One Year on the Surface: Screencasting Resume

The first anniversary of my Surface Pro 3 for screencasting and note taking is nearing. So it's time for a real-world usage review.

Hardware Pen-alty

What I like: The Surface Pro 3 in itself is of decent hardware; no problems so far. Also, the battery is still fine. I really like the versatile kickstand and the cover keyboard. As can be seen in the photo, the integrated kickstand allows for a convenient slant when taking notes or drawing illustrations using the active pen.

What sucks: My experience with the touch controller of the Surface Pro 3, however, is really mixed. Manufactured by N-trig, from time to time I see it not properly responding in some area or another of the screen. Luckily, tap the power button twice, so the display goes off and on again ... and usually the touch controller is back in full operation. So, reliable is another class, N-trig yet has to prove, at least based on my experience.

The N-trig active pen that came with my Surface Pro 3 sometimes takes it pen-metaphor simply too far: it starts smearing short of blotting. Somehow the pressure sensor goes way off and reports too much pressure, just like an old fountain pen blotting. Also, sometimes the buttons of the N-trig active pen stop working. Opening the pen and disconnecting its AAAA battery for a short moment will most of the time get us back to business.

A replacement N-trig active pen that I originally got myself as spare behaves much better, but still sometimes has a hang for wrong pressure and button woes.

When comparing my Surface/N-trig active pen experience with my Samsung Note 10.1 2014 with Wacom technology, the clear winner is Samsung/Wacom. It has worked over the years without any hiccups, while the Surface/N-trig combination is just second class. And then, N-trig is still considered to be second rank, so how awful are these other active pens and touch/pen controllers to be...?

Pen-aware Software: Waiting for Godot

When it comes to software, there is basically only Microsoft's OneNote 2013/2016, the desktop version. I like to use it for taking notes and illustrations. Works like a charm. I especially like the way how easy I can insert vertical space in order to add in some text later. Sweet.

For screencasting however ... bugger. I'm currently keeping with Squid/Papyrus, but I experienced four data losses so far. The maker of Squid does not react to my detailed bug reports. No update so far except for the change of name. No visible product development.

If it weren't for its very sweet whiteboard functionality with zoom and pan lock I would immediately ditch Squid, due to the several data losses it has caused me.

After one year of Microsoft's Win8 app market I can only conclude: nothing to see here, especially when it comes to apps making use of active pens. Nada, njet, nothing.

With Samsung also ditching pen tablets as far as can be seen, I'm now more or less waiting for Apple's iPad Pro with active pen to jump ship, hoping for better app support.


Screencast raw footage recording.
Despite the problems with Squid, I've now settled on this setup for producing the illustrations for my technical screencasts:
  • Surface Pro 3 with active pen and Squid app for whiteboarding, erm, producing the technical illustrations.
  • Hauppauge HD PVR rocket stand-alone HDMI recorder for recording the screen contents from the Surface Pro 3.
  • Hama mini-DP to HDMI adaptor for hooking up the HDMI recorder to the tablet; this adapter lets me correctly record my own screen contents (something that's not to be taken for granted in the video world).
  • And for convenience: an USB battery tank for powering the HDMI recorder during recording sessions. You get them comparably cheap in large capacities everywhere these days.
That's a convenient setup that allows for efficient recording sessions. At this time, I've done five video projects in this setup (but with the battery tank only recently joining the ranks).