Surface Studio Hands-on: The PC is exciting again

Back in 2010 at the All Things Digital conference, Steve Jobs shared with hosts Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher his vision for the future of computing. In his usual grandiose style, the Apple co-founder said we had entered the post-PC era.

To illustrate his point, Jobs compared mobile devices and traditional personal computers to cars and trucks. While integral to the development of early computing, desktop computers and laptops were destined to become a niche product category, just like trucks had.

He was right, of course. In the near decade since the original iPhone’s introduction, smartphones sales have continued to grow. By contrast, overall PC sales, including the sales of Apple’s own Mac lineup, have declined.
man-drawing-surface-studio

Trucks, in other words, have gone out of style.

For a lot of individuals, however, they’re still an integral part of their daily workflow. I, for instance, can’t imagine doing the job I love to do without a personal computer. For about the past decade, I’ve always called upon a Mac to do my work.

I wasn’t alone in this. The company may have not sold the most PCs, but when it came to mindshare Apple was king — particularly when it came to creative fields like photography and video editing.

However, somewhere in the past few years, Apple has stopped catering to digital professionals. We’ll see how the company responds, but based on what we’ve seen of the new MacBooks so far, it’s safe to say, using Steve Job’s own analogy, Apple no longer makes the best trucks.

That title now belongs to Microsoft.

In hindsight, Microsoft claimed that title with the launch of the Surface Pro 3, but it’s Surface Studio, announced today at an event in New York City, that most confidently asserts the company’s position as the leading maker of modern personal computers.

To extend an already precariously thin analogy, Surface Studio is the most meticulously engineered (and expensive) truck in the history of trucks. It’s a show piece, but unlike most show pieces, it’s also an incredibly practical device as well.

surface-studio-setup

 

To start, its 28-inch screen is a sight to behold — both in terms of colour reproduction and just the number of pixels it pushes out. Surface Studio’s 4,500 x 3,000 pixel screen resolution and 3:2 aspect ratio gives users ample work space.

It’s also able to move between sRGB and DCI-P3 colour spaces with the simple press of a toggle within Windows 10’s Action Center; for those for whom those two acronyms are meaningless, there’s also a ‘vivid’ option that’s something of a compromise between the two colour spaces and looks, well, vivid. But it’s this feature and the ones I’ll discuss in subsequent paragraphs that are at the core of Surface Studio’s value proposition to digital creatives.

Another of those creative focused features also has to do with Surface Studio’s screen. It features a hinge mechanism that allows it to tilt to more of a drawing board position. Microsoft has designed that mechanism in such a way that minimal force is needed to move the large frame of the screen to and from its two main positions. Watching creative professionals like Bil Donovan, pictured towards the top, use Surface Studio, it became clear how much just this seemingly small feature can enable the world’s artists, architects, video editors and photographers to produce even more stunning work.

surface-studio-dial

Then there is the supporting Surface Dial. Sold as a separate accessory, with enough developer support, I can see this becoming an indispensable tool for some.

When sitting next to Surface Studio (and later other Surface devices), the accessory can be used to adjust global Windows settings like sound volume.

More interesting, however, is what happens when the puck-like accessory is placed on top of Surface Studio’s screen. With a sketching app called Mental Canvas, for example, Surface Dial can be used to more quickly access the app’s main functionality. Place Surface Dial next to the app’s colour menu and the accessory can be used to rotate through all the app’s available colours. In short, it’s an accessory that beautifully marries marries analogy and digital means of input into one cohesive tool.

Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book owners will be able to use Surface Dial alongside their devices thanks to a forthcoming update to those devices — though given the difference in screen real estate between those devices, Surface Studio users will likely get significantly more use out of the accessory than their 2-in-1 counterparts.

sufrace-studio-dial-demo

If there’s one kink in the Studio’s package, it’s what inside the actual computer itself. The base Surface Studio model comes with a Nvidia 965M GPU, while the most expensive model is limited to a GTX 980M. Not only are those both last generation GPUs, they’re less energy efficient than Nvidia’s new GTX 1000 series.

Not that most creative professionals will mind, but given the price of this device, the newer GTX 1000 series would have made Surface Studio a better long term long term investment.

surface-studio-cross-section

Then there’s that price tag I mentioned. In the United States, Surface Studio starts at $2,999, with the best-equipped model priced at $4,200. Microsoft has not said when Surface Studio will make its way to Canada, nor how much it will cost when it does land here. What’s certain is that it will be very expensive here.

