Microsoft Surface Studio review: Creativity is a sublime, pricey experience

We’ve never seen anything quite like the Surface Studio. No other all-in-one boasts a massive 28-inch 4.5K touchscreen that glides down to serve as a digital easel, a Surface Pen for inking, and an optional Surface Dial that you can spin and tap to navigate menus. Presto! You’re a digital creator.

We applaud this refreshing example of what a PC could be, and we’ll talk a lot about the new things it can do for you in this review. But we also expect the Studio to be more than just an aspirational machine that can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars more than its competition. In real life, it still needs to be a productivity PC, a decent gaming platform, and the embodiment of the Windows 10 Creators Update. We’ll take a close look at these fundamentals, too.

A luxury-class All-in-One

A typical PC buyer has a budget, then seeks out a PC that includes the most powerful components they can afford. That’s the wrong approach for someone considering the Surface Studio, where the components take a backseat to the overall design. If you plugged the price and specs into a spreadsheet, it’d look like a tough sell. 

I can safely say, however, that the $4,199 Surface Studio Microsoft loaned to us is one of the nicest PCs I’ve ever used. It doesn’t matter that the book-sized chassis packs mobile—not desktop—components: a 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-6820HQ and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 980M 4GB GPU, plus a whopping 32GB of memory, a massive 2TB hard drive, and a 128GB SSD for caching. Wireless connectivity is supplied by 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, and two Dolby Audio Premium speakers hide beneath the Studio’s display.

I may grumble that Microsoft banishes every expansion slot to the rear of the machine. In reality, sliding your fingers over the 28-inch, 4,500×3,000 (3:2) PixelSense display evokes the same intangible, deep satisfaction of sinking into the rich leather of a luxury automobile. 

Microsoft Surface Studio rear Adam Murray / IDG

When its display is positioned in a conventional, upright position, the Surface Studio requires very little desk space.

Interacting with the Surface Studio’s display is an exquisite visual experience. Simply placing the monitor a few inches away from your eyes lends urgency to whatever you’re doing: inking a scene, watching a 4K movie on Netflix, working on several documents simultaneously, or playing a game. It’s an IMAX screen for your desk, commanding your attention.

Unlike the Surface Pro 4 or even the Surface Book, the size of the Surface Studio’s display allows windows to be snapped to all four corners without feeling like they’ve been shoehorned in. Is it large enough to replace a second monitor? Absolutely. I’m still in the camp that says you’ll always want a second monitor, though, especially if you’re using the Surface Studio as a full-screen workstation (remember Task View). The Surface Studio includes the same miniDisplayPort connector built into other members of the Surface family if you decide to expand.

Microsoft Surface Studio Adam Murray / IDG

Color explodes from the Surface Studio’s display.

Most monitors, however, don’t offer the vibrant color that the Surface Studio does. Unlike other Surface devices, a Surface Studio owner has the option of configuring the display for the traditional sRGB color space, DCI-P3 (developed by the film industry and probably preferable for watching digital video), and the default Vivid setting. By our measurements, the Studio blasts out a maximum of 410 lumens of light. The Studio’s somewhat drab default background doesn’t do it justice, so open Bing or the Windows 10 Creators Update’s custom backgrounds, and your monitor will blossom into rich color.