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Microsoft Surface Pro: The Best Apps For The Surface Pen

You’re looking for apps for the Surface Pen? Here are the best note taking, PDF annotating, and drawing apps for the Microsoft Surface tablets.

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Drawboard PDF

Which are the best apps for the Surface Pen that you should try on your Microsoft Surface Pro? If you haven’t used Windows 10 and active pens before it’s not that easy to find good apps. Some interesting features are build-in. But if you want to write down handwritten notes or draw something, you’ll need an app for that. Well, these are the most interesting apps for the Microsoft Surface Pen.

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By the way, most of these apps work with the Surface Pro 6, Pro 7 and the Surface Go. Most of them run on the Surface Pro X as well.

Basic Apps You Should Know About

Let’s start with some basic apps.

Surface App

Surface App

The first app that you don’t need to use daily but should know about is the Surface app. With that one, you can see which Surface you are using. And if you’ve got problems with yours, that’s where you can download the Surface Diagnostic Toolkit. Inside that app, you can see how much battery your Surface Pen has left. And you can adjust the pressure sensitivity which can be useful if you feel like you’ve got to press too soft or too hard.

Snip & Sketch

Snip and Sketch

With the app “Snip & Sketch” you can take a screenshot of the whole screen or you can cut out a part of your screen. Once you’ve done that you can add handwriting or sketches and you can even use a ruler for drawing. You can launch the app using the start menu or with the keyboard shortcut Windows key + Shift + S. If you own the Surface Pen, you can also double press the eraser button on the back. You can adjust that in the settings.

Sticky Notes

Sticky Notes

To write down short and fast notes you can use the so-called Sticky Notes. They’re a part of Windows and you can find them using the start menu or by holding down the eraser button of the Surface Pen. It’s a very simple note-taking app and we’ll check out ones with more features later. The Sticky Notes are useful for when you quickly need to write down some notes.

Microsoft Edge

Microsoft Edge

I’m usually using Chrome as my browser and I don’t know anybody who prefers Microsoft Edge. However, Edge can be super useful if you want to annotate websites. That works much better in Edge than with the Windows screenshot tools because, in Edge, you can annotate the whole page and not just the initially visible area. You should also know that you can annotate PDFs that way in Edge too. So, if you don’t need to do that all the time, you might not need an additional app for that.

Windows Maps

Windows Maps

Windows 10 ships with Microsoft’s own Maps app out of the box. Usually, I prefer Google Maps like probably most do. However, sometimes Windows Maps can be useful – at least for some. You can draw on maps and annotate them inside the app which, just like with Edge, works much better than with the standard screenshot tools. For instance, you could write down some notes on a route you need to take. Or if you’re making invitations for an event. Sure, most people will probably only need it once or twice per life. But it could be handy for some.

The Best Note-Taking Apps

Alright, now let’s check out some note-taking apps.

Microsoft OneNote

Microsoft OneNote

I think the best note-taking app for Windows and especially for Surface users is Microsoft OneNote. All your notes stay synced across devices thanks to Microsoft’s cloud and there are good apps for Android and iOS too. In OneNote, you can start an unlimited number of notes and sort them in sections. You can write down notes with the Surface Pen or by using a keyboard. If you prefer to talk, you record voice notes too. And you can insert photos and much more.

Microsoft’s Surface Pen is supported very well in OneNote. Of course, it is, because it’s the most important app for the stylus. As I said, you can write down handwritten notes with it. But you can also draw shapes, charts and use tools like a ruler. You can also transform the handwritten text into computer text.

The math features can be interesting for students. With those, you can write down an equation and have it solved by OneNote, for instance. You can also let it draw a chart based on that equation.

OneNote is free for everybody. It’s easy to get into it. But if you want to make use of all features, it can be handy to check out some YouTube videos from OneNote power users.

Plumbago

Plumbago

An alternative to OneNote is Plumbago which is free as well. It’s a normal note-taking app in which you can have several notebooks with lots of notes in them. Plumbago is not as feature-rich as OneNote is, but it’s an easy to learn app.

Bamboo Paper

Bamboo Paper

Bamboo Paper is a note-taking app from Wacom that you can use on Windows, Android, and iOS. Its main features are the same again: You can have unlimited notes in lots of notebooks. You can write down handwritten notes and draw something. In this case, basic features are free. However, if you want additional tools and backgrounds you’ve got to pay.

