Penny Arcade on Surface Pro 3 N-trig pen: 'If you were worried about the new tech, don't be'

The Surface Pro 3 brings a lot of new changes when compared to the Surface Pro 2. One of those deviations is the new N-trig pen, an adjustment from the previous Wacom technology found in the older Pro devices. Microsoft has written about the new technology and its benefits, but many are still rightly skeptical.

When it comes to non-digital-pen users (like myself), the differences seem negligible, especially if you just use the pen to jot down notes. However, for artists the change has caused quite a stir. Wacom is considered by many to be the industry standard, and N-trig has a lot of proving to do before professional illustrators accept it.

Famous web comic Penny Arcade ( and its illustrator Mike ‘Gabe’ Krahulik has been a longtime Surface Pro user, extolling the benefits of using the device for drawing comics. He’s often regarded as the shining example of how artists can use the Surface Pro series for their professional – and personal – lives. So when it came to the change in the Surface Pro 3, a lot of eyes were on what Gabe would think about it – yay or nay?

Penny Arcade

Gabe wrote a nice article touching on the particular subject of “how the Surface Pro 3 works for artists” and the part about the N-trig pen is certainly worth your attention. Here’s what he had to say:

“The pressure sensitivity has been reduced from 1024 down to 256 (for reference a Wacom Cintiq has 2048) and that scared the hell out of me. Numbers are supposed to get bigger with new computers not smaller. This isn’t Wacom though it’s N-trig and I have to admit whatever wizardry they are using is pretty impressive. The pen is still incredibly responsive with very little drawing lag and I still feel like I’m getting nice smooth lines.I can still make my little wispy line and draw them out into nice thick curves. The lines show some jagginess when zoomed way in but it’s not a deal breaker in my opinion and overall I was really impressed with the N-trig tech. Long story short if you were worried about the new tech, don’t be.”

So at least when it comes to the pen itself, Gabe is quite impressed with it and shows that Microsoft did know what they were doing when the switched technology. He also enjoys the new 3:2 display dimension claiming “…it makes the Surface 3 feel a lot less cramped when drawing”.

(For a detailed discussion on why Microsoft dumped Wacom, I suggest reading this excellent post on Microsoft’s Channel 9, which posits some good reasons for the switch)

N-trig Pen Surface Pro 3

That’s not to say that Gabe was 100% on board with the Surface Pro 3, indeed he levied a few complaints against it too from an artist’s perspective, including:

  • The Core i5 processor slows down at the new 2160 x 1440 resolution; this can be bettered by reducing resolution or presumably using the Core i7 version
  • Moving the Windows key to the right, which makes sense for the new keyboard, caused an issue when drawing and hand placement

The good news here is Microsoft is tightly working with Gabe on the Surface Pro 3, promising to get him a Core i7 version soon and taking his criticisms seriously:

“I’ve been really impressed with my MS contact Markus who has been listening to all my gripes about the new device. He’s been offering solutions when he could and passing all my feedback over to their engineers. I don’t like dumping on a product that I’ve loved so much in the past but I feel like this is important stuff that they need to hear. Markus told me today that “Artists are a really important audience for us and we want to make this a great device for artists – I want you to know that your honest feedback is helping us tremendously in getting there.” That’s a class act right there.”

In conclusion, at least from one high-profile artist, the N-trig pen controversy is no controversy at all. However, Microsoft and the Surface team still have a few quibbles that may need to be worked out before artists-at-large jump on board.

Go read the entire article at Penny Arcade and let us know what you think. Did Gabe’s observations change your mind about the N-trig pen on the Surface Pro 3?

Source: Penny Arcade

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007, when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.