Surface 3 and pen is better than iPad Pro for certain work tasks

Apple may have the pricey Pencil, but a recent work requirement proved it pales in comparison to the utility of the Surface and pen combo.


Most of the time our work needs plod along without much variation. We fall into the habit of using particular systems and software that work well for us each day. Then a situation out of the ordinary comes along that pushes us to rethink how we can best accomplish something new.

I have been successfully using the iPad Pro as my work system since receiving it on the day of its availability. It's handled everything I need and very efficiently.

Recently a colleague sent me a document that I needed to edit and return and the iPad couldn't handle it. The Word document consisted of three parts: a typical section that could be edited with a keyboard, a second part that needed to be filled out with ink, and a third section that looked like a digital table.

The first part posed no problem, it could be edited with Word on the iPad without issue. The second part was a different matter as it turned out to be a scanned image pasted into the .DOCX file. In spite of its appearance, the third part was also an image pasted into the document.


After a lot of trial and error and online research, I concluded that the iPad wouldn't handle the inking needed to fill out the last two forms in the file. The Apple Pencil and iPad Pro can do that but only if the software would handle it.

Finding no easy solution to handle the entire document, I was prepared to print the document and manually fill in the two embedded forms with a ballpoint pen. Prior to doing that, I happened to see the Surface 3 sitting on the corner of my desk.

The Surface 3 with pen is a versatile tool, and Microsoft Word works with ink nicely. I fired it up and in minutes was filling out the forms with the Surface Pen. In just half an hour my unusual document was properly edited and on its way to the originator.

Those needing to fill out forms with ink should not overlook the Surface, pen, and Word. They work together nicely and turn a task that previously has been very involved into a natural experience.

This task pointed out some tips that may help others using the pen and Word. First, be sure and zoom in on the section of the document into which you will ink prior to starting inking mode in Word. Otherwise the window is prone to jump around, forcing you to reset and restart inking.

Second, keep an eye out for tiny ink marks created by moving around the zoomed window. You can easily erase them by starting ink mode and selecting Pens. The eraser turns the pen nib into an easy way to get rid of these marks.

Be aware that once in ink mode, doing most anything else in the pane will turn it off. You may end up starting and stopping ink mode numerous times before you're done.

This situation drove home to me how restrictive it can be to get locked into what's familiar. I spent too much time trying to get my standard tools to work when a better solution was sitting right in front of me.

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