Surface: the elephant in the room makes an appearance.

I’ve been working away configuring a numeric keypad to have most of my Illustrator shortcuts crammed into it. I can tell it’s going to be really great for working in compact spaces when I get used to it. And I can do quick doodles without it; on the way to breakfast this morning, Nick joked that if his dad was a My Little Pony, his cutie mark would be a piece of Wonder Bread, and I whipped the Surface out of my bag and drew that while we were waiting in line outside Morsel.

Evernote Camera Roll 20160619 181038

I can carry Illustrator in a sketchbook-sized package, and use it in about the same amount of space I’d need to draw in one. That’s pretty cool!

But I’ve discovered a major fly in the ointment. After breakfast, I left it sitting in my bag, mostly charged. Then I went for a walk in the park, during which I wrote a first draft of a Parallax script in my phone. After about five hours, I took the Surface out, with the intent of sitting in a cafe and writing on its bigger screen.

I think it was around 80% at worst when I put it away for breakfast. After sitting in my bag doing nothing, supposedly hibernating, it was down to 30% power. 20% after I sat at home googling “surface pro 4 battery drain”. Which… has a lot of hits.

Evernote Camera Roll 20160619 181213

I can’t use it if it’s gonna be burning through power like this. The whole idea is that I have Illustrator ready to go within seconds at any moment, without having to carry the bulk of a laptop and a Wacom tablet. I don’t have room in my laptop bag for its bulky power brick, or the desire to constantly seek outlets. If I can’t get it to stop doing this, I think it’s getting returned. I really feel like a super-portable device I spent $ 1600 on should be managing its battery better; I can put my Air in my bag and feel confident it’ll have the same charge when I take it out again in an hour or three.

I’ve tried tweaking it’s advanced power settings, telling it to hibernate when I push the “sleep” button. I’d told it to do that on “lid close” and pushing the “power” button, maybe the button next to the volume buttons is actually “sleep”? We shall see. Supposedly there was an update back in February that claimed to fix this; mine is up to date and it’s still doing this. I’ve had it suggested to set it to power down completely when I hit the button and ugh no, I don’t want to have to wait a few minutes for it to boot every time I want to draw, the whole point is that I can pull it out of my bag and be drawing in Illustrator in like thirty seconds.

I really don’t want to return this Surface. I’ve spent a couple days configuring it. I’m really getting to like it a lot; it feels like it could be a great way to make drawing a lot more casual and fun. But if it’s going to die a few hours after I unplug it, even if it’s been completely dormant, it’s useless to me.

Unless I can get this fixed, my rating of this thing has dropped to like zero out of ten. Gorgeous device, great form factor, battery life is the purest utter trash.

surface progression

This morning, I took the Surface and the numeric keypad I’m experimenting with for all my hotkeys out to the place I usually get breakfast. Morsel is a crowded little place, where I often end up sitting at the counter with someone next to me enjoying another of their fabulous biscuits.

In the line, I decided what file I wanted to work on. I opened up the Surface and loaded it into Illustrator. Once I sat down, I opened it up again and plopped the keypad down next to it, and got a little bit of progress on the drawing while waiting for my food.

I am delighted by how easy and transparent this was compared to opening up Illustrator on my Air. Honestly, I would never do that there – there’s just not enough space for a computer and a Wacom tablet there, and taking the pen/pen stand/cable out of my bag and setting it all up takes too damn long. But the Surface? Take the keypad from my pocket, turn it on. Open the Surface’s case up and turn it on. Pluck the stylus from its magnetic mount and I’m ready to go; “drawing” is now an option to fill a lot of spaces in my life where I’d normally be scrolling through Twitter or otherwise mindlessly grazing on short-attention-span content. And that feels really good.

A while back I’d heard that Sergio Aragones draws his comics on typing paper, so he can whip out a clipboard and work on them wherever the hell he is, even in an airplane seat, and this has been a goal for me for years. The Surface is not quite there; I have to be out of the sun to use it. But I can just pick it up, slip the numpad in my pocket along with keys and phone, and wander out a short distance almost as easily as I can go out with a sketchbook and a couple of pens. In the case I got for it, it’s got pretty much the same heft as a thick sketchbook would have.

