For drawing purpose, the new Surface Pro 4 pen now comes with a felt-like tip that provides more friction when working on the glass surface, and hence slightly better control.
I’m not exactly sure of the material that’s use to make the tip so in this review, that new tip will be referred to as the felt-like tip
Here’s a closer look at the tip of my SP4 pen. The felt tip is held within some black plastic and that part can get weaken when bent and chip off. Mine’s the result after two months of usage. Heavy handed users should note this.
Thankfully, Microsoft has replacement nibs for the SP4 pens that come in this nice package called the Pen Kit.
The Pen Kit has 4 different replacement tip, namely: 2H, H, HB and B.
2H and H are the hard tips and they glide smoothly on glass. I can’t really feel any difference between the two. HB and B have the felt-like tip and have more friction, and again I can’t feel any difference between these two.
You can use the back of the Pen Kit to clip the old nib and pull it out.
Unfortunately, you cannot swap nibs between the pens. So those nibs from the Pen Kit are not compatible with the old S3 pen. Shown above are the exposed nibs for the S3 and SP4 pen.
Both pens still require an AAAA battery to power on.
The new SP4 pen has new way to replace the battery compared to the S3 pen which just involves unscrewing the back. For the SP4 Pen, you have to hold the back very tightly first, and then twist anti-clockwise for tiny amount, probably a few mm and you’ll be able to sense a click. It’s tight so you have to hold tightly.
When you assemble the SP4, you have to make sure the shiny metal connector part is aligned with the groove at the back to that they fit and then you can push the end back in.
One new feature of the SP4 pen is the back button now also doubles up as an eraser in some software. The eraser functionality depends on the software. For example, when you’re using the eraser with MediBang Paint Pro, the strokes will be thin and you have to adjust them with the software. And in Mischief, the eraser will erase with thick stroke.
The S3 and SP4 pens produce almost similar lines.
SP4 pen’s 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity does not make it significantly more sensitive that S3 pen’s 256 levels. Actually, I found that the old S3 pen to be slightly more sensitive when drawing strokes lightly on Mischief. When used with MediBang, the strokes from the two pens are indistinguishable. That’s the same with other software. So perhaps it’s actually Mischief that’s more sensitive and not the pen.
The feeling of drawing on glass is different. There’s more friction with the SP4 pen because of the felt-like tip and hence the pen does not glide as smoothly as the old S3 pen. This offers slightly better control. However, over the weeks of using them, I don’t really find one that feels significantly better over the other. It really depends on what kind of feel you like. Both are good.
When it comes to note taking, using a hard tip feels more natural to me. When used with Microsoft OneNote, there’s some lag where the strokes will trail behind the cursor. This lag is made more discernible when using with the felt-like top.
You can customize the pens with the app called Surface, which you get download from the Windows App Store.
On the Surface 3 tablet, you can only customize the pressure sensitivity curve through the Surface app. There’s no way to customize the button. I find the side buttons useless and the back button is permanently mapped to opening Microsoft’s note taking application OneNote.
On the Surface Pro 4 tablet, there are more customization software but those are only available for the SP4 pens. If you have Surface Pro 4, then you already have the pen and don’t need to read this review.
If you know of any workaround to mapping the side buttons and changing functionality of the new and old pens, please let me know. The Surface app is quite useless.
The new SP4 pen certainly has more new features, such as the eraser on the back, and the ability to use different nibs with the Pen Kit. Pressure sensitivity levels may have increased to 1024 but there’s really no discernible difference when compared with the old S3 pen for drawing.
If you’re looking for a new pen for your Surface 3 for drawing, I’ll recommend the new SP4 pen.