Surface Studio 2: The Vulture rakes a talon over Microsoft's latest box of desktop delight

Lovely screen, shame about the price

Surface Studio Hands-On
Creative mode: It's Rembrandt's 'Man in Oriental Costume' c. 1633-1634 on the display. Pic by Richard Speed

Hands On El Reg has spent some time talking Surface Studio with Mark Rowland, Microsoft's category lead for Surface UK, and we also pawed at the pricey box of tricks itself so we could give you the real skinny on what's under the hood.

To start with, unless you knew what to look for, you'd be hard-pressed to spot the difference between the original and the new Surface Studio 2. The screen remains 12.5mm – "thin", as Rowland puts it, straight from the Apple playbook of never using the word "thick" (unless Steve Jobs is describing those unable to hold the company's gizmos correctly).

The "Zero Gravity Hinge" is present and correct, and the most definitely not upgradable and sadly not fanless box of silicon that forms the base remains resolutely 250.00mm x 220.00mm x 32.2mm (9.8" x 8.7" x 1.3"). The dimensions of the screen are also unchanged at 637.35mm x 438.90mm and 12.5mm in thickness (25.1" x 17.3" x 0.5").

The hinge allows the screen to be tilted from a programmer-friendly vertical angle down to something more suited to the creatives the thing's aimed at. While Microsoft claims a mere finger can move the screen, I found two hands a better option to stop the device moving around the desk. As before, this screen does not rotate on its base.

The differences become apparent as soon as the Studio 2 is fired up. Windows 10 has never looked as good as it does on the 192ppi Pixel Sense display. While the resolution (4,500 x 3,000 pixels) and ratio (3:2) is unchanged, the Surface gang has beefed up the brightness and contrast making for a display that is simply delightful to use.

As one would expect from a flagship product, Windows 10 flies along at a terrific lick – the specs are now nearer to what one would expect from such a costly machine, a minimum of 16GB of RAM and an SSD. However, in a curious omission, the latest version of Windows 10 does not put in an appearance.

Even in February 2019, the thing is still running the April 2018 Update (1803) rather than the version emitted in October at the same time as the hardware (1809).

The justification given for this was that 1809 was not available at launch, although we can think of a number of other reasons why the Surface gang has opted not to put The Update of The Damned on its flagship product.

However, dealing with its own hardware, one would expect that Microsoft would at least ensure its latest and greatest worked correctly. Or maybe not.

And that hardware is a worry.

Claws on

While I was enjoying the delights of the screen I was conscious that it was being powered by some decidedly last-generation hardware. A seventh-gen Intel i7 and Nvidia GTX 1060 or 1070 graphics are all very good, but one can imagine things starting to wheeze a bit as the years pass.

Rowland justified the silicon by pointing at the timelines involved in the design of the box of tricks, but with a GTX 1060 already the practical minimum for an "Ultra" PC running Microsoft's Mixed Reality headsets, there is a real danger of the thing running out of steam sooner rather than later.

The machine's party trick is, of course, when it is angled to its 20˚ minimum with a creative at the helm. One was on hand to show off the impressive visuals and also how that screen and hinge could cheerfully withstand a designer leaning on it while, er, designing.

Perhaps my hands are too fat, or the Surface Studio was having an off day, but despite the enthusing of the designer, I found using the pen a little unnatural. Even after switching into something a little more basic, such as OneNote, there seemed to be a slight lag in pen responsiveness and trying to move windows around with my finger didn't seem as simple or natural as it does on, say, a touchscreen-enabled Dell XPS or even a Surface Pro.

However, it is undeniable that in the hands of a creative, the thing does produce impressive results.

As it should.

One cannot get away from that eye-watering price – £3,549 (including VAT) just gets you started, and you will want to clamber up the spec ladder to get the 1070 GTX and 32GB RAM in the hope of achieving some level of future-proofing.

Because, no matter how great that screen is, like Apple's 5K iMacs: when the computer part of the arrangement is no more, the screen is junk.

It's a strange decision on Microsoft's part. The guts are in the base of the monitor, so adding at least a video-in should not be outside the realms of possibility. Rowland simply thanked us effusively for the feedback when asked.

With the new Surface Hub 2 featuring a more modular design, the omission of any kind of upgrade path (even if it is to just reuse that gorgeous screen) on the similarly high-priced Surface Studio 2 is unfortunate.

As for who is dropping this kind of cash, Rowland said that sales of the Studio line had been greater than expected. Indeed, the base model has already sold out in Microsoft's store, with well-heeled Windows 10 users having to wait until 12 March to get their creative juices flowing.

Or pony up £4,249 for some tastier hardware.

However, despite the Apple-esque stock shortage, it does remain a niche product, aimed at those needing that crowd-pleasing Zero Gravity Hinge.

And as for when PC makers start getting closer to copying the design? Rowland said simply: "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." ®

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