Current support software loadout:

AutoHotkey – to do most of the work for remapping the keypad into my Illustrator Shortcut Pad

Interception – a little program that can remap keys on particular bluetooth keyboards, I’m using this to swap control and Windows on just my external keyboard so the stylus’ eraser button works, and to remap ‘enter’ from only the numeric pad into an unused keycode, for further processing in AutoHotKey. I got it from a post on the AHK forums.

I’d tried to use an AHK library to do the “remap a key on just one keyboard” stuff, but it’s super complicated and I ended up wasting a whole day feeling like I was reimplementing parts of AHK in itself, so I switched to this much simpler to configure second program.

RadialMenus – for creating a custom toolbar with about 50 buttons that contains every single hotkey I regularly press while using Illustrator. Which will probably be cut down somewhat once I really get the keypad configured to my liking.

(Also: MalwareBytes, f.lux, the Adobe installer, Chrome, and T:ME Tile. And of course Illustrator and Evernote.)

I’m ordering a slightly larger numpad, because I feel like I have a few too many shortcuts I want instantly available. I could probably fit things on the little one I got by doing a bunch of AHK stuff to make chords happen, but I feel like a few more keys would make it a lot easier to use.

I’ll probably post all my configuration for these tools in a few days, once I start to feel like they’re usable. Right now the keypad’s only about halfway there, and I have to use onscreen stuff a lot more than I’d like.

Tealthree

A new digital drawing tool means revisiting the drawing I did for my last new drawing tool. Which has been replaced a couple of times but it’s not like buying a new edition of the same computer a few years later really needs a ceremonial celebration like buying an entirely new form factor running an OS you’ve never used before does.

A few years ago, when I got my first Macbook Air, I got really stoned while I was transferring all my data to it. The Magician came out and impulsively tried summoning a local spirit to inhabit the computer and make it work that much better; part of the process of this summoning was of course to draw said spirit in a way that acknowledged that it was kind of stuck inside my computer.

There’s a sticker of that drawing on the back of the current Air, just like I had a sticker of it on the back of the last one. Getting a new Air didn’t seem like it needed any ceremony. It was just a simple matter of making sure one was backed up, and restoring the backup onto the next one. But moving to an entirely new form factor and OS? I felt like I needed to be a but more complicated about it.

When I went to the Microsoft store to get the Surface, the Magician made me bring the Air along so that the genie I have living in it could sniff dubiously at the Surfaces, and so that she could start settling into one if I brought it home.

And what better thing to use to make sure I could get Illustrator running in there than a new drawing of this spirit? She’s looking a little more dragon-y than she originally did, probably as a result of living with my dragony self for so long. This was quite deliberately not a conscious choice on my part; I just went with what the voice in my head wanted . Said voice is maybe just me assigning a personality to this carefully-molded pile of metal called a “computer”, or is maybe me making contact with some kind of entity outside myself. As always with all things majgicghkal, I’m never sure if there’s any objective reality to any of it, but I’ll note that my Air was super cranky after I spent a couple days working exclusively with the Surface, until I politely requested Tealfour to not stay exclusively in one device or another.

After I finished that drawing, I did another one of this revised version of Tealfour to be the desktop/startup screen. I figured having her hanging out looking cute and offering me her stylus might help keep this as a device that I think of as my sketchbook rather than a general-purpose Twitter/Reddit/Hacker News/etc machine that I can waste away hours with.

Shut Up And Draw

 

Configuration continues to go well; I’ve changed from SharpKeys to AutoHotKey for swapping the ctrl and windows keys, which also lets me use the capslock key for ctrl-alt-shift, and gives me back a lot of shortcuts. I’ve also been playing with RadialMenu to create a tool panel I can make sprawl across the bottom of my screen and work as those shortcuts when I don’t have room to take out the keyboard, though it has some weird issues with one shortcut triggering ‘cut’ after doing its thing and some other shortcuts not working. It’s still a lot faster than grovelling through the dropdown menus.

