Things to Try If Your Surface Pro 3 Pen Doesn’t Work

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surface pro 3 pen issues

What to do if your Surface Pro 3 Pen doesn’t work right

The Surface Pro 3’s pen is one of its best Surface features. It feels just like a regular pen and closely emulates the pen and paper experience on the Surface tablets, see Differences between Surface Pro 2 and Surface Pro 3 pen

In addition to writing on the tablet, the pen allows you turn the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 on and off from sleep state, open OneNote, take a screenshot, erase, and even right-click. It’s really pretty cool.

But what do you do if your Surface Pro 3 pen stops working correctly?

The Surface is so dependent on its pen that without it, it really loses some great functionality. So, you obviously want to be able to figure out how to troubleshoot it. Fortunately, it’s actually pretty easy.

#1 thing to try if your Surface Pro 3 pen doesn’t work: Check the batteries

The Surface pen requires a AAAA battery – it came with the pen. So, if your pen is suddenly non-responsive, i.e. it doesn’t write and none of the buttons work, the first thing to try is to replace the battery. You do so by unscrewing the top of the pen from the bottom and removing the old battery.

There are also two size 319 coin cell batteries inside your pen. If your pen doesn’t work AND the light in step #2 below doesn’t flash, then you may also need to replace them. This is a bit more complicated as it requires a jeweler’s Phillips screwdriver. See instructions below from Microsoft (click to enlarge):

pen-battery-instructions


#2 thing to try if your Surface Pro 3  pen doesn’t work: Make sure your pen is paired correctly

Your pen is a Bluetooth device. But if you look under the Bluetooth settings on your Surface you will see that it is showing as “Not connected”. According to Microsoft this is normal because the pen only uses Bluetooth when the top purple button is pressed, so when you look at your Bluetooth device list, it always shows as “Not connected” and this is normal.

However, I have had a couple of instances on my Surface Pro 3, when clicking the top button did not open OneNote nor take a screen shot. If this happens to you, you will need to pair the pen.

Here is how to pair it manually:

  • Got to Settings and tap Change PC settings
  • Tap PC and devices and then tap Bluetooth
  • Double-check that Bluetooth is turned on
  • If you see the Surface Pen on the list of the devices, tap it and tell it to Remove device
  • Now that you no long see the Surface Pen under Bluetooth, hold down the top purple button on the pen, until a green light in starts flashing (about 7 seconds) in the middle of your pen. This will force your pen to reconnect.
  • When the pen shows up on the list again, tap it and then tell it to Pair.

#3 thing to try if your Surface Pro 3 pen doesn’t work: Install the latest Surface updates and driver

You should always make sure you keep your Surface updates current. However, what you may not know is that if your pen is not pressure sensitive in certain apps, it likely because you need to install the N-trig Wintab driver. To do this you will need to go to the N-trig Downloads & Drivers website and download the correct driver from the list: Windows 8.1 64 bit, Microsoft, Surface Pro 3. Then simply run it and follow the prompts.

#4 thing to try if your Surface Pro 3 pen doesn’t work: Call Microsoft

If your pen writes but the buttons do not work, you should contact Microsoft. You may have a defective pen and if your device is still under warranty, they will replace it.

You may also like our posts on Optimize Your Surface Pro 3 and How to get support for Microsoft hardware.

Joanna-

 


44 COMMENTS

  1. Wow!
    My pen is working fine right now, but this is really handy information for that day when it quits on me!
    Thank you both so much!
    Great information Fast -and right here!
    Mark

  2. My pen works when i click the buttons but doesnt work when i want to write. I press the top button to go to one note and it does but i cant take notes with the pen.

      • Spencer/Karen.

        Try removing and re-pairing the pen under Bluetooth settings but, this time, after you unpair do a complete shutdown of your Surface before turning it back on and re-pairing it.

        I haven’t seen that exact issue but, I’ve had good luck doing this to fix other nagging issues with the pen.

        If that doesn’t work, swap out the AAA battery (even if it seems to be good).

        Hope this helps,
        Tim

          • Evidently the AAAA batteries do not control the purple button. The purple button can work but the pen will not write. If the issue is with the writing, the first thing to check is the AAAA batteries. Don’t be misled because the purple button works because the power for that part comes from the other batteries.

    • Spencer,

      Your pen is almost two separate devices. The purple button that takes you to OneNote (LOVE) uses the 319 coin batteries and the stylus part uses the AAAA batteries. So while you can go to OneNote you may not be able to write or draw. I suggest that you just remove the AAAA battery and put it back in again. Try that and let us know if it works as well for you as it does for me.

