How to Take Notes on the Microsoft Surface Pro

March 1, 2023

Considering a Surface Pro for note-taking? 

Here's everything you need to know about taking handwritten notes on the Surface Pro – from how to make it feel more natural to templates you can download.

  1. Benefits of handwritten digital notes
  2. Best note-taking apps on the Surface Pro
  3. Tips for note-taking on the Surface Pro
  4. How to set up a stylus with the Surface Pro 
  5. What are the best styluses for the Surface Pro? 
  6. Free note-taking templates

Benefits of digital note-taking on the Surface Pro 

If you're on the fence about leaving your paper notebooks behind... check out what you can do when you take notes on the Surface Pro. 

1. Search and find any of your notes

When you replace your physical notebooks with digital, everything you write down becomes searchable

That includes: 

  • typed text
  • handwritten text 
  • imported PDFs, like textbooks or 
  • text in images 

That means you’ll never have to spend time rifling through a bunch of pages just to find what you’re looking for.

2. Resize, move around, and change the color of your words to easily edit your notes

Made a mistake? Simply undo.

Wrote something in the wrong place? You can circle some text and move it to a different part of the page. 

Making changes to things that you’ve already written down is so much easier when you’re writing on the Surface Pro. 

This makes it easier to make your notes look neater, or even get creative and decorate them. 

3. Unlimited pages, pens, and highlighters 

Ditch the mountains of notebooks and clunky pencil cases of the past!

Digital note-taking on your Surface Pro means that you have access to everything on one slim device: 

  • Create as many notebooks as you want without waste
  • Choose a variety of pen types (ballpoint, brush, etc.) using a single stylus
  • Use as many colors of pens and highlighters as you want 

4. Add photos, links, and drawings for richer notes

When you use a note-taking app you can easily add in visuals and links to create richer notes.

digital notes on surface pro

5. Share and collaborate on your notes.

Most note-taking apps for the Surface Pro have features that make it super easy to collaborate with others.

Have a friend taking a course you’ve taken before? Send a link to your notebook to share last year’s lecture notes. 

Want to create a shared journal with a friend? Invite them to collaborate from their own device. 

Read more about the benefits of digital note-taking.

Best note-taking apps on the Surface Pro 

What’s the best note-taking app for the Surface Pro? Here are some tried and tested note-taking apps that won’t disappoint. 

1. Microsoft OneNote

Price: Free, up to 5GB of storage

To no one’s surprise, Microsoft’s very own OneNote is a great note-taking app for the Surface Pro. 

Image from Microsoft

Feature snapshot: 

  • Infinite canvas, so you have the flexibility to draw or write without being confined to a page 
  • Combine typed and handwritten notes in your notes
  • Available on Windows, Android, iOS, and web, meaning you can sync your notes on any of your devices 

Bottom line: Best note-taking app for people who want to combine typed and handwritten notes seamlessly 

2. Xodo PDF

Price: Free (with a $12 a month pro plan) 

If you work with a lot of PDFs with sensitive information in your job, you can try Xodo PDF. Xodo works as a PDF reader/editor and is built with business needs in mind. 

Photo from Xodo PDF

Feature snapshot: 

  • Password protect PDFs 
  • Convert PDFs to and from other file formats 
  • Crop PDFs
  • Merge PDFs

It’s worth mentioning that you can also easily annotate PDFs with note-taking apps like Goodnotes and Onenote. So if you’re mainly looking for a tool to markup a PDF, we’d recommend Goodnotes. 

Bottom line: The best note-taking app for professionals using their Surface Pro for business and require robust PDF features. 

3. Bamboo Paper by Wacom

Price: Free

With Bamboo Paper, you take notes, and even create sketches, and drawings on your Surface Pro. 

One of the standout features of the app is its ability to recognize the pen you are using, adjusting the stroke accordingly.

Feature snapshot: 

  • Create the exact color you want with the color sliders
  • Several pen options, including brush, pencil, ballpoint pen and more

The features are admittedly quite light, so this note-taking app lends itself better to a casual user.

Bottom line: Best note-taking app for casual artists who want to draw and take notes on their Surface Pro 

4. Goodnotes

Price: 3 free notebooks or or $6.99/year

Goodnotes is renowned for making people actually enjoy taking digital notes. There’s just something about how the Goodnotes ink feels falls on the page as you write.

While for years it was exclusively on iPad and the Apple ecosystem, Goodnotes for Windows is now live. 

Feature snapshot:

  • 20+ default note-taking templates, including Cornell notes, graph paper, dotted paper, and even scheduling templates 
  • Ability to import and annotate PDFs, like planners, lecture slides, and eBooks

Bottom line: Best note-taking app for people who don’t want to sacrifice the feeling of writing on paper love to write 

Since all these note-taking apps are free to try, there’s no harm in downloading a couple and seeing which works for you.

Tips for Note-taking on the Surface Pro

Writing on a smooth screen can take some getting used to. 

Here are some tips for note-taking on the Surface Pro that will make it feel a thousand times more natural. 

