Microsoft's Surface Studio: A desktop creation station with a magic dial (hands-on)

The new 28-inch all-in-one desktop PC has a stunning display, high-end horsepower and a "haptic dial" accessory for fine touch control.

Ry Crist Scott Stein

Ry Crist

Senior Editor / Reviews - Appliances

Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, and home networking.

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Scott Stein

Editor at Large

I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets.

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With last year's Surface Pro 4, Microsoft's vision of a tablet that could replace your laptop finally came together. Now, it's setting its sights on your desktop.

The $2,999 Surface Studio, unveiled in New York today, is a desktop PC aimed squarely at artists and designers in need of high-end horsepower and a pixel-perfect display. Just 13 mm thick, Microsoft calls the Surface Studio's 3:2 ratio display the thinnest LCD computer monitor ever built -- and one that boasts 13.5 million pixels on its 28-inch touchscreen (compared to 8.3 million pixels on a 4K screen).

Surface Studio all-in-one has the thinnest LCD ever made, plus a new Dial gadget

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The Surface Studio's haptic "Surface Dial" accessory.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With a "zero-gravity hinge," the monitor is designed to fold down to a 20-degree angle on your desk -- similar to a drafting table -- and optimized to take full advantage of the new "Creators Update" to Windows 10 which brings, among other things, a new 3D update for Microsoft Paint.

The display also features "TrueScale," which is aimed at offering designers a real-size, "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" view of their images and creations.

We've seen tabletop creation stations before, but Microsoft hopes to set the Surface Studio apart with a haptic accessory called the Surface Dial. Like a magic metallic hockey puck, the touch-friendly dial is designed to sit beside your keyboard for fine contextual controls in whatever program you're using. You can even put it directly on the screen to create your own rotary selector dial.

Of course, you'll need to shell out an additional $100 for that Surface Dial -- unlike the mouse and keyboard, it's sold separately. In addition to the Surface Studio, it'll work with the Surface Book and the Surface Pro 4.

The Surface Studio packs a sixth-gen Intel i5/i7 Core processor, a 4GB Nvidia GeForce GPU, up to 32GB of RAM and a 2TB hard drive. Along with a single dedicated power cable, ports include four USB 3.0 jacks, a Mini DisplayPort, an SD card slot and an Ethernet port.

Hands-on impressions

There are a lot of all-in-ones already. But even so, the Surface Studio looks really nice. Its lines, and its chrome arms, give it a look like an industrial iMac.

But what makes the Surface Studio different is its folding-down action, and its wild accessory, the Surface Dial. In a reclined tablet mode, the Dial is a metal wheel that attaches to the Surface Studio display and becomes an interactive art tool, picking colors or adjusting elements on the fly. It's also a tabletop tool.

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In tabletop mode, the Surface Dial and Surface Pen offer double-handed creation controls.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The new Surface Pen also seems refined, aiming for an even more pen and ink feel than the last Surface Pro 4.

Really, though, this is all about the Surface Dial, a wild new idea that instantly excited people from its on-stage demos. The metal dial can be an on-screen tool as much as a desktop one, and looks like the other-hand tool designed to work alongside the Pen in everyday Surface creative use.

And using Surface Dial? Well, it's a haptic-feedback wheel. Not all apps will be a perfect fit. I tried it, and its gentle buzzes felt less tap-tap-tappy than an Apple Watch: think more like an Xbox One controller. Its sticky base attaches to the angled Surface Studio display, but I kept worrying it would fall off.

Preorders for delivery by the end of the year start today, and Microsoft says quantities are limited. UK and Australian details were not announced, but $2,999 converts to around £2,450 or AU$3,915. The Dial's $100 price is roughly £80 or AU$130.

Updated 1:10 p.m. ET: Added hands-on impressions from CNET senior editor Scott Stein.