Back when I was a student, I took notes ferociously — eating up every word and condensing it into bite-size bullets to pore over later. Never in my wildest dreams could I have predicted the laptop tablet hybrid market or stylus pen category that make student life so much more efficient now. And having tested the Surface Pro 6 for many months, I can say with total confidence that it’s the best tablet for students because it’s the best tablet for note-taking.
Although I’ll be writing about the Surface Pro 6 in this post — which you can think of as either a laptop with a detachable screen or a tablet with a detachable keyboard — I have tried other Surface Pros before (like the Surface Pro 4) and I think it’s important to note that the best tablet for school is the one that fits your budget. Period.
And while the Surface Pro 6 will probably have a few more bells and whistles than a previous generation, as long as you can add on the Surface Pen, that — in my opinion — is one of the key features that makes it the best tablet for note-taking.
The best tablet for students
Before we get into what makes the Surface Pro 6 the best tablet for taking handwritten notes, I want to chat more generally about why I think it’s one of the best tablets for school in general.
My work-style is very much like an average student’s: I’m always on-the-go and I often need to work remotely. My whole life needs to be able to exist inside of one conveniently compact digital package, and my computer-of-choice needs to be consistently fast and reliable to get the job done every time.
I also happened to be a student for more than half of my life to date (between elementary and school plus university AND college), so I get what’s important to make the grade.
There are a lot of different tablets for school on the market these days, but something simple like a netbook tablet, which may work well for kids up until they hit postsecondary school, isn’t going to cut it for college or university students. Even though they’re budget-friendly, keep in mind that netbook tablets have less hard drive space and processing power than their two-in-one laptop-tablet hybrid cousins. This is where spending a bit more will reward you in the long-term, because to be the most cost-effective, you want to get through all three or four years of your educational program using the same study tablet!
The Surface Pro 6 has enough power and memory that I run my small business on it entirely — including the full Windows Office suite (Microsoft Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.). My kids watch Netflix, paint and draw on my Surface Pro, and I stream my reality TV with ease on it, too.
At the end of the day, the best tablet for students will provide enough oomph for work AND play.
Why choose tablets for college (or university)?
So, why am I suggesting a hybrid tablet like the Surface Pro over a laptop? EASY: footprint and versatility.
My Surface Pro 6 is only about 12″ across and fits into the sleeve of a tiny day-pack I have (specifically the Timbuk2 Recruit Pack), which doubles as both my personal item when I travel by air as well as my commuter bag when I head into the city to work.
By comparison, my old laptop (which was by no means very large to begin with) only fit into a bigger backpack or a laptop-friendly messenger bag, for example. It was more cumbersome, heavier and took up more room in public places — I tend to work in coffee shops and resto-lounges quite often. The Surface Pro, on the other hand, is super-light and can squeeze into the tiniest workspaces.
One of the things I love most about my Surface Pro 6 is that it operates just as well as a tablet as it does as a laptop. It’s not about tablet vs. laptop — it’s both, and one function doesn’t outshine the other.
As a tablet, I can touch the screen at any time. This comes in handy not only if I’ve detached the Surface Pro Signature Type Cover (which acts as both keyboard and protective screen cover) and am using it to draw, take notes or stream TV and video content, but it also makes some regular computing functions faster. Rather than using my mousepad to move around a cursor to click on something, I can just tap it with my finger.
For example, want to get rid of a bunch of Gmail messages? Just tap the checkbox beside each one with your finger on the screen in quick succession. It’s miles faster than using the mouse.
Pausing and playing streamed content is also more intuitive with something like the Surface Pro 6 because most of us are used to doing so with the touchscreens on our smartphones or other tablet-style devices.
As a laptop, the Surface Pro 6 offers lots of hard drive storage, super-speedy function, a keyboard option that — after seven months of use — has proven durable, and a beautiful display for anything that work or school throw at you. It’s enough of a powerhouse to handle the full Microsoft Office suite, too; I haven’t experienced any lags or storage issues (and I have put this thing to the test, including storing A LOT of photos and other content on the hard drive).
There’s even more versatility if you’re into drawing and painting, because using the Surface Pen, you (or your kids) can doodle, paint and colour to your heart’s content:
Want the best tablet for note-taking? This is it.
If I had been able to store all of my notes digitally as a student, it would’ve been a gamechanger. Back then, I was a much faster handwriter than typist (thought that’s changed since my jobs for nearly the last two decades have been writing-based).
The best part about a tablet that has a detachable keyboard is that YOU get to be in charge of how you take notes. So if your typing skills are where it’s at, the Surface Pro is compact enough to squeeze into most spots and narrow enough that you won’t be elbowing your neighbour over and over.
But if you’re Speedy Gonzales on the handwriting front, the Surface Pro series — with the addition of the Surface Pen (an exremely touch-sensitive stylus, complete with an “eraser”) — is the best tablet for taking handwritten notes because it allows you to set up notebooks (in Notebook Pro, built into your Surface Pro 6).
