The Surface Pro 2 from an Animator’s perspective

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The Surface Pro 2 from an Animator’s Perspective

I’ve been drooling over the Surfaces since Microsoft first announced them and have been lurking in the shadows quietly studying reviews and feedback and during all of it I NEVER once heard whether Adobe Flash worked with the device. Or Toon Boom Storyboard Pro. Or Harmony for that matter. Even the apparent Go To Site for all things Surface; has been oddly silent about this. I figure it’s just simply that animators have just not bought the device yet and that’s the reason.

Sooo… I decided to buy one and find out for myself how well this thing works from an animator’s perspective.

So here we go.

The Hardware
First off let me say it’s an AWESOME piece of tech! It’s sturdy, light and feels good in your hand on the way to Starbucks or lunch for some freelance… (something I do with regularity). And MAN is the thing FAST! I don’t know what Microsoft did under the hood here folks, but it’s not like your normal laptop or tablet. Programs open in mere seconds which is startling at first. Installing Toon Boom Storyboard Pro took less than a minute and Adobe Flash which is an absolute pig when it comes to installing (as is really ANYTHING Adobe) installed in under 4 minutes which is quite an achievement in my book. I’m quite sure some of that has to do with the large 256 gb SSD drive I got with it as opposed to the typical 64gb drive the cheaper model comes with. I also have 8gb of memory in there too which helps. So let’s just say it’s FAST.

Also, I don’t know about you but I personally like to draw at more of a flat angle and not so upright as many do. But trying to draw with the tablet completely flat also is too much of an angle for me to be happy either (What can I say, I’m complicated). Anyway, years ago I found this cool laptop wedge called The Allsop Cool Channel platform for my old LE1600 which angled the tablet just perfectly for me to draw.

Allsop Cool Channel Platform

The Allsop Cool Channel Platform for Laptops

I started using that with my Surface Pro 2 and it works well also but of course I then have to disconnect the keyboard and if you’ve ever used Photoshop, Flash or Storyboard Pro without a keyboard you know it’s much more difficult. Suddenly I realized that I could actually keep the keyboard connected and if I left the kickstand open anyway it sat at the perfect angle with the Allsop Wedge to keep my keyboard AND the tablet connected together which no other tablet has been able to do! Also by the way I don’t think the Surface Pro 3 would be able to do this because the Kickstand has many more angles and it would likely fold over form the weight of my hand. the more limited angles of the Surface Pro 2’s kickstand actually ends up working to my advantage!


My perfect angle for animating!

My one and only pet peeve on the build of the device goes to the complete IDIOT who decided that the charge adapter should be a magnet connecting to the device as opposed to an actual plug that’s inserted. Clearly this fool never actually uses a tablet. I mean COME ON! If you don’t know what I’m referring to the Surface Pro 2 does not have your typical AC jack with the hole in the side of the tablet. Instead, some ‘genius’ and I use that term loosely, decided “Hey that plugging in and out all the time is SO much work, let’s just make it a magnet instead, shall we?” So they did. And it does exactly that, it snaps easily to the side of the tablet. Problem is, that it also PULLS OUT easily as well and quite often unplugs if you’re, oh I don’t know… USING THE DEVICE! I swear, why don’t people test these things out first? Not only that but it’s damn near impossible to attach the cord to the tablet without picking it up, looking at the hole and then connecting it because it’s also at an odd angle and you can’t really connect it while it’s propped up on a table. I know that Apple does this magnet thing as well on their MacBook Pros but they must hold a patent on using a strong enough magnet to stick because my Surface Pro 2 disconnects when I sneeze.



Surface Pro’s charger cord



That five dot hole is where the Surface Pro 2’s cord connects to…

Anyway, other than this flaw the Surface Pro 2 is built quite well as far as I can tell.


Since, I bought the device I also grabbed a better keyboard for it called the Surface Type Cover which has a plastic trackpad instead of the ‘pleather’ trackpad my original keyboard had. What was Microsoft thinking?!?!



Original keyboard



The new keyboard. It may be hard to tell from these pics but the new trackpad is FAR more responsive.

Okay, then moving on…

I’ve read about people having issues with the high resolution screens and Adobe apps like Photoshop having squiggly jagged lines and Flash only drawing straight lines instead of curvy ones. I have not had that problem and only the largest Photoshop brushes cause it to lag for a heartbeat which in all fairness happens on my desktop sometimes. there is no drawing lag in Flash. Even Storyboard Pro which is usually pretty processor intensive performed very well using both the vector brushes AND the newer bitmap brushes. No lag whatsoever while drawing. I recently finished up a 500 page board using Storyboard Pro (on my desktop) and the file opened very quickly and flipping through panels was every bit as fast as on my desktop.

All in all everything I threw at the Surface Pro 2 performed admirably.  Even Maya, Mudbox and Z-Brush preformed admirably on it. Also, it was fairly easy to animate on it using Sketchbook Pro’s Flipbook timeline as well. I animated the quick pencil test below on my Surface Pro 2.

In fact for pure drawing? The Surface Pro 2 performs more than admirably! It’s perfect. The pen glides nicely on the glass, it has a little pull and there is absolutely zero lag as I sketch. It’s fantastic and if that’s all I judged a tablet on this would be a clear win.

