It’s time for digital (th)inking

In today’s post I want to take a look at the Surface Go, and the reason is two-fold, firstly I have had my Surface Go for about a year now and still love it, but secondly I hear some feedback from people saying the Surface Go just isn’t powerful enough and the fact you need tyrannosaurus rex hands to use the keyboard.   What I wanted to highlight in this blog post is that with the power of the Microsoft Cloud, you can think differently about how you use devices in your day to day world.   To do this today we are looking at making the Surface Pen more configurable and of course dictation in Microsoft Office!

Its time for digital (th)inking !

Everyone knows about the 2-in-1 design of the Surface Pro and the Surface Go – right?    It’s a design that has led other manufacturers to change the way they think about there products, especially Lenovo, Dell, and of course Apple.   The late Steve Jobs intention for the IPad was it was always going to be a tablet only device.  However today, we see the Apple IPad as a device with a keyboard, Apple Pencil, a new IOS about to be launched to give the device more powers like the PC.    Now whichever way you decide to look at this it is good news for the customer, as it inspires a generation of users who work with devices they way the want to work!

So I have covered the art of digital inking in other blog posts before, but today I just wanted to highlight a couple of things on the Surface device.    The first point is that anyone using a Surface Pen should make sure the pen is paired to the device.  Now the pen does not have to be paired to work, it’s just you can get more out of the pen when it is!

To pair your pen it is simply done by writing on the screen for up to 10 seconds. Windows will automatically detect this and offer to pair your pen for you, it’s as simple as that!.   Once this has been done move your way to the settings section (Windows Key + I), go to Device, then goto Pen and Windows Ink.

Here you will be able to set up the button actions for your Surface Pen, for example a single click could launch OneNote so you can make notes really quickly.  Also on this screen you will find setting for if you’re left-handed for example.  Make sure you configure for how you work,  so you can launch any application, popular applications like OneNote, and the new Microsoft Whiteboard.

The important option which is ticked is the Allow apps to override the shortcut button behavior.   This is key and needs to remain ticked as more application begin to make use of the pen. One such example is PowerPoint, which uses the pen button to move through a PowerPoint Presentation (which is quite cool !)

So as we have talked before on this blog Microsoft Office (desktop) version is a pen aware application meaning you can use your pen naturally for editing Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents.  We also have a great range of apps which bring learning to life including Fluidmath, which is available from the Windows Store.   Here is a quick demo from Steve Beswick, Education Business Development Director of Surface which we filmed at the Bett Show this year.


So as you can see the pen should really be thought of as part of the device itself, to allow for innovation in the way you work and the way we can use technology in the classroom.

Lets think digital with Surface Go

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph of this blog, some people have said that the Surface Go is not powerful enough and you will never want to type an essay on the device, due to the small size of the keyboard.   Well if you think digitally with Surface Go you don’t have to.     It is true that the keyboard isn’t full size and it was never going to be for the device size, however, let’s look at another option we can use alongside the pen.

Dictate, Dictate, Dictate

Using the device with the power of the Microsoft Cloud, you can dictate to the Surface Go in Microsoft Office, which means if you have a big document to type you can do it more efficiently ! and after all you don’t need to use the keyboard, which in turn is a device which is designed to slow you down and make you less efficient.

Simply launch Microsoft Word (Windows key + C,  you could always ask Cortana to do it 🙂  and once Word has loaded go to the Home ribbon and look at the far right-hand side, the last option will dictate!  Simply click on it and once you hear the recording beep start talking.    Remember commands like ‘new line’, ‘full stop’ ‘comma’ they all work.

Dictation is available in the following apps

Microsoft Word

Microsoft PowerPoint

Microsoft OneNote

Microsoft Outlook

Office Mobile   Apps   (More about them in the next post)

So why is the keyboard so inefficient?   Well as I mentioned using dictation in Office will stop you using the keyboard, for those long documents.  The QWERTY keyboard was designed to stop the typewriter arms jamming up with people typing to quickly.   If you ever look at when your typing you will notice this!  Early keyboards were a lot more efficient but the downside was the fact those typewriter arms would jam.  However, we have taken the keyboard as the default method of entry no matter how new our tech is and how much processing power we have.

How does Office dictation work?, well simply it’s using the Microsoft Cognitive Services that power Cortana. So, in turn, your Surface Go device is connecting to the Microsoft Cloud and transcribing what you say.

