First of all, a big thanks to Microsoft Singapore for providing the review unit that made this review possible.
This review will be from the perspective of a visual content creator, someone who does graphic design, creates art, edits photos and 4K videos on a daily basis.
The Microsoft Surface Studio 2 was released in October 2018. This second generation replaces the first which was released in December 2016 with updated specifications. Otherwise, the physical design is largely similar.
The selling point of the Surface Studio 2 is that it's an all-in-one computer with the large screen you can draw on. Alternatives to this include the Dell Canvas and the upcoming Lenovo Yoga A940. Unfortunately I've not tested the models offered by the competition so I can't say much about them.
The review unit that I received has the following specifications:
- 28-inch 4500 x 3000 resolution display
- Intel® Core™ i7-7820HQ (quad 2.9 - 3.9Ghz)
- 32 GB RAM
- 1TB SSD
- NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1070 8GB GDDR5 memory
These are the official retail prices for the different models. The price table is from Wikipedia. The price is certainly on the high side. Whether it's worth the money will depend on the type of work you do.
Local price (tax included) in Singapore are:
- Intel i7, 16GB memory, 1TB SSD, GeForce GTX 1060 6GB - S$5,588
- Intel i7, 32GB memory, 1TB SSD, GeForce GTX 1060 6GB - S$6,688
- Intel i7, 32GB memory, 2TB SSD, GeForce GTX 1070 8GB - S$7,188
Items included in the box are:
- Surface Studio 2
- Wireless Bluetooth keyboard
- Wireless Bluetooth mouse
- Surface Pen
- Power cable
When I took the Surface Studio out of the box, my first impression was it looks really good, and it's really huge. You will certainly need to put this on a large table.
The 28-inch screen supports a resolution of 4,500 by 3,000 which is a 3:2 aspect ratio.
This screen has more resolution than a typical 4K screen with 3,840 by 2,160 resolution. This high resolution screen makes everything look sharp and detailed. Individual pixels are not discernible.
The 3:2 aspect ratio is unusual because most monitors nowadays use 16:9. This aspect ratio works great for apps that benefit from the extra vertical pixels. For example with video editing, I can view multiple layers of timelines and audio at a glance without the need to scroll up or down.
The screen is rather glossy and reflective. If you have strong light source above or beside you, chances are you're going to see reflections.
Turning the screen away from the light source, or closing the curtains would reduce reflections significantly. If you're work in a huge office with lots of ceiling lights, expect those lights to appear as little blocks of white on your screen. This is nothing new if you have been using tablets and laptops with glossy screen.
The monitor is as thin as the Surface Pen that's provided. Power and volume buttons are on the right side. The Surface Pen can attach magnetically to both sides of the monitor.
The monitor supports 10 point multi-touch and has support for common finger gestures to zoom, pan and rotate. There's palm rejection when Surface Pen is in hover mode.
Bezels are thick but uniform on four sides and help frame whatever you're looking at nicely. I like the rounded corners.
On the back of the monitor at the bottom edge, there's a long horizontal extrusion that protects the bottom edge from scrapping the table when the screen is laid down.
The gap between the glass surface and the LCD is very small. When drawing, there's very minimal parallax except at the far edges.
The Surface Pen is accurate and cursor is always directly beneath the tip. I tracked the cursor all around the screen, even near the edges, and there's no misalignment.
The Surface Pen supports up to 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity and there's tilt sensitivity as well but only works with selected software.
The monitor stand uses a special hinge that allows the monitor to be laid down. You can adjust the angle with one hand but it's easier with two hands, one at the top and one at the bottom.
But the way, there are some bubbles because I still have the plastic wrapping on the hinge. Oh, there's plastic wrapping all all possible surface area when you first take out Surface Studio 2. This thing is very well wrapped.
This is the lowest angle the monitor can go. It's inclined at an angle that's quite comfortable to draw on.
Due to the sheer size of the Surface Studio 2, you will need a lot of table space. When you push the monitor down, the keyboard has to be moved out further in front, about one keyboard space away.
I use a lot of keyboard shortcuts. When the monitor is laid down, I will put the keyboard behind the monitor on the left side so that I can reach for the keys comfortable. The keyboard, when used in this way, is too long and will hit the stand. It might be better to use a wireless keyboard without the NumPad for keyboard shortcuts in this instance.
The monitor can be adjusted to different angles with the hinge. Technically speaking, there's no lock on the hinge, so if you draw on the monitor at a higher angle, it can move. BUT it doesn't move that easily unless you press down hard, and at the correct positions. It may still move occasionally so if you really want to "lock" the position, you can place something below the monitor. I've placed a thick book for the purpose of taking a photo. Even placing a small piece of eraser beneath will be able to prop up the monitor to a much higher angle.
