I recently got my hands on a Microsoft Surface Pro 6 intending to use it as a dual purpose workbook and figured I might as well do a review on this, too.
Being that I could do art on it and manage the blog (including writing) on the go, or anywhere in my house, the lure to get a Surface Pro was irresistible. Yes, I could have purchased an iPad Pro instead for roughly the same price. But, I can’t use Photoshop on an iPad Pro (yet), and I am currently taking a class that pretty much revolves around learning Photoshop. I also already locked myself into a contract with Adobe, so it was pivotal in my decision making.
I did my due diligence as I’ve told others. Find reviews (of which there aren’t all that many from artists themselves.) Make a list of pros and cons. Judge your other options. I could purchase something portable, or I could buy another drawing tablet and a new PC for the upstairs office.
For the next step, the final one before I could decide if it was worth the money or not, I had to test out the Surface Pen to see if it was any good. Off to Best Buy I went. Thankfully, the first Best Buy I went to did not have theft problems and still had the pens out and available to use. Hmm. Feels nice. Draws okay. Waffle, waffle, waffle – my Chromebook is dying, and I need a replacement for writing anyways…
Yep. I purchased it.
So just what did I purchase?
As a note to my readers, I’ve warned artists about tablet reviews before: I am not sponsored for this review.
Being that the Surface Pro 6 is a full mini-computer, the specs are going to differ in a small range. You have the mobile processor, and you have Intel i5 processors or Intel i7 processors in the Pro 6. Here are the specs on the one I purchased:
- Screen Size: 12.3 in
- Screen Resolution: 2736×1824
- Weight: 4.5 lbs
- Processor: i5
- Ram: 8GB
- Hard drive: 128 GB
Please note, these are the minimum specs to run Adobe Photoshop. I could have gone bigger, but I was a little worried about the price because of what didn’t come in the box.
What Comes in The Box
I’m only going to describe what comes in the box if you purchase the Surface Pro 6 and not the bundle with the type cover (which is what I bought.)
Inside the box, which is pretty heavy by the way, you immediately see your Surface. It’s all shiny. Beneath it is a small instruction booklet and a power cable.
Yep, that’s it. That’s all you get. No fancy glove or cover or anything. Just the Surface in a relatively heavy box and the means of charging it. Of course, it’s a computer. What more do you want? All the fancy stuff is inside the machine itself!
What Doesn’t Come in The Box
While my Surface Purchase was a bundle that came with the type cover, you can purchase just the Surface Pro 6. What that means, however, is this is what won’t come standard in your box and will be extra expenses. This is what I ended up purchasing accessory wise, all told:
- The type cover (Microsoft’s Bluetooth magnetic attaching keyboard that snaps to the bottom of the Surface Pro and also acts as a screen protector)
- The Surface Pen
- A carry case (because I’m hyper-aware of how much this cost and how delicate it could be)
- A matte screen protector (I’ll get more into that later as to why I had to purchase this.)
After setup, of which I already have Windows 10 on my big beefy PC, so setup was a snap, I set about testing how responsive it was. I knew I’d already liked the feel of the type cover for typing. It’s roughly the same size as my Chromebook was, and there is a nice tactile feel to the keys. So off to the performance races it was.
Wow, this thing is zippy.
Yes, that was my first thought. Once I changed my layout on my couch so that the charger cable on the right didn’t interfere with my testing (all my power outlets are on my left), I started basic testing. Opening and closing programs, moving things around, installing things like Discord and Google Chrome. It was faster at even browser-based things like typing in Google Docs than my Chromebook.
It was pretty easy to get used to the interface, having come from a Windows 10 PC anyways. The only thing that confused me as I haven’t used tablets much was the swipe gestures in tablet mode – but I figured those out reasonably swiftly as well.
Being able to snap the pen to the sides of the screen magnetically and the built-in adjustable stand are just awesome little addons as well.
So time to install Photoshop and get drawing.
The Drawing Experience
As anyone who has ever used Photoshop will attest to: keyboard shortcuts are your friend. They are pivotal to your workflow. Otherwise, you’re going to be spending extra time hunting for something in the interface. This takes away from your art process for something that should be ingrained naturally. Alt for color picking anyone?
Still, on my couch, Photoshop installed, dumb me figured I could do this with the type cover extended – just in a vertical method on my lap. (The type cover must be attached for it to get power for it to work.)
Yeah, as you can imagine, that did not work out so well. It was awkward positioning, to say the least.
Off to Google to try to find a solution.
Solution 1: Does Photoshop have swipe gestures for tablet mode? Not really, not for things like color picker and brush resizing, undo and redo, etc. Just zoom and rotate, pretty much.
Solution 2: Maybe I could use a different Bluetooth keyboard – though I did pay extra for this type cover, and that would be an additional piece of equipment to lug around… Not truly viable.
Solution 3: Some shortcut program on the screen might work. Like my express keys would function on my Intuos or XP-Pen.
So I ended up finding a shortcut program. It’s not the greatest. It takes a bit to set up, it takes up precious screen real estate in an already small screen, and it takes some getting used to as I cannot, at least, get the buttons to function like toggle keys. Here’s an example using the Alt button. To use the color picker in Photoshop, I have to set the button to be a toggle on and toggle off, not a simple press once and hold.
