Computers are kind of boring, right?
Whether you’re a Mac fan or a PC person, I can hand you any laptop in the world, you can log into your Facebook and Google accounts, and do probably 90% of what you need to do. It means that, for a lot of people, one computer is pretty much interchangeable with any other.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
For the last two months, I’ve been using a Microsoft Surface Studio — a beautiful all-in-one PC, made with the goal of breathing new life into the tired old desktop computer.
It’s Microsoft’s first-ever desktop computer, following the well-received Surface Pro tablet and Surface Book laptop lines. Starting at $US2,999 (around $A3,893), it’s a piece of premium hardware that’s not for everyone. Still, I’m here to tell you that for the last two months, this machine has put a grin on my face every dang day. Here’s why:
It's tempting to compare the Surface Studio to Apple's iMac all-in-one PCs. They do share a certain design sensibility. But, in my opinion, the Surface Studio is so much more.
This is the Surface Studio. It's got a giant, gorgeous 28-inch touchscreen display, and comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse. Just like this, it was enough to engender jealousy and admiration from coworkers.
It's a fabulous computer, with enough processing power to handle all the tabs, Slack chats, and Steam windows I have open. But luxury doesn't come cheap: The cheapest Surface Studio starts at $US2,999 (around $A3,893); the tricked-out configuration I tested goes for $US4,199 (around $A5,451.
It even comes with a Surface Pen stylus that magnetically clips to the side, much like on the Surface Pro 4 tablet and Surface Book laptop. Note also that the screen is about as thin as the pen.
The included Bluetooth mouse and keyboard are, you know, fine. Not great, not bad. But if you have strong feelings about mice and keyboards, you probably have your own already?
Flipping it around, the back of the computer shows a little more of what makes the Surface Studio so special.
(If you're wondering, the back of the machine sports 4 USB 3.0 jacks, an SD card reader, and a mini displayport jack. Microsoft was courageous enough to include a headphone jack, as well.)
...and it totally flattens out! Again, note how thin it is. And the hinges make it easy and oddly addictive to push up and down. There's basically no resistance. It's soooo satisfying. Feel free to make 'whoosh' sounds when you push it up and down, as I do.
Pushed all the way down, the Surface Studio sits at a 20 degree angle, which is perfect for sketching and taking notes.
I'm not an artist (this house is about as far as my artistic talents take me), but it's slick and responsive and a lot of fun to use that way. I've taken to sketching up photos and notes for friends and coworkers on the fly. But wait, what's that in my left hand?
Meet Microsoft's $US99 (around $A130) Surface Dial. It was introduced alongside the Surface Studio, but it will work with any Windows 10 PC.
The idea behind the Surface Dial is that it's a little gadget designed to complement the Surface Pen stylus. So if you're sketching with one hand, your other hand could be choosing colours.
An important note: While the Surface Dial works with any Windows 10 device, you need to be using a Microsoft-made machine like the Surface Studio or Surface Pro to put it straight on your screen.
Some more notes on the Surface Dial:
1. It's super-satisfying to turn, and uses rumble feedback to really give you a visceral 'click' when you turn it or push it in.
2. I didn't end up using it much in my day-to-day use. It's neat, but the novelty of using it to change the volume of my music or scroll up and down in Google Chrome wears off really quickly.
3. In theory, the Surface Dial adheres to the Surface Studio's screen when it's in the tablet mode, using a tacky surface on the Dial's underside. But if that bottom of the Surface Dial gets dusty or covered in crumbs, it won't stick to the screen as well. Just, um, trust me on this one.
4. It still works when it's not attached to the screen. Just, you know, see point #2.
And then, when you're done with tablet mode, it folds right back up into a PC again. It's super simple, no muss no fuss. You can bring it up and down like DJ Khaled just walked into the building.
Depending on the configuration you get, the Surface Studio packs a surprising amount of power: It's not exactly a dedicated gaming PC, but you can play titles like 'Overwatch' at reasonably high settings. Nice.
There are a few neat little bonuses, too. Like the fact that the base is cleverly designed to anchor itself steadily in place, but also somehow be really easy to push around your desk. So if you need to flip it around and show someone your notes, you can.
Compare all of this with Apple's Macs, none of which sport so much as a touchscreen, let alone the other stuff. Suddenly, the iMac looks a little bit...basic.
Like Microsoft's other recent Surface devices (and a few non-Microsoft machines), the Studio also supports Windows Hello, which lets you log in with your face by looking at the camera. Hello was super neat when it was introduced in 2015, and it's super neat now.
And if you're a Mac fan nervous about the Surface Studio because of Windows 10, don't worry. I came to Windows 10 after years of rolling Mac only... and now I'm a big convert. It's just so much easier to stay organised on Windows 10.
It's not TOTALLY perfect. I'd be lying if I said I didn't run into some oddities with the Surface Studio, most commonly a bug that made it so that the machine didn't connect with the mouse or keyboard until I rebooted.
But, in general, the Surface Studio is an absolute joy to use. I actually looked forward to coming into the office every day to use my computer!
The obvious caveat here is that, as a desktop computer, I couldn't put it in my bag with me at the end of the day. Until Microsoft somehow invents a way to fold a 27-inch touchscreen into a backpack, I guess that's why there's the Surface Book laptop.
So, to quote the great sage Ferris Bueller, the Surface Studio is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend it.
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