Curious why the Surface Pro 3 doesn't have a garage for the pen? Here's why

Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 is incredibly slim and extremely portable, and the best peripheral it has to offer, the pen, comes with the device. Since the pen is such a crucial aspect of the tablet, you may well be wondering why the Pro 3 doesn't have an included garage to safely store the pen. Well, here is your answer.

First, let us take a look at the pen, It's full-sized, has three buttons, is made of a high-quality metal exterior and fits nicely into your hands. Now, cast your eyes upon the Pro 3: it's thin, light and minimal in nearly every aspect, and when you think about combining the two, you can begin to see the conflict here.

When we met with Microsoft at the New York launch event, we asked this same question as we know that you, dear reader, would likely wonder why it wasn't built-in. And the answer is quite simple, the design of the Pro 3 could not have been the 'best-in-class' in terms of thinness if they were to include a garage for the pen. The internals of the Surface Pro 3 are packed in tight and as you can see from the image in this post, there isn't a lot of 'free space' to create a silo for the pen.

In short, if Microsoft wanted to include a garage, they would have had to physically make the device thicker and wider, both of which would compromise on a number of defining aspects about the Pro 3.

In fact, the pen is 9.5mm-thick and the Pro 3 is 7.62mm-thick, which means that it is not possible to shove the pen inside the tablet without the use of a hammer. The logical choice here is to house the pen outside of the tablet, so that both devices are built for the use case that fits them best and not only focusing on the convenience factor.

So, what's the solution to keeping your pen secure? Microsoft has created a loop that attaches to the Type keyboards that can securely hold the pen during travel. But, the bad news here is that Microsoft used tape for the loop and it's not all that secure after you remove it once from the felt backing of the Type Cover. Each time you 'reattach' the loop, your confidence fades a little that it will continue to attach securely in the future. 

The felt sticks to the tape part of the loop and quickly becomes less sticky with each removal of the loop. While the loop is only a few bucks to replace (yes, you can buy more of them for $4.99), it's not a perfect solution either.

Is the tradeoff worth it? We think so - the pen is fantastic, the Surface Pro 3 has slim lines and to bulk up the tablet for a garage to store it in would seem like a step backwards to us. This is most certainly a case of form over function but once you get your hands on the Pro 3, you'll understand why the svelte nature of the tablet is a work of modern art.

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49 Comments

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We all want thinner devices, but at some point you cannot implement stuff like a pen holder unless you start to compromize. Same with ports....
There are tablet out there that hold the pen inside a slot. But those pens are thin, small and clumsy to use.

I rather have a pen with a 'normal' feel and size to it, than something that is actually is stored inside the device, but is crap to use. Remembet the pen is there for note taking and sketching, you really don't want something thin and akward to use all day.

It seems to me that providing a simple little slot that the "clip" could clip into wouldn't have sacrificed much, and would allow you to feel secure that the pen isn't going anywhere, as well as not requiring that you have the keyboard cover. Just like you can "clip" it onto the Type Cover (without the loop)... just a little slot at the top or something. But perhaps that would have ruined the cooling air-flow, who knows. Ah well. Maybe in the Surface Pro 4.

Just how much thicker would the base case have to be to "garage the pen? Is something, along the lines of 0.005" thicker really significant or relevant?

TsarNikky said,
Just how much thicker would the base case have to be to "garage the pen? Is something, along the lines of 0.005" thicker really significant or relevant?

Yes, because you're off by an order of magnitude. At least 0.05". But there is no space inside anyway.

Garage? Weird word to use :)

Anyway, since I have purchased a SP1 Pro when it more or less came out I believe I have stored the pen on the battery magnet a couple of times, and only when it was sat on a desk. When traveling I keep the pen in the smaller (zipped) part of the Surface sleeve.

It is Handy to have a possibility to use the magnet to stow away the pen, but when moving about the best way is to keep it securely zipped imho.

Som said,
Couldn't they have made the pen thinner....

Sure they could have. Then it would have been more difficult for some people to comfortably hold the skinnier pen. I personally do not like thin pens. It's easier to control a pen when there is more of it to grip, up to a point. I suspect that the pen size was a consensus among customers that tested various pen sizes. I checked my favorite pen, the one I grab first due to comfort. It's 9 mm. Close enough. I think MS got this one right.
(edited for grammar)

Pens don't need a garage on a tablet. Unless you're wearing nothing, you probably have pockets somewhere. You put the pen in your pocket. Problem solved!

It'll be a new feature of the Surface Pro 4 next year, make it slightly annoying so that they can sell you an improved version later.

Tomo said,
It'll be a new feature of the Surface Pro 4 next year, make it slightly annoying so that they can sell you an improved version later.

No, that's Apple's business model, not Microsoft's.

Are we really complaining about a PEN that isn't housed inside the Tablet? So let's make the tablet thicker to accommodate less than .05% of the people out there who don't have pockets or carry a bag that can accommodate a small pen.

The look and feel of a pen is very important when writing. If that weren't the case they wouldn't spend millions researching it every year.

Glad its not magnetic as that doesn't work out well most of the time. A pen clip isn't ideal either. I agree that the loop should be better thought out but until I actually get one in my hands I will reserve judgement.

I've always wondered: how do the buttons on a touchscreen pen work (since there's no power source inside the pen)?

68k said,
I've always wondered: how do the buttons on a touchscreen pen work (since there's no power source inside the pen)?

small battery

So even if battery powered, how does the system sense a press of a button (on the pen)? Perhaps via wireless communication?

Pens (also with buttons) on tablets from the early-mid 2000s did not use any batteries. It's always puzzled me.

(Perhaps I should state 'stylus' instead of 'pen').

68k said,
I've always wondered: how do the buttons on a touchscreen pen work (since there's no power source inside the pen)?

