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Microsoft Surface Dial redefines a creative accessory

This clever programmable puck lets you navigate documents and gives contextual controls in software, either as a desktop accessory or interacting directly with the screen.

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Lori Grunin
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Bringing up a color picker and changing colors are frequent tasks for artists and designers, and it looks like the $100 Dial makes it very easy.

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Application-specific controls

It was launched alongside Microsoft's impressive new all-in-one PC.

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Here, you can see how the Dial is integrated with an application; for instance, it's providing a readout of zoom scale and rotation angle, plus application-specific button controls.

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Programmable

The Dial can control a few operating-system specific tasks, such as undo and volume, in addition to working with applications that support it directly.

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Keyboard shortcuts

You can also map keyboard shortcuts to the Dial, and it can provide haptic feedback -- buzzing gently -- for those operations.

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A good design for lefties

One clever aspect of the design is that it can be used equally comfortably by left- and right-handed people.

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Two-handed operation

Using a dedicated accessory to supplement your main tool is nothing new for designers and artists, but none of them have really taken off in a big way. That's because people tend to have strong preferences about the secondary accessory. For instance, if you use a lot of keyboard shortcuts, the Dial might not have the capacity to program all of them.

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How usable?

Since you can rotate and zoom with your fingers on the touchscreen surface, the utility of the Dial will probably depend on how much you need to program specific functions.

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Doesn't slide

When the display is tilted at a relatively low angle, the Dial can sit on it without sliding.

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Bottom

That no-slide bottom.

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Minimalist

The Dial's minimalist design complements the Surface Studio, but it will work with any or later.

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