My initial thoughts — the only kind I can have yet since I haven’t tried one out for myself — amount to be being cautiously impressed. While I was watching the introduction video, I kept thinking how Apple-like the presentation was. The device itself is sort of beautiful, again in a very Apple-y way. Well, sort of. The screen literally looks like an iMac screen with a Microsoft logo on it, down to the gentle curve and powdered finish of the aluminum back. The base is, well, a base. Those shiny chrome arms, though, look oddly out of place by comparison; a note of tacky in an otherwise elegant industrial design. So, part win and part what were they thinking?

But maybe that’s the sort of detail only a design snob like myself would notice or appreciate. So never mind all that, what about what it actually does?

The device seems to be aimed squarely at artists, with all of the drawing on the screen and adjusting color palettes and such. And to its credit, it seems to be well suited to this market, if the glowing review from comic artist Mike Krahulik is anything to go by. Which is great — I’m all for tools that help artists do their job or get better at arting.

But here’s where my reservations start to creep in. It seems to be solving a problem that already has a solution. Wacom has been making large drawable screens for years. Like the Cintiq 27QHD ( Ittilts down to drawing-comfortable angles or straight up to vertical, like the Surface Studio, and it has multitouch, also like the Surface. Maybe the Surface does these with more elegance, or maybe having a PC built in to the device is a particular advantage, but for the “what problem does this solve” aspect, it doesn’t seem to bring much new to the table. 

Well maybe that’s not fair. The magic wheel - Surface Dial - they debuted is kind of a neat trick, I’ll grant. But Griffin has been making something similar ( for years and lots of professionals have been using their dials for audio and video production, in much the same ways as Microsoft’s was shown, for that long. The screen-recognition is a nifty trick, and the built-in haptic feedback sounds very nice, but again I don’t think it solves the problems in a significantly better way, in spite of those gimmicks.

What I expect is that Griffin will update their design to emulate it, or Wacom will develop their own, and the same people who have been using the Griffin solution will use the new versions.

The other consideration is the price. It’s expensive. Like $3000 to $4200 plus tax expensive. So, they’ve designed this for artist-types, but priced it mostly out of their reach. And the artists that ARE likely to be able to justify the expense already have Wacom Cintiqs, which are mostly considerably less expensive, even including a PC to run them (which is saying a lot, considering how notoriously overpriced Wacom’s hardware is).

And if you’re not someone who draws on your computer regularly you’re going to get over the novelty of screen-drawing pretty quickly, so I have a hard time seeing you getting much use out of the Surface Studio that you wouldn’t get from a regular PC, and for a LOT less money.

What Microsoft seems to have built is a device for a niche segment of the market, professional creatives, and then priced it mostly out of their reach, all while not necessarily solving the problems of making digital art any better than Wacom already has. If I’m actually in the market for a large drawing screen am I going to drop $4500 on a Surface Studio or buy a Cintiq + PC for $2500-3000? And I’d bet the PC I’d get for that would outperform the Surface PC guts in a few specs, and I can upgrade just the PC part as more powerful options become available over time.

So, just like the original Surface table display from like 7 years ago, this seems more like a clever technology reference than a real product that solves a real problem for the people that need that problem solved.

It’s going to look great on some executive desks, though, and the small handful of professional artists who can afford it and get enough use out of it to justify the cost.

I’m fine if I turn out to be wrong about this for some reason. Maybe they’ve found a secret sauce in the integration of components and fine details of the execution of the idea. I mean, that would truly be a first for Microsoft, to get something this complex so right the first time out of the gate, but hey, we do live in an infinite universe.