The screen has a very weak eletromagnetic field, the pen uses that magnetic field to power itself for pressure sensetive information and the buttons on the pen.

I will tell you the right answer, don't listen to these others before they confuse you.

The stylus for the Surface Pro 1 and 2 is Wacom based, which uses a layer within the screen that powers the pen so there is no need for a battery or wireless connection. There was no button clicks to wake the device with that stylus.

The Surface Pro 3's pen is N-Trig based, which uses it's own internal battery and Bluetooth (or some other wireless tech) to power it. Because it's wirelessly connected, they can send commands (ie; click the top to launch OneNote) to the Surface Pro 3 without it being awake.

As for older device stylus not requiring batteries or even screen layers... those pens were usually made for resistive touch screens rather than capacitive ones we use today. They were the ones that you have to press into in order to get response.

Shadow 024 said,
I will tell you the right answer, don't listen to these others before they confuse you.

The stylus for the Surface Pro 1 and 2 is Wacom based, which uses a layer within the screen that powers the pen so there is no need for a battery or wireless connection.

That's fine and all, but the real answer is what link6155 said... an oscillating magnetic field generated by the device that induces a current in a coil of wire in the pen. OP wanted to know the science behind it, not that there is some magic layer that does it.

It works the same way that some Lumia phones (and others) wirelessly charge.

Shadow 024 said,
The Surface Pro 3's pen is N-Trig based, which uses it's own internal battery and Bluetooth (or some other wireless tech) to power it. Because it's wirelessly connected, they can send commands (ie; click the top to launch OneNote) to the Surface Pro 3 without it being awake.

Yep, check out Microsoft's site: http://www.microsoftstore.com/...ace-Pen/productID.300192300

Bluetooth 4.0, apparently. And it comes with 1 AAAA and 2 319 coin cell batteries.

Aside from the loop, clipping it onto the cover is really the only other way. The rest are awful and impractical beyond setting it there when the device is not being carried around (which at that point, you might as well just put it on the table/desk next to it...)

Euh i am confused what is the real thickness of the pro 3?

i this text is "the Pro 3 is 7.62mm-thick"
on their sited: 29,21 x 20,14 x 0,76 mm (should be cm is supose)
and in their promo video 9.1mm what is it? is supose the last one.

I like and repeat JustAnotehrTechie's comment: "In any case, if you're travelling surely you have a bag of some sort which probably has enough room for a pen? Or maybe the clothes you're wearing have pockets?"

Thus, stop whining.

You have pockets in your clothes, you have a bag you're carrying the Surface in, or odds are you have a bag with you. Stop the whining over a non issue.

ok but clearly a thinner pen would have done ok and would have fit in the device. you can still offer the larger one as an add-on. my beef is that I don't really take notes that often so I will not take the huge pen with me at all. however it would be nice to know I have it on the device for those occasions where I take notes.

as far as pen feel, size and weight...these are notes. I'm not going to post them as samples of caligraphy. for artists, ok get them a better pen as an add-on.

REM2000 said,
agreed

Try creating a pen that holds all the electronics, one AAAA and some coin batteries, but still is thin enough to not compromize the design when stored inside. Tough call imho..

The magnetic clip on the surface 2 wasn't exactly the best anyways. I found that the pen could come off very easily with a slight nudge or bump.

Can't it also be attached magnetically to the side of the device as pens for previous models could be? In any case, if you're travelling surely you have a bag of some sort which probably has enough room for a pen? Or maybe the clothes you're wearing have pockets?

Just spitballing...

Badly informed comment. The magnets on the side of the device still work for attaching the pen to the side of the device but it's becuase of the power connector that you can do this.

Go ahead, put your $100+ pen on the side of the device and see how secure it is, it's not a good option for moving the tablet more than 5 ft.

Brad I saw reviewers over at WPCentral fasten their pen with the "pen clip" on to the type cover. Like you would with a regular pen on to a spiral notebook. And they loved that solution.

Wall-swe said,
Brad I saw reviewers over at WPCentral fasten their pen with the "pen clip" on to the type cover. Like you would with a regular pen on to a spiral notebook. And they loved that solution.

That's definitely the best option although, like the loop, it does force you to carry the cover if you want to use the pen.

jakem1 said,

That's definitely the best option although, like the loop, it does force you to carry the cover if you want to use the pen.

I don't get the issue here, why don't people put the pen in their pocket, you know, like we used to do years ago when we went to school. Just saying.

besides I'm still to see someone walking around with an iPad that's not protected with some kind of case/pouch. If you don't want to buy the keyboard just buy a 5$ pouch and place the pen in the pouch. Problem solved!

George P said,

I don't get the issue here, why don't people put the pen in their pocket, you know, like we used to do years ago when we went to school. Just saying.

It's not a major issue but it's not the same as any old pen. If you lose the pen in your pocket there's always another one lying around. If you lose or forget the pen for your surface you are out of luck.

There are obviously compromises to make and I can see why Microsoft made the choice they made but I still think it's a compromise. Like someone else said, the better option would be to sell it with a thinner pen that slots into the tablet and sell the full sized pen as an accessory.

jakem1 said,

It's not a major issue but it's not the same as any old pen. If you lose the pen in your pocket there's always another one lying around. If you lose or forget the pen for your surface you are out of luck.

There are obviously compromises to make and I can see why Microsoft made the choice they made but I still think it's a compromise. Like someone else said, the better option would be to sell it with a thinner pen that slots into the tablet and sell the full sized pen as an accessory.

I can't speak for them but I have a feeling it's that size because it also has to be, not just for a pure design reason. Maybe having a smaller pen wouldn't work, if it gave you a subpar experience and then they said, here's the pen you should have if you want to write for an extra $50 people would still complain I bet.