You may have seen my previous post about purchasing a new Microsoft Surface Pro. That was a very brief review after only having it for a week or so. In fact, I was still debating for sure whether or not I would keep it (the Microsoft Store gives you two weeks to bring it back no questions asked).
The verdict is in and I’m very happy with it.
Of course, a month after I purchased it Microsoft released the Surface Pro 2, so some of the cons in my review have likely been addressed like battery life and the angle of the kickstand. Nevertheless, many people might still be interested in the original to save money and most of the features are probably the same. So, on to my review.
Overall, the Surface Pro does exactly what I was looking for in a drawing tablet. Originally, I had an iPad that I thought would do the trick. I work on a desktop at home and I needed a way to do my work, or at least parts of it, out of the house both so that I can travel and work and so that I can keep my sanity by not being chained to my home studio all day. The iPad just didn’t have the capabilities I wanted – you could use some drawing apps but the stylus choices were not great – they mostly had the round rubber tip and were not pressure sensitive. I know that Cintiq has just released a pressure-sensitive stylus for the iPad but I didn’t think that would be enough of a solution for me. I was also ogling the new Cintiq Companion and Companion Hybrid, but you can’t put software on the Hybrid and the Companion is over $2,000 which was way out of my price range.
Then I discovered the Surface Pro. I am a Mac user most of the time and I have to say that the ads for the Surface Pro that constantly came up before YouTube videos were incredibly annoying. But then I started doing more research and read a review from Jonathan Case. His review gave me enough confidence to head over to a Microsoft Store to try one out.
After using it for a couple of months, here are the pros and cons as far as I can see.
Stylus and Pressure Sensitivity
The stylus that comes with the tablet is pressure sensitive from the beginning and you can easily install Wacom drivers to configure the sensitivity to your liking. Unfortunately, the factory stylus feels a little like a cheap mechanical pencil and, as Jonathan mentions in another review, the cursor that shows you where your mark will be made is often hidden underneath the tip of the pen, depending on the direction you are drawing. The sensor for the pen is also at the top of the pen near the “eraser” and I found myself having to hold it almost perfectly vertical in order to maintain accuracy.
I did what Jonathan recommended, and bought the Wacom Bamboo Feel Stylus. He bought the carbon version, but the basic version that is about $40 is what I chose to buy. I really love this pen in conjunction with the Surface Pro. Before I bought the tablet, I did not do any drawing directly on a screen so I wanted as much accuracy from a stylus as I could get. If you dive in with the Surface Pro, I definitely recommend this stylus to go along with it.
Because the Surface Pro is essentially a laptop (I bought the Type Cover to go with it), you can easily add software like Photoshop or Manga Studio. I’m not ready to make the jump to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, so I opted to give Manga Studio 5 a shot. The only downside to installing software on the Surface is that there are no disc drives. Most software these days can be downloaded but Manga Studio 5 cannot which means you have to find an external DVD drive in order to install it. This is more of a Manga Studio issue than a tablet issue, though.
Like any other laptop or tablet, the Surface Pro has a certain amount of space for storage, so I’m doing my best to limit what software and apps I put on it. Fortunately, your Microsoft account comes with some cloud storage in the form of SkyDrive and it is very easy to save files there directly. This is also helpful for sharing files with my Mac so I don’t have to constantly email myself files back and forth. You can also connect the Surface Pro to any other computer you have via HomeGroup, which also allows me to save files in a folder that I can access from my desktop.
This is a known issue with the Surface Pro and, from what I understand, is addressed with the Surface Pro 2. Battery life is not long. If you’re working on it steadily you can get about 4-5 hours before the battery runs low. This is fine for me – I’m rarely in a situation where I’m working on it for that long without any access to a power source. Also, the power chord has a USB slot for charging another device while it’s plugged in which means you only need 1 outlet to charge both.
Along with the battery life, the Surface Pro can run pretty hot at times. This is a non-issue if you are using it while it’s plugged in, but on battery alone the back gets pretty warm. Usually the screen is okay, though. I’ve noticed it’s much worse if you are working with it on a softer surface (like your lap) rather than a wooden table.
This is where most of my cons come in. The Surface Pro looks great and isn’t too clunky or heavy, in my opinion, but I’ve noticed that the back side of the tablet is very susceptible to scratches and scuffs right away. Using it as a drawing tablet means it lays flat on the back most of the time and I often shift it around which leaves lots of potential for scuffs. I eventually learned that you can put the Type Cover on backwards so that it can protect the back of the tablet while you slide it around. I recommend buying some sort of sleeve or laptop bag for it as soon as you can to help avoid some of the little scratches and scuffs you might get along the way.
Another issue that is fixed with the Surface Pro 2 is the kickstand. With the original, the kickstand only provides one setting for the angle the tablet sits at and that is a very steep angle. I could never draw on it while it was propped up. I think there are probably cases for it that provide a way to prop it up at various angles.
An extremely minor thing is the power chord. The only thing that’s a little irritating is trying to get it into the magnetic slot to charge the tablet – the chord is stiff at that end and it takes me a few seconds to get it twisted and hooked up just right.
To get the full potential out of the Surface Pro, I recommend getting the Type Cover as well. In my opinion it should be part of the package rather than a separate purchase, but it is what it is. There are two kinds: the Touch Keyboard and the Type Cover. The Type Cover has buttons that feel much more like buttons, which was important for me. The great thing is that both are easy to attach and remove (it’s a magnetic connection) and they both serve as covers for the screen side of the Surface Pro (and the back while in use).
My only complaint about the Type Cover is that when it’s connected, you can’t keep the screen rotated 180 degrees and keep it flat (so the Type Cover would be at the “top” while flat). This isn’t a big deal except I would normally want to use keyboard shortcuts while drawing and having the Type Cover connected is a bit cumbersome since you can’t really rest your hands on it while you draw.
I think that just about covers everything. If I missed anything you are curious about, let me know and I’ll be sure to amend the review. I’m very happy with the Microsoft Surface Pro and I have already used it for client work while I’m away from home. It allows my drawing to be more portable and it also saves me time with the scanner and paper for sketching. I’m not going 100% digital, but it’s great to have more options for when and how I can work.
If you decide to purchase a Surface Pro and you want to do me a little favor, you can use the Amazon links below.