Microsoft Surface Studio review: A big, beautiful all-in-one

Price when reviewed

The Surface Studio has been a long time coming – out in the US before Christmas 2016, it’s only just filtered through to us in Britain, a reminder of the bad old days of staggered release dates. The good news is that if you wanted one back then, you’ve had plenty of time to save up; and, boy, you’d better have saved up.

The Surface Studio is brilliant, but the price should put off all but the very richest businesses from taking the plunge.

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Microsoft Surface Studio: Design

It’s hard to look past the 28in touchscreen. And I mean that in the both a literal and figurative sense. Picture in on your desk in your mind; it’s actually bigger than you’re thinking, since Microsoft has opted for a 4:3 aspect ratio, instead of the more common 16:9 configuration. That means you’re looking at a screen that is 594mm wide and 396mm tall. Factor in the stand and bezel, and it reaches a height of 544mm above the surface of a desk. It’s big, in other words, and due to the way it’s designed, you can’t adjust the height.

That’s a little odd when you think of the Surface Studio’s main selling point: its zero gravity hinge. This lets you tilt the whole thing like a lectern board and use it as an oversized tablet. Just pull it down, grab the bundled Surface Pen and start drawing. The only drawback from this seamless move is the need to shove you keyboard and mouse out of the way first.


This actually works brilliantly. I’m not sure how often I’d use it but I can imagine those who spend a lot of their sketching finding such a feature invaluable. The main reason it works? Microsoft has made the Surface Studio faultless in detecting intentional touches from the unintentional. In other words: lean across it, and it won’t be a problem; touch it with the tip of the Pen and it instantly picks it up.

It’s the Surface Dial that completes the picture, though. It’s a puck-shaped doohickey you place down and twist to control settings and options, making it ideal to use while you’ve got a pen in the other hand. You don’t need to disrupt your flow, in other words. This little extra, somewhat disappointingly, isn’t included in the box, and costs £90 extra. Oh, and you’re relying on developer support for it to work, but given Microsoft and Adobe applications are already there, that’s a lot creative outlets covered.

Still, if I can get the price out of my head for a second (it’s really hard to do that), this is a design marvel. The whole thing is only 12.5mm thick, a trick Microsoft has managed to pull off by keeping all the innards in the base unit. It’s absolutely stunning.


Microsoft Surface Studio: Screen

It’s no good having a 28in screen if it’s 28 inches of blurriness, though, and thankfully that isn’t the case with the Surface Studio. It has an unusual-sounding 4,500 x 3,000 resolution, making it ideal, for example, for editing 4K video at its native resolution with room around the sides for the paraphernalia you need to do that.

That gives it a 192ppi pixel density, leaving it a little short of the 5K iMac’s 218ppi, but it’s kind of a moot point at that level. The bottom line is you have to shove your face right up to it in order to see individual pixels. And thanks to Microsoft’s “True Scale” approach here, at 100% magnification text and documents should appear exactly as they do on screen when they’re printed. That’s a nice touch.

But back to the screen itself: it’s great. Images really leap off the screen, with a brightness of 424cd/m2 and a contrast of 1,056:1. With a 10-bit colour controller, it managed 99.6% sRGB coverage with an average Delta E of 0.76. What does all this mean in human? It’s one of the most colour accurate monitors we’ve ever seen.

But again, for the price, you’d bloody well hope so.


Microsoft Surface Studio: Performance

There are three configurations of Surface Studio, and we tested the premium model, with an Intel Core i7-6820HQ CPU and GeForce GTX 980M graphics. If you were hoping that explains the price quoted above, then I have bad news: this version goes for £4,249; £2,999 is for the base model. No, that’s not a typo. Stop crying.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that those are mobile versions of each chip. There are presumably good heat-dissipation reasons for this choice, but it’s still disappointing when you’re putting down so much cash. And even with these mobile versions there’s still a fan-whirring background noise to contend with. It’s not hugely loud, but it’s louder than an iMac.


Despite the mobile specifications, the performance is very good. The Surface Studio achieved a very reasonable score of 120 in our in-house benchmark suite. That’s very good for work-based and creative activities, although when it comes to gaming, things get a bit more hairy – especially if you try the native 4,500 x 3,000 resolution. Metro: Last Light Redux was playable at 36fps in 1080p, but on a screen this size it looked a little soft.

The included GeForce chip is classed as a gaming GPU and that’s actually a problem for serious design professionals. It will work but it’s not certified for applications like AutoCAD or SolidWorks. That’s actually par for the course with all-in-one PCs but, given the people it’s aimed at, it feels odd not to offer a version with either an Nvidia Quadro or AMD FirePro in place.

One more moan: the Surface Studio comes with a one or two terabyte “Rapid Hybrid Drive”, which encompasses a 2.5in mechanical SATA hard drive backed up by a M.2 SSD as a cache drive. This led to benchmark scores that can only be described as “odd”: we saw a sequential read speed of 1,349MB/sec, but a write rate of 328MB/sec. It doesn’t feel like it hampers day to day performance too much, but it’s a pity Microsoft don’t provide a SSD option for those that need it. Indeed, I’d expect it to at these sorts of prices.

These all may feel like small points, but again: the version we tested costs FOUR THOUSAND, TWO HUNDRED AND FORTY-NINE POUNDS. If you’re not allowed to quibble at that price point, when can you?


Microsoft Surface Studio: Verdict

If I were allowed to run through a PC World in a Supermarket Sweep style scenario where I was allowed to grab anything I wanted without paying, the Surface Studio would be one of the first items in my trolley. It’s brilliant and I want one, even if it’s not aimed specifically at me.

But you can’t ignore that price, and a base price of £2,999 is simply too much unless you really need the features. That doesn’t apply to me and it probably doesn’t apply for you. If that’s the case, you’re much better saving over a grand and looking at a 27in 5K iMac.

If Microsoft had managed to bring it in at a lower price, we’d have a new King. As it is, it’s just another item for the “when I win the lottery” wishlist.

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