These notebooks could easily be arranged by course, and within each notebook, you can choose from blank pages, lined pages, checklist-style pages, graph pages, and storyboarding pages. Using the Surface Pen, you can write on any of these just as you would regular paper, with just as much control as you’d get using a brand new pen or pencil — except you’ll never need a fresh pen or a pencil sharpener ever again.
Within Notebook Pro, you can easily change the colour of your pen, the thickness and texture and erase whenever you need to — without using a real eraser than leaves little bits of rubber everywhere or a hint of Whiteout.
Doing group work and need to brainstorm? Just add a blank page, detach your Surface Type Cover (keyboard), lay it flat and work around it together, jotting down ideas however it makes sense.
The best part about all of this is that you’re never going to lose a piece of paper, and there are no photocopies required to share notes. Back everything up in the cloud and share notes with the whole class if that’s your jam.
How to right click on the Surface Pro 6
I don’t have a lot of techie tips & tricks, but since this one took me a while to figure out, I thought I’d share. I don’t use an external mouse — only the mouse pad built into the Surface Pro 6 — and there’s no obvious way to right click. Put your finger on the lower-right corner of the mouse pad and press down (rather than just touching it lightly like you need to for everything else); this will now bring up your right-click menu options.
Things I love about the Surface Pro 6
Without question, the Surface Pro 6 wins the stunning picture quality award. It’s a pleasure to look at this screen every day! Colours are vibrant, blacks are black, images are crisp and clear.
The battery life is very good. I can only compare it to laptops I’ve had in the past, since this is the first tablet laptop hybrid I’ve ever owned, but it can last almost an entire workday (which for me is usually 12 hours) on a single charge.
There’s an extra USB port in the charging cord, which is great since there’s only one built in to the tablet itself.
The Surface Pro 6 also features an SD card slot, making it easy to transfer photos from your DSLR or mirrorless cameras directly to your Surface Pro without requiring an adaptor.
There’s even a headphone jack, and in a world that’s now deleting those from smartphone design, I personally appreciate having one. (Maybe that’s just the GenXer in me speaking…?)
I love, love, LOVE that it’s compact, light and easy to carry. It never feels cumbersome, even on trips (and I’m a carry-on packing only kind of gal).
Although some may disagree, I personally find that the Surface Pro 6 screen is largely unaffected by sunlight, so working outside or in front of a window isn’t an issue. It’s not uncommon for me to sit at my kitchen table with our huge patio doors behind me. I’ve also worked outside on our patio (under an umbrella, mind you) and had no problem whatsoever.
The built-in kickstand is equally amazing for watching content if you’re just using it as a tablet AND to adjust screen level if you’re typing.
You’re not tied to a perfectly flat surface; the design is such that even if you want to work in bed, you can. I often prop it in front of me and swoop the keyboard up onto my crossed legs. It’s not exactly ergonomical, and my massage therapist would gasp in horror, but it works.
I’ve accidentally spilled a few drops of water onto the keypad and it beaded enough that I was able to quickly sop it all up with a paper towel without further incident.
I’ve even dropped my day pack on the ground by accident from chair height, and despite there being very little by way of extra padding for my Surface Pro, it came out unscathed.
Things that irritate me about the Surface Pro 6
The magnetic end that connects the charging cord to the Surface Pro won’t stay in if the cord happens to get tugged on. It’s magnetism seems much weaker than what connects the keyboard to the tablet.
There aren’t a lot of fun colours available if you want to personalize your device. (I mean, obviously I would love a hot pink version…but the matte black is nice nonetheless).
You will pay for convenience — these aren’t the cheapest laptops out there, but their flexibility and durability make them worth the price tag (which varies based on a bunch of factors, like processor, RAM, storage and accessories). Like I said, the best tablet for school is the one you can afford, but if you can swing it, there’s no doubt in my mind that between the footprint and features on the Surface Pro 6, it’s going to be the best tablet for note-taking.
I’m not able to charge my large external battery by plugging its charging cord into the USB port on the tablet — there just isn’t enough juice to support it (I mean, it’s a whopper, but still)
On two occasions in the seven months I’ve been using the Surface Pro 6, something has gone wonky and it thinks I’m viewing in tablet mode when I actually want to type like it’s a laptop. A quick pull of the keypad cover (it’s magnetic) to remove and replace it a few seconds later did the trick both times, but it was weird.
People with very large hands may find the typing experience a bit cramped. It’s the perfect fit for me with average woman-sized mitts, though.
I have yet to figure out why my Surface Pen won’t let me use the “eraser” end for anything other than erasing, because I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to have other functionality. Not a huge deal because I don’t use it all that often, but I might be pretty motivated to figure it out if I was using my Surface Pro 6 as a study tablet!
Have questions about the Surface Pro 6? Shoot ’em down in the comments.
DISCLAIMER: Microsoft Canada provided me with this device to facilitate this post. I was not compensated in any other way and my opinions are my own, as always.