So the next time someone says “Surface Go ! I can’t type my essay on that”  point them to the dictation option!

Isn’t it time to “Get them digital (th)inking!”





Digital Inking on the Microsoft Surface

Making the hardware decision these days for schools these days is normally driven by the budget.    What is the best we can get for the budget? Should it be 1-2-1 or shared devices?  Well here is my case that the technology you buy shouldn’t necessarily be brought on budget alone (but it is important) but how you can innovate in the classroom from both the teacher and student perspective.

Why does this mean you should buy a Surface?

Of course it doesn’t – however, I would like to explain the fundamental difference between Microsoft as a hardware manufacturer and its partners out there like Dell, Lenovo, and Asus.    The Microsoft manufacturing partners are amazingly important in delivering a range of great devices for Windows 10 to run on.    Whereas the manufacturing arm of Microsoft (Aka Surface) is an opportunity for engineers to innovate with hardware designs, to allow for innovation and for people to work in a way they are familiar with

The prime example is the Surface Pro and the Surface Go as the 2-in-1 device of choice with the Surface pen!    Back in the day of Windows XP Tablet Edition,   the pen was almost an add on interface to the device.   Allowing for limited handwriting, the size was big and bulky, battery life was limited


However with the advent of Surface (starting with the Surface Pro 3) then pen and digital inking are absolutely at the heart of using Windows 10 in a way to innovate.

The Surface Pen

The writing with the Surface Pen is now in its 5th generation since the launch of the Surface, which in turn shows the importance of digital inking within the Surface environment.     Digital inking is available throughout Windows 10, including the new Sticky Notes app, and Microsoft Office 365.  Let’s have a look at some of the best ways you can use your Surface device with the Surface Pen.

First of all, use your Surface the right way!


If you are a Surface owner, you have the ultimate 2-in-1 device,  be it a Surface Book, Surface Pro or Surface Go, and using the Surface Pen should be the most natural experience.


With a stylus, you can choose to use the pen with the screen in the natural upright position. Users will tend to hold there hand back from the screen.   This means writing is not accurate at all, and making notes almost impossible!

With the advent of applications like OneNote which has been built on digital inking, means devices can be used in a more natural way.

On a Surface, Pro or Surface Go simply unplug the magnetic keyboard and then rotate the device so it’s like an A4 page.

Next, rest your palm on the screen, and then the device will only sense the nib of the pen, allowing the use of the device in a natural way

With the screen separated, the tablet nature of the Surface allows you to treat the device as a piece of paper and resting your palm on the screen allows you to be a lot more accurate in making notes. Applications like Microsoft Whiteboard, or even Sticky Notes, allows you to get the best from the Surface pen, make sure you try them out.

You can also expend the natural pairing of the pen and the device by going to Settings (Windows Key + I) and choosing Devices, then Pen & Windows Ink.  Here you can fine-tune the experience of your Surface Pen.

Choices such as are you left or right-handed, really show the design thought that has gone in behind the use of the pen,  you, of course, choose how the button reacts when pushed, see the diagram below.


Deciding what you want the pen button to do when pressed can save time for the Surface user!  Click once, Double Click and Press & hold can all be configured independently.   So if you are a OneNote user simply get into your notes by single-clicking the pen button can save you mountains of time

Now we are comfortable with the position of our device for inking, lets launch Microsoft Word and see how we use digital inking on an application we would traditionally use only a keyboard.

This really shows how integral the Surface Pen is to make the device as productive as possible with the Microsoft 365 suite.



Inking in Microsoft Office

You will notice on any version of Office 2016 & above you now have a Draw menu


So as you can see in the Pens section you have a range of pens including glittery pens which are ideal for younger students! To get writing its simply a case of selecting your pen (and with your device positioned for you) just start writing.     Once you have started writing or drawing you can have your drawing played back to you by using Ink Replay.     This is ideal when drawing an example or even showing off how to form letters for handwriting.


Ink to shape allows the production of perfect squares and ellipses when you are drawing freehand. Just make sure your shape joins up and the AI helper behind the scenes will do the rest for you.

Ink Editor allows you to edit /review your documents in a natural way, check out the video below to see some of the functionality from the Ink Editor

So as you have seen, getting started with digital inking is simple with the Surface Pen and Microsoft Surface.  As we move forward to show you other pen aware applications, you begin to see Surface Pen is integral to allow innovation in the classroom.

Next steps

Check out the following research

Find out more about Surface by checking out our Surface Resource pack here at