Microsoft Surface Studio 2 Artist Review. It’s been two years since Microsoft released the stunning Surface Studio and proved that, hey, maybe desktop PCs don’t need to be ugly boxes you hide under your desk.
Now we have the new Surface Studio 2, which is just as visually stunning as the first model but with way more power under the hood. It’s also still really expensive. It even costs more than the first Studio and starts at 35 hundred dollars. But once you sit in front of this thing, with it’s massive 28-inch touch screen that pivots on a floating hinge, the price is the last thing you’re thinking about.
Just like before, the Surface Studio is really designed for creators, people who use computers to make digital art. Now since I’m just a word monkey and a talking head here on video, I had Verge reporter and published cartoonist Dami Lee try out the Studio 2 for creating digital artwork:
Dami Lee: I mainly just make web comics, so I think having a machine like this would definitely be over-the-top luxury for me. With that said though, the three by two display ratio really makes the screen feel huge. There’s more than enough space on the screen to look at reference images on another window while drawing and I liked having a video tutorial open in another window while following along in After Effects.
The Surface Pen has replaceable nibs and re-mappable buttons, which also doubles as an eraser. It’s got 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity, includes tilt support and I didn’t notice any sort of lag or any offset between the cursor and the stylus, which is a problem that sometimes affects the Wacoms and Teak lines. It also attaches magnetically to the side of the screen, which is nice so you don’t lose it.
One weird issue I ran into while drawing was that the pen was still suffering from the line jitter that’s plagued the Surface line for months. Microsoft said it fixed the problem in August through a firmware update so I’m not sure if it’s back or if it used to be worse. I tried drawing straight lines both freehand and with a ruler and the wobbly lines persist if you draw slowly, it goes away if you draw with fast strokes so it’s not too big of a deal, but it still feels like a problem that a 35 hundred dollar device shouldn’t be having.
There’s also a 99 dollar Surface Dial accessory that isn’t included in the box and it hasn’t been updated since the last Surface Studio. There’s a couple of drawing apps that are optimized to give the Dial more features, like Sketchable, but because I’m so used to keyboard shortcuts, I can’t really see myself adopting the Dial for everyday use.
On a screen that already has touch support, so you can do things like pinch to zoom, having a Dial feels almost redundant but maybe this is just a me problem. If there’s a Surface Dial fan club out there, please let me know in the comments.
– So the Studio can be useful for some artists, but it’s also just an interesting computer to do work on. The screen is so big and so bright, I can just fling windows all over the place. Now normally I work on a big 34-inch, ultrawide monitor but the Studio’s 28-inch screen actually has more surface area because of its unique three by two ratio. I will say though, with a screen this big, it’s hard to work on anything discretely in an open office because basically anyone can just walk by and easily see whatever you’re doing.
Now the big difference from the last Studio with this one is all on the inside. It’s got a beefier processor, newer graphics card and, finally, a proper SSD. The Studio 2 has enough power to run the latest AAA gaming titles, even at high resolutions and keep smooth frame rates. And gaming on this thing is a blast.
The screen is so big and in your face that everything just feels more immersive. I mean, just looks at Forza Horizon 4 on it. Or Star Wars Battlefront 2. Even games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider look great, even though I do have to lower the resolution more to make them smooth and playable.
Now one concern with gaming on the Studio 2 is the unique screen ratio. It might cause some issues with games like Overwatch that have a locked view port to 16 by nine. You’re going to see these giant black bars and lose a fair amount of the playable screen.
The Studio’s aspect ratio is the same as every other Surface product and it’s really great for productivity but maybe it’s not the best for games or watching video. But still, most of the games I tested on it had no issues and ran pretty amazingly.
So the Studio 2 is kind of interesting for digital artists. It’s probably overkill for a daily productivity machine and it’s also a unique gaming PC. But there’s still plenty of areas where the Studio 2 could be an even more compelling computer. For example, I can’t plug in an external GPU to give it more graphical oomph because the USB C port on the back isn’t Thunderbolt 3. I can’t use the Studio 2’s gorgeous display as a monitor for a more powerful workstation because it doesn’t support video input. And this might sound like a nitpick, but, my opinion, with a 35 hundred dollar and up computer, there’s no nit that’s too small to pick.
Microsoft packages the absolute worst mouse with the Studio. It’s a cheap feeling, two-button and scroll wheel wireless deal. Now Microsoft has much better mice in its hardware portfolio. It’d be nice if it actually included one of those with its high-end, flagship desktop PC.
But, all of those complaints aside, I still really want this thing because it’s a widely unique computer that’s fun to use and powerful enough to get most any work I need to do done on it. Now like Dami said, it’s an over-the-top luxury for my needs but you can’t match this computer’s features with a different model. It just doesn’t exist. I can use it to write, I can use it to browse the web or play games, and if I could actually draw good enough to save my life, I’d use it to create artwork as well.
The Studio 2 is just more fun to use than a standard all-in-one desktop or a desktop and monitor set up. Now it’s certainly designed for a specific market, where cost maybe isn’t as big of a concern as what the device can actually do. But if you’re in that market, it’s really hard to find a better option. Thanks for reading. If you’re looking for a device that’s good for creators, you might also want to check out our review on the new iPad Pro. We had a bunch of creatives on staff test it out and really dive into what it can do.