Okay, we admit it: Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 Pen is a note-taker’s dream stylus

Microsoft SURFACE Pro 3 fresh paint

Check out our full written Micosoft Surface Pro 3 review.

We have mixed feelings about Microsoft’s third Surface tablet (read our full review), but if you’re one of the people out there who love to draw or write on your tablet, you should be very excited about its excellent stylus by N-trig. The new pen writes very smoothly and the tablet responds to every line in record time. Luckily, Microsoft’s new stylus comes with the Surface Pro 3, so you won’t have to buy it separately like you do when you have an iPad or just about any other tablet.

When using digital pens, sometimes it seems like the point where the tip touches the screen doesn’t match up with the spot where the ink actually appears on the device. This annoying discrepancy is called parallax. Microsoft boasts that its pen has almost no parallax and is one of the lowest latency styli you’ll find currently on the market. In our experience, this is absolutely true.

When we wrote and drew pictures with the pen, it felt effortless, like using an ink-based pen on a normal sheet of paper.

Microsoft engineer Stevie Bathiche and Chris Whitman, the Surface Pen Program Manager, worked tirelessly to reduce parallax until it wasn’t even noticeable anymore. They enlisted the help of a robot to mark the Surface Pro 3’s display at 2-millimeter intervals, in a grid pattern. Doing so helped them track the accuracy of the cursor as it traveled across the display. After lots of practice and revision, the Surface Pen team managed to get the pen within 0.5 millimeters of perfection 98 percent of the time. That’s pretty impressive. One of the things that helped Microsoft reduce the effect of parallax to that extent was its efforts to make a very thin display stack.

The next step Microsoft took to make the Surface Pro Pen the beautiful stylus it is today, was to limit the latency, or delay time, between the moment when you finish drawing a line and the moment it appears on the screen. The Surface Pro 3 has a great reaction time. In fact, it almost seems like there is no delay at all. The stylus is responsive and quick. When we wrote and drew pictures with the pen, it felt effortless, like using an ink-based pen on a normal sheet of paper.

Surface Pro 3 Pen

The new stylus also features pressure sensitivity technology, which means that the harder you press down on the screen, the darker or thicker the line gets. Microsoft boasts that its pen can experience 256 different levels of pressure. In practice, this technology is a bit iffy, though. We tested the Surface Pen in Microsoft’s preinstalled FreshPaint app and found the amount of pressure needed to draw a satisfyingly dark line was ridiculous. 

When exerting the same amount of pressure normally used to write a note in OneNote, resulted in a very weak looking line. Any attempt at shading or capturing the darkest darks in a drawing fell flat. To get a solid black line using the pencil tool or a fine-tipped brush was an exercise in frustration. We quickly turned to other drawing apps for satisfaction. In other apps, the pen performed better at solid dark lines, but couldn’t imitate the light sketchy quality found in FreshPaint. So perhaps the stylus itself is not to blame for the problem, but rather the response of apps to those 256 levels of pressure.

Surface Pro 3 Pen

Another nice thing about the Surface pro 3 is that it blocks input from your palm, so if you love to rest your palm on the display while writing or drawing, you don’t have to worry about the touchscreen getting confused. It also has two handy buttons: one for erasing and the other for formatting options. The pen features a little clip, too, so you can clip it to your shirt pocket or folder. At the top, it has a purple button that can turn the tablet on and open OneNote with a single click. If you click the button twice, it saves your note to OneDrive. These cool functionalities are just a sweet bonus to an already great stylus.

As far as looks go, the Surface Pen closely resembles a typical click pen. It has a good weight of 20 grams, a substantial diameter of 9.5 millimeters, and a length of 135 millimeters. The stylus comes in silver, takes batteries, and has Bluetooth 4.0.

Overall, the Surface Pro 3 Pen is an excellent tool for note-takers and digital artists looking for a realistic drawing experience on a tablet.


3DMark’s Port Royal lets you benchmark ray tracing on Nvidia’s RTX cards

UL is adding another benchmarking utility to its popular 3DMark suite to help gamers measure their graphics card's ray tracing performance. You'll soon be able to measure how Nvidia's RTX 2070, 2080, and 2080 Ti stack up.
Home Theater

Confused about LED vs. LCD TVs? Here's everything you need to know

Our LED vs. LCD TV buying guide explains why these two common types of displays are fundamentally connected, how they differ, what to look for in buying an LED TV, and what's on the horizon for TVs.

5G’s arrival is transforming tech. Here’s everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.

Need gift ideas? Here’s what to get the skiers and snowboarders in your life

You can't purchase snow, but you can grab your favorite skier or snowboarder some sweet gear this holiday season. We've hand-picked some of the best available that'll wow even the most well-equipped terrain park junkie we know.

Apple is spending $1 billion to hire up to 15,000 new employees in Austin

Apple has announced a series of expansions across the U.S. -- including a massive expansion to the company's Austin campus that will see it spending $1 billion to accommodate for up to 15,000 new employees.

Google Maps makes it easier than ever to find a Lime bike or scooter

Google Maps has added a new feature that helps you find a Lime bike or scooter in just a few taps. The feature currently works in 11 U.S. cities served by Lime, with more coming next year.

Leave the laptop at home, the iPad Pro is the travel buddy to take on vacay

The iPad Pro is a powerful tablet that's perfect for creatives and professionals. How does it fare when traveling with it as a laptop replacement? We took it on a two week trek in Japan to find out.

Quirky smartphone accessories you never knew you needed

Looking for a few accoutrements to make your smartphone even better? If you, or someone you know, is a sucker for accessories, you'll want to check out our collection of quirky smartphone accessories you never knew you needed.

Ditch your smartphone for a year and win $100k from Vitaminwater

Vitaminwater is willing to part with $100,000 if you're willing to part with your smartphone partner for a year. Could you last for a year armed with only a 1996-era phone? Here's your chance to find out.

Here's our head-to-head comparison of Pandora and Spotify

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.

Walmart drops prices on Apple Watches and other fitness trackers

Smartwatches, fitness trackers, and wearable heart rate monitors from Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, and Garmin are popular gifts. Wearables are smarter and more capable than in earlier years. We found the best wearables deals on Walmart.

The best Wear OS watches

There are a ton of different Wear OS watches out there, but which one's right for you? No matter what you're looking for from a smartwatch, here are the best Wear OS watches out there.
Emerging Tech

Capture app saves money by 3D scanning objects using iPhone’s TrueDepth camera

Capture is a new iPhone app created by the Y Combinator-backed startup Standard Cyborg. It allows anyone to perform 3D scans of objects and share them with buddies. Here's how it works.
Home Theater

How to master your equalizer settings for the perfect sound

You may know what an EQ is, but do you know how to adjust equalizer settings for the best possible sound? We go through the basics of the modern EQ and lay out some guidelines for how to achieve tip-top sound from your system.