  3. The tip of the week is overly complicated.

    I find that if I do a hard reset of the pen by just taking the AAAA battery out and putting it back in it again it starts working all by itself. This is much simpler than having to unpair and then pair it again.

    However having said that it is annoying to have to do this every other day and there has to be a better solution from Microsoft.

    Another issue is that my pen has become dented under the pocket clip and this makes removing the battery a little difficult.

    • You don’t need to take the battery out to reset it. Just twist the cap off about one full turn and then screw the cap on again. Contemporary speculation believes that this issue is caused by static electricity buildup. I subscribe to that idea myself. If a positive charge is building up on the anode side of the circuit, which is near the pen cap, it would reduce the current flow, even enough to stop it if it builds high enough before discharge. (a built up negative charge at the opposite end would do the same thing but Im thinking it isnt doing that) That is why I believe that this is causing both the unresponsive pen and the “ghost touches” that users have experienced on a regular basis.A physical indicator that the theory has merit is that you can discharge it by breaking the circuit (unscrewing the cap). But another method of resolving the problem also seems to support this idea. If you take your non-responsive or ghost touching pen and place it on the right side of your Surface 3 to where the power cord is snapped in, you can attach it to the surface 3 via the magnet there at the power receptacle. Notice that your pen is only attracted at 2 points. The first is along the pen where the body of the battery is housed. The 2nd is the metal loop attached to the pen. Interestingly enough, when you attach and leave it there for a few seconds then try it again, the pen will once again work for you. Could it be that placing it at that magnet at the power receptacle is drawing off this theoretical charge?

      I didn’t just think about this, I investigated. Where exactly could this mysterious theoretical charge be building? Well one way to build up a charge is through induction. For that you would need a closed loop of wire and a magnetic field. Well we know we’ve got the electromagnetic field sitting right there in our laps, so on to find the closed metal loop. Say, we just talked about as metal loop didn’t we? It is right there on the side of the pen, and coincidentally it also happens to be right where we are expecting this charge to be building. We know that it is metal because it is attracted to the magnet.

      So on to the next key question…is it a closed loop? If not it cant be our culprit. So I checked it out and the first thing that I noticed is that the clip loop enters the pen through 2 holes. Still not conclusive as it doesnt mean that they are connected to form the closed loop. So we need to look inside. I found that the best method that I could find was not to open the cap. Take bright penlight or use the LED for the camera in your smartphone and press it right up against the casing. That opaque grey turns into a semi-transparent window to the inside workings like an X-ray. Now it isn’t possible for me to see for 100% certainty without tearing the cap apart, but what it appears to me that was done was probably thought to be a great 2 for 1 engineering trick. Unfortunately it appears they were wearing their mechanical engineering hat and not the electronics one.

      It looks like the clip is being used as a clip, but also as a means of fastening the top button mechanism to the housing of the pen. But that isn’t all. Just because we could build up a charge doesn’t mean that can go anywhere near the circuit down below where the AAAA battery circuit lies.
      Ahh, but you see, it does.The reason is that the top button has to be able to close its circuit with 2 disc batteries below to do its magic. What happens is that the circuit is open (not working) until you press that button where it bridges the open path between the positive end of the battery and the negative end, closing the circuit so that current can flow and OneNote open for you. Nothing wrong with that.

      Except that in this case our closed metal clip loop appears to be attached inside to the button frame that in turn has a metal lead that goes down to the negative end of the disc batteries. That loop has to be closed somehow right? The problem is that the negative end of the disc batteries shares its housing with the negative end of the AAAA batteries. So it looks like we do have a closed metal loop sharing the same electrical point as the negative end of the AAAA batteries, meaning that through induction we can build up a more positive charge there and interfering with the proper functioning of the circuit.
      So what can we do? Well one thing is discharging the the negative end of the battery. That is why unscrewing the cap (or removing the battery) works. It isn’t the connection to its intended circuit that needs to be broken. It is the one to our (apparently) closed induction loop.It is probably also why placing the pen at the magnet at the power port works too. It gives that charge an opportunity to bleed off.
      So why doesn’t discharge through you? You are touching it after all. Well the likely one is that you are probably isolated from ground when this happens. Your rubber soled shoes, carpeting and any number of other materials that are non-conductive like the couch when you are laying on it with your feet of of the floor can isolate you from ground. Hence the warning to ground yourself when handling electronics. Isolated from ground any charge that you have can go through your new $500 component instead of the easy path to ground.

      So another thing that we might do is ground that metal loop on the pen. A wire from the clip loop down to the surface pro 3 will likely do that trick but I am not certain that is a good idea or not. A typical ground strap would work but we are trying to be mobile over here.

