Microsoft Surface Pro 2 Review: a portable art studio

Surface Pro 2 review

by Tablets for Artists

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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