IT'S ALL CHANGE over at Microsoft with not one, but two entirely new product categories sporting the Surface name. The first is a traditional form-factored laptop with some fuzzy touchy-feely plush elements. The second, the Surface Studio is a powerful all-in-one with a giant display, stacks of power and one funky, optional knob.
The Surface Studio is mega-niche and undeniably cool on paper, but having gone hands-on with one for over half an hour, are we left wanting more?
Looks-wise, this thing might be an all-in-one, but it isn't like any all-in-one we've seen before. The screen is huge for starters - 28in huge to be precise. With better than 4K resolution, you'd think that screen would totally steal the show, but the hinge, overall design and general utility are also jaw-dropping.
Going from around 90-degrees right through to 20-degrees, whether using it a monitor or a sketching board, the Studio has you covered. Sketching board? Yes, you can lean on it and it's been designed to take your weight while you doodle, ideal for any digital artists working away.
That knob we were talking about earlier, it's called a Surface Dial and it controls context sensitive functions within a range of apps. Setting you back £89, it twists, has haptic feedback and looks very shiny-shiny in a blasted metal finish sort of way.
You can use it to change stroke thickness, colour and even undo and redo actions in drawing apps. It also works on maps to zoom and music players to change volume. Having used it for 15 minutes, it feels really intuitive. Annoyingly though, it doesn't adhere to the screen in any way, so it tends to slide about a fair bit.
Unlike iMacs, the screen isn't the brains of this beast. Attached via a hinge is a base unit, housing all the Surface Studio's ports and computing power. Connections consist of four USB-3 ports, an SD card reader, a mini DisplayPort and a 3.5mm jack - not as many as we'd hope for given the stratospheric price of this thing - £2,999 through to £4,249. It also has a front 5MP camera and supports face recognition for secure unlocking.
At 28in, the Surface Studio's 3:2 PixelSense display commands attention, and when it draws you in, its 4500x3000 resolution doesn't crack under pressure. Delivering a pixel density of 192ppi, for a monitor, that's fantastic and it needs to be. When you sketch on the Surface Studio, you find yourself leaning on it, bringing your head closer and closer to the part you're drawing. As your eyes home in on minute details, the screen's sharpness fast becomes priceless.
Also a boon for digital artists are the display options. With sRGB colours set as the default, it's easy to swap out to DCI-P3 and Super Vivid profiles.
The size and resolution also come together to produce a 1:1 scaling when editing documents. That means that an A4 sheet of paper on-screen is the same size as an A4 sheet of paper in real life. The resolution is also a direct multiple of the resolution at which Windows is drawn. That means everything is scaled beautifully, ensuring icons are crisp and Windows 10 Pro looks better than ever.
While excellent for sketching, given the fact it ships with a pen and packs an N-Trig digitizer, unfortunately, the Surface Studio falls short of absolute perfection, or at least it did in our quick tests.
For starters, the palm rejection could do with some fine tuning as our doodle ended up with a bunch of unwanted dots under our resting hand. On paper, it also isn't quite as pressure sensitive as the new Surface Pro or top-tier Wacom Cintique, packing a mere 1,028 levels as opposed to 4,096.
Whether the pressure sensitivity makes any difference will take more than a quick hands-on to determine though.
One last thing, there is a degree of 'hover drawing' that also takes place. The pen seems to draw when around 1mm above the display. This might be a result of us using an early version of the software though, so check back when the full review goes live for a more conclusive verdict.
In addition to that gorgeous display, the Surface Studio also comes loaded with excellent 2.1 audio. We've raved about the things that happen when Dolby is involved in Sound on the Huawei MateBook X and it's a repeat performance here. There are Dolby-tuned speakers on both the base and screen portion of the Studio, resulting in immersive quality that negates the need for an external speaker.
The Surface Studio should also be able to handle pretty advanced gaming and some VR too thanks to the oomph under the hood. The most powerful variant packs a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M with 4GB GDDR5 memory. On paper, that set-up takes things to high-end gaming laptop territory.
Specs and pricing
It's worth noting, none of the components inside the Surface Studio are upgradable, so what you buy is what you get until the day it dies.
It also confusingly features a 6th-gen Intel processor, while the new Surface Pro and Huawei MateBook X pack the shiny new 7th-gen U-series chips.
Starting at £2,999 for the i5 and 8GB RAM/2GB GPU variant, you'll have to stump up an extra £550 for an i7 chip with 16GB RAM. If you want the top-specced Surface Studio, you'll be paying a very hefty £4,249. While that's an off-the-chart price, there really isn't anything like the Surface Studio on the market, which, sort of gives Microsoft license to charge whatever they want for this thing.
Aimed firmly at the creatives and very rich people, it's available now from Microsoft's online shop along with the rest of Microsoft's new Surface line. µ