reader
Surface Connect (an 80-pin connector)
Mini DisplayPort
Solid state drive (SSD) options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB
5.0MP front-facing HD camera
8.0MP rear-facing camera
Dual microphones (front and back); Dolby speakers
Starting at 2.34 lbs. (1,516 grams) including keyboard base
Glass trackpad with 5-point multitouch
Backlit keys
Intel Iris processor on the i7
4.5 lbs. with keyboard, 1.6 lbs. for clipboard (tablet) only
Power and volume buttons on clipboard (tablet)

The camera on the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 is compatible with the Hello Windows facial recognition software that lets you use your face instead of saying “Swordfish” (or typing in a password) The Book does not have a fingerprint reader, so you can’t log in that way; only the fingerprint-reader model of the Onyx SP4 Type Cover does.

Graphics

i5: Intel HD graphics 520
i5/i7: Custom NVIDIA GeForce Graphics Processor

The discrete graphics are in the keyboard case, so when you detach the keyboard, the Book will switch back to regular integrated graphics, which are strong enough to do most things, but if you are using 3D programs and the like, you would need to flip the screen over and keep the keyboard on.

What’s in the box

Surface Book and keyboard
Surface Pen
Quickstart guide
Safety/warranty documents

Screen

The Gorilla Glass display is super sharp, with 6 million pixels at 271 ppi (same ppi as in the slightly smaller Surface Pro 4, which has about 5 million pixels). Microsoft claims it will get the entire sRGB color gamut. The blacks are deep. The screen is 12.3 inches wide, and 13.4″ diagonally, with a small bezel. Its 3:2 aspect ratio is intentionally made to the proportions of a standard A4 sheet of paper. The screen is 21% larger than on the Surface Pro 4.

Portability

At about 3.4 lbs. including the keyboard and pen (pen weighs 21 g or about three-quarters of an ounce), it would start to feel heavy after carrying it around for a short time–maybe consider a rolling laptop case. The clipboard (tablet) without the keyboard weighs 1.6 lbs, quite light.

Battery Life

12 hours video with keyboard attached
3 hours with screen only (4 hours without video)

Microsoft says then when the lid is down, the battery will not drain.

To draw and get the longer battery life, you can remove the screen then flip it around and re-attach it to the keyboard so the screen is facing up. (see Update above for notes on widespread battery drain issues)

Call me Clipboard. Microsoft is calling the tablet part of the computer the “clipboard,” lest you forget to think of the Surface Book as a laptop. It’s first a laptop, second a tablet. Got it?

Good-bye, pen loop. The pen now snaps to either side of the clipboard via magnets.

 

The “dynamic fulcrum” hinge

microsoft surface book review 2

The innovative accordian-like hinge that Microsoft calls “dynamic fulcrum” gives a rounded edge, making it more comfortable to hold in your palm than a rectangular edge. When shut, there is a small gap between the keyboard base and screen. The hinge uses a wire dubbed “Muscle Wire” as part of the sinew that holds the two halves together. The hinge is strong and you can pick up the whole device by the keyboard or display. You can also open the Book to any angle. The Surface Book does not have the stand attached to the back that the Surface Pro line has, so if you want to prop up the tablet, er, clipboard, alone, you will have to use an exterior stand.

One Microsoft Surface Book review found that having the gap between the keyboard and clipboard was a problem when carrying it in a bag–dust and dirt would end up on the keyboard. So storing it in a laptop sleeve might be a good idea.

surface book muscle wire

Muscle Wire

 

 

 

 

 

 

surfacebookconnector

 

To detach the clipboard, you press a button on the keyboard. If you’re using the Nvidia graphics, which will cease to work once you take off the keyboard, you will see a notification.

surfacebookdetach

You hold down a key on the keyboard for a couple of seconds until you see this pop up. You will get another message when you have successfully attached it. The detaching/attaching process is not super simple.

Microsoft calls it a “continuum” when you take the clipboard off to continue using it.

Trackpad

surfacebooktrackpad

Surface Book trackpad

The large, glass trackpad with 5 touch points feels great on the fingers–it’s smooth and responsive, like skating on ice.

When in laptop mode, you cannot open up the whole thing flat the way you can with a regular clamshell laptop. So if you’re drawing, you either need to somehow draw with the clipboard up, or switch to tablet mode, which gives you no access to the keyboard. You can’t use the keyboard base unless it’s attached. So if you want to use keyboard shortcuts, you will need to use the on-screen keyboard, a USB or Bluetooth keyboard, or try some Photoshop actions.

Despite the Surface Pro being laptop-first, when in laptop mode the clipboard wobbles  a bit. The keyboard base and the tablet are roughly equal in weight, but it seems it would balance better were the screen considerably lighter than the keyboard. However, it isn’t too bad.

New Surface Pen

surface pen surface book

Blue Surface Pen. The one that comes with the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 is silver.