But hey, it was free.
Finally, finally, I started drawing on it. I had heard from other reviewers that the jitter was horrific, but I did not notice too bad of a squiggle in my lines. Then again, I have shakey hands, to begin with, so perhaps I wouldn’t see it anyway. (There’s a reason I don’t do line art, people.)
The pen pressure is nothing to write home about in the specs, but it functions the way it should and is adjustable via the settings for the tablet itself. The funny little felt like tip at the end of the pen makes it feel less like you’re drawing on glass. It does draw, but there’s an adjustment period. I may never come to like doing more than just sketches on it or small studies on it.
I get lag on it at the worst times, too. I’ll make a few strokes with a brush when rendering and watch nothing happen, then suddenly, they’ll appear. Worse, the strokes will be much more heavy-handed than I had them initially. (Thank you, undo.) I’ve heard this from other artists that have tried out the Surface Pro 6 as well. Larger canvas sizes will produce some lag at times. Then again, I have other friends that use it as their primary drawing tablet and love it. So perhaps it’s just me, or maybe its because I’m using Photoshop, and they’re using things like Sketchbook.
I have also progressively downsized my screen real estate in a short amount of time. Going from the Intuos with my 27″ monitor to the XP-Pen to the Surface, everything feels dinky to me. Something that’s at 50% on my XP-Pen is fine, but at 50% on the Surface, I have to squint to see what I’d attempted to accomplish.
Let’s gather up the Pros and Cons so that you can get a broader picture of the Surface Pro 6 as an artist.
I’ve got to say that the biggest reason to purchase a Surface Pro is that you’re not just getting a tablet, you’re getting a full-blown computer. If an application can run on Windows (like Photoshop), it can run on a Surface Pro (if you have the i5 or above version). That was a significant factor in why I purchased it. I wasn’t just looking for something for art – I was looking for something that I could do art on that I could also write on, watch videos, manage my blog (which is more than just writing in WordPress), and more.
The little magnetic attachments for the type cover, pen, and charger are fantastic. I’m always afraid I’m going to break something by slotting it incorrectly. That worry is gone as they pop in, and they’re connected. Okay, the pen attaches to the side, but it’s nice not to lose it easily.
The built-in stand with multiple levels of adjustment means I can put this thing at any angle I prefer, which I really like. Then again, I’m weird and like my screen tilted back to some degree.
The performance is what I would expect of a full-blown computer, so that’s pretty amazing in a tablet-sized machine.
The list of cons for the Surface Pro 6 might be a little longer than the pros, and that’s admittedly likely because I’m trying to use Photoshop. Still, it will occur to anyone that is trying to draw — primarily using a drawing program that you need a lot of keyboard shortcuts for.
The biggest con, obviously, is that you have to buy all these things separately. The pen. The type cover. Any additional accessories such as a matte screen protector because wow that screen is glossy. These are all going to add to your final total, jacking up the price and lowering your budget.
The pen, itself, has a side button. Did I not mention that? It’s probably because I don’t use it. It’s one-click only, unlike another drawing stylus that has two buttons on the side. Oh, and you can’t change its functionality without either doing some scripting to change the programming OR buying a third-party app to do so. What? I can change the eraser (also something I don’t use as I don’t like to flip my pen) to do other things when I click it like a mechanical pencil. But I can’t change the primary button?
Clearly, Microsoft didn’t pay attention when creating this pen to other stylus options on the market.
Having to have the type cover attached is another significant loss for me. If I could have it separate and attach it to maybe charge it or something, that would be one thing. But for the keyboard to function, it must always be connected. This inhibits the use of keybindings when drawing unless – dun dun daaaaaaa – you install another third-party app or purchase a different keyboard.
And as a reminder, if you purchased the i5, or are contemplating buying the i5 and use Photoshop – this is the minimum specs for Photoshop. Expect a bit of lag.
This one deserved its own heading, I’m sorry. I know I’ve rambled about the Surface Pro 6 for quite a bit now, and I promise I’ll finish up soon, but: the battery life. This is neither good nor bad, in my opinion. Of course, it’s going to depend upon what apps you’re using. When I have Photoshop open, that battery indicator zips down to nothing in what seems like only a couple of hours. If I have only say one tab of Chrome and Discord open – it can run for about eight hours without a charge.
Of course, I never have one tab of Chrome open.
As an artist, should I buy a Surface Pro 6? Is it worth the money? Unless you’re using this as a dual purpose for other reasons such as I am, I would not recommend this to draw on portably. You would do better likely with an iPad, or even the Surface Pro’s lesser cousin – the Surface Go. You will have difficulties on a Surface Pro 6 with larger canvases, occasional lag, and a lack of keybindings if you use a more robust program like Photoshop.
Now, as an artist, if you’re looking for something portable that you can draw on occasionally to do smaller things like sketches, studies, or practice on the go? Do you also need it for other work like school? Perhaps you’re a writer and an artist (welcome to my hell), and you need something to do both? Then yes, I’d say the Surface Pro 6 is perfect for you.
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