I am sort of considering trying one of those little keyboards with like a dozen reconfigurable buttons as an alternative to having to make space for a full keyboard when I’m sitting on the bus. Right now I can only pull it out and draw with full keyboard-shortcut-powered speed if I’m sitting next to someone who doesn’t mind having my keyboard on their knee; ideally I want to be able to do it next to a total stranger without invading their personal space. Maybe one of those little ultra-programmable keypads designed for Gamerz? Though they tend to be bulky and not bluetooth. Or maybe one of those button grids musicians use? Though some googling suggests they mostly have the same problem. Maybe just a tiny Bluetooth pad with some heavy abuse of AutoHotKey… bonus points if I set things up so I can attach it to one side at the back and hold the tablet while using it. Maybe. That starts to sound like work, though. Or how about a glove? Mmmaybe not. I’m thinking “bluetooth numeric pad” sounds worth investigating, though.

I’ve also added on a matte screen protector. Out of the box the Surface is incredibly reflective; it’s so much of a black mirror that you could contact Enochian angels on it. Which makes it kind of a pain to draw outside. It’s still not usable in direct sunlight but it’s a lot better.

A Young Lady’s Illustration Primer, or, Peggy buys a Surface.

This Sunday, I suddenly found myself thinking “I want to be able to work in Illustrator on a tablet badly enough to deal with Windows”.

I’ve avoided running Windows for my entire computing life, which stretches back to before MS-DOS existed, so this was a pretty surprising thought.

My first impulse was towards a Wacom Cintiq Companion; after reading some reviews and chatting about it with Mel, I found myself zeroing in on Microsoft’s tablet/computer hybrid. Which starts around $500 for the lowest-end Surface Pro 3, and goes up to around $2000 for the snazziest Surface Pro 4. Plus accessories, of course.

I started thinking about Things That Would Annoy Me As A Long-Time Mac User, googling around, and talking about these things on Twitter.

Tuesday, the cashflow-unclogging I’d been working on at the end of last week finally happened. And I still felt like this enterprise was a good idea. So I walked out to the Microsoft Store that sits lost and lonely across the University Village parking lot from the Apple Store. Seriously, there’s like a dozen people staffing it who mostly just sit around playing with the things only a few people an hour are coming in to look at. It’s gotta be kind of dispiriting to look out their door and see the always-bustling Apple store.

At any rate, I wandered in and chatted with the guys at the door about my desire to look at the Surfaces, and my intent of using it for Illustrator. I think they know that “people who want to run the Adobe Creative Suite on a tablet” is a not-insignificant portion of the Surface’s market, as they had Photoshop and Illustrator installed on the demo tablets. I played with AI a bit, doing the beginning of a doodle, and finalized the decision I’d pretty much made well before I started walking: I was gonna buy a mid-range Surface 4.

I ended up getting the Surface/Office/keyboard/sleeve/whatever-Microsoft-calls-their-version-of-Applecare bundle, for a total cost of about $2080. I’d discovered in my test drive that that the Surface’s stock keyboard/screen cover is powered by the Surface, and stops working when it’s detached, so I got them to let me get a cute little folding Bluetooth keyboard instead of the Type Cover. Ultimately I would end up returning all of these things except for the Surface and the extended warranty, and using it with a spare Apple bluetooth keyboard I had in the closet, as the folding keyboard was too floppy to balance on my knee and blindly hit shortcuts with my left hand. Not having a cover feels kind of weird, so I’ve got a couple lightweight ones coming from Amazon – the only non-keyboard covers they had were SUPR TACTICAL PRO DEFENSE cases, which are very Not My Aesthetic.

IMG_2180

The Surface unboxing experience was pretty nice. One might even say Apple-esque.

The Surface unboxing experience was pretty nice. One might even say Apple-esque.

Little details like this "pen magnetically attaches here" icon on the plastic covering the tablet's screen made me anticipate an Apple level of polish throughout the whole thing. Surely I'd have it seamlessly running Illustrator in an hour or two!

