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
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