The new Surface Pen is a great improvement over the old. First of all, it now has 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity (after Microsoft spent some time assuring us that 256 was fine and most of us agreed). It’s still N-trig (Microsoft has purchased the technology behind N-trig, so it’s here to stay, and it’s nice to see them improving it with artists in mind). There’s  now a cushiony eraser on the back. The pen has only one button now; the previous pen used one of the buttons to activate an eraser. You can click to open OneNote or double-click to take a screenshot and put the image into OneNote.

Best of all, the pen comes with 4 nibs, including artist pencil nibs of 2H, H, HB, and H, and a fine-point pen. HB is the preinstalled tip. The nibs have some friction, giving some tooth to the drawing experience so it feels more like paper. The old pens did not come with extra nibs, the nibs didn’t last long, and there was no way to replace them; you had to buy a new pen. The pen takes one AAAA battery. Microsoft says this pen will have reduced latency (less lag). Testing it, it still has some lag, perhaps a bit less than the SP3. The pen has a solid heft to it.

 

surface pen nib kit

Pen tip kit

Because of the replaceable nibs, this new pen should last much longer; it’s more economical and less wasteful. If your nibs wear out or get lost, you can buy an extra nib kit. It’s backward-compatible with the Surface Pro 3 (with which you would still get 256 levels of pressure sensitivity) and will also work with the Surface Pro 4 (which gives you the full 1,024 levels). Microsoft claims the pen has a full year of battery life. The pen barrel comes in five colors– charcoal, blue, red, silver and gold. The Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 come with the pen, but not the nib kit, which is inexpensive. If you buy an additional pen, that pen will come with the nib kit.

Surface Pen nib test

surfacepenhbnib

HB pencil on smooth canvas in Fresh Paint

surfacepennib

B tip on smooth canvas in Fresh Paint

surfacepro4pencil

B tip on rough canvas in Fresh Paint

The B tip does look more like a pencil line. You can choose a brush that says, say, 4H and still use the 2B pencil, which I find a little hard to wrap my mind around. Every brush you choose will look a bit different with the different nibs.

Writing with the Surface Pen is not bad, but isn’t quite as natural as on paper–harder than with Wacom, but easier than using an iPad with a basic capacitive stylus.

When using the eraser tip, the eraser size doesn’t adjust in OneNote, it wipes out a large area, but in art programs it’s adjustable.
The issue with slowly-drawn diagonal lines being wavy is still there, and it’s just a function of the digitizer and the rate at which it “polls” the data. There are some ways to fix it, such as using Lazy Nezumi or a line smoother such as in Manga Studio. Or just draw lines more quickly. There is a definite and palpable improvement with the new pen and increased pressure levels. To me, N-trig is still not as satisfying as Wacom to draw with but it’s not because of the jitter. However, many artists really like N-trig. It’s best to try it out. The Surface Book is an ambitious concept and I hope we see more laptop-first tablet PCs with detachable tablets as these are ideal for drawing.

Surface Dock

surface dock for surface book

The Surface Dock doesn’t come with the Surface Book or any computer. It’s not necessary for everyone, but is useful. It sports two 4K-capable DisplayPort outputs and four USB 3.0 ports. It also has an Ethernet port, which the Book itself lacks.  The dock is compatible with the Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4, and Surface Book. (There’s a different dock that works with the SP 1 and 2.)

Pros

fast (Microsoft claims that with the discrete graphics, it’s effectively twice as fast as the MacBook Pro)
improved pen
larger screen
wide color gamut
1700:1 contrast ratio gives deep blacks
very high-resolution display (267 ppi vs. MacBook Pro’s 232)

Cons

pricey
heavy with keyboard attached
a bit top-heavy
dirt can get onto keyboard when closed due to gap (suggest keeping it in a sleeve)

The Verdict

This is a powerful computer, though it has been marred by some battery-charging issues.  you’re trying to decide between this and the Surface Pro 4 and primarily want it for drawing, you would probably be fine with the Surface Pro 4, which has an improved keyboard. The i5 Surface Pro 4 is considerably cheaper than the i5 Surface Book.

If you want a more solid keyboard, a larger drawing surface, or if the discrete graphics are important to you, then the Surface Book would be the way to go. It also is just nice-looking. It certainly could be a solution to the artist who wants a laptop too.

If you’re interested in the history of PixelSense tech, here it is on Wikipedia.

See more Microsoft Surface Book reviews, price, and info on Amazon

End of Microsoft Surface Book Review

See our Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review.

 

Microsoft Surface Pro 4: New Surface Pen offers more to artists

Microsoft new Surface Pen gets a big upgrade

microsoft surface pen with tip kitThe new Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is set to be released this October 26. It comes with an upgraded Surface Pen. The specs have been released, and the new pen, which is still N-trig, now delivers 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity. It uses Bluetooth, as did the previous pen, and takes an AAAA battery. The back end functions as an eraser. Most interesting is that it has a tip kit with four tips corresponding to artists’ pencils: HB, B, H, and 2H. Looks like Microsoft is really going after the Wacom artist’s market. The tip kit is sold separately, but comes with any additional pens you buy. The pen no longer needs a loop to attach to the tablet as in the Surface Pro 3; it attaches to the Pro 4 via a magnet. The latency is reduced, making it less laggy. The pen’s accelerometer knows when you’re not touching the tablet and saves the battery; Microsoft claims the battery can last up to 18 months.

