This is the new Surface Pro 6. My name is Brad and I review things. Specifically I review things from the point of view of an illustrator. And today I’m going to be drawing on this.
Microsoft’s Surface products have become so commonplace over the last few years it’s easy to forget how new Microsoft is to the hardware game.
That little baby hardware maker is now well into it’s childhood and the whole Surface line has really taken shape. It’s also easy to forget just how much the Surface line and in particular the one I have here, the Surface pro has changed the PC market.
Unlike other PC makers Microsoft borrowed Apple’s design philosophy but not their actual designs. Designing around the strengths of their software, specifically the touch based Windows OS. This is the 5th Surface product I’ve had the opportunity to review on this channel. At first the changes were big. But around the 3rd of 4th generation of the Surface Pro the design had settled into place.
With this 6th generation pro the biggest change is the color, or new color options. The new black matte is absolutely gorgeous.
Microsoft, kind of charges more for the Matte black version. It doesn’t charge more for the color itself. You can’t get the black color in the lowest Surface configuration so you will have to spend more for it. You have to spring for the larger more expensive hard drive. I like that they aren’t charging just for the paint job. They obviously want it to signify the premium version of the device and this is a good way to do, give real value for the extra money.
Even if you don’t get the new matte black you’re still going to be getting this beautiful 2736 x 1824 screen. And the build quality of the Surface line in general is fantastic. The hinge is back in all it’s glory. It’s stiff enough to stand up well at any position. The full weight of your hand will push it down when drawing but it won’t slam down on you.
One criticism I’ve seen of the new Surface pro is the lack of a USB-c port. And I can see that as a downside but it didn’t bother me much. In fact it didn’t bother me at all. As much as I like the idea of USB-c-ing all the things the reality is that I still don’t have any accessories that takes advantage of it.
As a compromise I could see them maybe ditching the mini display port.and keeping the old USB port. BUT, I do like the magnetic power adaptor.
I recently upgraded my Wife’s Macbook and only have USB-c ports is pretty limiting. You take this beautiful piece of hardware and you drive it into dongletown.
If you have a really keen eye you’ll notice there is a micro SD card tucked away in the back so you can substantially expand the storage on this thing.
As far as battery life it’s about the same as last year. They say 13.5 hours, realistically when drawing I would expect 7 or 8 hours. I unplugged it for an afternoon and the battery was down to about 40%.
The Surface Pro 6 does not come with a keyboard cover or the pen, those cost extra. And it’s something you should factor into your purchasing decision. I love the keyboard covers but they are a little pricey, You can pair the Surface with any bluetooth keyboard.
I like to draw in Photoshop and having a keyboard nearby for shortcuts is really handy.
Let's talk about the Surface pen.
There are no substantial upgrades to the pen this year. One of the great things about the pen is that it works across a whole array of Surface devices and is backward compatible with old Surface devices dating all the way back to the Surface pro 3.
I love that there is no confusion about what stylus will work on what device, it’s refreshing especially since it doesn’t come standard with the Surface Pro anymore and you do have to go and buy it separately. Heck even the keyboard cover I’m using is from last year’s Surface Pro. the interchangeability of the accessories is a big plus.
The downside of having the same pen is there is no noticable improvement in line quality. I mentioned this in detail in my Surface Go review a few weeks back and I’ll say it again. I still like this pen, but I don’t love it anymore. I’ve gotten spoiled by the Apple pencil and some of the Wacom alternatives I’ve been using.
The specs on the pen are really good. 4000 levels of pressure, 21ms latency, tilt support, 9g of activation force. The battery on this thing is replaceable and last for months if not years.
Unfortunately numbers don’t tell the story of how good a stylus is. You don’t really need that much pressure. The old pen had far less and it was fine.
The one thing I don’t completely understand is the latency. The 21ms sounds great but that great latency doesn’t actually show up when drawing. I have no idea why. Across all the painting apps I tried there is some lag. It’s an acceptable amount of lag, it’s not a big deal at all, but that’s something I would expect the latency to improve and it doesn’t show up in actual drawing.
None of this is a big deal, I’m just pointing out that pointing at numbers as a sign of quality can be misleading.
The big thing with the Surface pen is the jitter. It’s just as good as last year. It has improved year over year and now it’s in the acceptable range.
You can see from my test here that it’s not bad, but if you’re coming from APple or Wacom you’ll see it and feel it.
The one little thing that’s always bugged me about the Surface pen. When you hold it on the screen for a second it acts as a double click. That’s no problem, but if you’re doing tiny detail work or drawing slow sometimes it will think you want a double tap. There’s probably a way to turn that off, but when I’m not drawing it’s ridiculously useful so I’m not sure I want to.
SO here are some of the things I test for:
First I play with the pressure checking to see if the pressure is applied equally across the pressure curve. Looking good. Then I do some line tests, drawing medium speed then slow speed lines.
I then bust out a ruler just to make sure that it isn’t just my hand shaking. The lines are pretty good, every so often I get a bump.
I like to check fast lines to see performance and this is one area that the Surface pro line has always done well.
Every so often, out of nowhere a really ugly line comes out of nowhere and is like, hey buddy how’s it going. It’s a weird thing, maybe it’s because of the slickness of the screen. I’m almost wondering if the time I dropped the pen in the punch bowl at the company office party has has some bad side effects. I’m just kidding, that didn’t happen… I wasn’t invited to that party.
Drawing with the Surface pen is a lot different than other styluses I’ve used. Mainly because of the rubber tip. In other videos I’ve talked about how I like to have a screen protector on my iPad to give the Apple pencil some friction. The Surface pen has rubbery tips to give it more friction on the glass screen. And after getting used to it it feels pretty good to draw with.
How is the computer performance?
It’s fine. I’m using the i5 processor, and everything runs well, it gets the job done. I get some lag on complex photoshop brushes but that’s pretty normal, other apps are more streamlines.
One benefit here is that the i5 processor version is fanless, this makes no noise, none. That’s great. It does get warm as you use it but not hot. I’m wearing a glove so my hand glides over the screen a little better.
In the past they sold a low end version of the Pro with less ram and a smaller procesor, I’m really glad they bumped up the base configuration this year to an i5. If you get the cheapest Surface Pro you’re getting a good computer.
Onto the pros and cons:
Pros: I love the Surface hardware. I love the look of the matte black, I love the way it feels. I love how seamlessly the stand folds back onto the device. I love the screen, I love the way the pens snaps to the side. I love how easy it is to carry around with the type cover. This is one of my favorite form factors for a computer out there. Love it!
This gets compared to the iPad with the Apple pencil a lot because they look the same. But the big benefit here is that you’re running full Windows. You can run anything on this. Even 3d apps, I’m not sure how performance is for that, that’s not my area of expertises but this is a laptop replacement in a way I don’t think the iPad is.
The cons I don’t feel like there is really anything here holding this back. That’s why I’m not really torn up about this only being a spec bump year, they have a really good thing going but I think a lot of folks wan to see more and want to see real innovation wheater it's needed or not.
So what are your thoughts on the new Surface Pros?