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Lifewire / Gannon Burgett
Clean, simplistic design
Big, brilliant display
Includes mouse, keyboard, and pen
Priced extremely high
Underpowered across the board
No Surface Dial included
Microsoft has improved upon the first-generation Surface Studio, but despite its beautiful designs and thoughtful upgrades, the Surface Studio 2 still feels dramatically underpowered for the high price.
We purchased the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
The Microsoft Surface Studio 2 looks like a work of art. Fittingly, it’s clearly geared towards artists and graphic designer. From its beautiful 28-inch PixelSense display, to its efficient hinge that makes it easy to maneuver from its desktop position to drawing mode, the entire device looks and feels like the premium machine it is. However, the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 with the Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM, and 1TB SSD will cost a pretty penny. Read on to see where the computer shines and where it doesn’t.
The design of the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 remains entirely unchanged from its first-generation predecessor, and with good reason—it’s stunning. The screen is unbelievably thin, and the arms holding the hinge and springs almost disappear due to their mirrored finish and contoured shape. The entire Surface Studio is subtle, appearing like a thin piece of glass-and-metal from the side, with a svelte, boxy base.
It’s worth noting how much effort went into the hinge design of the Microsoft Surface Studio 2. After spending some time with it, it’s easy to see why. Despite being massive, the 28-inch touchscreen glides up and down with ease. In fact, a single index finger is more than enough to move the screen from its standard desktop position to the artist board position. We don’t know exactly what magic went into producing the springs inside the Microsoft Surface Studio 2, but other hardware manufacturers should take note.
Somehow, Microsoft managed to pack all of the internals into an incredibly thin base that holds the whole desktop together. The frame cleverly hides vents for cooling and features a number of ports on the rear of the device, including four USB 3.0 ports, a USB-C port, an SD card slot, Ethernet, and 3.5mm headphone jack.
The design of the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 remains entirely unchanged from its first-generation predecessor, and with good reason—it’s stunning.
While the clean front housing is nice for aesthetic purposes, it would’ve been nice to see Microsoft add an additional headphone jack, USB 3.0 port, and SD card slot to front of the device. The massive screen is great, but whether it’s upright or laid down, the various ports are difficult to access. This proved to be a pain to deal with when using external hard drives, wired headphones, and the SD card slot.
Moving onto the included accessories, the Surface Keyboard, Surface Mouse, and Surface Pen all felt well-built and thoughtfully designed. They didn’t blow us away, but they feel substantial and should easily last the life of the computer without issue. We would’ve liked to see a Surface Dial tossed in there as well, considering how much the Surface Studio 2 costs and artists and graphic designers being the clear target market.
Setting up the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 was rather straightforward. The box it comes in is securely packaged, and designed to handle a bit of abuse on the way to your house. After unpacking, all we had to do was plug in the computer and remove the plastic battery tabs on the Surface Keyboard and Surface Mouse. The Surface Pen should work just fine out of the box.
The software side of setup wasn’t nearly as quick as we had hoped. Despite having a fast internet connection, the setup time took approximately ten minutes, not including an additional system update, which added another five minutes. Microsoft’s Cortana walked us through the setup with audible and on-screen directions, and even tossed in a few snarky comments here and there along the way. Setup also included the process of adding your face for the facial recognition log-in option.
The Surface Studio boasts a 28-inch 4500-by-3000 PixelSense display in a 3:2 aspect ratio. It’s a good size and ratio for drawing and graphic design, while the 192 pixels per inch (ppi) makes it crisper than 2K panels. It’s not as pixel-dense as the smaller screen on the 21.5-inch 4K iMac, but the resolution is actually about the same. And unlike the iMac, it’s a 10-point multitouch touchscreen, essentially turning the entire panel into a giant tablet.
The Studio 2 has rich, saturated colors, great viewing angles, and generally serves as an excellent slate for drawing with the Surface Pen. We were able to sketch on it with smooth, easy strokes. It’s almost as responsive as writing on actual paper.
The Surface Studio boasts a 28-inch 4500-by-3000 PixelSense display in a 3:2 aspect ratio.
The Zero Gravity hinge allows it for easy adjustment, letting us use it at almost, ranging from nearly flat to fully upright. If you have the Surface Dial you can also unlock a lot of functionality when it comes to photo and video editing. Its omission despite the high price of the Studio feels like a big downside.
The Microsoft Surface Studio 2 model we tested was the Intel Core i7 version with a discrete Nvidia Geforce GTX 1060 GPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD.
In our testing, the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 booted up in 10-15 seconds on average. Applications opened incredibly fast, even with larger, more resource-intensive programs. These fast boot-up time are thanks to the 1TB SSD, which works much faster than traditional hard drives (HDDs) when it comes to both boot-up and load times.
Moving onto the CPU and GPU benchmarks, we tested the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 with Geekbench, PCMark, and Cinebench to see how well the Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia Geforce GTX 1060 GPU fared.
In the Geekbench tests, the Surface Studio 2 scored 4,361 on the single core test and 15,022 on the multi-core test. This falls in line with rivals like the 21.5-inch iMac. In the PCMark test, the Surface Studio 2 scored 3,539 overall with a 7,456 in Essentials, 4,541 in Productivity, and 3,554 in Digital Content Creation. In the Cinebench test, the Surface Studio 2 maxed out at 104.05 fps on the OpenGL test and 728 cb in the CPU test.
