A Shallow Microsoft Surface Studio Review

For creatives and developers, or maybe both

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Yesterday, I ambled down to the Microsoft Store at Stanford Mall in Palo Alto, where I thought, “I should really try out this sexy new Mr. Softie thing.”

Then, I was waiting for some stuff to upload tonight, and I saw some articles and thought, “I should put my $.02 out there whilst practicing my writing voice.” And so here we are …

The Good

This is a glorious piece of industrial design.

It’s absolutely stunning, gorgeous, and nearly perfectly executed

Everything has a satisfying and solid heft to it — the screen, the hinge, the keyboard, the mouse, the pen, the dial — all of it. It’s really quite satisfying to use, as a purely physical experience. The hinge is solid and there’s minimal rebound when adjusting the angle. This lends a subtle but powerful feeling that says, “I am not a toy. I am not here to mess around. Let’s do some WORK.”

There are no seams

You notice this after you notice the heft. It seems carved from solid metal. Even the pen. How is it made?

The screen is brilliant

Impossibly thin. Razor sharp. What color! The viewing angles range from the obtuse to the obscene :)

The dial will make things so much better

I know this because I’ve used marking menus before. Extensively. TL;DR they super work and are cool.

In short: I love this thing. So much. I would love to have one.


The Bad

Ohhh, the bad. You knew it was coming. Ready?

Windows 10

“But, Windows 10 fixed all the Windows problems.” No, it didn’t. The crown jewel of all that is wrong with Windows 10 can best be experienced by setting the display to its native resolution (100% scaling) and opening Excel. Oh man.

You couldn’t even get the display scaling correct for your best native app, on your own native platform, on your own native marquee hardware? Cmon now!

I won’t get into Windows Explorer, which has undergone a Frankensteinian series of ill-advised me-too usability changes by committee that continues to befuddle users from the beginner to the power user.

Glossy screen only

That’s not good. When you put it at the drafting table angle, the glare makes it … problematic.

It’s heavy

“But,” I can hear you say, “you were just praising its heft.” The issue with the weight: it’s at the base. I get it, physics, center of gravity, stability.

I imagined myself moving from table to table, effortlessly unplugging a simple power supply as I flitted from sitting to standing, from natural light to even better natural light, unimpeded as I relocated my creative flow to suit my fancy, all the while the muses sitting on my shoulders, feeding me sweet champagne grapes as the most profound, beautiful creations that were ever created poured onto the canvas that is Surface Studio.

However, moving it even a couple of inches on the display table proved difficult. And I can imagine that users will inevitably use the arms to lift and move, and I shudder at the stress and early joint death that will surely result.


The Ugly

I’ve always wondered, “what is the philosophical difference between the Bad and the Ugly in this triptych of archetypes?”

Well, if the Bad is what makes it unpleasant to use, the Ugly is ironically, what lurks beneath the Surface (groan). That which will slowly gnaw away at your soul, until you can no longer bear to look at it.

  1. 1024 levels of pressure
    That’s actually a lot. But if you do a lot of fine grained creative work on a 2048 pressure level Wacom Intuous Pro — shading, pressure based line strokes, gradients, digital sculpting — you’ll feel it. Feels like a bit of a step down.
  2. No dial support out of the box from Adobe
    I’m sure it will come, and it will be glorious. But I was a little surprised — and suspicious — at the lack of full blown Adobe Creative Suite support out of the box.
  3. MS-DOS
    This is the true deal-breaker. I can forgive all other sins, but this one, this one holds you back from being your best self, Surface Studio. Developing on a Mac, with the Linux based platform, is the way. Unless you are developing Windows apps. Which most of the web world, thankfully, is not.
Microsoft, make a truly integrated Linux based VM and I’m there in a heartbeat

Or be forever relegated to an ever-shrinking piece of the web development pie, ergo the web itself.

At the end of the day, I clenched my teeth and bought a new MacBook Pro instead. I’ll try and get a nice, light, 5K monitor at some point. On that note, Apple please make the iPad a second screen for MacOS, with special input/OS/app access for mega cool stuff.

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