But then this is not a machine designed for the average consumer, and that’s okay, because what’s interesting about this device is all the new things it tries — ideas and features that may one day soon work their way towards more affordable devices.

In the last number of years, smartphones have become predictable. Instead, it’s the personal computer that is suddenly exciting again, and it’s all thanks to the least likely of companies, Microsoft.

Comments

  • The king of pc you think cant make the pc exciting? that makes no sense. “In the last number of years, smartphones have become predictable. Instead, it’s the personal computer that is suddenly exciting again, and it’s all thanks to the least likely of companies, Microsoft.”

    • Igor Bonifacic

      Lest it be forgotten, MS has only been really making its own PC hardware since 2012. The first Surface was a dud, even Panos Panay admits that (https://mobilesyrup.com/2016/05/27/surface-head-panos-panay-talks-the-death-and-rebirth-of-laptoptablet-hybrid/). So, yeah, it is surprising, but no unwelcome. 🙂

    • By PC you mean Windows PCs, right? Apple has been making Macintoshes first-party for about 30 years.

    • You can try going down that road but Apple built a multi-year campaign on the fact that they are not PCs. It worked with me because I would never refer to one of their products as a PC.

    • simphf

      PC = Personal Computer. So what you are saying is that you have allowed them to brainwash you. You so SMORT!

    • Very good little “Johnny”. Now that you’ve learned what the acronym PC means, you can now try to catch up to the conversation we were having. Maybe even someday, you’ll be able to contribute.

    • simphf

      Using your own ignorance to belittle people. As I said, you so SMORT.

    • Belittle people? No, only you. No one was belittling anyone until you felt the need to pop in an insult that didn’t add anything to the conversation. If you are missing the subtext of the conversation, it’s not my role to educate you. Also, If you have thin skin, you should not try to dish it out because you have to be able to take as good as you give which you clearly cannot.

    • simphf

      You’re right, I was an a*s first. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. You freely admit that you know Apple makes PC’s, but you’ve allowed them to convince you that they are not for no other reason then you want to believe that. And, yes, that is part of the conversation see Brian’s comment.

    • You are correct in your assessment. By all definitions, Apple does make PCs but they spent a lot of money and years telling us otherwise. I took a minor in marketing many moons ago so I’m fully aware of how that all works and despite knowing that, we are all susceptible to it (say it loud enough and often enough…)

      I was just stating that even though I know it, my brain has been conditioned so that when someone says the word “PC”, I think of a Windows machine solely despite the fact that it is way more encompassing. Chalk it up to 25 years of conditioning from both sides and it’s difficult to undo that. It’s like the whole laptop vs notebook thing – in the end it just semantics unless you are in the business of publishing sales numbers and you need to clearly define what a PC is.

    • simphf

      I get it. I understand 3 lights/4 lights. I just refuse to give in. I’m stubborn, but you know that.

    • heh heh – oh yeah, trust me, I rail against convention as well and especially the marketing stuff that is so pervasive in our society (I wonder sometimes if the intense research that has gone into getting us to buy or eat things went into something more productive, how much more advanced of a civilization would we be. Conversely, the same thing with lobbying. All that money/time just so that a better product gets suppressed in favour of an established/crappier product. Bah – midweek thoughts. Enjoy the rest of it @simphf:disqus and until next time. 😉

    • I have said all along Surface failed for one reason. Microsoft didn’t want to sell it at start. Available in 4 stores in Canada. and online. couldn’t get it anywhere took them 6 months to add it to London drugs and best buy later on at some point. it failed since they didn’t have the logistics set up to sell it.

    • surface rt*

  • not4metoday

    As sweet as these look, unfortunately price will drive sales. If the price is right, I am a buyer and if not I will wait until I absolutely need to upgrade. It is nice to see Microsoft coming through with some decent ideas lately though.

  • villain

    sharp looking desktop. I’m sure all 40 people will love them

    • simphf

      Mmm… yes. Drowned us I the sweet tears of your envy.

  • Brad Fortin

    So, everyone who balked at the Apple Pencil not being included with the iPad Pro will also balk at the Surface Dial not being included with the Surface Studio, right?

    Also, am I the only one having flashbacks to the iMac G4?

    • Croc Ography

      What??? The iPad Pro was built for their digital pen but not included, and for a toy the iPad “Pro” was freaking expensive.