Surface Pen tip kit

You can use the new pen on Surface 3, Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4, and the new laptop, the Surface Book. We’ll be covering more developments.

microsoft surface pro 4 with surface pen

microsoft surface pro 4 with surface pen

Order the SP 4 with included Pen and Tip Kit.

Preorder the new Surface Pen with included Tip Kit.

 

Microsoft Surface 3 review: Windows, pen pressure in an affordable tablet

microsoft surface 3 review

Microsoft Surface 3

Microsoft Surface 3 review: we’re not in RT-land anymore

by Tablets for Artists

Type of tablet

Slate PC with detachable keyboard

Features

Windows 8.1 (64-bit), with free upgrade to Windows 10 when that becomes available

Intel Atom Quadcore x7 processor

Multitouch screen takes finger or pen input

N-trig digitizer with 256 levels of pressure sensitivity

Palm rejection

64 and 128 GB options

full-size USB port

mini USB charging port

takes microSD cards of up to 18 GB

less expensive than Surface Pros

One year of Office 365

Nice design and solid build

Surface Pen with eraser button (not included). Pen takes AAAA battery

Detachable, click-in keyboard (not included)

Bluetooth

Dock (not included)

Can connnect to most TVs and Monitors using  Mini DisplayPort or Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

Ambient light sensor and more

 

What’s Included:

Tablet, charger (only works with the Surface 3), documentation, Quickstart guide

Microsoft touts the Surface 3 as being a rival to the iPad, because of its light weight, 3:2 aspect ratio, and comparable price; as a potential laptop replacement, it does much more than an iPad. It certainly could take the place of an iPad in terms of what it does, and it does far more than the iPad; if all you need is the functions of an iPad, then you may be happier with one. I see the S3 as a lower-cost rival to the more premium Surface Pro 3 because the S3 has almost the same features, including pressure sensitivity. So this Microsoft Surface Pro review will focus on the comparison with the SP3 rather than an iPad, because many artists are simply looking for an affordable drawing tablet with a screen and stylus and pressure sensitivity.

It’s far better than the now-discontinued Surface RT line, which had no pressure sensitivity and an irritating operating system.  If you want something that can also act as a laptop and art tablet, the Surface 3 is good deal. It has apps such as Netflix and iTunes, or you can use your browser to watch Netflix and you can run desktop iTunes.

This is the first computer to run the Intel Quadcore Atom X7, which as as powerful as an i3. You can run any Windows 8.1 program on the Surface 3. The X7 is made to run cool. It will handle Photoshop well.

The 3:2 aspect ratio is that of a sheet of paper. The Surface and Surface Pros 1 and 2, Samsung Ativ, and some other Windows slates have a wide screen. The 3:2 feels more natural hold and to draw on, and fits drawings such as comics better. It’s the same aspect ratio as the Surface Pro 3.

Surface 3 vs. Surface Pro 3

 Surface 3Surface Pro 3
OSWindows 8.1Windows 8.1
Screen size









10.8"12"
Aspect ratio3:23:2
Resolution1920 x 1280 full HD Plus2160 x 1440
Weight1.37 lbs.1.76 lbs.
Dimensions10.52" x 7.36" x 0.34"11.5” x 7.93” x 0.36”
Thickness .034".036"
ProcessorQuadcore Intel Atom x74th Generation Intel Core i3,i5, or i7
Pressure Sensitivity256 levels (N-trig)256 levels (N-trig)
Battery lifeup to 10 hrs. of video playbackup to 9 hours of Web browsing

The SP kickstand takes only 3 positions, making it less flexible than the SP3, but also adding less weight and cost.

Storage options are 64 and 128GB, the 128GB is definitely better for art, since art programs and files can take up so much memory, and Windows also takes a lot of memory.

The S3 has an optional detachable keyboard with buttons.

For lefties

You can actually set left or right-handedness by swiping from the right of the screen and writing the word “hand” (without quotation marks) in Search. A result will pop up asking you to specify the hand you write with, so you tap or click.

The pen that comes with the Surface 3 is the same as the Surface Pro 3 pen.

N-trig digitizer

The N-trig 3 is good for drawing, though you do have to press harder, exerting a higher initial activation force to get a line and the line can be a bit skippy if you don’t maintain the force. It’s something you can get used to There is no line jagging around the edges of the tablet as there are with Wacom digitizers. Microsoft consulted with some digital artists when creating the N-trig interface. Some people don’t like drawing on the N-trig, and others do. It’s good to test it out in person before committing. If you want a similar computer with a Wacom digitizer, which some prefer as it feels a bit smoother, you can still get a Surface Pro 2 or Surface Pro 1.

