An Upset in Pen Computing?

pen comp

On June 20, Microsoft's latest Surface Pro 3 device will be shipped and available to the general public. A number of notable improvements and innovations include:

  • 12" 2160x1440 resolution screen
  • A multi-position kickstand
  • A 9 hour battery life ( for all models - including the later to be released Intel Core i7 version)
  • A 1 year battery "shelf" life
  • A bluetooth 4.0 pen that automatically starts OneNote with a click (eraser end), even when the device is "off".
  • Type Cover that magnetically snaps at the connector but also at the bezel providing for  more stability and a tilted keyboard.

However, for pen computing enthusiasts, one of the more notable, and perhaps upsetting, differences between the Surface Pro 3 and previous Surface Pro 1 or 2 tablets is the replacement of the Wacom active digitizer with an N-Trig digitizer. Traditionally, the Wacom digitizer has been the de-facto standard for high quality pen computing providing for 1,024 levels of pressure, high accuracy, pen tilt, low latency, and minimal parallax. Apparently N-Trig technology has evolved to outplace Wacom in the latest Surface Pro from Microsoft. So, what does N-Trig technology offer now that Wacom doesn't? Is it cheaper? Is it more accurate? Will there be a disappointment in the pen computing world of students, graphical artists, and well, just about anyone who can write or draw something?

Unfortunately, I haven't had the opportunity yet to try the "SP3" and N-Trig pen myself. However, a lucky few were invited to be a part of Microsoft's announcement of the Surface Pro 3 and received the device. So far, the reviews have been positive. Microsoft research engineers have defended their use of the N-Trig technology - demonstrating a number of benefits for using N-Trig:

  • Screen and digitizer are thinner
  • The distance between the pen tip on the surface of the screen and the actual screen pixels is minimized - reducing the perceived parallax between the pen tip and the "ink" drawn on the screen.
  • A consistently accurate digitizer plane - even near the bezel edges.
  • An increased efficiency overall from the time that the pen touches the screen until the OS and software is able to "draw ink".

Pressure sensitivity has been a notable difference between the Wacom pen (1,024 levels) and the N-Trig pen (256 levels), and has become an area of concern.  Most reviewers haven't found a notable difference but it will be interesting to find more reviews and feedback on this area after June 20. I'm also intrigued (pun intended) by how the N-Trig pen might affect handwriting recognition in Mi-Forms.

If you happen to know or have experience with the Surface Pro 3 N-Trig pen, please let us know!