      The easiest way may just be to clip the loop with wire cutters and eliminate the induction.

      Of course this is all still a theory and Im not certain anyone should us a destructive method of resolving this very annoying problem. For now perhaps it is best to simply unscrew the cap a full turn and twist it closed again. It doesn’t make the problem go away, but at least it isn’t a really time consuming work around.

      • George, I don’t know how the heck you figured all this out, but I am very thankful that there is finally a working solution and a very accurate description of why my pen was doing that!!

        Not even the Microsoft people could tell me what was wrong with my pen. All they wanted to do was sell me a new one. But that’s ok, I still love my SP3 and once again, thank you so much for your insight!!!

        • It is just a semi-educated guess and I have a background in successfully troubleshooting and finding solutions to problems for technology that I know (at the time) very little about. It is too bad that the solution is just temporary, but I did find a permanent one that i will post below. It is simply grounding the pen.

      • George: Thank you! This helped my troubleshoot my problem. When unscrewing the pen (with a 4 day old battery) didn’t solve the problem I went into trouble shooting mode with your discussion on static electricity build up in mind.

        Long story short…I removed the fleece sweatshirt I was wearing, reinserted the battery, and have had no problem with the pen becoming unresponsive. It might be easier to think about what could be generating static electricity rather than creating a grounding solution.

        Thanks again!

        • Aargh. Shortly after this the pen became unresponsive again…no fleece sweatshirt involved.

          Stayed that way for hours.

          Here’s my question…is there a possibility of the spring shorting out the negative end against the metal housing? Or is that how the current naturally flows?

        • so…the pen did become responsive again, but I did get in touch with Microsoft support through their online chat. They are sending me a replacement since I went through all the troubleshooting steps.
          The tech I chatted with also though that static electricity buildup is not involved in this problem.

      • Not sure how relevant this is, but I clipped my pen to the inside type case – the part where it kicks up when in use as a means of securing the pen to the device – recommended by a fan on a reddit forum. Unfortunately once folded together this broke the loop right off the pen. At first I was able to shove it back in, but it is no longer secure. So now I just don’t use it. The main issue I get is ‘trailing’ – where there is a messy trail left between any marks I make. Reading your explanation, i tried the cap unscrew – which seemed to work!

  4. My pen works when I want to write and things like that but when I try to launch OneNote it does work. I went it to Bluetooth to try and re connect it but, it says the my pen isn’t paired with my surface. When I then try and pair it, it says its unsuccessful… can anyone help me ?

  5. My problem is when I use one note, without touching the screen it writes, so I end up with little dots and lines while writing. Then it causes one note to crash

  6. Rob, thank you so much for that piece of advice. After having spent 3 hours on it, downloading updates, re pairing and who knows what else……….that’s all it took. Loving SP3

  7. I have done everything suggested above and I still cannot get my pen to write. I press the top and immediately go to OneNote. But nothing else works. I have re-paired, reset and redone everything I know to do and IT STILL DOESN’T WORK. I just bought this thing a couple weeks ago. Does anybody have any suggestions?

    • John,

      You might have a bad pen. Try taking it to a retail store where they have a SP3 on display and see if you can pair it with the display model and use it. If the problem follows, it’s almost definitely your pen (especially if their display pen works).

      Just make sure the sales folks know you brought your own pen so they don’t think you stole it.

      If you happen to have a Microsoft Store nearby and do this, they might just replace your pen on the spot for you. We’ve always had good luck getting them to replace stuff for us.

      http://www.lovemysurface.net/another-successful-trip-microsoft-retail-store/

      Hope this helps,
      Tim

      • I’m having the same problem with my pen. My SP3 is about 6 weeks old and it just cut out today. I’ve tried these fixes without success. Surely, if my pen was defective, it would have been from the get go not 6 weeks in, right?

  8. Hello there,

    I was loving my surface pro 3 pen and all related functionalities with it until I realized yesterday that, when handwriting on Onenote (and generally every other clicking with the pen tip),
    it needs me to press harder the pen onto the screen in order to hand write or make that click.
    This higher pressure necessity during handwriting and clicking makes me so bored with it.
    The pen still recognizes the different levels of harder sensitiveness showing thicker or thinner lines on handwriting, but it needs to push it on screen much harder than I’ve used it till now.

    Does anyone faced same problem?
    Is it there any solution for this?

    Thnx

    • Erjon,

      You could try downloading Surface Hub from the Windows Store. It’s kind of a crappy app but, it does have an adjustment for pen sensitivity that MIGHT help.

