Microsoft Surface Studio Hands-on: Dazzling Display, Crazy Versatile Dial

Microsoft's first desktop PC, the Surface Studio, is designed for those who want to create. It starts with the world's thinnest LCD monitor ever built (12.5mm) and a forged aluminum enclosure, which you can tilt back to use with a Surface Pen in easel mode.

It's available for pre-order today, Oct. 26, and starts at $2,999.

The Surface Studio sports a zero-gravity hinge and custom-tuned springs, so it's designed to feel weightless when you change to the 20-degree drafting angle. It certainly felt light in person; I barely used any effort do to change modes.

The PC comes with a Surface Pen, which you can use for things like drawing, sketching and real-time editing of documents in Word. But the really unique feature is the optional Surface Dial, which you can mount on the screen to perform various functions, such as changing the color you're drawing or painting on the fly.

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The dial connects to the PC via Bluetooth, and I long pressed it to bring up a color wheel when drawing in an illustration application. This accessory could come in handy for those who like to work with two hands.

You can also use the dial for things like changing the volume or undoing something you just drew on screen.

Microsoft says that you don't have to use the physical dial, as many of the features will be available via software right on the touch screen. And what a screen it is.

The Surface Studio houses a 28-inch PixelSense display with 13.5 million pixels; that's 63 pecent more than a 4K TV. The monitor supports both DCI-P3 and sRGB, so you can change color profiles. When we spent hands-on time with this panel, we were blown away by the rich hues as we flipped through photos, especially in DCI-P3 mode.

The monitor offers a 3:2 aspect ratio with 192 ppi with True Scale technology. You basically get a 1:1 match with 8 x 11 paper, so you no longer have to do things like print previews.

The chrome arms that holds the screen up are designed to make the screen seem like a floating sheet of pixels, said Panos Panay, corporate vice president for Surface Computing at Microsoft.

In terms of performance, there's a compact box that connects to the screen with a 6th-gen, quad-core Core i7 or Core i5 processor, Nvidia 980M or 965M graphics and 2.1 surround sound speakers. Panay also boasted that the mic array on the Surface Studio is tuned for interacting with Cortana.

Interestingly, the Surface Studio has a 1 or 2TB rapid hybrid hard drive, so it's not an SSD but a hard drive with flash cache.

Other features include an HD camera, which will let you log in using Windows Hello. The port selection includes four USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, Mini DisplayPort and 3.5 mm headphone jack. However, Microsoft doesn't include USB-C with Thunderbolt, which seems like an odd omission.

Overall, the Surface Studio is pricey, but for creative pros it looks like it could be an invaluable tool.

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.