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Microsoft Aims To Please Artists and Creators with Surface Pro 3 Tablet/PC

Yesterday in New York City, Microsoft unveiled the Surface Pro 3, the latest iteration of its fully-featured PC/tablet with pressure-sensitivity and an ability to run any PC-based creative software from Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite to Toon Boom, Maya, and ZBrush, to post-production filmmaker tools like Assimilate’s SCRATCH and RED’s CineX.

It’s ironic that Microsoft would be the company to step into the space of creator-friendly tablets after Apple abandoned artists for its consumer-driven iPad. But if you’re looking for a Cintiq-like device that is portable, affordable, and user-friendly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better device than the Surface.

The Surface Pro 3 will begin shipping next month. Superjail! creator Christy Karacas reviewed the original Surface for Cartoon Brew and discussed how it fit into his workflow. To see the Surface Pro 3 in action, watch a video of the product launch/demo. Here’s more from Microsoft:

Wrapped in magnesium and loaded with a 12-inch ClearType Full HD display, 4th-generation Intel Core processor and up to 8 GB of RAM in a sleek frame — just 0.36 inches thin and 1.76 pounds — with up to nine hours of Web-browsing battery life, Surface Pro 3 has all the power, performance and mobility of a laptop in an incredibly lightweight, versatile form.

The thinnest and lightest member of the Surface Pro family, Surface Pro 3 features a large and beautiful 2160×1440 2K color-calibrated screen and 3:2 aspect ratio with multitouch input, so you can swipe, pinch and drag whenever you need. The improved Surface Pro Type Cover and more adjustable, continuous kickstand will transform your device experience from tablet to laptop in a snap. Surface Pro Type Cover features a double-fold hinge enabling you to magnetically lock it to the display’s lower bezel, keeping everything steady so you can work just as comfortably on your lap as you do at your desk. With a full-size USB 3.0 port, microSD card reader and Mini DisplayPort, you can quickly transfer files and easily connect peripherals like external displays. And with the Surface Ethernet Adapter, you can instantly connect your Surface to a wired Ethernet network with transfer rates of up to 1 Gbps.

The custom Surface Pen, crafted with a solid, polished aluminum finish, was designed to look and feel like an actual fountain pen to give you a natural writing experience. Use Surface Pen to organically mark presentations, sign documents or create art in apps like Fresh Paint. A click of Surface Pen opens OneNote, so you can capture your thoughts instantaneously — and your work is automatically saved. Double-click the back of Surface Pen to instantly capture a screenshot of whatever’s on your screen. And with our sophisticated Palm Block technology, you can rest your hand as you write without unintended inputs and marks.

  • Intel Core i3, 64 GB storage and 4 GB of RAM—$799
  • Intel Core i5, 128 GB storage and 4 GB of RAM—$999
  • Intel Core i5, 256 GB storage and 8 GB of RAM—$1,299
  • Intel Core i7, 256 GB storage and 8 GB of RAM—$1,549
  • Intel Core i7, 512 GB storage and 8 GB of RAM—$1,949
  • ari panzer

    how would it run maya?

    • Martin

      Maya LTE can run on 4 GB of ram but it is recommended to have 8. But Rendering would be next to impossible with out over working the CPU. I think it would really only be good for doing in scene work.

  • Max Hancock

    The only downside is Surface 3 apparently switched away from the Wacom-driven digitizers of the first 2 iterations in favor of Ntrig. So now the pen relies on a battery. As far as performance though, I think Ntrig has caught up in recent years. The bulkier pen is definitely a pro compared to Samsung’s Note and ATIV tablets’ tiny Wacom pens.

    Personally I’m just interested in something to do rough sketches on rather than a workstation alternative, so my eye is on the really affordable Samsung Note 8.0 or Dell Venue 8.0. Both have digitizers and both are under $300 at this point.

    • Pierre Fontaine

      DO NOT get the Dell Venue 8. The pens have high failure rates and the pen I tried at the Microsoft store required an enormous amount of pressure to register. The Asus Vivotab 8 might be a better alternative though there have been reports of digitizer/pen problems here are as well. I’ve only had mine for a few weeks and so far it’s working great. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

    • Corrie Francis Parks

      I just got an Asus Vivo for sketching on the go. Great with sketching apps like Fresh Paint, Animation Desk and Sketchbook Express and it uses the wacom driver so the sensitivity is great. Theoretically you can load any program on it, but I’ve tried using PS and it’s really slooow so I stick with the apps. I actually tried the Surface Pro 2 last year and ended up returning it because it was just a little too cramped to work in Photoshop and AfterEffects and the hefty price tag didn’t justify it in my mind. The slightly large Surface Pro 3 will be better but in reality I’m much happier toting around an 8″ digital sketchbook with a $300 price tag anyway.

