Microsoft now lets you customize the buttons on Surface Pen with any apps you want

Looks like a small but massively significant update has gone out for the Surface app. Version 10.0.342 is now live in the store and it is going to make a lot of folks happy.

The Surface app, which comes pre-installed on all new Surfaces, finally now lets you customize the rear 3-way button on the new Surface pen for Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 (it also works with Surface 3 and Pro 3).

Heading into the app you can find sub-sections for Button Customization including options for single-click, double-click, and press and hold. Here are the new choices:

  • Single-click: OneNote (default), Disabled, Launch a store app, Launch a desktop app
  • Double-click: Screenshot (default), Disabled, Launch a store app, Launch a desktop app
  • Press and hold: Cortana (default), Disabled, Launch a store app, Launch a desktop app

When choosing Launch a store app a sub-menu pops up letting you choose any install app on your system. Same for a desktop app.

In the past, Microsoft let users choose between OneNote (Store app) and OneNote (desktop), but that was it. Even that feature was removed with the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4.

Now, however, the company is making a nice comeback by giving users the ability to make those buttons do whatever they want, which is very important for artists and engineers who would prefer to launch a specific professional app.

Update: As others have noted, this app appears to let users only modify the settings on the new Surface pen and not the old one that comes with the Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3. However, those users can buy and use this newer pen on their devices and benefit from all the new features.

Update 2: Some readers are confirming even with a new pen that this does not work on older Surfaces hinting that this is a Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 feature for now.

Download Surface for Windows 10 (opens in new tab)

Thanks, Rick V., for the tip!