Pen

microsoft-surface-3-review-surface-pen

 

Surface Pen

The Surface Pen is solid and metal, and handles nicely. It takes a single AAA battery. You will have to pair the pen to the tablet via Bluetooth when you first get it, but only once. You can pair it automatically at setup, or do it manually later.

The pen resembles a metal ballpoint pen and produces a fine line. The barrel comes in 4 colors. It works with art programs in addition to apps that support Microsoft’s Ink, such as Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote.

The pen has three buttons. The top button connects to the SP3 via Bluetooth. Single-clicking the top button will open OneNote, and double-clicking will take a screenshot.

On the barrel are two more buttons. The one farther from the tip is the Right-Click button. That one can open a pen menu where you can choose an ink color for OneNote, or select text.

The button nearest the tip is the eraser button.

Note: The Surface Pen works with the Surface 3 and the Surface Pro 3. It is included with the Surface Pro 3, but not with the Surface 3.

You cannot use a pen from the Surface Pro or Surface Pro 2 with the Surface 3 or Surface Pro 3. The SP1 and SP2 use the Pro Pen.

Drawing on the Surface 3

The screen is responsive and nice to draw on. When drawing, you don’t get jitter around the edges as happens with Wacom devices. However, there is a different problem specific to N-trig, which is that when drawing a diagonal line slowly, you get a jagged line. This is because the N-trig digitizer is arranged on a grid. Microsoft is aware of this problem and attempted to make the pen connection more powerful in the 3, but the problem continues. In testing the N-trig, I got this problem some of the time, depending on what strokes I was drawing. Here are some possible fixes:

-Draw a straight line, select the line, and rotate it.

-Use Manga Studio, which has line smoothing and fixes the issue.

-Use Lazy Nezumi, an app that gives you line smoothing. It has a Photoshop plugin, or you can do it canvas by canvas in other programs. It has a 30-day free trial, and is fairly affordable to buy.

-The Surface Pro or Surface Pro 2 have Wacom digitizers so would not have the jagged line issue (but do have edge jitter).

Customer ratings and reviews

Mostly very positive, with some complaints of defective tablets. One Microsoft Surface 3 review described it as being great for students, while another praised it for business and giving client presentations. As an artist, you could show your portfolio on it. So it’s a good all-in-one. As a tablet it’s very portable, and adding a keyboard gives you a functioning laptop.

 

The Verdict

The Surface 3 is arguably the best art tablet with screen that you can get for this price. You will not be able to get tilt sensitivity the way you can on the more expensive Wacom Intuos and Cintiq. There is not a variety of pens available as there is with Wacom devices. Professional artists who use Adobe CC and a lot of memory would do better to get a Surface Pro with its more powerful processor.

With the Surface 3, you will have pressure sensitivity, a desirable aspect ratio, lots of computing power (not quite as much as with the Surface Pro 3) and the ability to do anything a Windows laptop can do. You can run Metro Apps such as Fresh Paint and the Sketchbook Express app, or full Adobe programs and full Sketchbook Pro or Manga Studio, games, and Word. It seems that pressure sensitivity is becoming much more common in tablets. As for the diagonal-line problem, not everyone seems to have it, but if you do, try one of the solutions above. This is an annoying problem and may turn you off of the Surface 3 as an art tablet.

When preparing this Microsoft Surface 3 review post, I expected to make more of a comparison to an iPad, but in studying the specs, that comparison doesn’t quite make sense. As far as a buying choice, though, you are getting more for your money as an art tablet and a computer than with an iPad, but that doesn’t take away from what the iPad does offer, which is the Mac OS and breezy design. The Surface 3 has a nice design too.

Because the screen is not quite as large and the processor not quite as powerful, we still favor the Surface Pro line for professional digital artists, but if you’re on a budget, you can be very productive with the Surface 3. It’s not limited to use as a digital sketchbook; it goes beyond that. It’s also a good general-use device.

see it on Amazon

Optional Accessories for Surface 3

Surface Pen

Keyboard

Dock

Case

 

end of Microsoft Surface 3 review

Want to learn more about the different types of art tablets? Read our introductory article.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2 Review: a portable art studio

Surface Pro 2 review

by Tablets for Artists

surface-pro-2-review-1

Microsoft Surface Pro 2 with 128GB

 

TYPE OF TABLET

The Surface Pro 2 is a slate tablet PC that runs Windows 8.1 and Metro Apps.

 

FEATURES

The Surface Pro 2 and original Surface Pro have gained popularity among digital artists because of their portability and versatility. The original Surface Pro is similar, though with less battery life (see it on Amazon).

The Pro 2 weighs 2 pounds and features a Wacom digitizer offering 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity. This tablet slate’s portability, fast processor, and the fact that you can add a real keyboard has led many to use the Pro as an all-in-one replacement for a laptop, Cintiq, iPad, and even desktop, since if you get the HDMI out accessory, you can hook up another monitor, or a TV if you want to watch your computer screen on TV, to the Surface Pro. As an art tablet PC, does the Surface Pro 2 deliver professional results, and does it help or hinder creativity?

