Mi­crosoft sur­face stu­dio

Not con­tent with tak­ing a bite out of Ap­ple’s share of the tablet and note­book mar­ket, Mi­crosoft has pro­duced its own desk­top all-in-one, the Sur­face Stu­dio

T3 - - Issue 273 / Oct 2017 -

Mi­crosoft brings its iMac-ri­valling ma­chine to the ta­ble, but how does it stack up against its es­tab­lished com­peti­tor?

It’s easy to for­get that Mi­crosoft has been build­ing com­put­ers for decades, al­beit in the form of pe­riph­eral de­vices. Only since the launch of the Sur­face in 2012 has Red­mond gunned for a slice of Ap­ple’s pre­mium pie by pro­duc­ing its own fash­ion-fo­cused com­put­ers. Hav­ing taken on the iPad and MacBook, Mi­crosoft is now go­ing all-out to lure creative pros from their beloved iMacs.

As you’d ex­pect for an iMac ri­val, Sur­face Stu­dio is an all-in-one de­vice. But where Ap­ple con­ceals its pro­cess­ing hard­ware di­rectly be­hind the mon­i­tor, Mi­crosoft’s sil­i­con is in the mon­i­tor’s thick base. This re­sults in an ex­cep­tion­ally slim LCD panel, cur­rently the slimmest for its size, which is all the more im­pres­sive con­sid­er­ing it also packs a 5MP cam­era that sup­ports Win­dows Hello for au­to­matic fa­cial-recog­ni­tion sign-in: an im­pres­sively ef­fec­tive fea­ture.

The screen it­self is a 28-inch 4500x3000 pixel panel, equat­ing to 192 pix­els per inch. Sure, a 27-inch 5K iMac can best this with a 217ppi fig­ure and around eight per cent more pix­els over­all, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story. While down on to­tal pix­els, the Stu­dio’s panel has a higher ver­ti­cal res­o­lu­tion than 5K thanks to its un­usual 3:2 as­pect ra­tio. This gives a more prac­ti­cal work area for con­tent cre­ation than cine­matic 16:9 or 16:10 screens, and land­scape-for­mat im­ages snapped on APS-C or full-frame cam­eras are view­able fullscreen with no bor­ders.

The Stu­dio’s pixel den­sity fig­ure is no ac­ci­dent. Win­dows has long been pro­grammed for op­ti­mal us­abil­ity at 96 DPI, so set Win­dows 10 to 200 per cent scal­ing and you’ve got the per­fect blend of high res­o­lu­tion with cor­rect icon and text size, and none of the anti-alias­ing blur­ring you see at other scal­ing per­cent­ages. It also means you can fit a full A4 Word doc­u­ment dis­played at 100 per cent on the screen, with space to spare.

As for image qual­ity from Mi­crosoft’s Pix­elSense dis­play: it’s sim­ply sublime. Colour sat­u­ra­tion, bright­ness and dy­namic range are ev­ery bit as im­pres­sive as a Retina panel, and though the Stu­dio’s pixel den­sity is marginally lower, you’ll need to be close enough to lick the screen be­fore in­di­vid­ual pix­els be­come vis­i­ble. Mi­crosoft even pre-cal­i­brates each ten-bit panel to en­sure colour ac­cu­racy, and you get sRGB, DCI-P3 and Vivid colour pro­files pre-in­stalled. How­ever, our trusty colour cal­i­bra­tion de­vice re­vealed that while most colours are faith­ful to the sRGB colour space, blues are no­tice­ably over­sat­u­rated. That makes for cooler, sub­jec­tively whiter whites, so you‘ll still need to cal­i­brate the dis­play if you’re se­ri­ous about colour match­ing.

But merely equalling iMac image qual­ity isn’t enough, which is why the Stu­dio’s dis­play also boasts ten-point multi-touch sen­si­tiv­ity and com­pat­i­bil­ity with the in­cluded Sur­face Pen. This is Mi­crosoft’s mas­ter­stroke, as Sur­face Stu­dio can dou­ble as a high-end graph­ics tablet, com­pet­ing with the likes of Wa­com’s Cin­tiq range. To this end, the dis­play is mounted on what Mi­crosoft calls a Zero Grav­ity Hinge. This lets the panel tilt from ver­ti­cal down to 20 de­grees off hor­i­zon­tal to em­u­late a traditional draw­ing board, with sur­pris­ing sta­bil­ity.

The Sur­face Pen of­fers 1024 pres­sure lev­els, along with a multi-func­tion but­ton on top that,

in Win­dows, shortcuts to the Ink Workspace panel, plus dou­bles as an eraser. There’s also a sec­ond but­ton on the pen’s bar­rel that’ll bring up con­text menus, use­ful for tasks such as switch­ing brushes.

As for pen per­for­mance, some have com­mented on glitch­i­ness, but our bang-up-to-date Win­dows in­stall has ev­i­dently ironed out any teething trou­bles. Lines are drawn per­fectly ac­cu­rately in all of the apps we tried, with no per­cep­ti­ble lag. Win­dows suc­cess­fully elim­i­nates un­wanted palm in­puts, and when not in use, the mag­netic pen bar­rel snaps neatly to ei­ther side of the mon­i­tor. Our only mi­nor nit-pick is the gloss screen, a re­flec­tion mag­net that also causes the pen to drag slightly more than when sketch­ing on a matte sur­face.

Mi­crosoft also bun­dles the Stu­dio with a mouse and key­board, with the lat­ter look­ing like it could have come straight from Cu­per­tino. De­sign aside, the Key­board is re­spon­sive, with pos­i­tive, if short, key travel. It con­nects seam­lessly via Blue­tooth 4.0, as does the bun­dled mouse. This is a cheap-feel­ing de­vice, with a low-pro­file am­bidex­trous de­sign.

Still, at least Mi­crosoft in­cludes a pen, key­board and mouse. The same can­not be said of the one pe­riph­eral you re­ally will want af­ter see­ing the Stu­dio’s ad cam­paigns: the Sur­face Dial. This puck-shaped gad­get is the cherry on Mi­crosoft’s in­no­va­tion cup­cake. It’s ba­si­cally a ro­tat­ing dial that can also be pressed as a but­ton. It even has elec­tronic vi­bra­tion feed­back to mimic a me­chan­i­cally stepped dial. Think of it as a pared- down BMW iDrive con­troller for your com­puter. When nav­i­gat­ing Win­dows, the dial can be used as a vol­ume knob or to ad­just screen bright­ness. Open an app such as Sketch­pad and it’ll let you cy­cle through op­tions and se­lect tools. Pick a vir­tual ruler or pro­trac­tor and you can ro­tate it or ad­just its size with a care­ful twist of the dial.

Be­ing a rev­o­lu­tion­ary (sorry) de­vice, the Dial takes some get­ting used to, but it can in­te­grate into your work­flow as seam­lessly as key­board shortcuts, though for rel­a­tively few func­tions. The dial can be placed on the screen dur­ing use, and if you’re se­lect­ing some­thing like a paint colour, the spec­trum wheel dis­play over­lay will snap to the dial’s po­si­tion and en­cir­cle it for added in­ter­ac­tiv­ity. Trou­ble is, the dial

ABOVE Style over sub­stance? Find the ports lined up un­handily at the back. Oh, and no dis­play in­puts

Su­per-slick pen de­tec­tion for nat­u­ral draw­ing

Pric­ing that’s be­yond re­as­sur­ingly ex­pen­sive

You won’t want to look away from this screen

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