Pen support in the Surface Laptop makes more sense than you might think

When Microsoft announced that the Surface Laptop supports pen input, I couldn't help but wonder why. Why put pen support into a device that doesn't transform into a something where pen makes sense? I simply couldn't understand it. Even in the demo that Panos Panay did on stage, using the Surface Pen on the Surface Laptop looked like a terrible user experience. But after using the Surface Laptop for a couple of weeks, I can confidently say I'm glad Microsoft did.

Upon opening up my new Surface Laptop, the first thing I did was grab the pen from my Surface Book and attempt to write something on it, just to test the hinge and see if the experience was as bad as it looked. Surprisingly, it wasn't. From a third person perspective, the experience looks ridiculous, but using the pen on the Laptop yourself? It's surprisingly okay. Of course, you're not expected to be writing proper notes on the Surface Laptop, but that's not what the Surface Laptop has pen support for.

See Surface Pen at Microsoft (opens in new tab)

When it was announced, I simply couldn't figure out what the Surface Laptop had pen support for. It isn't for note taking or drawing because the Surface Laptop doesn't transform into anything where using a pen like that would make sense. Instead, the Surface Laptop has pen support for when you need it. If you're not someone who ever needs a pen, then that's fine. But if you are someone who occasionally needs to use a pen, whether that's for signing a virtual document, making a quick note in Edge or Sticky Notes, or just tapping on things at a distance, the pen support in the Surface Laptop is a godsend.

An occasional note taker

For example, just the other day, I was using my Surface Laptop and needed to take a couple of quick notes on a web page in Edge. This isn't something I need to do all that often, keep in mind. Instead of opening up Notepad and typing out those notes with the keyboard, I was able to use the built-in inking support in Edge and quickly highlight and write out the notes I wanted to make directly on the web page. On a typical laptop, that's not something you can do with a pen.

9 essential apps if you own a Surface Pen

9 essential apps if you own a Surface Pen (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

The pen is also really nice to use just to interact with the Surface Laptop while sitting up in bed, for example. I'll often be lying in bed, with my knees up and the Surface Laptop resting on my lap, and in this position poking at the screen with the Surface Pen isn't that bad of an experience. The pen can be used as a mouse in a lot of cases, offering precision targeting when selecting text or adjusting scroll bars. Of course, I can use the trackpad too, but sometimes using the pen is just as comfortable.

Now, it's important to note that the Surface Laptop doesn't have pen support because Microsoft expects you to use it all the time. Buying a Surface Laptop with the intention of using it with the pen would be silly. It's there for those of you who may occasionally need a pen, or in that rare scenario where a pen makes more sense as an input method over typing or a mouse.

See Surface Laptop at Microsoft (opens in new tab)

Would I say buying a Surface Pen is worth it as a Surface Laptop user? No. At least not for me. I don't take notes nearly enough on a Surface Pro, let alone on a Surface Laptop. However, when I did need it, it was super convenient and just made sense. I already had a Surface Pen thanks to my Surface Book. That's the only scenario where I can say using a Surface Pen on the Surface Laptop makes sense. Buying a new pen outright for the Surface Laptop seems wasteful, but using a pen you already have? Surprisingly useful when you need it.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

16 Comments
  • The screen seems wobbly. Dont you have to hold the screen from behind or at the corner while using pen?
  • What's wrong with that? It's not a studio or a tablet.
  • My doctor uses a touch laptop with a pen all the time while putting notes into her electronic health records software. She uses it like a mouse. Not my way for using a computer, but different strokes for different folks.
  • I agreed. For those who knew and experienced first hand what you could do with pen/ touch, it becomes inconvenient when going back to a form factor that do not support them. I am experiencing this everyday when using my Thinkpad at work.
  • Touch and pen support is a much needed interface now.  I HATE computers without it.
  • Another positive for it would be using the pen to scroll up and down a web page or application. I believe it's in the insider fast ring now and will be coming in the update this fall. Keeps from getting greasy smears on your screen if you scroll with your fingers.
  • Agree, I use the surface pen more as a mouse than I do to write with it, miss it so much when using a laptop or tablet with no pen support.
  • Why not use the keyboard pad to write just like one of Lenovo's laptop?
  • I constantly touch the screens of my coworkers and faint surprise, especially Macbooks! ;)
  • Good article.
  • That's a good note 📝 regarding choosing the surface laptop!!!
  • This is the best reason ---- The Surface pen is like a condom. I'd rather have one and not need it, then need it and not have one.
  • I agree. It was smart of Microsoft to include pen and touch support in the Surface Laptop. BUT the Laptop would have been even better, IMHO, if it also had a well-designed (read rugged, and firm, but not too firm) 360-degree hinge.
  • I use my pen constantly on my Studio, so much so I am hesitant on potentially getting the Laptop. I rely on the pen heavily. I am in need of a portable device. My wife is pushing for the laptop, but i was pushing for the Surface Pro purely for the pen input. But this article gives more reason to lean towards the laptop. 
  • The Surface Laptop works well with the pen if you hold the laptop in portrait and cradle the keyboard side in the off arm like one would if one were taking notes in a binder. This works seated or standing. For the occasional signature, or note it feels quite natural given how light and slim the device is. Other Surface devices are more friendly for people who do extensive drawing, but it is perfectly fine for taking analog notes in a meeting or classroom. The keyboard actually adds a degree of privacy.
  • Lol, it's a half-assed gimmick just like touchscreen on the Laptop form-factor. If it can't convert to tablet form-factor, it will never offer the full pen and touch experience.