Surface 3 + Surface Pen

Posted on April 8, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 0 Comments

Surface 3 + Surface Pen

Given the target audience—students and mobile professionals—many Surface 3 buyers will also choose to purchase a Surface Pen, extending their capabilities into the note-taking, drawing, painting and more. So how do you get started with Surface Pen? And does it work work as well with Surface 3 as it does with the more powerful Surface Pro 3?

The first thing to understand is that Surface Pen is a $50 option: This accessory doesn’t ship in the box with Surface 3 as it does with Surface Pro 3, so you will want to factor that cost into your decision. Furthermore, because Surface Pen is now available in four colors—the original silver, plus black, dark blue and red—you will want to match the Pen, if possible, to your Type Cover. Why? Because Surface Pen ships with a Surface Pen Loop, which you attach to the Type Cover.


With Surface Pro 3, you configure (or “pair”) Surface Pen to work with the tablet during the initial device set up. But since Surface Pen doesn’t come with Surface 3, you will need to do so afterwards. First, install the included battery—Surface Pen requires, and comes with, a tiny AAAA battery—as instructed. Then, in Surface 3, open PC Settings and navigate to PC and Devices then Bluetooth. Then, press and hold the top button on Surface Pen (where the eraser would be on a pencil). A Surface Pen item will appear in the list of compatible Bluetooth devices.


Tap the “Surface Pen – Ready to pair” icon, and then the Pair button that appears, to connect (“pair”) Surface Pen with your Surface 3. You will see a progress indicator as the two devices are paired, and then The Surface Pen icon will indicate that it is paired. So you’re good to go.

Go to configure the Pen, that is. Open the Surface app—it ships with Surface 3 and can be found right on the Start screen—and use the Settings are to configure Surface Pen’s pressure sensitivity and, if you have two versions of OneNote installed (desktop and mobile; see below), which of those will actually open when you press the top button.


Note: If you are left-handed, there is one more thing you should do. Using Start search, find tablet pc settings and then select the Other tab in the Tablet PC Settings window. Select Left-handed and click OK.

Now that Surface Pen is connected and configured, you can actually use it. Pen has a tip, like a real pen, and that can be used like a mouse pointer: just tap on items onscreen to click them as you would with a mouse. But Pen also has three buttons that will come in handy from time to time:

Top button. Tap this to launch OneNote at any time. You can choose between the OneNote mobile app (which ships free with Surface 3) or the more capable OneNote desktop application, which you can get via the Office 365 Personal subscription that also ships free with Surface 3. (Or, just download the OneNote desktop application from the OneNote web site.) You can also double-press the top button to take a screen clip (screenshot): the screen will flash and indicate that you can now select a region of the screen or tapa “Clip All” button to capture all of it. Screen clips are saved to the Quick Notes section in your default OneNote notebook.

Right-click button. This is the top-most of the two buttons on the Surface Pen barrel: press and hold this button when you wish to click-click items onscreen. (You do this in tandem with a normal tip press onscreen.)

Eraser button. This is the bottom-most of the two buttons on the Surface Pen barrel: when you press and hold this button, the tip acts like an eraser instead of a pen. (You do not virtually erase items onscreen with the top button.)

While some applications—like OneNote support the digital inking capabilities of Surface Pen, many do not. But you can still use Pen to handwrite. For example, you could handwrite a web address in the IE address bar by selecting it with the Pen tip, activating the Touch Keyboard (using the icon in the taskbar) and then handwriting keyboard layout. Then, just write the address you want.


The most obvious use for Surface Pen, of course, is in those apps that are designed to work with digital inking natively. These include note-taking applications like OneNote, as well as drawing and painting tools such as Fresh Paint, which also comes free with Surface 3.

Don’t forget, too, that Surface 3 can be used in portrait mode, and this may be a more natural position for note-taking in particular.

To test how well Surface Pen works with the lesser hardware in Surface 3, I used both OneNote and Fresh Paint and observed how well the apps reacted to subtle changes in pressure: Surface Pen supports 256 levels of pressure on Surface 3, just as it does on Surface Pro 3. And if this thing was going to fall apart anywhere, it would be in these situations.

It is quite seamless: Surface Pen works just as well—just as smoothly, with no stuttering or incomplete inking—as it does with Surface Pro 3. This is great news, as it suggests that Surface 3 will work just as well as its higher priced stablemate in key inking scenarios. I was honestly a bit surprised by the performance.

I am trying to spend more time using Surface Pen than I usually do—both to test this device and for Surface Pro 3 Field Guide—so I should have more to say about this peripheral in the days ahead. But so far, this is good news.

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