Overall, the Surface Studio 2 performed admirably considering the rather dated hardware inside, but it would’ve been nice to see a little more processing and graphics power from one of the most expensive desktops on the market. It will handle nearly any graphics program you can throw at it, including Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, and various drawing/sketching applications, but don’t plan on rendering 4K video.
The Microsoft Surface Studio 2 features both hardwired and wireless networking options. On the rear of the computer is a Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45) port for the hardwired connection while an internal Wi-Fi antenna supports 802.11ac connectivity with a/b/g/n compatibility as well.
With both wireless and wired connections, the Surface Studio 2 excelled at every test we threw at it. It didn’t matter whether it was next to the router or a few rooms over, transfer speeds were on target every time with solid ping times to boot.
The only camera on the Surface Studio 2 is a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. In addition to capturing stills and Windows Hello facial authentication, it also records 1080p video with dual microphones for audio. The camera proved impressive for an integrated camera and is more than good enough to use for conference calls and even streaming if you have a decent light source on hand.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Surface Studio Pro 2 runs Windows 10 Pro, the flagship version of Microsoft’s operating system designed for professionals. Despite the improvements from past versions of Windows, it still feels as though the weakest link in the armor that is the Surface Studio Pro 2 is the software. The external hardware is simply stunning and while the internal specifications could certainly use a bump, we couldn’t help but feel it was the software that crippled the Surface Studio Pro 2 experience.
A single index finger is more than enough to move the screen from its standard desktop position to the artist board position.
Windows 10 puts more of an emphasis on multitouch interaction than past version and has ironed out kinks since its initial release, but it just feels as though the beautiful 28-inch PixelSense display on the Surface Studio Pro 2 is limited. Even in dedicated drawing apps, like Photoshop and Illustrator, the lack of gesture support and need to still rely on traditional interface paradigms leaves much to be desired.
Sure, there’s a nice handwritten notes app that can be used and annotating various documents on the Surface Studio Pro 2 are great, but there is so much more potential from the hardware that’s taken away due to the fact Windows 10 still relies on a keyboard and mouse interface more than touch or Pen/Dial, regardless of what Microsoft claims.
Of course, this could change with a future Windows update, especially considering Microsoft is clearly focused on providing a touch-first experience on much of its Studio product lineup. Still though, for the time being, it leaves much to be desired.
At $3,499 MSRP, the Surface Studio 2 is incredibly expensive for the specs it offers. It’s twice as costly as the 21.5-inch 4K iMac ($1,299) and the base model of the 27-inch iMac ($1,799). The Surface Studio 2 is clearly trying to compete with the $4,999 iMac Pro, but with its older hardware and sometimes clunky software, it’s simply not as good of an experience for professionals and creatives, most of whom can get by with the more affordable iMac models anyway.
The Surface Studio 2 Lenovo IdeaCentre AIO 730S features a 24-inch screen compared to the 28-inch screen on the Surface Studio Pro 2. On the processor side of things, it uses an 8th generation Intel Core i7-8559U CPU, with an integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU.
Like the Surface Studio Pro 2, the IdeaCentre AIO 730S has facial recognition login functionality as well as multiple storage options that combine solid-state storage with traditional hard drives. It doesn’t feature a dedicated pen, but the touchscreen spans the entire width of the 24-inch display, which has a bit of a bulky chin, but nearly invisible bezels around the top three sides.
The IdeaCentre AIO 730S starts at $899.99. For that price you could buy three of these for the price of a single Surface Studio Pro 2, but part of the draw of the Surface Studio Pro 2 is its Surface Pen functionality and incredibly precise touchscreen, so if you’re committed to a Windows PC, the Studio 2 may be your best option for a good drawing experience.
The next competitor is the 4K Asus Zen AiO Pro Z240IC. The inspiration for this computer was clearly Apple’s latest iMac series, but unlike iMacs, this all-in-one machine runs on Windows 10. Although it does have a Full HD 1080p variation, the 4K version is more comparable to the Surface Studio Pro 2 and the Lenovo IdeaCentre AIO 730S.
The 24-inch multitouch screen features a 16:9 aspect ratio, a 178-degree viewing angle and covers 100% of the sRGB colorspace and 85% of the Adobe RGB colorspace. Depending on the model, the processing power can be maxed out with a 6th generation Intel Core i7 6700T processor with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M 4GB GPU as well. Like the Lenovo IdeaCentre AIO 730S, the Asus is an admirable (albeit less powerful) competitor, but still isn’t quite the machine the Surface Studio Pro 2 is if you’re looking for the hands-on graphic experience the Surface Studio Pro 2 offers.
Simply put, compared to the Surface Studio 2, the touchscreens on both the Lenovo IdeaCentre AIO 730S and 4K Asus Zen AiO Pro Z240IC feel like a bit of an afterthought. By contrast, the Surface Studio Pro 2 was built from the ground up to be used as a touchscreen device with the additional benefit of being able to use the precise input of the Surface Pen.
A beautiful, expensive machine lacking a market.
The Microsoft Surface Studio 2 has some stand-out features. The massive 28-inch PixelSense touchscreen is the best in the business, the Surface Pen is incredibly responsive, and, as a whole, the machine is beautiful—one of our favorite Microsoft all-in-one’s to date. However, it’s incredibly underpowered for the price Microsoft is charging and while it’s neat, many of its features feel as though they’re designed for a very niche crowd of content creators who are using more affordable iMac’s.
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