Little details like this “pen magnetically attaches here” icon on the plastic covering the tablet’s screen made me anticipate an Apple level of polish throughout the whole thing. Surely I’d have it seamlessly running Illustrator in an hour or two!

Why, it even shipped with power in the battery! Cool. It's ready to get going as soon as possible!

Why, it even shipped with power in the battery! Cool. It’s ready to get going as soon as possible!

A screen or two into the setup. Hey, that's a pretty neat idea! Especially if you can change it to do other things. Which you can.

A screen or two into the setup. Hey, that’s a pretty neat idea! Especially if you can change it to do other things. Which you can.

Friends had noted that Windows 10 is super snoopy and sends home insane amounts of telemetry. So my reaction to this screen in the setup was "uh, nnnope, gee, I like how tiny and unimportant the links to actually look at what permissions you're giving it are."

Friends had noted that Windows 10 is super snoopy and sends home insane amounts of telemetry. So my reaction to this screen in the setup was “uh, nnnope, gee, I like how tiny and unimportant the links to actually look at what permissions you’re giving it are.”

All of these switches, of course, default to on. I might have turned on the "typing data" one to let the screen keyboard autocorrect better, but I'm really not intending to be doing a lot of typing on this thing.

All of these switches, of course, default to on. I might have turned on the “typing data” one to let the screen keyboard autocorrect better, but I’m really not intending to be doing a lot of typing on this thing.

Here are some well-intentioned ideas that my mental model of a security researcher burst out laughing with delight at. Because she's absolutely sure all of these have been rigorously tested for edge cases and overflows that can be exploited maliciously.

Here are some well-intentioned ideas that my inner security researcher burst out laughing with delight at. Because she’s absolutely sure all of these have been rigorously tested for edge cases and overflows that can be exploited maliciously. Possibly I spend too much time reading Hacker News. But nnnnoooo. I’m not taking these risks when I’m using an OS that generally looks like a giant walking security hole from outside.

Not planning on using the stock Windows browser, don't have any other Windows machines to share updates with. Though that's a clever idea. There were a lot more pages of switches to turn off than this; I only photographed the ones that I wanted to tweet snarkily about.

Not planning on using the stock Windows browser, don’t have any other Windows machines to share updates with. Though that’s a clever idea. I guess giving all users of Windows 10 a unique advertiser supercookie is clever too, but not in a good way. There were a lot more pages of switches to turn off than this; I only photographed the ones that I wanted to tweet snarkily about. I think I left one switch on in pretty much every page.

This, on the other hand, sounded pretty nifty and I said hell yes I will sign in with my face.

This, on the other hand, sounded pretty nifty and I said hell yes I will sign in with my face.

Cortana, on the other hand... I almost never use Siri on my iThings. I'm just not interested in talking to my computer. I said nope.

Cortana, on the other hand… I almost never use Siri on my iThings. I’m just not interested in talking to my computer. I said nope.

Then it ran out of power. I'd been wondering how long it would make it; there wasn't a battery indicator visible anywhere in the welcome screens. Whoops! I plugged it in and hoped it'd recover gracefully.

Then it ran out of power. I’d been wondering how long it would make it; there wasn’t a battery indicator visible anywhere in the welcome screens. Whoops! I plugged it in and hoped it’d recover gracefully.

After a wait just long enough to make me wonder if I'd bricked it, the Surface started booting again.

After a wait just long enough to make me wonder if I’d bricked it, the Surface started booting again.

It had a couple other lines about "welcome to Windows 10" before this. Then it just sat here long enough that I was beginning to wonder what was up.

It had a couple other lines about “welcome to Windows 10” before this. Then it just sat here long enough that I was beginning to wonder what was up.

Which took a few minutes longer.

Which took a few minutes longer.

IMG_2200 IMG_2196 IMG_2197 IMG_2198

and then it did it again, and then it did it again. Four times that little progress bar filled up. With no indication of how many more times it might be intending to do this, how long it expected this to take, or what these four phases of the update were. Nice job, Windows. Good show.

and then it did it again, and then it did it again. Four times that little progress bar filled up. With no indication of how many more times it might be intending to do this, how long it expected this to take, or what these four phases of the update were. Nice job, Windows. Good show.

