UPDATE!!! I’ve decided to return the surface pro owing to problems with the pen nib. You can read details here. Upshot, brilliant device massively undermined by possibly its cheapest component.
So, I went a little doolally and bought myself a Surface Pro 3 (the i7 with 256Gb storage and 8Gb RAM).
My plan was to replace a Macbook Pro and a Cintiq 12XW. I’ll be honest, if I had the cash the Cintiq Companion would be on my wish list, but it was never gonna make it. As it was, the Surface Pro 3 was a little expensive, but thankfully a couple of cheery invoice payments made it possible.
I’ve been using macs for years now, and though my previous life was as an IT supervisor (starting age 14, working mostly in tech support and programming) working in windows environments, I didn’t miss windows at all.
So let’s run through the good and the bad, keep in mind, this is based on two days usage.
For recap – here’s how I worked with Manga Studio, MacBook pro and Cintiq 12XW
Pencil on paper, scan, add panel borders in Manga Studio, do any pencil corrections (resizing/redrawing/adding perspective grids/objects/photos/etc) print pencils out as blue (keeping panel borders black) ink this, scan in inks and do corrections.
Basically I don’t do much in the way of digital drawing. I also don’t push my system terribly hard.
The surface pro is smaller than my cintiq 12XW but with a much brighter/better display and similar screen size – no side buttons (which I do use often)
Manga Studio has a great tablet mode that sets the interface to be usuable with fingers, though it still felt small, it turns out you can also set the interface in windows to a little larger and that helps a lot (actually that also helps the overall interface in windows)
I have an external monitor (bought in a second hand shop for £15) it’s not a great resolution but it rotates, and plugs in to the surface so now I have a two monitor system (though you need a mouse or other device in order to drag things between the two windows).
I bought me a small (1tb, physically tiny) external Seagate drive that comes with backup software, so I get backups when it’s plugged in.
I have a cheap (£10!) Bluetooth keyboard I bought for my ipad, and it’s fine and dandy for using with the surface, good for hotkeys in Manga Studio.
Took me a little while to get my pens gathered up that I use in MS – I’ve been using it for years and had accumulated both a lot of good stuff and a lot of cruft, so took the opportunity to clean it up a bit.
So here’s some direct comparisons:
I think drawing is still better on the cintiq, but the resolution of the surface pro, and the fact that it feels faster in Manga Studio mean I’ll happily battle with it (esp since I don’t draw digitally all the time) I’m not sure how I’d feel if I was a pure digital artist, maybe I’d save for the new cintiq companion (in terms of processor, memory the equivalent companion is about £600 more than this surface, but it’s not really direct as the cintiq is a cintiq…)
I like the feel of the pen, but it’s becoming apparent that the ergonomics of it aren’t maybe as well thought out as the cintiq pen – the cintiq pen has a thick based narrowing into a thin point, which means you can see around the pen as you draw, the surface point/base don’t taper in just the same way and I sometimes find myself not quite seeing where I’m drawing (which I think matters, but it may be just a matter of calibration – and deliberately setting the calibration off so that the drawing point is above the contact point so I can see it).
Ok, more positive:
The space saving! Oh my gosh. Even with an external keyboard and external monitor, there’s a good chance I can just use the surface on my drawing desk when I need it, meaning I can get rid of my massive computer desk (which, tbh, would be a shame as it was a bargain £25 in a charity shop, and is quite, quite lovely) but removing it would actually double up my studio space! (that’s something I can hardly even imagine!)
Portability, ok you get this with the companion, but the surface is light enough I can rest it on my chest while lying down, and hold it up with my left hand while I draw with my right, and my left hand thumb remains in reach of all the important manga studio buttons – I can go to bed at a reasonable hour and just work!
The kickstand. I don’t trust kickstands. I think they’re ok for moderate use but they WILL break – especially if you lean on your device to draw. My cintiq 12XW has some awful cracks around the base where its stand meets its plastic – it’s ok though, I bought a need laptop stand that’s pretty much perfect, though the quickstand actually remains pretty useful for putting up on a table for reference or for those odd times I’m out and near a table without an angle. Great for occasional usage, is what I’m saying.
Surface Pro software – I’m happy to just use Manga Studio 5 EX on this, it’s great, occasionally I’ll look in Microsofts App Store, but it reminds me of big shopping centres in China, from the outside it looks professional and neat and then inside pure chaos with knock off stuff everywhere. Not a fan. Many of the apps I’ve come to expect just don’t exist (no iPlayer??) although since it’s a full on windows the internet delivers the webexperience pretty well.
The OS is … ok. There’s lots of little issues that I don’t like and weirdness (for instance I accidentally turned on “Narrator” – the equivalent of “VoiceOver” on the mac, you touch something and it will read it out for you. All well and good except I have no idea how I turned it on, my volume was turned to zero so it didn’t actually say anything and it just looked like a weird bug) there’s some properly ugly touches too, like rotate where you rotate the device and it fades out and fades back in in the correct rotation. The iPad is much more elegant.
I’ve transferred all of my current projects on to the surface pro and tucked away my cintiq, moved the MacBook pro into a different room and will keep using it for accounts (etc).
So, to sum up,I like it a LOT. If I had the money I’d’ve plumped for the Cintiq Companion but it’s a decent enough price difference to make me wonder if I DID buy the companion would I be left wondering did I spend far more than I needed to…