The most interesting computer released this year isn't an ultrathin laptop. It's a desktop made by Microsoft. Seriously. The Surface Studio is Microsoft's bigger and bolder follow-up to its Surface hybrid laptops. And while it might look at first like a typical all-in-one, it hides a unique ability. Give the screen a bit of a nudge and it starts bending -- all the way down to a 20-degree angle, in fact. Try doing that with an iMac. Like Microsoft's previous Surface devices, the $3,000 Studio is an attempt at evolving how we use computers. And together with the new Surface Dial accessory, it might just be the powerful modern rig creative professionals have been waiting for. But of course, there are a few first-gen stumbling blocks to deal with.
Gallery: Surface Studio review | 25 Photos
Gallery: Surface Studio review | 25 Photos
- Powerful for most creative tasks
- Gorgeous display
- Screen tilting function is genuinely useful
- Responsive stylus
- Dial has the potential to be very useful
- Limited to mobile graphics
- Expensive for the hardware you get
- No upgradeability
This is one gorgeous computer. And that's not just my opinion: Many people who walked by my office desk commented on the the Surface Studio's good looks. Its design is one of elegant simplicity. The focus is entirely on its 28-inch screen, which is connected to the short aluminum base with a pair of chrome hinges. That's pretty much it. But what's really intriguing about this computer isn't readily apparent at first glance.
Those chrome hinges, for example, house an elaborate 80-spring mechanism that makes bending the Studio's display up and down practically effortless. The display outputs a sharp 4,500 x 3,000 (13-million-pixel) resolution -- 63 percent more than 4K, and 1.2 million fewer pixels than 5K. And all of the Studio's hardware is located in its slim base, which is basically just a mini-PC with some serious specs. There's also touchscreen support, as you'd expect, and the Surface Pen once again makes an appearance.
And, just so we can get this out of our systems: Yes, this is a desktop computer that transforms. Yes, it's more than meets the eye. Let's move on.
Practically everything about the Surface Studio's build screams refinement. The aluminum used around the sides and back of the screen, as well as the base, feels smooth to the touch. The chrome hinges reflect their surrounding environment, almost disappearing into your desk. And, despite having a delicate bending mechanism in its hinges, the Studio felt sturdy as I lugged it to different locations in our office. There was no flexing or creaking to be found.
At around 21 pounds, it's easy to move the Surface Studio around your home. (I wouldn't call it portable; more like relocatable.) While the base mostly gets out of the way, it might seem a bit chunky if you're used to all-in-ones that shove their hardware behind their screens.
Around back, there are four USB 3.0 ports (one of which is high-powered), a gigabit Ethernet jack, a Mini DisplayPort connection, a full-size SD card reader and, of course, a headphone jack. I realize Microsoft is basically following in the footsteps of Apple and most other all-in-one PC makers, but it would have been nice to have a few ports along the sides of the Studio's base. At the very least, I would have liked to connect headphones without blindly fishing around the rear ports. (Though I suppose I should be grateful the 3.5-millimeter jack is there at all.)
There's a 5-megapixel camera for videoconferencing along the front face, right near an IR camera for fast logins using Windows Hello. You'll also find volume and power buttons on the right side. Beyond that, the Studio is a pretty minimalist device. The only bit of branding on the machine is a mirrored Windows logo on the back.
Accompanying the Studio are the new Surface Keyboard and Mouse. Both sport the same gray aesthetic as Microsoft's computers, and they're basically just minor refreshes of the company's existing wireless input devices. Microsoft doesn't really get enough credit as a keyboard and mouse maker, but I've been a fan of their hardware for years. These new devices don't disappoint either: The Surface Keyboard has some satisfying feedback in its island-style keys, and it easily kept up with my angry post-election typing. The mouse curves into your hands well, and it works smoothly across a wide variety of surfaces. Its scroll wheel is also fairly smooth, though I wish it included horizontal scrolling like some of Microsoft's other mice.