And then I was off learning a lot of things about Windows. Here are some of the things I learnt about Windows 10 and the Surface:

  • If you use SharpKeys to swap the Control and Windows keys so you don’t have to try to retrain twenty years of hitting the key immediately left of the space bar plus some other key to trigger shortcuts, the neat eraser-click feature quits working. Because internally the Surface pen is presenting itself as two devices, a stylus and a keyboard, and pressing the eraser button sends a press of the Windows key instead of sending a nice sensible “BUTTON_2_PRESSED” sort of event. I dithered back and forth and ultimately decided that “not tying my fingers in knots trying to press control instead of command” was more important than “clicking the pen button to launch Illustrator”. Some people have suggested that an app called Radial Menu can maybe remap the Windows key in a more subtle fashion that doesn’t interfere with this; I have it installed but haven’t tried playing with it yet, as turning off SharpKeys will involve a logout.
  • There are two entirely separate preference programs. One of them is a very cleanly-designed tablet-friendly app called “Settings”, and is accessible by a nice friendly gear icon in various places in Windows 10. The other one is called “Control Panel”, and it reeks of 1995 up in there. Sometimes little windows from 1995 will come up when you type stuff in the search bar, with no immediate way to summon their parent to go looking at all the available switches; ultimately someone on Twitter told me you access it by right-clicking on the Windows icon and selecting “Control Panel” in the menu that pops up. Which is not a thing I would have ever discovered, given that tapping that same button summons the nice friendly Start menu.
  • If you want a program to automatically launch itself on power-up, there is no easy way to do it. Everyone will tell you to just add it to the “Startup Items” section of the Start menu, but that doesn’t exist in 10 anywhere I can find. The only way I could do it involves visiting 1995: you have to navigate to a hidden directory by right-clicking on the Windows icon, choosing “run”, and typing “shell:startup”, then put an alias to the program in the directory window that pops up. Good luck finding out where the program lives; I ended up launching the program and using the Task Manager (found in that Windows icon right-click menu as well) to reveal it in the directory structure, then alt-dragged it into the Startup directory. Which worked for Illustrator, but not for Evernote. Because I’d installed the app store version of Evernote, which meant that it’s installed somewhere I don’t have filesystem access privilege to. The OS pointed me towards where I’d need to go to temporarily get admin access to do this, but really, as long as Illustrator auto-launches I’m happy enough here.
  • One of the control panels hidden away in 1995-land is called “Pen and Touch”. It has a tab called “Flicks”, where you can set up things to happen when you rapidly slash the stylus vertically or horizontally. If you’re an artist who’s learnt to draw with confidence, this is probably going to happen fairly regularly once you get going. And this defaults to on. You’ll want to type “flicks” into the search bar and turn that off.
  • Sharing. Windows sharing is a giant hot mess. You will be asked to learn about things like “workgroups”. Don’t bother. Just don’t bother. Install Dropbox and use that to copy over the preference files Illustrator no longer offers to sync between your computers. And use it to sync with your art files, as well, while you’re at it.
  • Yep. Illustrator no longer syncs preferences between multiple machines. Adobe added that feature a few versions back, then quietly dropped it. Presumably because it was buggy, I dunno, I never used it. Photoshop still has it of course. Photoshop gets all the developer love over at Adobe. Despite all the time they’ve been putting into Illustrator features designed for touch devices lately, it refuses to run in portrait mode – other programs are fine with it, but as soon as you flip over to AI you’re locked in landscape. Nice job Adobe.
  • You will probably only want to use Microsoft’s “Edge” browser long enough to download a different browser. And you will want to stick an ad-block plugin or two into that new browser. And you will want to turn on Windows Defender, and back that up with one of a few different programs. I chose Chrome, with the Adblock and Ghostery plugins, and backed up Windows Defender with Malwarebytes, whose website has a big friendly robot giving you a thumbs-up.
  • Seriously look at this dude. EEEEYYYYYY. We have decided that "Crush Malware" is Robot Fonzie's name, not a description of what Malwarebytes does, and want to see him popping up when the program has something to say. "CRUSH MALWARE HAS A BAD FEELING ABOUT THIS FILE, LADY BUTTERPANTS!" Ideally with gloriously monotone text-to-speech that you can laugh at, and turn off.

