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Microsoft Surface Pro 3

edited May 2014 in The Toolbox
Microsoft (of all companies) just announced one of the most appealing digital drawing tablets I've seen in a while.  

It's the Surface Pro 3, which they're pitching as a tablet that can replace a regular business laptop.  I couldn't care less about the attachable keyboard though: what I like about it is the biggish 12" screen.  Because of the 3:2 aspect ratio (more squished vertically than a landscape iPad or traditional computer screen, but nowhere near as bad as the 16:9 cinemascope screens on most other tablets and laptops these days) and high pixel density, it fits more on the screen than a 13" Cintiq Companion.  And it isn't nearly so cramped vertically (1440 pixels tall, compared to 1080).

Did I mention that it weighs only 1.75lbs (a little more than a first-gen iPad)? And is less than a centimeter thick? :)

The price starts at $800 for a Core i3 CPU, 4GB RAM, and 64GB SSD.  Which are unimpressive specs, but still a step up from my current Thinkpad.  And $1000 cheaper than the entry-level Cintiq Companion (which has substantially better specs).  Build up the specs, and you're back in Cintiq pricing territory, but it's really nice to have the low-end option.

It runs full Windows 8.1, with all the good (apps) and bad (UI) that goes with that.

Old-style Windows slates typically included programmable buttons on the bezel, because WinXP required them to be usable without a keyboard attached. Being able to just press a button to simulate holding down Shift or Alt is a major convenience with drawing programs. But modern tablets – except Wacom's – leave them out because they aren't cool anymore.  Unfortunately MS is going this route, which is a strike against the Surface 3.

One concern I had was that MS had dropped the Wacom digitizer for one by a relative newcomer call N-trig.  Like everybody who isn't Wacom, their stylus requires a battery, but in other respects they get favorable reviews compared to Wacom.  It's only 256 levels of pressure sensitivity, but that's par for TabletPC laptops. MS is boasting about how close the display layer is to the [ahem] surface of the screen, which makes for very little parallax between the tip of the stylus and the "ink" as it draws. There's no place to store the stylus in the body of the tablet, but that's the fault of geometry: better to make a good stylus than one that fits in a flat tablet.

In conclusion:  No one has built my dream tablet yet (screens are still to small, plus those buttons on the bezel), but if someone is looking for a birthday present for me in the under-$1000 range ....

Comments

  • Damn you Jason. I just looked at the Cintiq Companion Hybrid..... It looks so pretty....and yet, so pricey. :D
  • Penny Arcade just posted a review ... it's not quite ready for prime time, as far as artists go.
  • That's some interesting points.  I'm not so worried about the home button falling under my right hand, however. :)  And I wonder how Gabe would evaluate the performance of the Thinkpad that I do so much of my work on now ... because I suspect the Surface 3 would still be a step up from that.
  • My employer bought a Surface Pro 3 for someone in another department to use, and I managed to get my hands on it to play with for the weekend, before we have to set it up for its intended owner. I kinda wish I hadn't. Because it's really nice.

    It's far lighter than my Thinkpad, with a slightly larger screen. But that "slightly larger" packs way more pixels: 2156x1440. I installed Manga Studio and copied one of my comix projects onto it, and it felt so much more "open", able to fit more image on the screen at once. The pressure sensitivity range is impressive: I could go from wispy thin lines to solid thick lines, but with enough pressure resistance that I felt in control of the thickness.  The gap between the tip of the stylus and the image under the glass was remarkably small.  The battery life is incredible compared to my Thinkpad, which goes a couple hours on a big heavy "extended life" pack if I turn the wifi off, but this lasted all afternoon, with time to spare.

    The weak point is in fact the button situation, but it appears that there are now software fixes to deal with that.  The "home" button Gabe complained about can be disabled. There's a homebrew app that's supposed to convert the volume up/down buttons on the side into Shift or Ctrl keys .... I couldn't get it to work, but the developer says there's a way to do it, and that would make this usable for me. If I had $800-1000 to spend on one.
  • edited March 2015
    There's now going to be a non-"Pro" version of the Surface 3.  Looks like pretty much the same thing as the Pro 3, but 10.8" screen instead of 12", a weaker CPU, and less RAM and storage.  Unlike their previous low-end Surface models, this runs a full version of Windows (not the Windows RT that couldn't run standard Windows software). $500 for 2GB RAM and 64GB storage, or $600 for 4GB RAM and 128GB storage.  So you could run Manga Studio 5 on it ... but I'd worry about it lagging. The stylus will be sold separately ($50), which I guess makes sense since there area lot of people who just want a touch screen.  A little tempting, but if I was going to buy a Surface, I'd cough up the money and go for the larger screen and better specs.
  • It's a little odd to me that we haven't seen an iPad Pro, yet, given that the Surface Pro 3 appears to be popular with graphic designers and artists, cutting into a market that's typically thought of as cornered by the Mac crowd.
  • edited March 2015
    The iPad Pro* is coming. But the rumor mill hasn't said anything reliable about pressure-sensitive stylus support, and given Apple's history of distancing itself from styluses, I'm not expecting much in that area. And there's still the issue of application support: standard OS X apps won't run on it.

    *I double-dog-dare them to call it the iPad Maxi. ;)
  • Sometime forum member PJ Holden picked up a Surface Pro recently and was utterly enamoured with it, until he discovered that the stylus nibs will barely stand up to a week's use from a serious artist. Might be worth seeing if they've addressed that before springing for any new version of the Surface.
  • I have to wonder what P.J. is doing with it, or if he just got a bad one, because in my (admittedly short) time playing with one, it seemed sturdy enough to me.
  • Since owning a tablet I've seen some of what companies laughingly call a stylus. Now I'm by no means a digital artist but I've come to realise that I need to have a fairly sophisticated stylus to make me happy. 256 levels of pressure sensitivity sounds like a lot but when you are used to anywhere between 1,000-2,000 levels, you feel it.
  • I have to wonder what P.J. is doing with it, or if he just got a bad one, because in my (admittedly short) time playing with one, it seemed sturdy enough to me.
    Known issue, apparently. PJ felt that having to constantly order new ones from Microsoft was a chore (and I can see how you might forget to order one immediately and suddenly find yourself without a spare over a weekend, which could be a real problem).
  • edited April 2015
    Since owning a tablet I've seen some of what companies laughingly call a stylus. Now I'm by no means a digital artist but I've come to realise that I need to have a fairly sophisticated stylus to make me happy. 256 levels of pressure sensitivity sounds like a lot but when you are used to anywhere between 1,000-2,000 levels, you feel it.
    I just don't see it. I've used Intuos-type tablets with 1024 levels, but every TabletPC device I've used has only had 256 levels, because that's been the standard spec for them. Some of those have definitely had better styluses than others, either requiring you to push down hard on it to get thicker lines, or not, (to say nothing about some of them being painful to hold).  And especially when I zoomed in I'd see jaggies on the ones that had higher/lower resolution tracking. But looking at the smoothness of the variation in line weight they produce ... I simply haven't seen a difference.
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