I'm a Designer—Here's What I Think of the Surface Studio 2

By Therese McPherson on at

The Surface Studio 2 isn’t supposed to just be Microsoft’s answer to the iMac or an alternative to a gaming desktop. It’s a machine built for designers, animators, artists, and other people who spend most of their day hunched over a giant display with a stylus in their hand, which is what I do as a creative producer here at Gizmodo. I edit videos, which means I need a good amount of power, but I’m also animating and designing a lot of the graphics you see on videos across all of Gizmodo Media’s properties. So the Surface Studio 2, which is supposed to mix power with an attractive and functional design, is supposed to be perfect for people like me, and in many ways, it delivers on that promise.

There are more powerful desktops out there—the Surface Studio 2 only uses an Intel i7-7820HQ CPU. That’s a mobile processor found in laptops like the MacBook Pro, and it won’t compare to a brand new Xeon processor or AMD’s Threadripper. In my experience, a lot of designers aren’t using desktops with those big processors in them either. They’re working on Macs, and it’s a good bet they’re either using a newer laptop—which has the same CPU as the Studio 2, or something like the 2013 MacPro (which is what I use when I’m not reviewing the Surface Studio 2). The MacPro’s Xeon processor is a 3rd-Gen Intel CPU, the Studio 2's processor is 8th-Gen, and there have been a lot of improvements over the last five generations. Encoding the same file in Adobe Encoder took 13 minutes and 9 seconds on the MacPro and 6 minutes and 47 seconds on the Surface Studio 2.

It’s helped by the 32GB of RAM in the unit I reviewed (although there’s also a cheaper 16GB option) and an Nvidia GTX 1070 GPU (again, there’s a cheaper 1060 option).

Around the back of the device are plenty of ports, but as someone who would love to eventually have our entire video team on fibre to improve speeds when transferring terabytes of video footage, I take issue with the lack of Thunderbolt 3 ports. That means I can’t use an adapter to plug into a fibre network, and it means that when the GPU gets older, I won’t be able to just plug in an external graphics card.

It’s a shame, because in every other way this feels like a perfect device for people like me. The enormous 28-inch 4,000 by 3,000 display renders colours accurately and is easy to draw on. It’s also easy to adjust thanks to the hinge—something the Cintiq I normally use as a display and input device can’t claim. The display is a little too glossy for my taste, and I did run into issues fighting glare in the office—surprisingly, my non-designer colleagues don’t like sitting in total darkness with blacked out windows. But in situations when I could turn all the lights out, I was left with a bright and vibrant display.

The slick glass covering the display never bothered me, from a texture perspective, when I was drawing on it. The included Surface Pen is extremely accurate and comfortable to hold. There are several additional nibs for the pen if I want to change the size of my stroke (though my Wacom pen has more options). The button on the Pen is a little stiff, but I like how it’s magnetic and clings to the side of the display when not in use.

The Surface Studio 2 is full of lovely touches, and if you were in my industry, I’d recommend it. As reviewed it’s £4,250, which is a lot if you’re just looking for an all-in-one. But I need a powerful computer and a Cintiq display. The Cintiq, depending on size, starts at £1,400, and a brand new MacPro starts at £3,000. So the price is competitive with a standard designer setup. If you’re willing to leap to Windows, this is a great all-in-one option. But I’m holding out hope that the Studio 3 includes Thunderbolt 3.

README

  • Amazing hinge
  • Lovely design
  • The guts are all mobile based, but it’s still more powerful than what many designers are stuck with currently
  • It’s surprisingly affordable for what it accomplishes
  • The lack of Thunderbolt 3 stings