Pen and touchscreen

Being able to tear off the cover and use the Surface Pro as a true tablet (albeit a slightly heavier one than most) is what makes it a Surface. This is where the way the weight of the Surface Pro is distributed matters; the battery isn't off to one side like the original Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which swung over to one side in your hands.

You can hold the Surface Pro in one hand or two and have it stay at the angle you want, so you can grip it in both hands and type on the on-screen split keyboard with both thumbs or hold it in one hand for web browsing - or taking notes.

Although Microsoft originally told us that the Surface Pro would have a pen that didn't come from either Wacom or Ntrig, what you get with Surface Pro is indeed a Wacom pen, and a top-notch one at that. Unlike the tiny pen hidden in the back of the Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro, this is the size of a normal ink pen, with an eraser button on one end and a large button placed comfortably on the side. Click it and you have a right-mouse button with a beautifully positive action.

Microsoft Surface Pro review

Some Wacom pens have shallow, flimsy buttons that make it hard to tell when you've pressed them, but there are no such problems here. Turn it over and you can wipe out what you just wrote or drew.

Writing with the pen in an app such as OneNote for Windows 8, in the Office programs such as Word or in the handwriting recognition panel of the on-screen keyboard is smooth and accurate.

And while the handwriting recognition isn't perfect, it's accurate enough to make notes searchable or to let you write in a URL. The pressure sensitivity makes the pen a joy for working in Photoshop or in natural media painting tools such as ArtRage or Fresh Paint.

Microsoft Surface Pro review

If you're using a watercolour brush or a pastel crayon on a textured surface, drawing with your finger gives you a single, solid weight - more like a felt-tip pen or a bucket fill. With the Surface Pro pen, you can stroke lightly to get a thin light, light wash or gentle crayon stroke, or scribble fast and hard to get thicker, heavier lines.

The pen is also very accurate for selecting small icons in a complex interface such as Photoshop (much easier than the small trackpad on the Touch and Type Covers, or your finger on the screen), or for drawing a selection on an image.

The combination of pen and touch makes Surface Pro extraordinarily versatile for drawing, sketching, painting, image editing and note taking.

Microsoft Surface Pro review

When you're not using the pen, the side button snaps into the magnetic power port. This holds the pen firmly; we tried carrying it in a backpack (without a slipcase) and running it through an airport scanner (twice, thanks to a cancelled flight) as well as carrying it around throughout the day, and the pen didn't get knocked off.

In an ideal world, we'd prefer to have a permanent place to keep the pen, such as a well in the back of the screen where it would lock in place, because it's too easy to put the pen down when you have to disconnect it to charge the Surface Pro (although the magnet on the keyboard connector is strong enough to grab onto the pen if you don't have a keyboard attached).

It's certainly heavier than an iPad or Surface RT, but the Pro is lighter, better balanced and more comfortable to hold than other Core i5 tablets such as the Ativ Smart PC Pro and the Samsung Series 7. If you've ever wanted a lightweight tablet PC for taking handwritten notes and sketching on, the Surface Pro is what you've been looking for.


Windows 8, like Surface Pro, is something of a hybrid, with the the desktop and the Windows Store apps, touch and keyboard, the control panel and the finger-friendly PC Settings app.

On the Surface Pro, as long as you're comfortable with gestures such as swiping to open the charms bar, switching apps and closing an app you don't want, the two fit together almost seamlessly.

Microsoft Surface Pro review

You can swipe across the Start screen fluidly, pinch for semantic zoom, swipe up to get rid of tiles you don't want, snap two apps (including the desktop) side by side - that's great for chatting on Facebook or Skype while you work in two or three desktop apps.

All of this works on any Windows 8 PC with high enough screen resolution, but it works very smoothly on Surface Pro - as you'd expect.