Why Microsoft Isn’t Making Rechargeable Pens For Surface Pro 4

Why Microsoft Isn’t Making Rechargeable Pens For Surface Pro 4

I’ve lost count at the number of times my Xbox controller’s disposable batteries have died on me at the most inopportune moments. It still baffles me as to why Microsoft doesn’t just put rechargeable battery packs onto its controllers and I’m left asking the same question when it comes to the new Surface Pen.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book were announced a few weeks ago with some pretty impressive specs. The standout feature for both devices is the quality of the screens and their ability to provide an alternative to paper when it comes to note taking and artworks.

For precision doodles, the Surface Pro 4 comes with a new Surface Pen, which is great given that it was an optional add-on for the Surface 3. The pen has 1024 pressure levels and clips onto the side of the Surface Pro 4 magnetically.

The pen is powered by an AAAA disposable battery which, according to Microsoft, will last a full year and the magnetic clip mechanism helps extend the battery life by turning the pen off once it is connected to the Surface Pro 4.

So why does the Surface Pen still use disposable batteries? Because, creativity. That’s according to Microsoft Surface marketing manager Markus Weickenmeier.

“Ideas can come into your head that you’ll want to commit to paper or a screen,” he told Lifehacker Australia at a Surface press event. “With rechargeable batteries, you’re assuming you are going to have time to charge it before you use it. For us, we believe creativity will strike at any moment and you’ll want to know your pen is going to work without having to plug it in to charge it first.”

But imagine a year down the track, you have a brilliant idea that you want to jot down only to realise your pen has ran out of juice and you have no replacement battery readily available.

Even so, the Surface Pen is still an impressive accessory for the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book and you can even customise the pressure sensitivity to your liking. It’s going to be incredibly useful for students that do a lot of note taking and modern artists that are heavily dependent on editing their work with photo editing software.

What are your thoughts on electronic devices that use disposable batteries? Let us know in the comments.


  • “so imagine a year down the track, you have a brilliant idea you want to jot down only to realise your pen has ran out of juice and you have no replacement battery for it.”

    That’s possible, but can happen only once every year. With a rechargeable pen, it could possibly happen every day or other day.

    • Agreed. There are pros and cons to disposable v rechargeable batteries. I’m someone who is religious about charging my electronics regularly so would prefer rechargeable batteries.

      • Nope.
        Doesn’t work on capacitive screens. Doesn’t work on Wacom tablets.
        Theses aren’t criticisms…it was never designed to work this way.

  • I much rather that devices use standard batteries than proprietary batteries. By using standard (generic?) sizes like AAAA, you have the option to use rechargeable or disposable. When the rechargeable batteries are proprietary or built-in (irreplaceable) then you are stuck with the life of the battery dictating the life of the device.

    You gave the example of the Xbox controller – I like the fact that I can use after market rechargeable AAs in my Xbox controller than the built-in battery of the DualShocks.

    I have wireless headsets (Turtlebeach) that have built-in batteries – there’s always the lingering feeling that one day (soon), the battery will die and the headset will become useless, much sooner than if it used AAAs like my previous model headsets.

  • I thought the pen came standard with the surface pro 3 (Optional with the surface 3 however)

    • Hi there. Thanks for this. The spokesperson said there wasn’t an indicator on the pen at today’s event which was why it was mentioned in the article. Thanks for flagging! Have corrected the article!

  • Yeah I like devices that let me use normal batteries too. It allows me to use my Eneloops which don’t degrade and I can easily just chuck new ones in when they’re flat without cords hanging out and everything.

  • Whether disposable or rechargeable, I would always prefer a battery that lasts a year before requiring whatever version of re-juicing, than one that requires a top-up every few days.

  • There is only one problem with this argument. AAAA batteries, like the ones used in surface pens, are nearly impossible to find. 🙁

    Make no mistake, I love my SP3. I use the stylus to take notes while learning Mandarin. Using Office OneNote I am able to hand write tone markers and copy Chinese characters right into my lesson notes. It’s even better than using paper, as all my notes are in the one place and I can easily erase any mistakes I make. The highlighting options also make it easier to comment on my notes as I review them.

    But it’s not clear how long the stylus battery lasts. Maybe it’s a year, like this article says. It’s been 3 months and it is fine so far, but in order to prevent being stylus free for a while, I thought I would buy a spare battery or two.

    Turns out in Sydney, Australia, AAAA are ultra rare, at least in the places I checked.

    I tried supermarkets. No chance. I tried chemists, an obvious back up but still nothing. Specialist electronic stores? Nope.

    I ended up trying a Dick Smith, who then referred me to a David Jones near by which was showing stock in its inventory. I went to the store, and it was not on display. I talked to the clerk, who checked their inventory lists. In theory they had them, but had never even heard of them before.

    It turned out they had fallen to the back of a drawer they store stock in and were forgotten. Once found, I bought a few as they are so hard to find.

    Sure, in theory, the idea of long lasting shelf batteries is great. But if it is impossible to find replacement batteries, they may not be such a good idea. 🙁

    If they had given it induction charging while it was clipped to the Surface, that would surely fix the problem. :-\

    • Article is incorrect:
      the AAAA battery ONLY powers the OneNote/ScreenCapture/Cortana Bluetooth-button functionality – PEN itself works as a stylus without the battery, unlike some non-included $100 Pencil’s I can think of.

      • I could not find my Surface 3 pen, so I bought a Surface 4 pen a few weeks ago to replace it. The new pen still works fine. It does not have the same level of sensitivity it might have with a Surface Pro 4, but it is just as functional otherwise.

        I can’t test it out on the Surface 3 pen as it is MIA, but testing this pen on this device, once you remove the battery, nothing happens. The One Note button does not work, also the basic stylus functionality is not happening.

        I don’t know how it would react to a flat AAAA battery, but it seems this new stylus with the older hardware requires the batteries if it is to work at all. :-\

      • That is not true. the AAAA DOES power the digital inking part of the pen, the bluetooth button on the end is powered by small button cells

  • The AAAA battery might be more available then you realise, its just that it is packaged as E96 for some reason. Find an E96 and read the small print on the back, and you will discover it is AAAA.
    I found this out the hard way… I made the lady in Officeworks search the entire store, and when we eventually figured it out by finding one box on a really high shelf inside another box, we looked back at the display and there it was, hiding in plain sight.

  • The easiest place to find AAAA batteries is inside certain 9 volt batteries, the ones labelled 6LR61. They have 6 smaller batteries inside them (you need to crack open the 9 volt battery with some pliers). They are not exactly AAAA, being a few mm shorter, and with reversed polarity (the end with the bump is the negative terminal), but they have always worked fine in things I have tried such as styluses (you might need a little bit of tin foil to make them longer).

  • I was surprised it was so hard to find the AAAA batteries for the pen. A few place that did not have it was Walt-Mart, Electronic Express and Office Depot. I accidentally found them at Lowes, a hardware store of all places.

  • the S-pen of samsung is battery free. On this side Microsoft is really very late…

  • Does the pen actually turn off when magnetically connected to the Surface Pro 4?

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