    • Brad Fortin

      I think you’re mixing up which one was built for which: The Pencil was built for the iPad Pro, not the other way around (case in point: the iPad Pro can be used without a Pencil, but the Pencil cannot be used without the iPad Pro). Likewise the Surface Dial was built for the Surface Studio. Neither accessory is included because, while it’s nice to have and artists will love it, it’s not required to use the device.

      The Surface Studio is also “freaking” expensive, from $3000 USD to $4200 USD ($4000 CAD to $5600 CAD).

    • Marc Palumbo

      To be fair, the Surface Dial was built for Surface. The only non supported devices are the Surface Pro, Surface Pro 2 and the Surface 3. Anyone with an Surface Pro 3 & 4 can use the Surface Dial. There are a lot of users with those machines.

    • Seb

      Actually, it is SUPPORTED, but the only device where you can put it on the screen and have magic happen is the Studio.

    • Marc Palumbo

      Yes, and now please upvote my post lol

  • Roger

    Not for average consumers. I can’t stomach paying more than a $1000 for a computer.

    • Exactly what i’m thinking about.

    • Alex

      but it isn’t designed for average consumers though, but it does suck that as an average consumer, we can’t justify buying this at all

    • rgl168

      If you need a PC to post Facebook messages or look at blogs, sure – stick with the $1000 computer. Surface Studio is a machine for graphic artists and professionals that use their PCs to make money.

      Perhaps in a few years when the technology gets more matured and cheaper to produce, some of the features in Studio can be incorporated in those $1000 computers.

    • imrangr1

      Well lucky for you MS sells their OS and let third party vendors to make hardware with it.

  • TomsDisqusted

    I don’t think you meant to write “indefensible tool for some”…

  • Alex

    what would make this extremely MORE appealing, is the ability to swap out the base (the computer parts) for new ones in the future, keeping the monitor. Also, i dont think i saw a USB-type C with thunderbolt, meaning no external GPU. If this computer had either one of those features, this device would be extremely worth looking into for those interested. But without even one of those features, it feels like a giant surface tablet basically. Granted, still has its perks, especially over the imac, but i think with those features, it could have potentially moved many creative types back to PC, for those who switched.

    THe USB type c is confirmed not there, but i can’t say 100% the base is not up-gradable or swap-able, and would be nice if someone could confirm that…

  • nidzillaftw

    An impressive piece of hardware (especially the Surface Dial). I don’t think the last gen GPU is an issue. Energy efficiency isn’t really a concern with a desktop machine. No PC gamer was ever going to look twice at this machine anyway (given the price and non-modular hardware). Plus using a new gen card would have increased the price by another few hundred dollars.
    Overall, this is totally a niche device (I reject the truck analogy…if you think trucks are a niche product, you have clearly never been to the prairies). If you are a graphic artist or a draft person, this machine is a dream come true. But how many other people need a giant $4,000 touchscreen you can draw on?
    Still, I like where they Microsoft is headed with the surface line. I hope they do a phone next!

  • inou

    Based Microsoft sprinkling their awesomeness all over PC market.

  • The Freaky

    I see a lot of ppl talking about the price and such but fail to understand this is not your average consumer item. This is the kinda thing that a graphic artist or someone that works in teh field and will use this as his working tool. This is not the family computer that u just buy like that. Whats really to take out of this, is what microsoft is doing is driving other 3rd party companies to create PC’s like theirs. What microsoft is doing is setting standards as to what their vision is with Windows. They make the best of the best, the surface, the best windows tablet, the book, the best laptop for windows and this just drives other third parties to inspire from this. Have you not seen how 2-in-1 have started to release looking like surface and how now so many tablets focus on being 2-in-1 and merging the laptop with the tablet. It wasn’t like that before, before u’d just buy a tablet to have a tablet, now u buy a tablet to do everything and most consumers expect to be able to do so. THis is what microsoft is doing. Just wait to see how many new PC’s will come out inspired by what microsoft is doing.

  • jay

    Microsoft learned the Apple way. Understand what they like and not just copy apple. Apple does not look to the left and right they do what they think is right. Love the studio and for me perfect to work on as soon it is available I’ll order one.

  • BetelgeuseOrion

    performance per dollar ratio is complete crap just like apple products.

    does anyone realize that the actual hardware computer specs is what renders your pictures? encodes your videos? batch processes your media?

    if you are being paid to edit videos and you have a POS machine that is only half as fast as the standard, you are only producing half the work and therefore getting paid 50% less.

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