The build of the Surface Pro is comfortingly solid and strong. The design is sleek. The Gorilla Glass is strong and has held up well in drop tests. MS didn’t cut corners here, this machine is built to last. The Surface Pro a flagship device. The form factor makes it. It’s actually slightly thinner than the Ipad3. Turning on the Surface Pro 2 is different from a lot of Windows computers in that it’s fast.  Its powerful Intel chip and solid state drive makes bootup under 10 seconds.

There is a single USB3 port. A micro SD card slot allows you to add 64GB of storage. It has Bluetooth 4.0, and dual 2×2 MIMO antennas for fast Internet connection.

The vents are on side, not back, so you can put it down on a soft surface, though it’s better to let air circulate around it. The cooling fan is pretty quiet.

It also has HDMI port, so you could have 3 or more screens. You can add a micro SD card for more RAM. Palm rejection favors the stylus, so if you put your hand down it it will not, for instance, give you a print of your hand.

Other specs: The Intel 4th Generation TM i5, 10.6 hi-def 1920 x 1080 widescreen, 10 touch points, 128 GB storage, 4 GB memory, micro SD card reader, headphone jack, mini display port output, one usb 3.0 port, Bluetooth, battery life about 6 hours.

IThe 256 GB hard drive model is better, but the 128GB should do for most digital artists.

 

surface-pro-2-with-keyboard11

 

WHAT’S INCLUDED

The Pro 2 comes with a Surface Pen,  built-in kickstand, two built-in cameras, power supply, Quickstart guide, safety and warranty documents.

The included kickstand is a really convenient item that lets you prop up the Pro on your desk, bed, or lap. You can watch movies while taking  a break from all that work.  The kickstand offers three positions (the first Surface Pro kickstand has just one).

The Pro 2 comes with a stylus but no keyboard besides the on-screen keyboard. You can purchase a Type or Touch Cover or use any Bluetooth keyboard.

 

FOR LEFTIES

The Pro can be a bit of a hassle for southpaws. The controls are all on the right, and flipping the tablet over will just flip the controls along with it. So lefties might not want to use the multitouch feature that allows you to use the screen with your hands alone, but instead use a keyboard.

 

STYLUS

The stylus it comes with is standard and good for writing and drawing. But for the best art experience, I recommend a stylus such as the Wacom Bamboo, which feels more solid and weighty (not too weighty–sort of like using an expensive pen vs. a ballpoint). The stylus input is accurate, except at the edges of the screen, which seems to be common across Wacom digitizers. But it’s not a big deal, because you can move the drawing around, and of course zoom in to the parts of the drawing you’re working on. The button on the stylus provides a right-click function. The bottom end of the stylus is an eraser.  (how many levels) The stylus attaches to the charger port via a magnet, but can easily come loose, and you have no built-in place to park it while charging. It’s a good idea to have designated places you keep your stylus while charging the computer.

 

SOFTWARE

You can use whatever you want, full programs for Windows to Metro Apps and even games. Photoshop, Illustrator, In Design and Maya all run fine. Because of the screen’s high resolution, the icons are a bit small in some programs, and text display is not always great. The fact is that some software, particularly word processing, is not ready for HD screens. The issue is more on the Adobe side of things, because it’s now the software that needs to catch up to the hardware.

You can use Metro Apps from the Windows Store as well. If you are using a Metro app that has small text, right-click on the app’s icon, go to properties, then to compatibility, and check the box to change the DPI scaling, meaning the resolution.

Apps tend to only cost a couple dollars, and some art apps such as Fresh Paint are good for sketching.

This 4 GB machine is fine for all these programs and even gaming, though an upgrade to the 8GB model would be better.

Because the Pro is a slate, and only about a half-inch thick, there is no disk drive. Disk drives have become a rarity even on laptops.You can get software by downloading onto the computer, or if you have it on disk,  you will need an external disk drive to load the software onto the computer. When you buy software as a download, if you need to download it again, you usually can.

One artist noted that in Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, the Color Picker tool did not work. She found that the solution was to change the screen magnification from the default 150% to 125%, which made text tiny, but made the Color Picker work. Hope Autodesk raises the program’s resolution.

 

SCREEN

The Gorilla Glass screen is glossy, not matte like the Cintiq. It lacks the slight bite like the Cintiq, and instead feels sort of like drawing on smooth paper, it’s more slippery. The pen glides over it. It’s fun to write, and you can use One Note.

surface-pro-2-review-21

CONTROLS

The on-screen keyboard offers good accuracy and pops up reliably when you need it, but I prefer a real keyboard. Drawing on the Pro is pleasant. If you like using keyboard shortcuts, you can lay the keyboard down and have the tablet on your drawing table. Or use the express keys. I particularly enjoy using Sketchbook Pro as it’s very intuitive.

 

 

 

BATTERY LIFE

Battery life is an excellent 7 to 10 hours, compared to the original Surface Pro’s short life of 2 to 6 depending on what the user is doing.