  • Steven E Gordon

    Have they worked out pressure sensitivity? The Surface Pro 2 was lacking in that department

  • monsterBlues

    It would be good to mention that the original Surface Pro 1 & 2 used a Wacom manufactured screen. While the new Surface Pro 3 uses an Ntrig screen. This means 256 levels of sensitivity (instead of 1024), a battery-required pen, and incompatibility with WinTab software (zbrush, mudbox).

  • ObeyMyBrain

    I was wondering how the new pen differed from Wacom but damn, the drawing lag in photoshop was horrible. You can only see the very start of the line the Adobe guy did before his hand blocked it but the lag was bad. He draws at 33:55 in the video. The panning and zooming wasn’t that smooth either.

  • Pierre Fontaine

    How would it run Maya? Probably pretty well but I wouldn’t necessarily think you’d want to. I have a Windows tablet already with a Wacom digitizer and while it’s great for drawing, I quickly found that a mouse was very helpful for 3D applications. For starters, there’s no easy solution for software that requires a middle mouse button unless you actually use a mouse. A hard lesson to learn is that using a tablet computer doesn’t make those tasks any easier or more convenient, only more portable.

    If anyone is interested in getting their feet wet with a Windows tablet with a digitizer, an Asus VivoTab Note 8 is an interesting place to start. It has an 8 inch screen with a Wacom digitizer. The included pen stores in the unit.

    If you want to see an Asus Vivotab for yourself, they can be found at Microsoft stores where they are usually displayed next to the Dell 8 inch tablet (which you shouldn’t consider for drawing purposes…the pen is terrible).

    The cheapest version of the Vivotab comes with 2 gigs of RAM and 32 gigs of storage space and sells for $299 on Amazon. A 64 gig version is also available at Amazon for an additional $40 (it’s much more expensive at the Microsoft store). Both units feature a micro SD card for additional storage which is very helpful since the OS (and the restore drive on the 64 gig version) take up considerable space.

    A tablet, extra pen, extra storage and keyboard/case would run you between $400 and $450 plus tax through Amazon.

    The tradeoffs between a small Vivotab and the larger Surface models are considerable. The Vivotab has no video out so it will not run an external monitor while the Surface Pro tablets can. Also, the Vivotab has one mini USB port that doubles as the USB charging port (meaning that you can’t be plugged in and working at the same time). The Surface Pro tablets have a separate charging port so it really can become a desktop replacement.

    If you get a Vivotab, get one of Microsoft’s original Surface pens as well. These pens are far superior to the pen that comes with the Asus tablet.

    An 8 inch screen is certainly very small, but it’s workable for drawing programs and some animation work. On an 8 inch screen, the interfaces will be understandably tiny. The Surface Pro line certainly has the advantage here since the older Surface Pro tablets have 10 inch screens and the newest tablets with 12 inch screens would be luxurious in comparison.

    Three caveats:
    1. Windows 8 is an acquired taste. There are gestures to learn, a new tiled start screen to get used to resulting in a schizophrenic user experience. If you are used to earlier versions of Windows, install “Classic Shell” which restores the standard Windows start button rather than relying on the tiled Start screen.
    2. The new Surface 3 uses an NTrig digitizer rather than the Surface digitizers found on the Surface Pro 1 and 2. NTrig has 256 levels of pressure sensitivity while Wacom digitizers have 1024. Is that going to be perceptable to the average user? Perhaps not but it’s an important point to remember.

    3. If any of the Surface Pro tablets interest you, make certain you are looking at the “Surface Pro” line which has the standard desktop and can run any Windows program. The standard “Surface” line is a closed system (like an iPad) and can only run apps found in the Microsoft app store and a supplied version of Office. This means that you can’t run Photoshop or any other application that can run on any desktop or laptop. These two lines serve different purposes but it might be easy to mistake one for the other since they essentially look identical.

    I hope this information is helpful!

    • Radek

      Regarding Maya and tablets – Wacom pens have two buttons. Add the pen tip and you have three – same as a mouse. I’m a Maya user and found it works brilliantly with a tablet. My mouse is just a paperweight at this point.

  • Ben

    Wonder how it compares to the wacom tablet pcs?

  • Harry Carr

    Its been really hard for me to decide on a tablet/laptop for drawing and animation. i see so much stuff out there . basically i would like to use it for sketching/painting and flash/toonboom animation. alot of stuff seems out of my price range as they’re all $900+ any suggestions?

  • DC

    Personally, I see this as a step back for Artists from the previous model. Why did they ditch Wacom and suddenly target going after Artists/Creators? It’s all so contradictory! Geez. I’ll stick with my R7-572G.

  • siskavard

    If it’s a touch screen, how are you supposed to draw on it with a pen, without resting your hand on the screen?

    • It has palm rejection so if you are using the pen it will give precedence to the pen.

  • Charley

    I love the precision artwork i can do on this Surface 3, i have never been able to do real artwork on a computer till now

  • Eddy

    Surface Pro 3 is the closest Microsoft has come yet to producing a laptop-killing tablet. But the laptop will live on to fight another day. This time around, the third iteration isn’t the one that gets it right.