A friend of mine took the plunge and pre-ordered, sight unseen, a fully loaded Microsoft Surface Studio with an Intel Core i7 chip, 2TB storage, 32GB RAM and 4GB GPU. The price for this beauty? A whopping $4199! But hey they throw in the puck thing! (That is if you order before December 1.)
As a photographer I was immediately intrigued by the new all-in-one, so when my friend offered me the chance to come play with his Surface Studio I jumped at the chance.
I was immediately impressed. It is every bit as beautiful as it appears online. It’s breathtakingly thin and I’d swear that at first blush, it looks like something that should have been designed in Cupertino not Redmond! (I know that is blasphemy in some circles but it’s the way I see it.)
Let’s start by quickly discussing the system specs. They are powerful but NOT class-leading. That’s not to say the Surface Studio is underpowered. Assuming you buy the fully loaded model it will likely be more than fast enough for almost any task. In my hour or so of playing with the computer I never found a single case where I felt like performance lagged. I understand that the forum commandos who opine on everything from the value of the next computer to the likelihood of life on Mars say the Surface Studio is underpowered. BUT that wasn’t my first hand experience.
Beyond the specs – as a long-time Mac guy my first inclination was to see how this Microsoft computer stacked up against Apple’s iMac.
The Studio supports a stylus – so there’s one in the Microsoft column because the iMac doesn’t.
Both are sleek and cool-designs, with beautiful, bright, detailed displays, but the Studio has that hinge thing that gives it more flexibility so another check mark in the Studio column.
When comparing the Surface Studio with the top-of-the-line iMac you can quickly see that complaints about the Surface Studio being underpowered make no sense. The Surface Studio is available with a newer generation processor and much better graphics. The iMac can be configured with up to 32 GB RAM and the Studio can be configured with 32GB RAM. Microsoft also offers a touch screen where Apple has decided we creatives don’t want that on our desktop. When it comes to power and use ability I don’t think anyone with reasonable expectations can call the Microsoft product underpowered.
Besides the powerful computer, there’s the Surface Dial. This puck-like device may seem like a gimmick, and I suppose that it is depending on who you are talking to, but in my opinion it’s very cool and very valuable. I was immediately able to see how it could dramatically speed up my photo editing.
One place that Apple smokes Microsoft in this comparison is price. The iMac is much cheaper but doesn’t offer the same power.
There is the very real concern most Mac users will have over switching to Windows, but I can testify that Windows 10 is very fast and stable. At least it is in my experience. I think Microsoft has come a very long way with Windows and see no reason why current Mac users wouldn’t be able to switch fairly seamlessly. If I can figure it out (having been a Mac user since 1984!) then you can too.
On paper this is all a no-brainer. Looking at everything I mentioned here plus a few nuances that I just can’t quantify enough to put into this post – The Studio wins the day – hands down.
The one thing that bugs me (bigly) about the Surface Studio relates to one of its coolest features. The “Zero Gravity Hinge” as Microsoft describes it, allows you to move the display weightlessly from an upright angle, down into “Studio Mode” with one hand. It works very well but what it also does is reflect your ugly mug (okay my ugly mug – your pretty face) back at you like a mirror. When I first saw the demo online for the Studio I immediately asked myself if this would be a problem. Within five minutes of laying the display down in my friend’s office I was convinced it is a serious issue. The reflections are incredibly intrusive to me personally.
In fact – it’s a simple deal breaker for me. As much as I like EVERYTHING else about this machine (okay well maybe not the price) I can’t see myself using one until / unless Microsoft offers one with a matte display.
I think this computer is very interesting. Only time will tell if the marketplace really thinks all this Studio stuff matters. But one thing I can guarantee you. This computer has me taking a whole new look at Microsoft. I now see THEM as the company that innovates and wants to take care of creatives – meanwhile, Apple is now a phone company that sells watches on the side.
I can’t recommend the Surface Studio because of the glare on the monitor when you lay it down, but if it weren’t for that I can see myself loving and recommending it.
Since this is new technology, I am giving it nine months to a year before I decide to revisit this subject. My theory is that Microsoft will learn what they did right/wrong with this new class of computer and roll that data into real-life improvements that will hopefully include slightly lower prices and a matte screen in the next iteration. No matter what I think about this first effort, Microsoft deserves a hat tip for trying. Creatives have generally been abandoned by Tim Cook and company. Microsoft seems to be more than willing to welcome them into their fold.