I really like Surface devices, and my Surface Go has been an absolute trooper as a companion device for academic work – giving lectures running from the device, reading papers, remote-desktop and ssh to setup and check on simulations etc. A key part of this has been using the Pen – from taking notes in OneNote or on PDFs, to annotating lecture slides while presenting – particularly during this video-call year.
I’ve heard good things about Rennaisser’s Raphael 520, being at least as good if not better than the official Surface Pro pen, while being 30-40% of the price. I’ve wanted to try one for a while, but they’ve always lacked the Bluetooth button that let’s you open OneNote or Whiteboard, or – and this is the main feature I want – advance PowerPoint slides using the pen as a remote.
Well, Rennaisser just released an upgraded model, the Raphael 520BT, that finally has a button on the top that can do everything the button on the Surface Pen does. So, I got one and gave it a try.
The one I got was £40, though there was a 20% off voucher for Amazon, posted on reddit (“Raphael520BT”). [Note, Rennaisser refunded my purchase in exchange for testing the pen out and posting a review on Amazon, but this was not contingent on the review being positive, and this review here is entirely off my own back]
It comes in a lovely box, for what that’s worth, and inside you’ll find the pen, charging cable and magnetic cap, 3 spare nibs, and a quick start guide.
The three nibs are a nice touch, as replacements for the surface pen (which are identical) are extortionate for what they are. Although, the three included were all hard plastic tips, and only the nib in the pen was a softer style (as comes with the Surface Pen).
The Pen itself is ever-so-slightly thinner and lighter than the Surface Pen, and has a more tapered end. All of this combines into a genuinely more positive writing experience.
Unlike the Surface Pen, the Raphael 520BT doesn’t have an eraser at the end, it’s just a button:
Instead, the eraser button is on the barrel, next to the right-click button:
Some people like having the eraser at the end, and turning the pen over to delete something. I do not, I massively prefer the eraser button being on the barrel, like it was with the 2nd Gen Surface Pen.
To charge the pen, you put the magnetic cap over the button-end, then attach a USB-C cable to the magnetic cap. This then charges the pen from any USB-A port. I really like this, as it means the pen is rechargeable (that AAAA battery in the official Pen is a pain to buy), but the Pen itself doesn’t have an unsightly or uncomfortable USB-C hole.
The Raphael 520BT even has magnets in the same place as the official pen, so it’ll stick to your Surface in the same way.
So, how’s the Pen perform? Well, there’s not actually a lot to say here, as it performs identically to the official Surface Pen. Below I’ve written in OneNote using both pens on my Surface Go. Note that the Go doesn’t have the special pen-enhancing chip that the newer Pro models have, so inking performance isn’t perfect at the best of times. The other Caveat is that I am not an artist at all, and even drawing lines is a challenge (as you can see!)
Battery life – hard to say. I’ve had the pen a week and haven’t had to recharge it yet. The packaging says it’ll last 70 hours on a 15 minute charge, which works for me. Even if it doesn’t last as long as the Surface Pen on a AAAA battery (I think I’ve replaced such a battery once in the 2 years I’ve had the Go), it’s so easy to charge that this doesn’t seem like an issue. I guess there’s a worry of losing the magnetic cap if it’s not stored properly, but then that’s why it’s magnetic I guess (not that you’d want to write with it attached as it’s quite dense and throws of the balance).
The Raphael 520BT is awesome. It does everything the Surface Pen does, but at less than half the cost. Being rechargeable is a nicety, slightly offset by needing the cable and cap. Whether you buy this or the official pen basically comes down to whether you want the eraser at the opposite end of the pen to the tip, and whether that’s worth and extra £60.