Surface Pro 3 (Artist Review)

Pre-order drama

I might as well start this story from the very beginning.  I pre-ordered the i5 128 with the keyboard maybe a few weeks before the release date.  Roughly 5 days before it was going to ship, I get this e-mail stating that I had canceled my order.  I didn’t authorize any kind of cancellation and called them to inquire.  The guy on the phone said he’ll get back to me and put me on hold for a while.  Then an automated service said I could chose to have them call me back within 20 minutes – I chose that option.  From that point, I went online and saw that the SP3 128 ship date was bumped up by 10 days.  If I was to order again, I would have to wait even longer for it to arrive.  40 minutes had now passed since I chose the call-me-back-in-20 option, and I called them.  The guy on the phone told me that because my credit card declined the order, the entire order was canceled – odd, because when I ordered it, I gave my credit card the notice and they appeared to let the order go through.  He offered to have this issue reported to Microsoft’s higher management, open up a case report and deliver some kind of extra service to be sure this order would go through.  But, after some thought, I decided to upgrade the order to an SP3 i5 256 (which still had that initial release date of June 20th).  This is the point at which my needs as an illustrator come into play.  After some serious thought, I decided that the keyboard would get in the way of my drawing experience, and I would be better served by a cheap bluetooth keyboard that I can place wherever I want (for hot-key use, it works best to place one on my left).  The cost difference between the 128 (with keyboard), and the 256 (without the keyboard) was roughly a hundred fifty dollars.  I’m now happy I chose the latter option.

I placed my order for the faster machine (without the keyboard), called my bank to clear the charge, and 2 days before it was set to ship, another customer service rep called me.  He informed me that my credit company declined the transaction AGAIN, and the ship date had been bumped up for the 256 as well.  But, this customer service rep seemed to know a bit more about what was going on and apologized for the glitch they seem to have with their pre-ordering system.  He offered to re-order (for a 3rd time), but place it on complementary expedited shipping.  I cleared this order with my bank.  This was exciting – I finally had an estimated delivery date.  Unfortunately, I think the expedited shipping charge was sent to my credit card company before it was removed or waived, and the order was declined…AGAIN.  I called the credit card company and told them to let it go through for the final time.

A rough start, but the Surface arrived in once piece (or two pieces if you include the pen), and I was eager to load it with all my graphics goodies.  From all of this, I’d conclude that Microsoft, like any big company, has its problems, but when it comes to solving these problems and getting on top of customer service support, they do a good job (at least that’s my experience).

Updating Firmware
It takes a bit of time, but be patient, it’s worth it.  Please see the Surface Pro Artist blog for more detail:

Screen lock, where are you!?
So, it took me a small bit of time to figure out how to lock the screen so that I can rotate the surface to draw a smooth line in the direction I need.  Turns out, it’s not a difficult thing to do if you know where to look (swipe from right of screen -> settings -> screen).  Also, the home button on the right side sometimes reacts to my hand placement, but it isn’t such a huge issue that I’ve looked to turn it off.  I do kind of like using it.  What I would love to see, however, is an option to deactivate it completely, or while using specific graphic programs.

A pen and pressure sensitivity side note:
Before the announcement of the SP3, I had been waiting for the SP2 prices to drop so that I could get one, so before looking up anything about the SP3, I had assumed that it would come with Wacom technology and all that jazz.  While I was waiting for my surface to come in, I was so excited to get it, I had to look up all the reviews and live vicariously through people who got their hands on the pre-release product.  Initially, I was shocked and disappointed, not only to discover that Wacom was no longer included with this design, but the pressure sensitivity was reduced to only 256 levels (down from 1024 on the SP2).  The digitizer was N-Trig.  It had me wondering if Microsoft was ditching its smaller artist fan-base in favor of targeting a much larger audience.  After reading about it, I decided it would be a risk, but I was willing to take that risk for something that was Wacom Cintiq-like, yet portable and with a fully functioning stand-alone OS.  Here’s one nice resource I found on the subject:
After receiving the device, I’m not entirely sure there is too much of a difference between my Wacom Intuos 5 and drawing directly onto the screen of the SP3, except that drawing onto the screen is still slightly more awesome, but the pressure settings for the pen must be adjusted within the programs used (if there is an option, since there doesn’t seem to be a way to adjust the general pressure sensitivity within the surface controls).  After doing my research, I see this as a much needed update on firmware (if possible) *raises left eyebrow and glares at N-trig, then at Microsoft*.

I have the impulse to put the pen, point down, into something that resembles an inkwell (like what came with my Wacom Intuos).  But, really it doesn’t matter to me if I don’t think it’ll be harmed by setting it on its side.  There’s quite a stir about the lack of pen-holder on the surface.  I don’t really need one.  If I’m at work, the pen is always-always in my hand and it would actually bother me to have to stick it in some little loop every time I need to place it down for something.  It doesn’t phase me that there isn’t an attached pen-holder (since I opted not to get the keyboard).  What I wouldn’t mind having would be a little pen-box to protect it while traveling, but again, this is a minor detail since the padded pocket of my travel bag works well enough.

I haven’t yet taken it out on the road because I’m so in love with it, that I’m afraid someone is going to swipe it from my hands in a public place (I’ve actually experienced this with another item).  But, I love being able to take the functionality of my entire desktop away from the desktop.  I like to use it on a painter’s easel at an ergonomic angle with a generic bluetooth keyboard on my left side (for short-cut keys), and actually get some illustrating work done.  It’s still not quite as fast as my desktop (comparing an i5 with 8GB of system memory to an i7 with 16GB), but it certainly gets the job done better than my 7 year old Dell laptop (a machine that served me well back in the day).  I’d like to see a protective cover for it that has holes in the back for some ventilation.  Not that it gets too hot, because it doesn’t really at all, but I like for my devices to be able to breathe.  I also feel that I need to put something on it to protect it since I pick it up and place it down a lot, and sometimes use it as a sketchbook replacement that I can twist and turn on my lap (it’s a bit slippery for constant shifting and could probably use some rubber stickers along the edges).

Wifi Woes
I did notice some wifi connectivity issues, but they’re not a dealbreaker for me.  I understand it takes some time for my desktop (a more powerful machine) to fully connect to the internet while turning on.  If you just give it a minute or two, it does connect most of the time.  The real test will be when I work up the courage to finally take it out on the road.  Maybe I’ll come back and update this blog entry if I discover anything new.

*update: the wifi will not connect on startup.  It seems to want to connect, but the solution for me has been to turn wifi off, then back on again – that solves my issue.  I don’t use the connectivity as a major part of my work schedule, but if I needed to, it would be a definite annoyance.  It connects fine from sleep, but not from startup.Squid

I really wish I could show-off some of my latest work, but as usual, I’m under non-disclosure contracts, so to your right is just a random sketch for my #SketchOfTheDay series.  I hope all of this
info helps another artist out there, someone looking to make the switch.  Thanks for reading.


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