Inkodo

Inkodo

Another note app with more features is Inkodo. Here you can save notes in notebooks again. You can use several kinds of brushes to write or draw something. There’s a ruler and you can use voice notes too. While basic features of Inkodo are free, you’ve got to pay to unlock pro features.

Read: These Are The Best Windows Tablets

The Best PDF Apps

I’m mostly asked for good apps to annotate PDFs with. Here are two I liked using.

PDF Reader by Xodo

PDF Reader by Xodo

The PDF Reader by Xodo is a pretty good app that you can use to read, create, edit, and annotate PDFs. You can open PDFs and add your handwritten annotations. But you can also underline text – ether free by hand or with a special tool. Documents can be signed with it and you can save your signature for later. All that works quite well.

If you want, you can also use it to create new PDFs. You can start with a blank paper or with an image. Now comes the best part: The PDF Reader by Xodo is completely free.

Drawboard PDF

Drawboard PDF

Drawboard PDF is a paid app that costs around 12 US Dollars. It offers similar features like the PDF Reader by Xodo does but has more features in general. You can use it to edit PDFs and add your handwritten annotations. You can also underline text and draw something. Pages can be added to PDFs and you can create your own, of course. I like the interface of Drawboard PDF much more because it looks more modern.

If you need to, you can also add a subscription for Pro-Features that cost 25 US Dollars per year. That gives you some additional but very specialized features like a protractor, calibrated measurements, and a document builder. Most will never need that, and if you do, you probably know it already.

The Best Drawing Apps

Let’s check out some drawing apps.

Sketchbook by Autodesk

Sketchbook by Autodesk

One of the best drawing apps for the Surface Pro is Sketchbook by Autodesk which is free. The Surface Pen is supported and works great. You can draw with different pressure-sensitive brushes and pens and choose an unlimited amount of colors. Integrated are a couple of tools like a ruler and a mirror which, well, works as if you place a mirror in the middle of a piece of paper.

It supports layers just like Photoshop does. Try it, even though it’s a free app, I think it’s an excellent one. Maybe even something for professionals. It does not run on the Surface Pro X though.

Sketchable

Sketchable

If you don’t like Sketchbook, you can check out Sketchable. The basic features are very similar. Sketchable is a drawing app with different brushes and backgrounds. But it’s not as feature-rich. And for some features, you’ll have to pay for a premium package.

Fresh Paint

Fresh Paint

A much simpler one is called Fresh Paint. This drawing app is not meant to be for professionals at all. Instead, it’s an app to have fun with. It does not have that many tools. You can work with some brushes to create oil paintings, but you can use pencils too. That looks nice. But, as I said, it’s not a professional app. Fresh Paint is fun to play around with and should be a great app for kids. It’s free.

Adobe Photoshop CC

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 with Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop should be on this list too – and it is. The Surface Pen is supported very well. While I never use Photoshop to draw something, I use it a lot to edit photos. You can use the Surface Pen to remove sensor dust, for example. Or you can remove wrinkles from faces or use it to work with layer masks. That works very well, and the performance of the Surface Pro is good enough for some serious editing.

Photoshop is not free, of course. You’ve got to have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. It does not run great on the Surface Pro X and Surface Go but very good on the Pro 6 and Pro 7.

Zen: Coloring Book For Grownups

Zen Coloring Book

Let’s end this list with an app to have fun with. Zen is a coloring book that’s made for grownups, at least that’s what they’re calling it. However, I’m sure kids will have fun with it too. Well, it’s basically a coloring book but a digital one. You can color in several patterns and drawings. Many are free like the app itself. But for some, you’ve got to pay around 10 Dollars.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 with keyboard
Even though not much changed compared to the Pro 6, the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is the best Windows tablet you can buy. Its 10th generation Intel Core processors are very fast and we finally get a USB C port. The design with an integrated kickstand, the Type Cover and the Surface Pen are excellent. The only downside of the Pro 7 is its expensive price tag.
Positive
  • Fast Intel Core processors
  • Excellent design with kickstand
  • Great keyboard cover
  • Long battery life
  • Good Surface Pen
  • Pretty display
Negative
  • Big screen bezels
  • Expensive
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