New Microsoft Surface Studio all-in-one is a creator's dream come true

panos panay surface studio display adjustment
Panos Panay, Microsoft's Corporate Vice President of Surface Computing, adjusts the Surface Studio's display settings at the company's press event in New York City on October 26, 2016. Credit: Blair Hanley Frank

Microsoft announced a new all-in-one desktop called the Surface Studio today. It’s a sleek, stylish competitor to the Apple iMac that will be well-suited to the next release of Microsoft Windows, called the Creators Update, that comes out next year and emphasizes 3D imaging and printing.

The aluminum enclosure is the thinnest LCD that’s ever been created, according to Microsoft. It measures 12.5mm thin with a 28-inch diagonal display that shows 13.5 million pixels (or higher than 4K). The idea is to be able to touch and interact with media including 3D images, video editing, music software, and even touch browsing and other productivity tasks.

The Surface Pen is a key part of the strategy, because it works on the Studio and the Surface Book (and Surface Pro) seamlessly. You can sit like you are at a drafting table and draw, annotate, and write with the Pen on the Studio all-in-one. You can place your whole arm on the Studio desktop and jot notes without any latency problems, smudges, or jittering display problems.

The Surface dial is an interesting addition for the Studio all-in-one. It’s like the rewind feature in a video game where you can correct a wrong move in a first person shooter. It’s also a way to customize actions like undo or save that you use as you are creating notes and artwork. You set the dial on the screen and it becomes another input mechanism -- selecting colors, choosing options, and interacting directly with the screen and finger touches. It’s a way to interact with 3D space, more like the jog dial in a video editing suite than anything.

In one demo creating a comic book that uses motion, an artist showed how the workflow with the dial makes perfect sense. You make a few markings, flip the dial, then zoom out. You see that everything looks great, turn the dial, and zoom in again. I could see programming things like

The AIO has been around a while, but what Microsoft has accomplished with the Studio is mostly a branding exercise. The Surface Book matches up perfectly with the Studio in terms of styling, the same operating system, touch input, and Microsoft apps like the newly introduced Paint 3D.

Besides branding, it’s about ecosystem. If you use the desktop and the Surface Book, it promotes the idea of sticking with the same apps (and games) in your workflow. Switching from a Chromebook or a MacBook Pro and then over to the Windows desktop at work can be awkward and inefficient. I also like how Cortana runs on the Studio so you can bring up documents, get directions, and set reminders in a way that feels familiar if you use a Windows laptop.

Microsoft is all about screen time. What you look at during the day, at Starbucks in the morning, at home, and on the plane should have a cohesive, efficient feel. Constant switching between devices with different operating systems tend to cause delays. We start up different apps, we manage different files.

Maybe this is not enough to convince everyone to start using OneDrive, but you have to admit having the Studio on your desk will plant you more firmly into the Microsoft world. If you run Word all day and not Google Docs, you might even be more likely to use the Word app on your iPhone or Android device. It’s a move into cohesion and fluidity.

The glaring problem, of course, is that the Windows phone has all but died (unless you count the new HP Elite X3 line). There’s still an awkward gap, and that might be the one issue that Microsoft faces in capturing the productivity market. We’re using our phones and tablet more, and our desktop and laptops less. Microsoft is playing catch-up with Apple and Google.

The Surface Studio will be available to demo starting tomorrow (October 27th) at the Microsoft Store, and will ship this holiday season at a cost of $3,000.

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