      Since it’s free, it’s worth a shot.

      Hope it helps,
      Tim

  9. Hi there, the issue we had was top button pairing ok & one note opening but writing & side buttons were not. I had tried all solutions above. The one that worked for me was posted by George:

    If you take your non-responsive or ghost touching pen and place it on the right side of your Surface 3 to where the power cord snaps in you can attach it to the surface 3 via the magnet there at the power receptacle…..Interestingly enough, when you attach and leave it there for a few seconds then try it again, the pen will once again work for you.

    Thank you!

  10. Okay, here’s a strange variant to the problem:

    I have TWO pens — the 2nd being a spare that I carry in my jacket while traveling, in case I lose my primary pen (fortunately, it hasn’t happened!)

    My primary pen and Surface was working fine all morning. Suddenly, the pen won’t write/click/act-as-a-mouse, etc. The purple button, though, does get me to one-note.

    The catch is, the 2nd pen isn’t working either (except for the purple button)!

    I’ve rebooted the tablet, thinking that the pen/touch sensor on the screen was acting up. No luck. Though I don’t think it’s the case, I did all of the un/re-pairing as suggested here. Still no luck.

    Any other brilliant ideas??

    • Check device manager for any problems. You can also try the Action center troubleshooter. If they aren’t showing anything or show problems it can’t resolve, you might try using the list system restore point to roll back any system configuration changes that may have taken place. Finally you might try a hard reset that involves holding the volume and power buttons and releasing then after 10 or 15 seconds (please google exact instructions)
      If these fail you will need Surface support.

  11. George Neville, I don’t think I’ve ever posted with such gratitude! Thank you! Your post rang a bell. I immediately put on an “electrostatic wrist strap” (other readers – google the phrase for purchase and use). I grounded it properly (cold tap, bolt in brick wall etc). I put in an ‘old’ battery (5-6 hours use, 1.54V instead of 1.6V). The SP3 pen has worked faultlessly for several hours without *one* occurrence of connection etc. issues. Clearly a design flaw in the pen – but I don’t care! I’m now flying and I *love my Surface Pro 3″ and OneNote killer app. I did try grounding to the SP3 case (similar to the magnetic clipon) and it does make the pen more reliable, but not perfect. Thanks George – Big Ups 😉
    PS – my life in computers encompasses 2/3 of the entire history of the computing industry – so loving the SP3 is a big compliment 🙂

    • Hey, I love my Surface Pro 3 too! It is why I am so determined to resolve this pen problem I am having once and for all. I’m glad that you were able to use the guesswork to arrive at a working solution! It still isn’t mobile though and I am also trying to work out the details of using the Surface for this purpose. Out of curiosity, where on the pen and surface did you try your connections?
      I was able to get a successful ground to the surface and pen but it isn’t a method that I will post because if you get it wrong some undesirable things could happen. It isn’t difficult at all, but I don’t want to see someone get it wrong and post back here.With that said, it is absolutely set to the Surface ground reference and the Surface pen has never been more accurate and responsive as when I run a ground from the pen to the Surface.
      I think that I have a good configuration that anyone can use as I’ve located some excellent points using my multimeter. I am still gathering information to make certain that I get a (near) perfect solution and not just one that seems to work at first. As an example of the considerations, the Surface Pro 3 case is made from magnesium. Magnesium is quite prone to corrosion and so it is given a special coating to prevent this. When you use a grounding strap with clips, what they are doing is essentially penetrating that coating to get to the conductive under layer of magnesium alloy. While it may work in the short term, in the long term it is not so great. One reason is that magnesium is at the bottom of the galvanic series of metals. Functionally that means that if it is in contact with a different metal higher on that list and in the presence of an electrolyte (like your sweat or other moisture) then it will begin to lose material as it functions as a galvanic anode. In other words, corrode at an accelerated rate.

      This has gotten way too long! Here are some links I uncovered along the way. I found what I believe to be a partial schematic for the pen and the patent material. Reading it over there are a few things that could be happening. Here is a very interesting quote, as in if the 2nd circuit isolating capacitor were to go bad in the proper way, it looks like the circuits would still function apparently normally except without the isolation from the inductance of the transformer. (Remember my actual snipe hunt is in trying to figure out where my theoretical inductance could be coming from) To QA the pen would look good in short tests, and often would function normally, but sometimes it would place voltage where it shouldn’t be, probably the receiver circuit. Maybe the design is perfect, but we got pens that used a bad batch of capacitors? I’ll have to learn more basic electronics until I can work out the math to know if that is actually possible…

      http://www.faqs.org/patents/app/20120050207
      http://www.faqs.org/patents/imgfull/20120050207_05
      http://www.microsoftproductreviews.com/surface/all-responses-with-questions-reddit-ama-panos-panay-surface-team/