 

 

CONSUMER REVIEWS AND RATINGS

Many have penned a Surface Pro 2 review. Many users loved it. People taking notes liked One Note. Artists were able to get good results with the software. Most didn’t feel the smaller icons were much of  a problem but it did really bother some people. The Surface Pro 2 has a longer battery life of 7 hours.

Some complained that the stylus is in the charger port and comes loose easily when carrying the computer. That it runs warm to hot bothered some. Others did not have this problem. A fair amount of machines seemed to be faulty. Don’t hesitate to return your Pro if something doesn’t work.

Some professional artists decided to stop using Cintiq because this is more versatile and portable. Others prefer the Cintiq’s larger screen and matte finish. (I think having both is ideal–the Cintiq for home and a tablet PC for travel).

 

Pros

solid, durable build, sleek and attractive design

highly portable

fast versatile, runs full Windows plus Metro apps

beautiful HD display

One Note good for note-taking

kickstand makes it easy to prop up and keeps you from having to hold it a lot

comes with OneDrive cloud storage

has Wifi and Bluetooth so you can add a Bluetooth mouse, keyboard, headphones etc.

HDMI port makes it so you can have 3 or more screens

Feasibly can take the place of an Ipad, a Cintiq, and a laptop or desktop

 

Cons

Because of the HD screen, text can appear fuzzy in some apps, and icons small in some art programs. Hopefully the software will soon catch up to a more compatible resolution.

Small size can feel cramped

Digitizer doesn’t work well in corners (this seems to be an issue across Wacom products, including the Cintiq).

Has two Webcams, neither of them are very high quality

Left-handers may get aggravated using multitouch, since all controls are on the right. (Righties may not fare well with multitouch either, I don’t use it myself, I use the keyboard or a stylus to navigate)

Cannot change to larger hard drive

Stylus attaches magnetically to charger port, but falls out easily

Only one USB port (you can add a hub, and use Bluetooth, which cuts down on the need for a lot of USBs)

Trackpad a bit difficult, according to some

 

If you buy a lot of accessories, including the Type Pad cover, a slip case, and a Bamboo stylus, you may instead want to consider the Cintiq Companion, 256 GB model, the first truly mobile Cintiq; it’s a Windows computer that’s a Cintiq all in one, with all the art goodies of the Cintiq such as Rocker Ring and Express keys, and a 13.3-inch HD screen.

 

For art, a Wacom Bamboo stylus would be better than the basic pen that comes with the Surface Pro 2. The Wacom Bamboo Stylus comes in Black and Carbon. I suggest the Black.

 

THE VERDICT

Drawing right on the screen is a great boon to most digital artists, and this is miles above an Intuos or Bamboo non-screen tablet. It’s similar to the Samsung Ativ, but has more levels of pressure sensitivity. If you need a large screen, then it’s probably not for you, but otherwise, I do think this is an excellent affordable solution for professional artists as well as hobbyists. It’s nice-looking, useful for everything, and even comes with a year of Skype unlimited calls. It can take the place of a laptop, iPad, and Cintiq.

The original Surface Pro, though the battery life is not very good, most other features are comparable to the Surface Pro 2, so for around $600 you can get a very good all-in-one art tablet with a year warranty.

 

Microsoft Surface Pro Tablet (128 GB Hard Drive, 4 GB RAM, Windows 8 Pro)

 

The Microsoft Surface and Surface RT (without the “Pro”) computers are not powerful enough to effectively run Photoshop, only apps. Most professional artists will want a more powerful system that can run Adobe Creative Suite.

 

 

Accessories (docking station type cover 2, arc mouse, power cover)

No Surface Pro 2 review would be complete without discussing some of the accessories. While the computer is ready to use out of the box, certain add-ons will make your art experience more positive. You probably won’t want to hunt and peck only on-screen, so a keyboard is a good addition. The Touch and Type Covers attach to the Pro and are made specially for it. They come in a rainbow of colors, including basic black. I recommend the Type Cover, as it’s easier to type on. Or you can use any Bluetooth keyboard. The Power Cover extends your battery life by several hours.  A docking station is quite convenient.

You might want a mouse, too, though you can be stylus-only.

Type Cover 2 (comes in various colors)

Microsoft Surface Touch Cover Keyboard | Black (compatible with Surface Pro 2)

Wacom Bamboo Feel Stylus for Microsoft Surface Pro 1 and 2 and tablets with Feel technology

 

end of Surface Pro 2 review

Read our Surface Pro 3 review.

 

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Review: Good-bye Wacom, hello N-trig pen

surface-pro-3-review

Surface Pro 3 with N-trig pen

 

Surface Pro 3 Review

by Tablets for Artists

 

TYPE OF TABLET

Tablet PC hybrid (slate tablet with detachable keyboard, runs full Windows 8.1) This Surface Pro 3 review is for the 4GB/128GB model.

 

Features

11.5 x 7.93 x .36 inches, with a 12-inch display 2160 x 1440 px resolution.