But it’s not…

Hacking the Screen
Coming in at only 10″ the Surface Pro’s screen size is actually smaller than a sheet of Letter size Paper (8.5 x 11) to draw on which isn’t so bad on paper but then when you add all the toolbars and floating palettes there’s not so much room to draw upon!  That’s okay I guess because with collapsing palettes and whatnot, you can work around it. What IS harder is the high DPI screen that makes apps TINY and particularly anything Adobe. The resolution is SO high on *Photoshop and Flash I couldn’t even SEE the menus. And when I say I can’t see them I literally CAN’T see them. I had no idea what frame I’m on and couldn’t even see the Preferences palette to swap out a frame in a symbol. Yes, I know Flash inside and out and so I could pretty much run blind, but it was still REALLY hard to see.  Check out the example.


Adobe Flash on the Surface Pro 2

Tiny huh? Remember this is on only a 10″ screen about the size of your mouse pad, so it’s REALLY hard to see. That said, there is a hack that let’s you uprez the interface on high DPI screens which works flawlessly and makes Flash (and any other app) usable again! All that said, hacking the registry can cause other problems and while this particular hack is really easy to pull off, you could still brick your computer if you do it wrong, so unless you like to tweak software the Surface Pro still isn’t for you. Check out this example of after the screen hack below:

Flash with Hack

Flash Pro with the High DPI Manifest Hack

Much better if not a little cramped. Storyboard Pro works with this fix as well, but I did find that the new Flash CC 2015 (which has it’s own problems anyway right now) sadly does NOT work with this hack yet. Other programs like Premiere and Illustrator works too. I have an email to my friends at Adobe to see if they can do something similar to what the *Photoshop team did to address the high DPI issue.


A bit of art I did on the Surface Pro 2 using Storyboard Pro.

A bit of art I did on the Surface Pro 2 using Storyboard Pro.

Software that works
Sketchbook Pro
Photoshop-(works well with Adobe’s zoom preference)
Flash-(requires manifest hack to see well.)
Illustrator-(requires manifest hack to see well.)
Premiere-(requires manifest hack to see well.)
Audition-(requires manifest hack to see well.)
Storyboard Pro-(requires manifest hack to see well.)
Autodesk Maya-(requires manifest hack to see well.)
Mudbox-(requires manifest hack to see well.)

Windows 8.1
But that, dear friends is the good stuff… now comes the bad, because in order to USE the Surface you need Windows 8.1 which is a giant piece of donkey doo. Yes, even though Microsoft has been trying like a little puppy to get you to like them with their happy-singy ads, talking about how you can dance on picnic tables AND use the Surface, Windows 8 is still a giant hunk of shit. It’s a HORRIBLE interface even on their OWN hardware designed FOR their software!

Case in point. You start up Sketchbook Pro and try to draw with it, but when you place your hand on the screen it causes your palm to also draw. Okay, no problem, disable the Touch interface right? Well Microsoft doesn’t WANT you to do that so they make it hard for you and so you have to go into the Device Manager and disable it. Luckily there’s a little app called Touch Toggle which sits in your System Tray and let’s you click it to enable touch and click again to disable touch. And therein lies the reason I use Windows. It’s hackable.



Touch Toggle On


Touch Toggle Off

Touch Toggle Off

See Microsoft? That wasn’t SO hard was it? I am left wondering WHY WOULD MICROSOFT BE SO STUPID!?!?!?!? Do they even USE their products before skipping them off to the shelves in a trail of flowers and rainbows? And if you’re not computer advanced like I am, you might not even know what the Device Manager is! Let alone how to make Touch Toggle start up each time with the system. Grandma sure won’t, so forget those commercials about how it’s easier than an iPad. Pffffff. And I don’t even LIKE iPads. Yes, I know here’s where some of you say “Get a Mac!” but see Dead Uncle Steve proselytized the Mac faithful that “No pen shall toucheth thy Macintosheth!” and so there IS no portable device with a Mac interface to draw on except the iPad which is akin to drawing with a crayon on a window pane made by Fisher Price. go ahead tell me about the $4000 Modbooks that use to exist. They don’t anymore so…


To Sum it All Up…
So at the end of the day, will I keep the Surface Pro 2? I’m honestly not sure yet… What I look for in a tablet is the ability to draw (and Sketchbook Pro does that admirably) and to write (and I can easily do that with Word and the surprisingly decent keyboard cover). I can even animate with it using either Flash or Harmony and if I choose to get an adapter, suddenly now I can add an external monitor to it as well making it much more powerful. I might also just get a Surface Pro 3 but I am leery of the N-Trig Digitizer as I have heard that it’s not the best and even messing aorund with it in the store left MUCh to be desirred. you’d think that Microsoft would put a decent drawing app on a tablet with a pen, but noooooooo.

Idiots, truly idiots.

Still they make a 12″ Surface Pro 3 AND you can even get it in an i7 so I may yet go down that road…

-Impressive speed and performance.
-Innovative design.
-Surprisingly comfortable keyboard.
-Literally ran anything I threw at it.
-Pressure sensitivity performed well.

-Text too small on all Adobe apps except Photoshop with out hacking.
-Screen size too small to do serious video editing or animation.
-Windows 8.1 still sucks ass.

*Adobe released Photoshop CC 2015 which automatically uprezzes the app for super high resolution screens but the screen’s menus are then too big for me and you endlessly scroll to get to the bottom of a menu.