      • Supplementary info. I realised after posting the unreliability over the last week or two might be due to a change in habits. I only use the pen for an hour or two a day at most, the rest of the time the SP3 is used with external monitor, keyboard and mouse like a standard desktop. Over the 3 months of reliability I almost always left the pen disassembled into 3 separate parts when not in use: upper, lower and AAAA battery. No idea why this should make a difference, but it might be a clue for your electronic detective work, George. I’m just hoping that the SP4 pen is backwards compatible – it will probably work perfectly 😉

    • Try calibrating the pen. Just type ‘calibrate’ into the search bar and select ‘Calibrate the screen for pen or touch input’ to access the ‘Tablet PC Settings’ utility, then tap the ‘Calibrate’ button and follow the prompts.

      Gordon

  12. Hi George.
    Apologies for not replying earlier – I didn’t get an email notifying me of your response. After 3 months:
    1) I used the SP3 & pen while wearing a grounding strap attached to a cold water pipe. Nothing was connected to the SP3 or the pen – I was relying on conductance through skin. This seemed to be very reliable (say 95%). However, as you said, not mobile so I tried
    2) the wire from the wrist strap has a crocodile clip on the end. This I left attached magnetically to the bottom of the SP3 – where the keyboard attaches. I never did anything that would penetrate the coating on the magnesium case. This seemed to work reliably (95%) for a couple of months, however it suddenly became unreliable over the last couple of weeks (battery voltage seems ok). The problem is worst if I am using the pen intermittently (watching vids for example). If I am handwriting or doing markup and using the pen constantly it works ok once I get it going. When it is not reliable I get it going using
    3) some or all of the recommended methods; unscrewing / taking out and reinserting the AAAA battery, unpairing and pairing the bluetooth connection and restarting the machine.
    To summarise – the SP3 would be perfect if the pen worked 100% of the time and getting the pen to work 95% of the time requires a repertoire of skills!
    Cheers,
    Michael

    • Hey Michael,

      I’ve been busy with school myself so I know all about delayed responses. 🙂

      So here is my final thoughts on the Surface Pen. If you are encountering any of the problems listed here and you have tried all of the solutions, stop. Contact Microsoft support or your vendor. You can explain what you have done, but they will probably try to walk you through the steps again. That is fine. Now here is the important part and where things go awry. With certain intermittent issues, many of use know that by using some of the tricks that have been posted that the issue will go away for a few minutes to a few hours but it always comes back. So when you are on the phone with the technician and they ask if the steps they had you take fixed the problem you will reply NO, because you know that it did not even if it is behaving right after unscrewing the battery cap. (We know that is what ‘resets’ it, not putting in a different battery).
      Don’t bother trying to explain to the technician about how long you have worked at this, the in-an-outs of the intermittent problem, tricks to get it to work for moments at a time, etc. Just say No, it did not fix it. Then get a new pen from them. If that one does the same thing, call and get another one.
      The Surface Pen actually does work very well when operating properly. But from the posts I have read around the internet the problem isn’t ultra rare and the frustrating part is that it seems to be working and this little tricks seem to get it working ‘again’ but it is due to what I think the nature of the problem is. 2 of the circuits in your pen are one for transmit and an other for receive. One is a high voltage low current signal, the other a low voltage high current signal. They are electrically isolated from each other (but still physically part of the same schema). At least they are in a normal pen. In the first one that I received and in some others as well I suspect, the isolation component broke down fairly early in its life. That leads to bleed over from the transmit and receive circuits, which is why it felt like static electricity was causing a buildup, but I think that it wasn’t. It was simply a non-catastrophic circuit failure caused by catastrophic failure of a single component (my bet is a bad capacitor).
      So if that is what your experiencing, even though it sort of works your pen is broken. Get a new one. If you re out of warranty and would like to try an alternative you can get the N-Trig DuoSense pen in various colors directly from N-Trig through Amazon. It works great but does not have the OneNote launching pen cap.It also comes with tips of varying hardness. FYI, Microsoft acquired N-Trig so I don’t know how much longer that may go on. It may also never end. I also got a new Surface Pen and it is just as responsive as the N-Trig one.I wish I had know months sooner.

  13. No reply, just a question–I am a Paralegal(similar to a lawyer) and I would like to go paperless ie scan my clients files using my Surface Pro 3 and using the cloud and one note, access the files /documents in court etc.–anyone have ideas to do so?

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