Microsoft turned heads and grabbed headlines when it unveiled the all-in-one Surface Studio towards the end of last year. The Studio combined the striking all-in-one design of Apple’s iMac with Microsoft’s own touch-screen technology for Windows, a stylus and a flexible design that allowed the Studio’s screen to tilt right back and act like a digital drawing board. It also introduced a new input device called the Surface Dial, which can be used with a variety of graphics and design applications.
So when the Surface Studio finally reached the UK we were surprised to hear that Microsoft wasn’t planning to organize any reviews, instead preferring to focus on the new — and more mainstream — Surface Pro and Surface Laptop. We did, however, get the chance to visit Microsoft and spend some time with the Surface Studio, and were impressed enough to offer this take on the flagship of the Surface range.
On the Surface
The Surface Studio is certainly an impressive feat of engineering. The slimline 28-inch display measures just 12.5mm thick, and has an elegant edge-to-edge glass panel that sits atop a hinged stand that tilts back with just a light touch of the finger. The actual PC — the motherboard, CPU, RAM and other components — is separate from the screen and housed in the stand’s compact base. That in itself is a bit of a feat as the base measures just 250mm wide by 220mm deep by 32mm high, and yet accommodates a quad-core Core i5 or i7 CPU, along with a discrete nVidia GPU, RAM and hybrid (HDD/SSD) storage. Even so, it never became more than mildly warm to the touch during our — admittedly brief — test period on a very hot summer’s day.
The display is very bright, sharp and attractive, and supports the Adobe RGB colour space, along with the DCI-P3 used in the film industry, so it’s well suited to graphics, photography and video-editing work. Its 4,500 by 3,000 (192dpi) resolution is a little unusual, sitting about mid-way between conventional 4K and 5K displays. However, Microsoft told us that the resolution — along with the choice of a 28-inch 10-point touchscreen — provides a 3:2 aspect ratio that’s designed to feel like a traditional drawing board for graphics work. The graphics focus is emphasized by the Surface Dial controller, which can sit on your desk or rest on the screen itself and allows you to adjust magnification and other settings, or cycle through colour swatches with one hand while you use the Surface Pen stylus in the other.
The Surface Studio certainly feels comfortable for graphics work, although I occasionally found that resting my hand on the screen while using the Surface Pen did create some unwanted marks on my digital canvas, so a little fine-tuning of the touch controls might be necessary at some point. The Dial is also an ingenious device that can speed up the selection of editing tools while you’re working, helping to give the Surface Studio a relaxed, free-flowing feel for graphics and design work.
Pricing & options
The Dial, however, is an optional extra, so you’ll have to pay £89.99 (inc. VAT, or £74.99 ex. VAT, or $99.99) to add that. That’s a little disappointing, because the Surface Studio already comes with a price tag that might make even Apple think twice. Prices start at £2,999 (inc. VAT, or £2,499.17 ex. VAT, or $2,999) with what appears to be a 2.6GHz quad-core Core i5-6440HQ (Microsoft is a little coy about the actual CPU specifications), along with a 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M GPU, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hybrid drive.
Step up to £3,549 inc. VAT, or £2,957.50 ex. VAT, or $3,499), and you’ll get a Core i7-6820HQ processor, also running at 2.7GHz, and 16GB of RAM. The top-of-the-range configuration doubles the RAM and storage — to 32GB and 2TB — and boosts graphics performance with a GeForce GTX 980M and 4GB of VRAM. However, that configuration weighs in at a colossal £4,249 inc. VAT, or £3,540.17 ex.VAT, or $4,199), which makes even the recently updated 27-inch iMac look like a pretty good deal.
The Surface Studio is a new departure for Microsoft, moving away from its traditional business audience and coming up with a creative tool that will have genuine appeal for designers, photographers and video editors. That, of course, is an audience that Apple has traditionally served, and which is well used to paying premium prices. However, the Surface Studio is extremely expensive even by Apple standards, and it may take more than touchscreen controls and the Surface Dial to lure the creative community into Microsoft’s new world.
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