Pen intermittently not working?

Discussion in 'Microsoft Surface Pro 3' started by buckstar, Sep 9, 2014.

  1. buckstar

    buckstar New Member

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    Have had my surface pro 3 for less than 4 weeks, and over the last week with increasing frequency my pen has been intermittently not working (the tip and buttons, not the 'top' button). I have ordered new batteries, but would be surprised if the batteries only lasted less than a month with light usage. Anyone have an idea as to how long the batteries should last, or is there possibly something wrong with the pen? I've tried unpairing/re-pairing without any success.

    Thanks!
     
  2. InspectHerGadget

    InspectHerGadget Active Member

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    I think that the pen most likely is faulty. I would also check for proxmity to potential interference. You can test it by moving it about. The pen has a lot of electronics in it and is much more likely to be a source of problems than anything else.

    There are also some updates available now for September which don't appear to include the pen but it is always worthwhile to download and install them just the same.

    I have to say I've gone back to my Surface Pro 2 for writing. I guess if I didn't still have it I would have persevered with the SP3 as it is a great machine.

    I had issues with palm activation of the screen and I'm left handed which might have made it worse. On the SP2 there there are sensors built into the screen which means it is impossible to get palm accidental activations (and I've deliberately tried).

    I think most of the issues I had with the SP3 were to do with this and I also found the handwriting to be more to my liking on the SP2 but that may be a personal thing.

    I did get the occasional glitch with the pen which I blamed on the Bluetooth, incorrectly I think as you can evidently take the batteries out of the top of the pen and the pen will still work.

    I'm not sure what to make of it. I did sometimes get problems with the pen drawing lines when it shouldn't and I also this week I did get an issue a few times with the pen not writing at all but then it fixed itself.

    The only advice I could give is to try a new pen if the problem gets too severe. My solution was just to send it back but honestly if I didn't have the SP2, I would have persevered and possibly have got onto Microsoft for a new pen, if the problems persisted.

    I also visit people and often have my little Surface resting on top of printers or in cramped spaces next to phones and routers. I am wondering if these devices are simply subject to interference on occasions but I leave it to you to test this out and get back to the forum!
     
  3. Logan Vaughn

    Logan Vaughn New Member

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    I'm having this problem and I use my Surface in numerous locations with and without potential electrical/wifi interference. I tried taking my battery out and sure enough I could click the top button and open OneNote. The tip of the pen never shows up without batteries though. When I put the batteries back in the pen reconnected after a couple seconds and worked fine.

    I really hope I don't have to make a habit of unscrewing the back of the pen to reconnect multiple times a day. I'm going to keep my eyes open and if I happen to come across a AAAA battery I'm going to get it and see if that makes a difference, but I doubt that's the problem, although when the pen stops working and the side buttons don't wake it up, the top OneNote button has never failed.

    **EDIT Surface Pro 3**
     
  4. George Neville

    George Neville New Member

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    I may have some error below where the exact function of circuits are involved, but here is my speculation on this topic. I experience this problem regularly. As a note that will make more sense after reading this, I am often isolated from ground while using my Surface. Here is the fast practical way to resolve it. At the bottom I speculate on possible ways to never get this problem if the speculation is correct:

    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 a 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 appears to share 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 interfere with the proper functioning of the circuit.
    So what can we do? Well one thing is discharging that potential at 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. But I have not tested this do not recommend that you do it either. Besides, I use that clip to fasten it to my case.

    Of course this is all still a theory and Im not certain that is a valid explanation of this very annoying problem. I am hoping that an engineer (which I am not) can investigate what I think that I may have found and confirm or dismiss it. For now perhaps it is best to simply unscrew the cap a full turn and twist it closed again because regardless of the actual cause, that fix does work for both non-responsive and "ghost touching" pens.. It doesn’t make the problem go away, but at least it isn’t a really time consuming work around.
     
  5. zhenya

    zhenya Active Member

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    I have heard many reports around the web of the battery only lasting a month or so. If the behavior is intermittent, I would definitely change the battery.

    Remember there are two additional batteries in the top of the pen to make the button function - separate from the AAAA that powers the tip.
     
  6. George Neville

    George Neville New Member

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    The battery life will depend upon your usage. I get around a month myself, but then again I am using my Surface Pro 3 6-14 hours per day and I always use the pen.

    With that said, this advice is causing people to waste a lot of money on batteries when many times they don't need to replace them. This will happen on a battery as new as a day or two old. I too was replacing batteries whenever the problem became too frequent when I first got my Surface 3. Since then I twist the cap one turn and back again and it works again until that (alleged) static builds up enough that I need to do it again. I've even had "dead" batteries that I took out when I was following the "replace the battery" advice too soon, put them back into the Surface Pen and used them for an other couple of weeks or more by just unseating and reseating the pen cap.

