Using the Surface Pro 2

This is a review of sorts, but not a comparison between the other tablets out there as .. well frankly I can’t afford to. If Wacom want to toss me a Companion to look at I wouldn’t say no. But that’s pretty unlikely.

I’ve had this puppy for a while now, and the main reason I haven’t reviewed it before is because I haven’t really stretched it to it’s full potential.

Surface Pro 2 in box photo
No, there isn’t an unboxing video, sorry!

Until I got the SP2 I was quite content with my Galaxy Note 10.1; at least as content as one can be with a device that can’t run full desktop apps. I was getting more and more frustrated with the features that were missing from Sketchbook Pro for Android, and started to hanker for the ‘full monty’ as a portable. The choices were either a Wacom Cintiq Companion or a Surface Pro 2, and when you boil down features vs cost I’m afraid the SP2 won hands down. Sure, the screen was a little bigger on the WCC (13.3 inch).. but you get a lot more bang for your buck with the smaller SP2 (10.1 inch). The pixel density on the SP2 is simply gorgeous, so I have no problem with the smaller screen; in fact I welcome it as the damn thing is already heavy and the smaller size fits better on your lap when you’re drawing.

I wasn’t particularly worried about stylus quality as I knew it was Wacom tech, but that said I did fork out for a Wacom Bamboo Feel pen as it has a softer nib which flows across the glass better. This is probably one of the areas the WCC has the advantage; as it has the screen coating that makes it more tactile. The only downside I’ve found previously with the Wacom coating is that it adds a graininess to the screen that can be irritating – particularly on the Cintiq 24HD, which has an abysmal pixel density (but that’s a different post altogether!).

What perplexes me somewhat is the utter lack of promotion for the SP2 as an artist’s device on Microsoft’s website. As usual they’re aiming for business users, who want to fergle about in various spreadsheet and word processing apps. Sod that, this thing is a beast as an art tablet.

Surface Pro 2 photo
Looks like a laptop, plays like a tablet…
Surface Pro 2 Type Keyboard photo
I Dream of Dragons sketch

Pressure sensitivity with the stylus is pretty good. It’s not as sensitive as the Cintiq 24HD, but it’s more than adequate here. The cursor tracks quickly, and I never experience any lag in the various apps I’ve used. The kick stand doesn’t get a look in with me as the angles are limited. I bought a Manvex Leather Case which gave me a nice array of angles to choose from, but mainly I either fold it back all the way or have it on the lowest angle. The built-in kickstand looks a tad flimsy to me anyway.

Although the focus of my work isn’t keyboard driven, I did purchase the Type 2 keyboard. It has a decent ‘clunk’ to it rather than the cheap suede feel of the standard keyboard and is also backlit, which is a big plus at night. When using Sketchbook Pro I don’t bother with it, but for using Illustrator, Manga Studio or Photoshop, I do. The Manvex cover (which can accommodate the keyboard) gives me a nice low angle so that I can leave the keyboard on and still use it as a drawing tablet when sat at a desk/table. Microsoft were selling a bluetooth remote battery for the T2 keyboard, which would allowed for having it off to the side while drawing/painting, but I’ve found the low angle use means I can tolerate it being attached without problem.

Thanks to the SSD, the boot is insanely fast. Mere seconds and it’s ready to go.

Adobe Photoshop CC is behind the curve on HiDPI screens for Windows, but the latest 2014 upgrade does have “scale UI to 200%” under Experimental Features. Which means PS just became usable again. However, 200% is too large; it needed to be 150%. Why they didn’t check that I have no idea.. the 200% is supposed to be optimised for the Surface, but some of the dialogue boxes hang off the screen! The rest of the Adobe products I’ve used on the Surface work just fine. I couldn’t attest to most of them, but Illustrator and Dreamweaver are fine.

Programmes that also work well are (as previously mentioned) Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, Manga Studio 5EX, Illustrator, Painter 12 and Dreamweaver. Yes, that last one is a bit of an odd one out, but that is the beauty of this device. If I’m out and a client has an issue with a website or a piece of press art. No problem! I just fire up the Surface, grab my files from Dropbox and start work. Unfortunately I haven’t got much work I can show that I’ve done on the Surface as a lot of it is NDA. The below is just a doodle I was messing with:

As you may be able to tell, there’s a really nice variation of pressures / strokes. This was just using a basic custom brush in SBP. I can say that I’ve been able to sit and work on fairly complex illustrator files without problem. The only issue I can report is (sadly) battery life. When using a resource hungry programme such as Photoshop, the battery does drop quite rapidly and I needed to plug it in to the wall after only 2-3 hours. However, running Sketchbook Pro and working on an average sized file gave me a good 5 or 6 hours of battery life before it finally died.

Here’s the tech specs on the model I’m using:

  • Software: Windows 8.1 Pro
  • Exterior Dimensions: 10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53 in
  • Weight: 2 lbs
  • Physical buttons: Volume, Power
  • Storage and Memory: 512GB 8GB RAM
  • Display Screen: 10.6 inch ClearType Full HD Display
  • Resolution: 1920 x 1080
  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9 (widescreen)
  • Touch: 10-point multi-touch
  • CPU and Wireless: 4th generation Intel® Core™ i5 Processor
  • Wi-Fi: (802.11a/b/g/n)
  • Bluetooth® 4.0 Low Energy technology
  • Battery Life: 7-15 days idle life
  • Charges in 2-4 hours with included power supply
  • Camera, Video and Audio Two 720p HD cameras, front and rear-facing Microphone
  • Stereo speakers with Dolby® sound
  • Ports Full-size USB 3.0
  • microSDXC card reader
  • Headset jack
  • Mini DisplayPort
  • Cover port
  • Sensors
  • Ambient light sensor
  • Accelerometer
  • Gyroscope
  • Magnetometer

The Cintiq Companion uses an i7 chip and is a bit bigger but to get Windows 8.1 Pro you have to buy the top end model which weighs in at around £2,000… which is far more than I’d be willing to pay for a portable. I’ve got pretty much all the features I want for half the price of the Wacom, and it performs superbly. The 256GB SSD is as smooth as butter and although I’ll admit I haven’t tried a complex, multi-layered, bloated Photoshop file on it yet I’m still confident I can do everything I’ll ever need to do remotely.

The fact that it’s a full Windows machine that I can sling over my shoulder is a massive plus for me. I’d have no hesitation reccommending it to anyone. I think I’ll leave it there, as I suck as a reviewer!

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