Surface Studio hands-on: part PC, part drawing board

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Surface Studio hands-on: part PC, part drawing board

Microsoft’s stunning all-in-one desktop in some ways surpasses the 27in 5K iMac, but it doesn't come cheap.

Creative people, Microsoft wants you! The Surface Studio is the biggest statement yet that the company believes it can woo away creatives, both amateur and professional, from the platform that they have always favoured: the Mac.

Of course, plenty of hardware makers have attempted to ape the iMac’s all-in-one format, with lesser and greater degrees of success. HP, for example, makes a really nice range of machines, including ones with studio-tuned audio. But, still, the iMac is seen as the definitive all-in-one.

We’ve finally managed to get our hands on a Studio – our first impressions are that the Surface Studio doesn’t just imitate the iMac – in some ways, it goes past it. Essentially, what Microsoft has created is a huge 28in drawing board, perfectly poised for artistic projects with support for both Surface Pen and the new Surface Dial.

Specs and pricing

Unfortunately, Microsoft hasn’t yet upgraded the Studio with Intel’s latest, seventh-generation processors, so inside is a choice of sixth-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, along with one of two Nvidia graphics chips.

Still, there’s enough power here to comfortably drive the stunning 28in, 4500 x 3000-pixel display. There are three models – but make sure you sit down before you look at the prices:

The “entry-level” Studio costs $4,699, which includes a 2.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 i5-6440HQ, 8GB of RAM, 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M graphics and 1TB of storage.

The $5,499 model upgrades the entry-level Studio with a 2.7GHz quad-core Core i7 6820HQ processor and 16GB of RAM.

The $6,599 model ups that with 32GB of RAM, 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M graphics and 2TB of storage.

Storage comes in the form of what Microsoft calls a “Rapid Hybrid Drive”, which is essentially a mechanical hard disk drive paired with a solid state drive. This arrangement is typically faster than a standard hard drive, but not as quick as an SSD on its own.

The Surface Pen, Surface Keyboard and Surface Mouse are included in the price, but the new Surface Dial input device is extra ($149.95). Connectivity features include 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, four USB 3.0 ports, Mini DisplayPort and full-size SD card reader.

Using the Surface Studio

All-in-one Windows PCs, at least recently, have been uninspiring to look at. Microsoft’s Surface Studio is no such thing: its 28in, 3:2 PixelSense display is positively dominating, and its svelte, minimalistic design really draws the eye.

All of its core internals lie in the base, so you get a display that’s just a few millimetres thick, with clean, well-defined edges and rounded corners.

The hinge is what steals the show, though. With it, you can manipulate the screen to whichever angle you see fit, down to just 20 degrees. At this angle, it's surprisingly comfortable to lean and draw on and the Surface Pen feels just as responsive as it does on the other Surface devices, which means it’s a highly responsive canvas for drawing on.

The Studio comes with the Surface Pen and also supports the new Surface Dial. The former has recently seen an upgrade and now has tilt support for shading, matching one of the Apple Pencil’s standout features.

The Dial, too, is a companion worth thinking about. It’s a little knob you place on the screen that twists to provide context-sensitive features in supported apps. You can use it to scroll through a colour wheel, change pencil thickness, zoom in and out, and flit between drawing modes. The best thing about it is that applications can display options around its circumference, showing colour wheels, palettes and other option tools, making it a much more integral part of the experience than anything similar that’s come before it.

Note, however, that bit about support: applications need to explicitly support the Dial to get the most out of it, although simple stuff such as zooming and scrolling should be supported in most Windows 10 apps. Crucially, although Adobe has demonstrated full support for the Dial, it’s not out yet: once it is, the Surface Studio may well be the best platform for running Photoshop ever created.

The 4,500 x 3,000-pixel (192ppi) display is pixel-perfect – a priceless attribute when digging into the more intricate details of your creations – although it’s not quite as sharp as the 5K (5120 x 2880-pixel) iMac's display. The Studio’s display modes can be switched on the fly for the picky graphic artist, with sRGB, DCI-P3 and a special Super Vivid colour profile on offer.

Early verdict

The Surface Studio is a classic case of a machine we’d buy in a heartbeat if we could use someone else’s money to do it. Even for non-creative types, having a big canvas on which to sketch out ideas is really appealing. That it’s also a top-notch, well-designed PC is also a big plus.

There are two problems, though. First is the price: there’s simply no ignoring the fact that the Surface Studio is expensive. The touch and drawing capabilities mean you’re getting a lot for the money but, if you don’t need to draw, this isn’t the machine for you.

The second drawback is that the iMac still exists and it’s significantly cheaper. The entry-level 27-inch iMac costs $2,699, and for less than the entry-level Studio ($4,089), you’ll get a seventh-generation 4.2GHz Core i7-7700K processor, 16GB of RAM, 2TB Fusion Drive and AMD Radeon Pro 580 graphics.

Of course, you can’t tilt the iMac back and draw on it. So, overall, our early verdict is that the Surface Studio is a brilliant Windows all-in-one, but unless you’re going to be using the drawing capabilities regularly, the Studio is hard to justify at its current price.

This review is based on an article that originally appeared at alphr.com.

Copyright © Alphr, Dennis Publishing
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