The hinge only moves easily when you try to swivel the monitor along its rotating axis (with one hand at the top, and one at the bottom). The hinge is located on the lower side on the back of the monitor. When you are drawing, if your hands are around the middle and lower regions on the screen, it will be very difficult to change the angle of the monitor. If your hand is at the top of the monitor pressing down, that's where it's easier to change the angle, accidentally.
Anyway, main takeaway is you can draw at a higher angle if you want to. You just have to be a bit more cautious not to press down too hard at the top.
The monitor does give out some heat. It's not as warm compared to typical LCD monitors. Drawing for hours on it is not going to cook your hand.
Another issue of the glossy screen is it will create friction against your hand. When you're drawing with your palm in contact with the screen, the friction will slow you down and sometimes may even cause your hand to skip. Try running your palm across the glass of your tablet or a window to understand what I'm saying. If you're drawing long strokes, it make affect your work. If drawing short strokes, or using the Surface Pen for clicking, then it's a non-issue. One way to get around is to wear those artist gloves for a much smoother drawing experience.
Colours are vibrant on the screen. Maximum brightness is around 450 nits. I've used the Surface Studio 2 in a room with strong fill light from sunlight and the brightness was more than adequate for me to work with.
With a Spyder5Pro colour calibrator, I measured 100% sRGB, 89% AdobeRGB and 85% NTSC colour support.
Keyboard and mouse
The keyboard included has a really slim profile. Keys have good travel and typing feels good. It's powered by two AAA batteries.
Downside to the keyboard is the lack of extra space between the arrow keys to the Control and Number Pad beside. When I want to hit the arrow keys, I often hit the Control or NumPad, vice versus. Same applies to the Insert-Delete and Page-Up-Down buttons above.
The Bluetooth mouse looks nice. Buttons are a bit stiff that's all. It's also powered by two AAA batteries. The cover for the battery has magnets and is easy to take off and put back. Same applies for the keyboard battery cover.
All the Surface Studio 2 models run the 7th generation Intel Core i7-7820HQ (2.9 to 3.9 GHz) quad core processors.
The different configurations you can choose from are 16 vs 32GB memory, 1TB vs 2TB SSD and GTX 1060 6GB vs GTX 1070 8GB graphics card.
Overall performance feels snappy. Even when running multiple applications, exporting photos and videos at the same time, performance still feels snappy. Booting up the system, opening software, saving large files are all fast because of the SSD. Transfer speeds are up to 800 MBps.
All the components are housed inside the stand that's no thicker than the mouse provided. Fan grills run on all four sides but the exhaust comes out only from the right.
The body has nice textured surface that's similar to other Surface products. Edges are also rounded off here. Audio quality coming from the body is surprising good with nice surround. When the monitor is all the way down, it would block the audio though, which will then go to the sides.
These are the ports on the back.
- 4 x USB 3.0 (one high power port)
- Full-size SD™ card reader (SDXC)
- USB-C (not Thunderbolt 3)
- 3.5 mm headphone jack
- 1 Gigabit Ethernet port
Pressure and tilt sensitivity works great with Photoshop. Zoom, pan and rotate with finger gestures feel fluid. The Surface Pen is accurate but it still has that slight jitter when drawing diagonal lines slowly. When drawing at normal speed, there's no jitter though, but when you are testing for jitter, you're going to see that.
The slow diagonal line jitter is going to be there for all the graphic drawing software, not just Photoshop.
Medibang Paint Pro works great too. Zoom, pan and rotate isn't as fluid as on Photoshop though.
Here's a detailed sketch drawn on Medibang Paint Pro. Palm rejection works fine most of the time but occasionally there will still be some stray strokes. The slight jitter didn't affect my drawing with my normal drawing speed. Overall drawing experience is satisfactory.
Pressure works well with Sketchable. Drawing and navigation feel fluid and responsive.
Pressure and tilt sensitivity works well with Krita. Navigation is also fluid.
Clip Studio Paint works fine. Navigation is fluid.
Pressure works with Affinity Photo as well. When drawing with this software, it seems like palm rejection doesn't work as well and there are more stray strokes.
Generally speaking, palm rejection works fine. There are certain apps where palm rejection doesn't work as well, such as with Affinity Photo. Other than that, I've never been tripped up by stray strokes from palm rejection.
Photo editing on this screen with the colour support and resolution is very satisfying. In the picture on the left, a 16MP photo in Lightroom was made to fit on screen. In the picture on the right, that's a 1:1 100% zoom. Even with the scaled-down-to-fit photo, you could almost see all the 16MP. The detail and sharpness is fantastic.
