Monday , November 29 2021

Microsoft’s new Surface pen feels like it’s alive

Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 8 has a gorgeous 120Hz display and updated internals, but it’s really the new Surface Slim Pen 2 that has caught my attention. Microsoft has added haptics features to its stylus for the first time, thanks to a new custom chip inside. It has transformed inking on the Surface Pro 8.

I thought the haptic feedback would be a gimmick until I started testing it this weekend. In the Sketchable Windows app, you can select from a variety of drawing tools, like brushes, pencils, markers, inking nibs, and even chalk. They all feel totally different now, thanks to the haptics in the Surface Slim Pen 2.

Apps like Sketchable support the new Surface pen.

This isn’t the buzzy haptic feedback you’re probably used to from a phone, the haptics are more subtle here and adjust to give you a slightly different sensation of drawing depending on the tool selected. It’s difficult to describe without feeling it yourself, but the chalk feels… chalky, and the inking nib has the slight bit of tension you’d expect to feel on real paper.

This tactile feedback moves beyond just drawing tools, though. In Microsoft Office, you can feel subtle vibrations through the pen that let you know when gestures are detected, like drawing shapes and then having them automatically converted. There are subtle haptics that let you know an action has been taken or when you’re selecting objects. It’s very understated in Sketchable, but it’s a welcome improvement.

The Surface Pro 8 open, up close, with the keyboard pulled out and the stylus visible. The screen displays a blue swirl on a white background.

The Surface Slim Pen 2 sits inside the Surface Pro 8 keyboard.
Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge

Unfortunately, not every app supports this haptic feedback yet. Developers will need to update their apps to include support, and so far I’ve only been able to get it working in Excel, Whiteboard, and Sketchable. I was expecting to see it prominently in Microsoft’s note-taking app, OneNote, but it’s strangely absent. Microsoft says LiquidText, Shapr3D, and Journal all include support for the haptic feedback.

The Surface Slim Pen 2 also has a slight redesign over the original, with a sharper and longer tip. I’ve only had a short time to try this out and I’m certainly not a digital artist, but overall it feels a little more responsive and accurate than the Slim Pen that shipped with the Surface Pro X.

The big drawback to the Surface Slim Pen 2 is its price, at $129.99 or as part of the new Surface Pro Signature keyboard priced at $279.99. The regular keyboard is $179.99, so if you really want the Surface Slim Pen 2, then the bundle saves you $30 on an already expensive purchase.

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