Surface Pro 3: Don't call it a stylus, this pen might be the best peripheral yet

If you call it a stylus, Microsoft might come after you, well, probably not, but the pen that comes with the Pro 3 leaves behind the antiquated ways of what we typically call a stylus. The pen that comes with the Pro 3 is a fantastic peripheral and once you integrate it into your workflow, it becomes a prized possession.

For starters, the pen is built out of quality materials and does not feel like a plastic toy. The metal housing is accompanied by two buttons where your index finger rests and a 'cap' button at the top where you typically can click a pen to get the ink flowing. The pen has a good amount of mass to it as well, 20 grams, which isn't too heavy but enough to make it feel like a quality piece of kit. 

The unique aspect to the pen is its ability to launch OneNote with the tap of the purple button on the end of the device. The idea being that the pen makes it easy to launch the note taking application and quickly jot down what's important and then move on. It's a clever trick and we can see, how for some, this will be a handy feature that helps to separate the Pro 3 from other devices on the market.

The pen makes use of N-trig technology and has 256 points of sensitivity which means that depending on how hard you press down, will result in different types of lines being drawn. For example, a heavy press will result in a bold-style ink output and lightly pressing the pen down will give you faint ink strokes. The idea is to mimic that of using a real pen and the result with the Pro 3 setup is about as good as you would expect any electronic representation of a pen to be. We have had good results with the N-trig setup but know that a Wacom digitzer may have been preferred by some as it has many more points of sensitivity.

Coming in at 137mm in length and 9.5mm in width, the pen is actually a bit thicker than the Surface Pro 3. If you are wondering why the pen does not have a built-in garage, well, it won't  fit inside the current housing.  You can read more about Microsoft's decision to include an external loop to house the pen here, and how the pen can attach to the side of the Pro 3.

In use, the pen is great. The accuracy of the Pro 3 + Pen is superb, and while nothing will mimic the feel of writing on a piece of paper, the Pro 3 does get close. Since the optical stack on the Pro 3 is quite small, the pen tip gets very close to the screen and creates a natural feeling while writing down notes.

The two buttons on the front of the pen allow for right click and to erase content in OneNote. One thing we hope Microsoft will allow for is the ability to re-map the keys on the Pen. While we know some may love OneNote, I'd love for the ability to have it launch another app on demand. For example, I take tons of screenshots for Neowin and to have it launch the snipping tool and allow me to quickly draw out the screenshot area with the pen would be a huge boost to my workflow.

When you pull the pen out of the box, you do have to sync it with the Pro 3 and this is done during the initial setup. There is a small light on the pen that turns green after you hold the purple button down for about 10 seconds that enables you to pair the device. It's relatively simple to do and took us only a few seconds to pair the device; you will only have to do this once.

We don't have any hard figures on the battery-life and Microsoft doesn't have them listed anywhere on its website but so far, the battery has not failed us yet after a significant amount of use while testing the device.

After getting used to having the pen by our side, it has become a key tool for us when using the Pro 3; dare we say it is 'fun' to use because it has been executed so well and with OneNote integrated deeply, it's no surprise that the pen is now critical to our daily use of the device.

We know that the pen may be a distraction to some, as we will admit we are still quicker with a mouse and keyboard setup, but when you need the pen, it's right there next to your Type cover and it's a joy to use.

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19 Comments

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works just like the old stylus im using on my fujitsu stylistic st5112 - no need to get a surface pro 3 for me.

ST112
Intel Core Duo U2500 (1.20 GHz. Intel 945GM chipset, 1 gig)
12.1” XGA 1024 x 768 TFT indoor/outdoor
Weight - 3.5 lbs
~6h battery (when it was new).

Are you high?

Seketh said,
ST112
Intel Core Duo U2500 (1.20 GHz. Intel 945GM chipset, 1 gig)
12.1” XGA 1024 x 768 TFT indoor/outdoor
Weight - 3.5 lbs
~6h battery (when it was new).

Are you high?

The Fujitsu T904 is actually quite nice besides the awful keyboard. I think Surface still beats it though.

That's a good read.

That's a good read.

For example, I take tons of screenshots for Neowin and to have it launch the snipping tool and allow me to quickly draw out the screenshot area with the pen would be a huge boost to my workflow.

What exactly happens when you double-click the Onenote button? Does it activate the snip tool?

Also, I just tried controlling hand pressure on this lab scale that we have (like he mentioned in the response) - measures down to milligrams. Best control I have over pressure is about one gram. Not saying that a graphics artist couldn't do better, but it's pretty hard.

Edited by zhangm, Jun 2 2014, 4:17pm :

Read the full response, seems very well laid out and explained, no it doesn't matter basically (please read it before posting)

Technically its a stylus but from the reviews I've seen it behaves so much like pen and ink its more accurate to call it a 'pen'. I think that's the point.

duddit2 said,
Technically its a stylus but from the reviews I've seen it behaves so much like pen and ink its more accurate to call it a 'pen'. I think that's the point.

I do believe that's the point, it feels and works like a real pen, or close to a real one more than a stylus people are used to.

George P said,

I do believe that's the point, it feels and works like a real pen, or close to a real one more than a stylus people are used to.

I don't know what kind of ###### stylus "people" have been using but Wacom has been making pinpoint accurate styli for over a decade.

primexx said,

I don't know what kind of ###### stylus "people" have been using but Wacom has been making pinpoint accurate styli for over a decade.

For touchscreens? as pin point and without the parallax just like surface pro 3, as in not just the Wacom tablets - but real digitised visual panels?

eh, it's still a stylus... we had basically the same design of pen on one of our original tablets ala 2002 range that had the same design and features on the Wacom digitizer screens and they still called it a stylus :p

neufuse said,
eh, it's still a stylus... we had basically the same design of pen on one of our original tablets ala 2002 range that had the same design and features on the Wacom digitizer screens and they still called it a stylus :p

It is different than the wacoms however. those are EM based pens while this one is an active capacitive one. So while true, it serves the same purpose, it isn't the same technology.

neonspark said,

It is different than the wacoms however. those are EM based pens while this one is an active capacitive one. So while true, it serves the same purpose, it isn't the same technology.

I'd be more likely to call a Wacom stylus a pen then this though, because for Wacom, it's usually about graphic designers, since they have "pens" and "bushes"