If you have not heard already, Microsoft just announced a new device called the Surface Studio. It’s essentially a Surface computer for your desktop. From what I understand, you can go to any Microsoft store today and actually play with one. It’s a big beautiful screen on this slick armature that lets you adjust it from a normal monitor to something more like a drafting table for drawing on. I get questions about Surface devices and drawing all the time and I am sure this one will be no different. In fact I can already see tweets coming in asking what I think. So If you’re curious what I think about the Surface Studio, you are in luck, because I have been drawing on one for the last week.
As anyone who reads the site knows, I have been a fan of the Surface for years. It has become my go to drawing platform when I am traveling or just want to get away from my desk. I’ve also got a great relationship with the folks over on the Surface team. I’ve visited MS a number of times to talk with their engineers about digital drawing and I’ve always felt like they really listen to the feedback I’ve given them. About a year ago they invited me over to show me a brand new device. I ended up in a little tiny room with a sheet covering something on a table in front of me. There was a one way mirror on my left and I was informed that there were people back there watching. I was super curious what it was all about and when they pulled the sheet off I saw the Surface Studio.
I drew on the device for a while and even though it was early, I came away really impressed. We talked for a long time about how it worked and how it should work. They filmed me drawing on it and took all sorts of notes. Just to be clear, I don’t get paid to do any of this stuff but I enjoy doing it and I like to think I’m helping make the Surface better for artists. I saw it a handful of times after that and each time I got my hands on it I got more and more excited. Finally, last week they asked if I’d be willing to test one for a while and of course I said yes. They delivered it to my house and I set it up in my home office.
In that photo the Surface Studio is in what MS calls Desktop mode. The computer is packed into that little silver base and the monitor hangs above it on a slim chrome armature. The monitor is really the first thing you notice about the Studio. It’s absolutely gorgeous and only more amazing when you consider the fact that you get to draw on it.
Moving the Studio from one position to the next is startlingly easy. You can adjust it to whatever angle is most comfortable for you with two fingers. Once there the Studio provides enough resistance to draw comfortably without worrying about pushing it out of position. When you are drawing on it, the screen is completely engrossing. At a distance the screen is beautiful but when you are on top of it drawing, it’s absolutely stunning. Tycho asked me to compare it to my Cintiq, and I told him that drawing on the Cintiq now felt like drawing on a piece of dirty plexiglass hovering over a CRT monitor from 1997.
The feeling of drawing on the Studio’s screen is hard to describe. I will say that the first time you do it, it feels wrong. Like you’re going to get in trouble because you clearly are not supposed to drag a fucking stylus across this thing! I’ve been drawing on it for a week now and it has gone from feeling naughty to just plain magical. The 3:2 aspect ratio is also great. The screen seems to take up more of my vertical field of vision and when I’m working on it I feel like there is MUCH less wasted space on the sides.
I also want to talk about the Surface Dial.
Have you ever turned the volume knob on a ridiculously high end piece of audio equipment and felt that smooth resistance that makes you weak in the knees? Now imagine that knob is just sitting on your desk and you can make it control all kinds of stuff.
While I am drawing, a counterclockwise turn is undo while turning the other way is redo. The Dial has built in haptics so each step backwards or forwards is accompanied by a “click” I can feel in the device. It can also be pushed like a button or pushed and held to bring up a customizeable radial menu. This menu is customizable so I can easily make that same motion zoom in and out or control the volume of my music. While you are working you can hold it in whatever position is comfortable. You can keep it on the screen or on the desk, it has a slightly tacky bottom so it stays and feels good wherever you put it.
Besides drawing, I also threw some games on it. For reference here are the specs of the device I am testing:
CPU: Intel i5 processor GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965m, 2GB vRAM RAM: 8GB Storage: 1TB
It’s not designed to be a gaming powerhouse but I was impressed with what I saw. The monitor is obviously a big help as no matter what you play, it looks bright and beautiful. Overwatch was fast and fun on medium settings. Civ VI is what I’ve played the most on the Studio and it looks and runs fantastic. The included keyboard and mouse feel solid and work great for gaming but you can also connect up to four of the new Xbox controllers. Let’s be honest though, if you are getting a Studio it’s not because you want a badass gaming rig. This device to me is a very obvious replacement for artists who currently work on a Cintiq. It is for professional creators and the fact that I can play some games is nice but it’s not the selling point. The Studio sits at about $3000 which might sound high but consider that I paid $2500 for my Wacom Cintiq 27"HD and that isn't even a computer. I still had to get a machine to run it!
When I first saw the device months ago in that secret room at MS, they asked me what I thought. I said, “Well I have no idea if anyone else will want it, but you have made my dream computer.” I recognize that not everyone needs or wants a computer they can draw on. Some people do though and I will tell you that the Surface Studio is without a doubt the best digital drawing experience I have ever tried. I was trying to help Tycho understand why the Studio was so exciting. I spend 6 to 10 hours a day drawing digitally and I have for more than a decade. The Cintiq and the Surface, these are like my tools or my instruments. I am intimately familiar with how it feels to create things on these sorts of devices and the Studio honestly feels like a generational leap forward. If you are a digital artist and you are currently working on a Cintiq you have to go to a MS store and look at the Studio. I’ve always given you my honest take on this stuff and this time is no different even though I can’t think of anything bad to say. If you draw on computers the Surface Studio is something very special.