Below are the various timings for exporting 100 RAW files with Lightroom CC:
- Microsoft Surface Studio 2: 2min 8s
- Mac Pro 2013 Xeon quad core 3.7Ghz - 3 min 17s
- Macbook Pro 2015 Quad 2.5Ghz - 3min 21s
- Surface Book 2 Intel Core i7-8650U (Quad 1.9 to 4.2 GHz) - 3 min 49s
- Lenovo Miix 520 i5-8250U (Quad 1.6 - 3.4Ghz) - 4min 40s
- Surface Pro 6 i5-8250U (Quad 1.6 to 3.4Ghz) - 6 to 8 min
- Surface Laptop Intel Core i5-7200U (2.5-3.1Ghz) - 8 min 26s
- Surface Book 2 Intel Core i5-7300U (2.6 to 3.5 GHz) - 8min 57s
- Surface Pro 2017 i5-7300U (2.6 to 3.5 GHz) - 12min 24s
3D modeling and rendering
Both GTX 1060 and GTX 1070 are more than good enough for 3D modeling and rendering. There's also plenty of resolution for all the panels, menus, tools and the scene.
Below are timings for rendering the 2,000 x 2,000 scene above with ambient occlusion.
- Mac Pro 2013 Quad 3.5Ghz: 2m
- Dell 5510 Xeon Quad 2.8Ghz: 2min 20s
- Microsoft Surface Studio 2: 2min 55s
- Dell XPS i7 Quad 2.6Ghz: 3min 8s
While rendering the scene, CPU utilisation was 100% with boost up to 3.48Ghz and was held there until the export completed.
Such a large screen and high resolution is great for video editing. There's so much space for the panels, tools and timeline. Editing 4K videos is smooth without lag. After exporting the video, you can view your 4K video at native resolution too.
Here are the results from exporting a simple 5min 4K 25FPS video without any specials effects, LUTS and stabilisation.
- Surface Studio 2: 9min 30s
- Surface Book 2 (quad 1.9Ghz): 13m 19s
To be able to export a 5 minute 4K video using twice the amount of time is satisfactory to me. I use a Mac Pro with quad 3.7Ghz Xeon processor and it can take up to 4 times longer. Unfortunately I don't have any powerful Windows desktop to compare against.
I edit 4K videos for my Youtube channel everyday and the Surface Studio 2 saves me a lot of time.
The processor were able to turbo boost up to 3.48Ghz and held there until the export was complete. The fans were able to do their jobs and cool the processors effectively for the whole duration it was on turbo boost. I'm not sure why the boost speed tops out at 3.48Ghz instead of the advertised speed of 3.9Ghz.
Overall performance of the Surface Studio 2 is pretty satisfactory.
Despite exporting photos and videos at the same time, something I do regularly, the Surface Studio 2 is still able to perform snappily without lag. And it should be this way as you've paid a high price for this system. I would consider this a production level computer, a workstation so to speak.
As mentioned at the start, the selling point of the Surface Studio 2 is the huge canvas you can draw on. If you're not going to draw on the screen often, there's really no practical reason to get this all-in-one. If you're thinking of getting this as a photo and video editing system, I won't recommend it because for those purposes you can just get any regular desktops that are more powerful and monitors. It's not the best use of money unless you really do value the function and form of the Surface Studio 2.
Drawing performance is fine but unfortunately there's still the slight jitter with certain apps. If your work involves creating line art, the jitter issue may be a problem. If you're just using the Surface Studio 2 for retouching photos, digital painting, then it doesn't really matter whether there is jitter.
Having said that, Microsoft really needs to fix that problem once and for all. The problem doesn't present itself when drawing at normal speed, but sometimes we do need to draw a bit slowly and that's when the jitter may affect our work. Fix this and this would be a perfect product.
Ultimately, quality comes with a high price. As mentioned earlier, whether it's worth the money really depends on the type of work you do.
If you're someone who draws a lot and need a powerful system, the Surface Studio 2 is pretty compelling product to check out. It's designed to get work done, and I like that about it.
Pros and cons
+ Vibrant, bright, colour accurate touch screen
+ 4,500 x 3,000 resolution higher than 4K
+ Huge screen is a joy to draw on
+ Good looking and functional design
+ Good built quality
+ Easily adjustable hinge
+ Reasonably powerful quad core processor and graphics card
+ Has palm rejection, pressure and tilt sensitivity
+ Good audio quality
+ Reasonable selection of ports
+ Windows Hello facial recognition works really fast
- Reflective screen
- No Thunderbolt 3
- Doesn't throttle even when processors are pushed
- Still has slight jitter with slow diagonal lines
- Reasonably quiet operation though fans come on often
- Hinge doesn't lock at specific angles