Hands-On Review of the Microsoft Surface Studio

The New Microsoft Surface Studio. A New Solution for Creatives?

Recently Microsoft announced their latest pieces of hardware for the Surface product line: an all-in-one desktop called the Surface Studio and an accessory called the Surface Dial, as well as an update to the Surface Book laptop.

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While at Adobe MAX, I had the opportunity to get a hands-on experience with the Microsoft Surface Studio and was really impressed with it across the board. You can see my thoughts on it and a real demonstration here.

First Impressions of the Microsoft Surface Studio

As someone who has used both Apple and Microsoft products the majority of their life and career, I approached this without any major bias. I honestly believe that for creatives the operating system choice between Windows and MacOS stopped being truly relevant for most people with the introduction of Adobe Creative Cloud.

Thinking about the way I’ve used my iMac in combination with a Wacom tablet, I found the Surface Studio eliminated some key issues: it consolidated space and provided me with more options.

Drawing and working within Photoshop with the Surface Studio felt natural and very comfortable. The design and aesthetic were great, and the functionality and flexibility of the product were even better. I could use it as a powerful large screen workstation or as an art media for photo retouching, digital painting, animation or design.

The computer components of the Surface Studio rest in the base of the machine rather than behind the screen, allowing it to have an even thinner display than the iMac. It supports up to 32GB of RAM, dedicated GPU, an SSD and HDD for storage, and USB 3.1 connections rather than USB C. Tilt functionality is supported by what Microsoft calls a “Zero Gravity Hinge.” This allows the display to have the greatest range of tilt ever offered in an all-in-one computer. The base price starts at $2999.99.

Who is the Microsoft Surface Studio Really For?

Many think that this product is an “Apple Killer.” I disagree. I also don’t believe this product is only for digital artist and enthusiast. You have to understand the current product philosophy of Apple. While the company was built on the patronage of creative professionals (like many of you reading this), it has shifted its focus over the past decade towards mainstream audiences. In the process, Apple has left creative professionals behind in many regards, and disregarded our needs and the way we work. If you need specific evidence, Exhibit A is the 2016 Macbook Pro, which lacks basic necessities like the SD card slot used by photographers and filmmakers.

The Microsoft Surface Pro (and the Surface product line as a whole) is geared towards working creatives in the professional arena, or those making a significant profit from their creative interests. As someone who edits and produces videos on a weekly basis, I thought about the use cases for the Surface Studio. It occurs to me that I could do masking and composite work in videos and animation much easier with this tool, and I could see many people applying in that way. As a photographer, I already have a retouching workflow that is heavily influenced by the use of a tablet, having the ability to work directly on the screen is ideal and natural for me. Obviously, designers, animators, and 3D modelers could benefit from using a product like this as well, and Microsoft is introducing its own software to help creative professionals at the entry level.

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The Surace Dial Accessory

The Microsoft Surface Dial is an accessory sold separately from the Surface Studio that can add to the experience of any Surface product, including the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4. When placed directly on the screen of the Surface Studio, the MS Surface Dial gives you more options when working within certain applications. It also works when placed off screen as well. Note that on-screen functionality is not currently supported with other Surface products.

Final Thoughts on the Surface Studio

Overall, the Surface Studio is a fascinating and innovative piece of technology for creatives—and an attractive alternative to Apple products. The largest barrier to adoption for Microsoft Surface products will be getting creatives used to Mac OS to let go of their attachment to the operating system they are so familiar with.

The Surface Studio is not for entry-level creatives. This is a product aimed at (and priced for) the professional market. Microsoft has done their homework in crafting hardware that turns creative work into an opportunity to play with something very cool, while still delivering the performance and features that professionals need.

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Posted on: November 14, 2016

Roberto Blake

Roberto Blake is a Graphic Designer helping Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses improve their branding and presentations. Roberto also teaches Graphic Design and Adobe Tutorials through his YouTube channel and community. Roberto's Photoshop artwork has been featured in publications such as Advanced Photoshop and Photoshop Creative Magazine. See robertoblake.com

5 Comments on Hands-On Review of the Microsoft Surface Studio

  1. This is attractive, but the main things that prevent me from moving from Apple to MS are 1) keyboard shortcuts are different; 2) susceptibility to malware.

    • The keyboard shortcuts may be different, but that’s a small learning curve in my opinion. Where I totally disagree with you is the statement “2) Susceptibility to malware”. Where is your proof? Since MS has come out with Windows 10, the OS has been more stable and secure than ever before. However, if you can find me an example of article or forum that CLEARLY states that the OS has malware issues, I’ll eat my words.

      As far as this incredible piece of hardware, designers for years have been putting down large amounts of money for iMacs to do their graphic designs. This is no different. The Surface Studio has a number of advantages over the iMac desktops (as do the Surface Books and Surface Tablets); touch being the main one. When I sampled this at the Microsoft store in my area, I immediately did a comparison by going to an Apple store to try many of the things that I was able to do on the SS. Needless, to say, I could not sketch, use a dial to instantaneously change pen colors, erase stray marks, rotate my image or zoom in for details. The Apple pencil fell short in many aspects.

      I’m not necessarily bashing the Apple product, but MS, as Roberto stated, has stepped up its game and raised the bar for creatives including digital illustrators.

      One of the downfalls that I see with the SS is that it’s very difficult and costly to upgrade and/or repair, but I’ve just seen an article that shows how you can upgrade the SSD yourself in the machine and it doesn’t VOID THE WARRANTY! WHAT THE F*@#! #mindblown

      Link to the article: https://mspoweruser.com/upgrade-surface-studio-make-much-faster-video/

      I have used both Macs and PCs and while I prefer a PC because of the ability to build it yourself, it has been plagued with malware and viruses in the past, but I believe that has changed and will continue to change.

      This is all my opinion, so don’t beat me up too badly, but I love the SS and am about to sell my son’s kidney to get the top of the line one for home. He’ll forgive me, I’m sure. :)~

  2. So a few minutes on The Surface Studio has convinced him how totally cool this is? What can he tell us about overall functionality? Bugs? Having to deal with Win10 instead of MacOS? The hardware build?

    • Actually Terry, I used it multiple times throughout the week at Adobe Max and I spoke with several other creatives who used it and spoke with 4 Microsoft reps and asked a number of questions, if you read the article then I actually did discuss the functionality. As for Windows 10 vs Mac OS I use both operating systems and thus don’t have any issue with the switch over because Adobe Software is the same on both platforms making OS irrelevant.

      I discuss the hardware build in the article at length. I discuss the functionality in the article at length, which was the purpose of providing both an article and video.

  3. I got a surface studio device delivered 3 weeks ago and I love the hardware. But I’m a graphics pro who uses Corel products more than Adobe software and I have been unable to get Corel Software to run on the new Studio device. After 3 weeks with Corel techs and Microsoft forums the problem has been wittled down to some issue with a new dll library that ships with the studio device that breaks some otherwise compatible windows 10 software. Currently no fix in sight.

    Until then for me this is a very expensive machine to run Office apps…

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