The kickstand now allows you to adjust it to 135 degrees–basically to any angle, including flat.

64-bit

Now in attractive aluminum color rather than black.

N-trig pen with 256 levels of pressure sensitivity.

Keyboard sold separately.

Weight 1.2 lbs. without keyboard.

Dimensions 0.36 x 11.50 x 7.93 inches.

 

surface-pro-3-kickstand

Tablet

 

The larger screen of 12″ is a major step forward for artmaking. The workspace doesn’t feel so cramped. The 3:2 aspect ratio instead of 16:9 is closer to a regular sheet of paper as well as to the artist’s traditional ideal of the Golden Mean, and lets you use portrait mode more intuitively.

The tablet is also considerably thinner and lighter than the Pro 1 and 2. The Pro i and 2’s Wacom digitizers require another layer of innards, adding more thickness. Using N-trig plays into Microsoft’s strategy of competing with Apple–the Surface Pro 3 is lighter than the MacBook Air. The Pro 3 is also now competing with the Cintiq Companion using N-trig.

Photoshop’s menus have been given magnification that you can turn on and off. Problem is, it only covers certain menu items, so unless you only use those specific items, you might want to go back to the regular menus, which show up small. Adobe has still not worked out an ideal way to get menus to display well on a high-resolution screen.

The trackpad on the new Type Cover 3 (optional) is much better than on the Type Cover 2. It’s larger and making a right-click isn’t a chore. If you don’t want to purchase the Type Cover, you can use any Bluetooth or USB keyboard.

Because of the higher screen resolution, the computer needs to work harder, and as more than one artist noted in a Surface Pro 3 review, the i5 processor can feel sluggish when using Photoshop. Penny Arcade artist Gabe has worked the with Microsoft Surface Pro 3 team in improving the artist experience.  Even though Gabe complains of pen lag even in the i7, we’re impressed that Microsoft is listening to the arts community and continues to tweak it.

Update: here is a link to the i7 model, which wasn’t out yet when we wrote this review.

 

surface-pro-3-review-portrait

Portability

At 1.8 pounds, about 2.4 pounds with Type Cover and pen, this versatile machine is very portable.

 

For lefties

MS moved the Windows key over to the right bezel, so lefties holding the tablet in their left hand may hit the Windows key by accident and end up at the home screen. On the other hand, it may be easier for southpaws to hit the Windows key by using their right hand when not holding the tablet; they no longer have to use their main hand.

You can choose left or right-handedness writing  “hand” (without the quote marks) in Search (to get to that, swipe from the right of the screen). A search result will appear and prompt you to specify which hand you use to write.

The Surface Pro 3 pen will also work on the Surface 3  (release date May, 2015).

 

Pen

The most striking news for artists is that the 3 does not use Wacom digitizers. Instead, it uses an N-trig pen, which requires 3 batteries–a AAAA battery for the pen, which supposedly can last thousands of hours, and are also cheap to replace, and two batteries for the Bluetooth. So now you need to worry about batteries.

The metal Premium Pen certainly looks nicer than the plastic Wacom ones, but is heavier and if you draw for many hours on end, fatigue can set in. The N-trig pen is metal because it takes a battery, not just for looks.

On the bright side, the N-trig doesn’t have the issues of jitter at the edges that the magnetic-resonance Wacom digitizers have. You can draw smoothly all the way up to the edges. Also, there is almost no parallax. There is a much smaller space between the pen and your line than there is with Wacom. So the experience is closer to using a pencil and paper. Pen accuracy is greater. The other big difference about the N-trig system is that there are only 256 levels of pressure sensitivity–that’s as few as the early tablet PCs had. It’s far less than the norm of 2,048 today. But oddly, it makes little difference. You only need more than 256 levels of pressure if your brush is larger than 256 levels, because that is the largest your mark is going to get no matter how high you press it. You can hover-click the pen, but you need to hold it closer than you do with Wacom.

For a detailed discussion, read this article about N-trig vs. Wacom.

Unlike the Cintiq, the eraser does not have pressure sensitivity, and the pen does not have tilt sensitivity. So it’s not quite as advanced, but it’s considerably cheaper than a Cintiq Companion, and you can do almost anything that you can do on the Cintiq Companion or other Cintiqs.

We noted that when holding the pen at a near-perpendicular angle (something we normally don’t do), the pen would not make a mark. Also, you have to press considerably harder to make a mark than with the Wacom system. On the bright side, there is nearly no parallax, meaning no distance from the pen to the line, and no edge jitter, so in that aspect the N-trig beats Wacom and feels closer to pencil and paper.

Here’s a little sketch done in Fresh Paint. You can see the effects of the pressure sensitivity.

 

microsoft-art-tablet

 

Many have complained that when drawing a diagonal line slowly, you get a jagged line. This is because the N-trig digitizer is arranged on a grid. This is an annoying problem and could be a dealbreaker. But if you want to use the Surface Pro 3, here are some solutions:

-draw a straight line, select the line, and rotate it.

