Surface Pro 4 demonstration units are now available for testing in Microsoft Stores across the US, so I rushed down yesterday to try to answer some of the questions that have arisen since Tuesday's unveiling. I also wanted to see if I could try out the device with a more reliable or up-to-date paint application than Fresh Paint.
The new Surface Pen is N-Trig DuoSense 2 compatible and will work with the Surface Pro 3. It should also work with every N-Trig equipped device released over the last couple of years. In fact, I was also able to use the Surface Pen on the new VAIO Z Canvas (more on that device in a separate post).
The pen is AAAA battery powered and Microsoft is claiming that the battery will last at least one year. If you purchase a standalone Surface Pen you will also get an assortment of four nibs (pictured below) which mimic the feel of different writing instruments. This nib assortment will also be sold separately for $10. I wasn't able to test anything but the default pen nib.
OneNote and Fresh Paint are the only relevant apps pre-installed on the Surface Pro 4 demos, but I was able to convince the helpful store staff to allow me to install the free Sketchable demo from the Windows Store. I would ideally like to test with Clip Studio Paint or another popular desktop application, but due to security concerns I wouldn't allow customers to be installing a bunch of random software either.
The free version of Sketchable only installs one brush and an eraser, but it was more than enough to provide a better sense of the pen experience on both generations of Surface Pro tablets.
Although the new Surface Pen won't add additional pressure levels or reduce the initial activation force on the Surface Pro 3, it does make a world of difference and I can absolutely recommend that all SP3 owners consider upgrading their pens.
The resistance offered by the new nib is just right (your mileage may vary!). The pen eraser feels exactly like a rubber eraser. As you press down harder on the screen, you receive tactile feedback as your stroke thickens.
To make sure I wasn't just imagining things, I went back and tried the original pen on the Surface Pro 3 and the difference was very dramatic. No feedback whatsoever as I increased pressure. Drawing on the SP3 had never felt so glass-like.
Turning to the Surface Pro 4, the lower initial activation force was immediately evident. Even the lightest strokes are recognized (and this is without any pressure curve tweaking in the Surface app). The increased pressure range is apparent as strokes move from light to heaviest.
The hover distance appears to have increased and is certainly larger than on Wacom Active ES devices I've tested. The hardware cursor still lags as you hover the pen, but it is absolutely aligned with the pen tip as it touches the display.
According to Microsoft, parallax has been improved on the Surface Pro 4. I haven't been bothered by parallax on current gen Surface Pros, and I didn't notice any issues here.
The brief video below illustrates the performance I saw. Apologies for the shaky video. It's hard to shoot and draw at the same time.
Unfortunately, diagonal jitter, the bane of slow inkers everywhere, still exists on the Surface Pro 4. It appears to have been reduced somewhat by the new pen. Using the SP3 pen on the 4, I got much worse results. However, as the video below demonstrates, speeding up the strokes eliminates the problem. I suspect that the Surface Pen will require much lower levels of brush stabilization in software that offers that feature.
These are obviously preliminary reactions based on one application. And for the record, during the course of my tests I discovered an odd bug that I reported to Sketchable's developers. I won't describe it, but if you choose to play with the app on a Surface Pro 4 near you, let me know if you encounter any issues. (I sometimes think I'm a bug magnet. I also know a reproducible issue that I can call up on any N-Trig device running Fresh Paint. But why beat a dead horse?)
Let me know if you have any further questions and if you have a chance to perform tests of your own, please let us all know in the comments section below.