Category Archives: N-trig

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 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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_gqGm95u58

 

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