Daniel Rubino
Editor-in-chief

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

118 Comments
  • I need to get me that fancy pen!
  • It's certainly a slick pen. Feels good and has that familiar"quality weight" you get on luxury pens.
  • In the past, Microsoft let *users... :)  
  • And there's this... "choose any install app on your system" ...
  • AWESOME. This is going to be great with my new S3. I still wish touch-friendly OneNote for store had some more features for pen use, but I'll keep using Outlook 2016 for now, and this will make it easier!
  • Sweet! Opening OneNote is nice but I definitely prefer to open my most used applications with the pen.
  • Microsoft is on a roll lately.. Love what they are doing
  • Loving it...
  • Agree, lots of updates and all going in the right direction.
  • I got excited because I requested this feature in feedback. I had requested to be able to click the top of the pen to take a picture from the camera app. Looks like you can open the camera app but not actually take the picture. Oh well, maybe in a future update.
  • Cool mow maybe they could include a small microphone that allows us to speak to Cortana through the pen more affectively
  • Nice idea ;)
  • Then we have to recharge the pen like the apple pencil...
  • I always thought the Asus Padphone had a clever idea http://www.engadget.com/2012/06/12/asus-padfone-review/ of using the pen to answer phone calls when the phone was docked to the tablet screen. That was innovative. even thought it has been done before - MS could improve on it. perhaps the so called surface phone will consider using continuum to dock (wirelessly?) into a tablet sized screen and a pen that can be used to make phone calls.    
  • I need something for middle mouse click!! i came from a thinkpad and i miss it sooo much!!! opening and closing tabs is a pain in the ***!
  • Ditto the pain in the *** for opening and closing tabs. The edge browser is a huge step back for touch. I like the added features, but the missing touchability from 8.1 browser is sorely missed.
  • It's raining Apps!!!
  • Hallelujah, it's raining apps!!! Amen!
  • Hurrah! Sort of obvious thing that should have been there from day 1 but better late then never. This reminds me...I was supposed to have bought the blue version of the pen ages ago...
  • Update: but of course, Microsoft would have to find a way to f*ck us in someway and had to prevent SP3 users from getting the features. Even though I bet there's zero technical reasons for that.
  • You need the new pen and it will work with the sp3. The old pen didn't support multiple/hold clicks
  • I wondered why this could not be applied to the Surface Pro 3 pen. Now I know it can't, may look at getting the new pen.
  • Comment at the end states the update WILL work with the SP3 Pen.....   See Guzzler3 comment below for full instructions :)  
  • In your infinite wisdom, please do tell us why it is not possible on older hardware. You must know everything about the hardware to know specifically, know better than the microsoft engineers why it is not possible. With all you knowledge, I would think that wou would be able to create your own pen that can look years into the future and know exactly what will be possible, and implement it now. With your intellectual abilities, you should be a billionaire since you can predict the future and pre-engineer all those features that should be available 1, 2, 5 years down the road.
  • No doubt that is exactly what Microsoft's strategy was with this new feature. On the surface, it looks like they are improving the functions of their latest products, but in reality, they are really just trying to screw folks over. Not everyone can see their devious nature. You, my friend, are eyes wide open. Bravo. geeeze. lol
  • The app updated but I have no pen config on SP3 ...... strange
  • same here :(
  • You aren't the only one. I've even unpaired and repaired my new pen with my SP3. No extra settngs
  • You have the SP4 pen? Does not work on the SP3 pen due to restrictions, according to comments above.
  • Yes, I have the SP4 pen. I pre-ordered it when it was first announced. Love the pen and interchangable nibs over the original pen.  
  • Noticed that you solved it for the SP3 and SP4 pen below - thanks for that info.
  • Would be nice if the Surface app actually worked, it still says it can't connect to the pen device even after this update
  • I have a Surface Pro 3 and a Surface Pro 3 pen and updated to 10.0.342. I don't have the option to change the button behavior.
  • You need the new pen
  • Even with the new pen connected to the SP3 I don't have the new options! :(
  • I can confirm this doesn't work - I bought the pen from the Microsoft Store and the reps tried to configure it until one tech came out and told us that the new pen customization features will not work with the Surface Pro 3. Also, not all apps on the Surface Pro 3 can use the Surface Pro 4 Pen's eraser. You can see this on MS Paint - the eraser on the Surface Pro 4 Pen will draw in MS Paint on the SP3, whereas the SP3 Pen eraser function will work properly. Considering it costs $100 CAD to buy and that the nib housing on the pen easily shreds off when swithcing nibs, I'd caution anyone buying this pen. But it does write amazingly well!
  • Big indeed ...I love OneNote but it is not my primary application.
  • I have a Surface Pro 3 and even with the update I have no pen button settings available to me - only pressure sensitivity :(
  • When would that pen support L950XL?
  • Never. The Lumia 950 has not the required technologies within its screen.
  • Wow the past few days have been insane for app updates
  • What other apps have been updated :S?
  • Uber, NetFlix, Pandora, NBC Breaking News, Accuweather, 1-800-flowers... I am sure there is a nice list somewhere but this is what I recall reading baout this week
  • Cooooooool!
  • Sweet, now I can use the pen to open up freestyler, not a huge thing, but a bit speedier.
  • It's...about....time.
  • Am trying to order the pen now, but it is out of stock for days now, my old Surface 3pen is not working good.
  • Finally... I don't even have one note installed.
  • Hopefully this is the beginning of the end of the terrible/no-good/horrible/horrendous/abysmal OneNote Modern app. They need to take that app to a shelter, and I don't mean the no-kill kind.
  • What's wrong with one note?
  • He means the modern version, which has far less functionality than the Office version.
  • I like it.
  • Just set the pen to start the full office version instead. Problem solved.
  • Doesn't work well in Windows 10. Does in Win8.1.
  • Like others have already mentioned, this works great with the SP4 but not the SP3. Even when paired with the new Surface pen. I hope they fix this soon.
  • Not working on my SP3 either. Any suggestions?  
  • No no no, artists want to be able to customize the SIDE button!
  • Yeah! They should continue working together with Wacom, not N-trig. Now I'm torn apart between SP4 & Cintiq Companion 2.
  • ok. got the update on my SP3 but no button customization!! WTF? Still only have the pressure sensitivity.
  • Me too. I have the new pen and Surface 3 but no button adjustment.
  • I purchased my pen in Late August 2015 for my Surface 3.  How do I tell if I have the Surface Pro 4 era pan, or the Surface Pro 3 era pen? 
  • Two buttons -  SP3 pen
  • The 3rd Gen pen has two buttons on the side. The 4th Gen pen has only one side button.
  • Even simpler, the 3 pen has a purple end.
  • OH, poo. :-)  And thanks for the reply
  • Personally, I think OneNote is the ideal app to open with one click. Even screenshot and Cortana seem to be the best options. I won't be changing mine, but I do like having the option.
  • True, but if you want more features and options, the desktop app is the better of the two. The Metro app is superb for light note taking, but anything else (choice of pens/shortcuts etc.) the desktop app is the only solution.
  • When the windows phone/mobile apps will show on the Windows Store?
  • If I knew the SP4 pen worked on my SP3 I would have bought one long ago!! I thought it only worked with the fancy 1024 points of pressure screen!
  • It'll work just fine with SP3. As far as I'm aware, however, it will only have the 256 levels of pressure, even though the pen can sense 1024. This is due to the circuitry inside the SP3 only sending 256 no matter what. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • nice
  • Microsoft seem to be doing the whole "holding back features on slightly older hardware" more and more. If there's a technical reason I'm not aware of then fine, but there's a few Band changes as well as this that should be working on previous gen hardware. Not a massive deal but an annoyance none the less. Are we able to (with the SP3 Pen) at least launch desktop OneNote now like we could in Windows 8.1? Been waiting for that to come back for a while.
  • Oh thank the Lord. I love Drawboard which came preinstalled on the SP4. That's where my shortcut is going.
  • A user of the Surface Pen 3 complained about the Pen 4 that you can't configure the single side button as an eraser, which he is used to with two side buttons. He states it's faster to erase when taking notes in classes.
  • Faster than flipping it 180? I find the side button fiddly, especially if it's not under your thumb when you want it. I don't use it at all; when all it offers is a right click, just press and hold. But if I can reconfigure it for another purpose I would.
  • Nah.  Its easier to erase by flipping than by having to simultaneously hold a small side button while trying to make a precision stroke on the screen to erase a bit of text.
  • YES!! I so badly needed the click to OneNote 2016 desktop app.
  • The update does not fix the infamous "The surface app could not connect to the pen device... etc"-problem. So, I will have to wait for a fix before being ablae to test these new features. And on the requ