-use Manga Studio, which has line smoothing and fixes the issue.

-use Lazy Nezumi, an app that gives you line smoothing. It has a Photoshop plugin, or you can do it canvas by canvas in other programs. It has a 30-day free trial, and is fairly affordable to buy.

-get a Surface Pro or Surface Pro 2 instead, since those have Wacom digitizers.

What’s Included

Windows 8.1 Microsoft Surface Pro 3 4GB/128GB Power Supply, N-trig pen, batteries, documentation.

CONTROLS

The charger now slips into a thin slot and is much easier to use than on the Surface 2. The power brick, like the 2, still comes with an extra USB port you can use to charge a phone. There is a now a known Surface Pro 3 Wifi issue on some types of networks and I expect Microsoft will release an update to fix this. The Windows button has been moved to the right.

surface pro 3-power-port

 

Software

You install Wintab drivers and they now work with Creative Suite. You can use any program you can want, such as Photoshop, Maya, etc., though ZBrush is not supported. You can use full graphics programs as well as apps such as Fresh Paint and Sketchbook Express from the Metro store.

 

 

Customer ratings and reviews

We have read many comments and articles by artists and have tried to include important info here. Amazon users were very positive, though they aren’t all using it to create digital art. Overall, customers are happy with this, and many artists are, too.

 

PROS

Larger screen

9 hour battery life, more like if you use large graphics programs

Clicking on the pen opens One Note

Easy to connect the power

Larger Type Cover with 68% larger trackpad

Can replace a desktop, laptop, and tablet Runs full Windows

No parallax when using pen

 

 

CONS

Near-perpendicular pen angles do not leave a mark

drawing slow, diagonal lines causes jitter for many people

must press harder to make a mark than with Wacom pen

drawing fast can result in missed short lines not showing up, and gaps

kickstand not comfortable in lap due to sharp edge, so put the computer  on top of a book or something

no tilt sensitivity

eraser lacks pressure sensitivity

Wifi issues on some networks

Zbrush not supported

You can’t flip the pen over to use the eraser, now you have to click one of the buttons on the pen. This can be easy to do by accident and if you’re not careful you might end up erasing your drawing.

Screen sometimes flickers and dims, it’s the computer trying to not heat up. It can run hot.

TIP: There are two ways to shut off the auto-dim feature: Control Panel –> Power Option –> click on Change Advanced Power Option –> Scroll down to Display –> turn off Enable adaptive brightness Or PC Settings -> PC and devices -> Power and sleep, shut off the “Adjust my screen brightness automatically” option

 

THE VERDICT

This is a very versatile machine a The new screen size is great.  If you are a 3D artist, currently, Zbrush is not supported as of yet. The lagginess is annoying and I’d get the i7 model when it comes out.  Microsoft is definitely listening to artists, and they plan in the next iteration to put in a customized pressure curve, which will allow more control over brushes. Also, the user won’t have to download the Wintab driver. For more info, read this post on the Surface blog.

Once these fixes are in, this could be much closer to a great art tablet. However, I have to say I prefer Wacom to N-trig. The N-trig requires more initial activation force and is thus less sensitive, there’s an incongruity in having to press fairly hard to make a delicate little line. But we know art supplies are all different and the hand can get used to the tool.  If I had to choose between a Pro 2 and 3 I’d get the 3 (but wait til the i7 processor comes out). A Cintiq is still a bit better art tablet, but less portable, and the Cintiq Companion is more expensive.

The N-trig pen does handwriting very well, and has no edge jitter, edge drift, or parallax, so in that sense it’s an improvement, but perhaps these are more important in writing than drawing. I still find the Wacom pen more sensitive to my hand, and this isn’t due to pressure sensitivity but just to the force it takes to make a mark, and the fact that you can hold the Wacom pen at any angle. Even quickly drawn strokes will show up with Wacom, there won’t be any smoothing. It really depends how you draw. It’s worth trying out the Surface Pro 3 to see if it fits your style. If not, the Surface Pro 2, now sold online only, has a Wacom digitizer and  is now at a lower price.

Here’s a video about the Surface Pro 2 vs. Surface Pro 3.

 

Surface Pro 3 on Amazon

 

Optional Accessories

 

Type Cover

The Type Cover 3 connects by a hinge. The keys are backlit and there’s a handy pen holder attached to the side. Typing on it is comfortable.

 

type-cover-3-review

 

 

This Microsoft Surface Pro 3 dock for the SP3 can make life a lot easier.

surface-pro-3-docking-station

 

 

 

 

 

 

surface3typecover

 

 

 

 

 

The Surface 3 Type Cover comes in some pretty nice colors.

 

joto screen protector

 

 

 

 

 

A matte screen protector not only keeps your screen from scratches, it can enhance your drawing experience by giving the smooth screen a bit of tooth, giving you greater control.

 

Read our Surface 3 review.

Read our Surface Pro 2 Review.

End of Surface Pro 3 Review