    Seriously look at this dude. EEEEYYYYYY. I and my friends have decided that “Crush Malware” is Robot Fonzie’s name, not a description of what Malwarebytes does, and want to see him popping up when the program has something to say. “CRUSH MALWARE HAS A BAD FEELING ABOUT THIS FILE, LADY BUTTERPANTS!” Ideally with gloriously monotone text-to-speech that you can laugh at, and turn off.

  • The Windows 10 equivalent of Apple’s Exposé is activated by putting your finger on the left bezel, and swiping right into the screen. I don’t know what they call it in WinTenLand but it’s just as handy for swapping between apps as it is in OSX. Mirroring that gesture on the right side will get you their version of the Notification Center. Trying a vertical version of it on the top or bottom of the screen does nothing.
  • It’s real easy to run installers multiple times because it can take a moment for anything to happen after you click on them. So you click again, with no response. And again. And suddenly you have three copies of the installer running.
  • The thing at the bottom of the screen is called the “taskbar”, and is a mix of the Dock and the right side of the menu bar. If you search for settings relating to it you can move it to the top of the screen where it will feel more natural to a Mac person. You can also drag those menu bar items on the right around, but do NOT long-press on them – you’ll summon their menus if you do that. You can also set it to auto-hide, and it’s hard to get back with your finger or the stylus. Right now I just hit the control key on my keyboard to summon it, which gets remapped to the Windows key. Also you can hide the Dock aspect of it, which I kinda like.
  • I find that the Surface works best if you set it to ‘tablet’ mode. Mostly. The app store won’t show its back button, I guess because it expects there to be one in the taskbar I’ve set to auto-hide. And there are a few other things like that springing from the fact that I’m making UI settings nobody raised on Windows would make.
  • The Start screen is made up of a bunch of tiles. You can drag them around. If you long-press on them, you can delete them by hitting the little safety pin on their upper right, and resize them by poking around in the menus that come off the “…” on their bottom right. Which will probably be hidden by your hand. Windows 10 is trying really hard to be a touch-oriented OS, but the mask keeps slipping.
  • Despite the general impression I have that Windows tends to fall over and die when you ask it to sleep or hibernate, the Surface seems to hibernate reliably. I’ve set it to hibernate when I press the power switch while it’s on battery, and sleep when it’s plugged in. I also set it to hibernate after two minutes of sleep, to prevent it getting accidentally awoken in my bag and sitting there wasting battery and overheating. You can do this by searching for ‘power options’, choosing ‘edit plan settings’, then doing ‘change advanced power settings’.
  • It works perfectly well with a Mac bluetooth keyboard. I had a spare one in my closet that now lives in my purse. Turn it off when you put it in the bag, turn it back on while you’re waiting for the Surface to wake from hibernation.
  • The calendar app was quite happy to connect to my iCloud calendar. It wasn’t updating when I was on battery for a while because I’d turned off background apps while on battery in the Battery Saver settings; I went in and allowed that to go through. I’m pretty sure it’d be equally easy to hook up the Mail app to the GMail account that sits between my Apple devices and the mail server on my host (it makes a great spam filter), but I really don’t want to do email on this thing. I’m trying to make it a sketchbook, not a distraction machine.
  • Oh, the stylus: Not quite as nice as a Wacom stylus. One button on the barrel that takes a fair amount of pressure to press. No padding, I may end up trying to kludge a pencil cushion onto it or something. Eraser doubles as a second button with very limited function. Decent pressure response, supposedly has 1024 levels. Not sure if it has tilt or twist, I never use those anyway. Google says it doesn’t. Also I should probably buy a spare one in case I lose this one. (About $45-50 on Amazon, $60 from MS.)
  • I need to figure out how to remap caps lock to shift-ctrl-alt so I can have the same Extra Meta Key I’ve gotten used to in Illustrator. And rewrite a couple of Applescripts in Javascript and figure out how to call them on a couple of keystrokes.
  • For the record, here’s everything I’ve installed on it to make it something largely dedicated to drawing in Adobe Illustrator: Chrome, Dropbox, Evernote, f.lux, ManicTime (tracks time spent in various apps, has a display similar to Time Sink, which I use for that purpose on the Mac), Malwarebytes, Radial Menu (for maybe remapping some keys, maybe doing some homebrew key shortcut panels or stuffing a lot of menu items into things I can quickly invoke with the stylus), Sharp Keys (also for remapping keys), Telegram (for talkin’ to people a little, but not too much), TimeMe (for a big clock on the homescreen, plus weather and battery status), and the Kindle app for maybe reading a book on a plane or something. Though really I’ll probably just take the iPad for that still. Oh and of course Illustrator, and some plugins for it. I still need to copy over all my fonts and get my brush libraries settled in.

