Surface Pen

Microsoft Surface Pen the write stuff

The Microsoft Surface Pen is a nifty gadget which I’m still wondering how to usefully deploy.

It’s a pen with a soft nib which writes on a Surface Pro tablet screen, perfectly rendering a digital version of natural handwriting, which is quite extraordinary.

The pen integrates with Microsoft programs such as Word and OneNote through Windows Ink. Windows 10 has ink support built in through apps such as Sticky Notes and Sketchpad.

A number of third party apps have found their way to the Windows Store. Two that I’ve purchased are Index Cards and Penbook.

Both are intuitive and easy to use for making handwritten notes which can be converted to PDF or image files. It’s a nice way to send a personal message to someone as an image file through WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.

Writing with Ink on Surface Pro

How useful is the Surface Pen?

This is the question. I feel it’s cute, but in a novelty way, more a gimmick.

It’s a long time since I’ve used handwriting for notes or communication. I’m more likely to use an audio app today if I want to record a meeting or conversation. In the office or at home, I’m faster at typing on a keyboard than writing.

I’m about to start an online MBA and that’s where I think the Surface Pen could come into its own.

While watching a video or listening to a lecture, it’s easier to jot thoughts down with a pen than it is to type them. By using one of the Windows Ink apps I’ll have a saved digital file to read and refer to afterwards without needing to scan pages or flip through a notebook.

The Surface Pen sells for $140 through the Windows Store, which is expensive given its limited scope for deployment.

I’m also paranoid about losing it. I carry my Surface Pro in a leather sleeve and slip the pen inside with a portable mouse. The mouse is easy to feel and unlikely to slip out, but I worry about the pen.

As things currently stand, the Surface Pen is a fun gadget rather than a practical necessity.

Surface Pro handwriting

Asus C302 Chromebook

Asus C302 Chromebook

I’m writing this on a new Asus C302 Chromebook, which arrived on Wednesday. It’s my first experience with the Chrome operating system, although I’m actually dual booting with the Linux distro, Gallium.

This flexibility offers considerable advantages.

The Chromebook itself is a handy device with a 360-degree hinge which enables it to be used as a laptop or tablet. It has a camera, wi-fi and bluetooth connectivity and micro SD storage.

At 1.2kg and 30cm wide it’s a little bulky in tablet mode compared with an iPad, but it makes up for it with general productivity.

Asus C302 Chromebook

The Asus C302 Chromebook can be used as a laptop or tablet.

Chrome OS is basically just the Chrome browser. That’s enough for most day-to-day computing needs but the availability of Android apps from the Google Play store makes it even more powerful.

Using the excellent Nine email client I’m able to access my work and personal email accounts. The Microsoft Android apps for Word, Excel and Powerpoint all work smoothly in Chrome.

Linux on Chromebooks

It’s already possible to install Linux software on Chromebooks running the latest kernel. The Asus C302 isn’t capable of that, but no problem, just dual boot.

Gallium is based on Xubuntu and maintains compatibility with the Ubuntu repositories. This gives access to all the Linux software you could possibly need. Libre Office, MasterPDF and Hiri (email) are just as good as any Windows equivalent.

I won’t be editing video on this device, but it meets all my business and personal computing needs while being ultra portable.

The picture below shows it running Gallium, connected by USB hub to a wide-screen monitor and Logitech keyboard and mouse.

This was my first purchase on Amazon Prime. At $677 it’s a little pricey but it’s better value than a Pixelbook which still can’t be easily obtained in Australia.

Touchscreen works perfectly in Gallium. The only problem I’ve had is getting audio to work, although it does connect to bluetooth speakers.


The Gallium Linux operating system on an Asus Chromebook connected to a wide monitor.