    Now when it is actually dead, another factor will be the brand and type of battery that you are using. Each will have a different voltage curve that is slight with the major brands and very steep with Dollar Store batteries. Since the Surface Pen seems to need a higher working voltage with the batteries than other devices do. A lot of batteries have an initial steep drop in voltage output, then flattens out to a slow steady decline from 1.5 down to around 1.0 volt, then drops off the cliff. When the battery dies for one device, it dies for others as well. Not from what I am seeing with my Surface Pen. When the voltage output is too low for the pen, you can take that "dead" battery and use it to power your penlight or other tool and that penlight will be good for hours and hours longer.
    So pony up and pay the extra for those brand name batteries. You will save money in the long run. Also, be careful when bulk ordering from someplace like Amazon. You will often find your brand name batteries out of its retail packaging and placed into a bubble wrap bag or such. These batteries, you guessed it, have this funny habit of never lasting nearly as long as the retail packaged ones you can pick up at your local Batteries Plus.
     
  7. zhenya

    zhenya Active Member

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    Well, I'm a month in of fairly heavy daily use and it's been flawless for me. Haven't had any issues yet, still on the original battery. I do wish I could get rechargeables in this size! I have had great luck with the Sanyo Eneloop AAA's in a stylus I've used for years for my iPad which is similarly sensitive to the voltage of the cell.
     
  8. ejpamin21

    ejpamin21 New Member

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    My Device:
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    Had problems with my pen intermittently working. You can either turn off power management on the pen itself, or on the Bluetooth device that the pen is connected to. Go on "Device Manager" in Control Panel and find these devices under "Human Interface Devices". You will see the "Surface Pen" and "Microsoft Hardware Bluetooth Device". Right-click to access Properties, then "Power Management" tab, and uncheck "Allow computer to turn off this device to save power" box. Hopefully this helps. Of course check on the AAAA battery, a good multi-meter device should suffice.
     
  9. ashcanpete

    ashcanpete New Member

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    My Device:
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    So after months and months of intermittent pen failures, I've finally fixed the problem and I thought I needed to share this in case it works for others. I had previously tried unscrewing/screwing the battery compartment, removing replacing the pen tip, etc with partial success but never reliably. Any software changes I made (like turning off power management for pen) never made any difference. I actually bought a new pen a few months back, which was ok for a while, but then eventually had the same issue.

    Anyway, turns out the problem (for both pens) was simply a lose electrical contact inside, and it's really easy to fix. In the front part of the tip, there is the buttons and pen tip circuitry. As with most similar electrical devices (flashlights, laser pointers), that circuitry uses the metal body of the pen as the "ground" wire. It has a contact with the metal of the pen body, which is a little metal tab that presses against the inside of the pen. That doesn't seem to be pressed very hard against the pen, so eventually the contact fails, but jiggling the insides around (for instance by unscrewing the battery compartment and re-screwing it) can sometimes let it make contact again temporarily. But this issue can be fixed permanently by bending that tab out slightly, so the contact with the pen body is much more stable.

    Here's how I fixed it:
    Unscrew the pen tip compartment (not the battery compartment).
    Pic #1.jpg

    For my newer pen, I could just unscrew it by hand, but for the older one it was much tighter, and I had to use pliers with a rubber bands over the tips. For the tighter one, it looked like some glue or locktite-type material was on the threads, so maybe the older pens were made harder to open for some reason. If you do have a tight cap, I don't advise bare pliers, because they will definitely scratch your nice shiny pen.

    Once the cap is off, the pen tip circuitry and 2 buttons should then slide right out. The actual plastic buttons will come out separately, so be sure not to lose them.
    Pic #2.jpg

    Find the little copper tab that "grounds" the circuit to the pen body.
    Pic #3.jpg

    Bend it out slightly so that when inserted back into the pen, it presses out firmly against the metal of pen body.
    Pic #4.jpg

    Then, just reassemble the pen and voila, it works perfectly! The plastic buttons are a little tricky to get in place, the easiest way is to put them in through the button holes, while holding the button holes facing down.
    Pic #5.jpg

    Once they're sitting in their places, then slide the circuitry back in behind the buttons and screw on the cap. Hopefully this will help some people, I personally found the pen issue to be extremely frustrating, and was very relieved to have it solved at last!
     
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  10. ScottyS

    ScottyS Active Member

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    Hope I never have to go through this, but thanks for the clear instructions and good photos.
     
  11. BecG

    BecG New Member

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    This worked brilliantly. Avoided the button issue by holding the pen buttons down and removing the circuitry carefully. I didn't need to touch the buttons at all. Thanks!
     
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  12. IBSteed

    IBSteed New Member

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    I just had to register to say thank you to ashcanpete for posting this! It's not often you find people who've taken something apart to fix it (with success) and then actually posted about it, with such a detailed write up - and pictures, even!
    Just last week, my pen went from disconnecting once a week or less, to once every 10 seconds! I use my pen for several hours a day to take notes in my college classes, and do my homework in the evenings, so needless to say, this was a real problem.
    I figured the batteries were dead, so I replaced them, but it continued. That's when I found your solution. I carried out your suggestions and it fixed the problem. The pen is as good as new!
    I liked your pointer of using rubber bands on the plier tips, too.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    --Ryan
     

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