1. Use a matte screen protector 

Tired of your stylus slipping around the page? Stick on a matte screen protector.

Matte screen protectors are more textured than the smooth plastic ones. It will add just enough friction for your stylus to make it feel more like paper.

You can find several affordable options on Amazon, for example: 

Something to note, however, is that matte screen protectors can sometimes diminish the crisp display quality of your screen.

2. Haptic feedback can make a big difference 

You know the feeling when your video game controller realistically rumbles in your hand when you press certain buttons? That’s haptic feedback. 

Haptic feedback are vibrations that are transmitted in response to certain actions. In this case, a stylus using haptic feedback will vibrate in a way that feels like a pencil would when writing on paper. 

Right now, the Microsoft Slim Pen 2 is the only Surface stylus that supports haptic feedback. It really does make note-taking on the Surface Pro feel more natural. 

3. Lay the Surface down flat so your hand is at the optimal position

It might be tempting to write with the Surface Pro propped up, but we recommend laying it flat. 

Your hand will have a more stable surface and can lean on the desk for support. 

It gives you a more comfortable writing experience, just like when writing on paper.

4. Use a thicker pen size

Surprisingly, a thicker pen stroke can make wobbly strokes look smoother. 

Try increasing the thickness of your strokes, and you might be surprised by how much nicer your handwritten notes turn out. 

5. Start with some note-taking templates 

Just as you might buy a graph paper notebook or dotted paper notebook for different notes, you can explore different note-taking templates on your Surface too. 

Templates can help guide how you organize information, so you’re not just faced with a blank page. 

Note-taking apps will typically allow you to import PDFs or other templates that you can find online. Some, like Goodnotes, already come with a variety of templates by default. 

(Check out some free to download templates at the end!) 

How to set up a stylus with the Surface Pro 

Step 1: Pair your stylus

If you have a Surface Pen or compatible stylus, you need to pair it with your Surface Pro. To do this, press and hold the eraser button on the top of the stylus for five seconds until the LED light starts flashing. 

Then, go to "Settings" > "Devices" > "Bluetooth & other devices" on your Surface Pro and select "Add Bluetooth or other device." Choose "Bluetooth" and select your stylus from the list of available devices.

Palm rejection will automatically be on. That means you can rest your hand on the screen while writing!  

Step 2: Configure your stylus settings

Once your stylus is paired, you can configure its settings. Go to "Settings" > "Devices" > "Pen & Windows Ink" to adjust settings such as pen pressure sensitivity, tilt sensitivity, and button functions.

Step 3: Start using your stylus

Now that your stylus is paired and configured, you can start using it. You can draw, take notes, or navigate the screen with your stylus. You can even customize the different buttons to perform different actions. 

What are the best styluses for the Surface Pro? 

When looking for the best stylus for the Surface Pro, you’re in luck because there are many. 

We’d recommend looking at options from the following brands:

These are all brands that are known for producing reputable styluses for tablets, including the Surface Pro. 

There are 3 main things that will make a difference to the way your handwriting looks and feels on the Surface: 

  1. Support for haptic feedback. Haptic feedback are essentially little vibrations that mimic the response or friction that you get with physical paper. 
  2. Pressure sensitivity. This affects how thick or thin your lines turn out, depending on how hard you press down. The higher the sensitivity, the better.
  3. Tilt support. Imagine turning your pencil at an angle to shade in some areas of a sketch. A stylus that has tilt support makes that possible on digital notes.

Overall, we’d recommend the Microsoft Surface Slim Pen 2 for its smoothness, precision, and ability to mimic the friction of writing on paper (with haptic feedback). 

If you don’t want to spend that much on a stylus, the Adonit Neo Ink stylus is a great alternative too. 

For more information, you can read an in-depth comparison of the best Surface Pro styluses here.

Note-taking Templates for the Surface Pro 

Here are some free note-taking templates you can download to your Surface Pro. Most note-taking apps like Goodnotes and Onenote will allow you to import them to use. 

1. Cornell Notes Template

Cornell notes are one of the most popular note-taking methods for students. 

These are best used for any notes that you’d come back to read again – for example, lecture notes or meeting notes. And the prompt to create a summary is great for practicing active recall after jotting information down. 

Download a free Cornell notes template here.

2. Lined Paper Template

Lined paper is a no-brainer for most notes. 

Here are some lined paper templates you can download, including some variations with columns. 

3. Graph Paper Template 

If you’re drawing diagrams or writing equations, graph paper is the obvious choice. 

Download a free graph paper template here.

Tip: The grids on graph paper are also great for keeping your handwriting neat and tidy. 

4. Thought Record Template 

Finding yourself a bit stressed? 

If you’re using your Surface Pro to journal or de-stress, you might have use for a thought record. 

Thought Records are a mainstay in CBT (Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy). They can help you manage your thoughts and emotions better, when it feels like everything is too much. 

Download a free thought record template here.

See here for more note-taking methods

Ready to start note-taking on the Surface Pro? 

You won't look back, we promise.

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