All in all, I feel like it’s been worth the money and the day or two of setup. I spent about $1900 for a device with about half the storage of my 13″ Air, the same amount of RAM, a moderately faster CPU, and an alien OS that I had to spend a solid day wrangling with. But it’s also a device that weighs about half as much as my Air plus the Wacom tablet  (.7kg vs 1.8kg – not much more than one of the black-covered hardbound sketchbooks I carried around for years). And it’s pretty close to print resolution – 267ppi. I can finally turn off anti-aliasing in Illustrator and stop seeing rendering glitches when I draw masked shapes, which I’ve been wanting to do for years. And I can draw on the bus, or on a plane, something I really can’t do when I need to plant the Wacom tablet next to the laptop. I still have to find a place for the keyboard under my left hand (maybe sitting on top of my bag to raise it to a comfortable level), but it’s a lot more compact than the computer plus tablet.

Taking it out is a lot quicker too; instead of taking out the computer and the Wacom, then taking out the stylus, stylus stand, and the USB cable, then plugging them together, I just pull out the Surface with the stylus clinging tenaciously to its side, turn it on, then pull out the keyboard and hit its switch. Pull the stylus off and I’m ready to draw in not much longer as it’d take me to pull out a sketchbook and my pencil case, find the next blank page, and choose a drawing tool. And it’s really nice to have that kind of casualness to drawing again. Windows is a colossal pile of alien hassle to me, but after a solid day and a half wrestling with it (and a lot of helpful suggestions from various folks on Twitter – thanks a ton, everyone!) I’ve gotten it to a point where it’ll mostly just stay the hell out of the way and let me enjoy my magic sketchbook.

sitting in a chair outside on Wednesday night, balancing keyboard and Surface on my legs.

Sitting in a chair outside on Wednesday night, balancing keyboard and Surface on my legs, breaking it in by drawing a new version of the genie I summoned to live inside my first Air a few years back so she’ll feel at home riding around in this thing as well. Who is probably just a figment of my imagination.

I probably could have been happy with a lower-end Pro 4. Or maybe even a Pro 3, but I wanted the high res screen of the 4, and eight megs of RAM. Mostly because my Air has 8M and I know Illustrator won’t go into swap hell when I do complex painterly things or super-dense stuff like the climax of Rita. I haven’t tried any serious torture tests on it yet but I’m confident it’ll do fine, as even the low-end Surface 3 has more CPU than my late 2013 Air. It won’t be replacing my Air for everything (in part because I really would rather have something that runs OSX) but it’s damn close, and I don’t think the Air is going to be leaving the apartment much any more. The only thing it has over the Surface is better battery life (advertised at 12h vs 9h) and twice the SSD (512gb vs 256, though I could have spent more for a 521gb or 1tb Surface.). And costing about $800 less when I bought it a couple years ago, and running an OS I have thoroughly tamed.

Final verdict: A pretty cool magical sketchbook if you’re willing to spend a couple days wrestling with with all the 1995 buried inside it, and can afford about $2k. It’s a no-brainer if you’re already used to Windows and have that kind of money handy.