Surface Studio 2: Microsoft PC gets 'oohs' and 'aahs'
In the last 10 years, I don't think there has been a Windows PC I would seriously have considered as a replacement for my iMac. Until now, that is.
Microsoft's Surface Studio 2 is probably the most physically impressive desktop computer launched in recent years. From the moment I unboxed this 28-inch, 4K touchscreen machine, it was a series of oohs and aahs.
Microsoft has parleyed the slick, simplified design lines of the Surface range of pro-tablets and laptops into a huge desktop PC.
The standout aesthetic is its screen's ability to tilt almost flat, ostensibly aimed at architects, technical drawers and other 'pro' touchscreen users.
But attention to detail is evident across every square centimetre of the device. And the ease of use and power makes this feel very unlike some of the Windows machines I have fought with over the last decade.
Now, I'm conscious that this is praise of an exalted level. So I need to couch it with one or two relevant bits of background. First, this is priced at a very, very premium level. It starts at €4,199, which the vast majority of people will never consider spending on a desktop. You might have every right, therefore, to expect that it should be head and shoulders above almost any other PC on the market.
Furthermore, my test model was the high-end version of the range, priced at an eye-watering €5,099. For this, you get a gargantuan 32GB of Ram, 1-terabyte solid state drive and a top-end Intel Core i7 processor. In other words, there's almost nothing you can't do with this computer, from 4K video editing to graphics.
Make no mistake - this is a PC for professionals who intend to use it for work.
True, a PC nerd might look at the Surface Studio's raw specs and say that they could assemble it for about 30pc less than the Microsoft machine's purchase price. But then you wouldn't have the all-in-one form factor that is one of this computer core attractions. You wouldn't have that gorgeous hinge, or the other integrations. As Apple has proven for decades, aesthetics matter to professionals at least as much as to casual consumers. This, after all, is the machine you have to look at day in, day out on your desk for eight hours a day.
Despite having the top-end model, the 'entry level' version (€4,199) is hardly any slouch. It comes with 16GB of Ram and a the same 1 terabyte drive instead of 32GB. But the processor is the same. So if I was buying one of these for myself, I'd probably go for this lower-spec version.
Indeed, Microsoft will make a much bigger margin from you on the higher-end machines. €900 seems like a very big additional chunk of cash for the extra 16GB of Ram that is the difference between the two models. A 2-terabyte variation of this higher-end model is also available for an additional €500, which is also extremely pricey. If you were to max out the specifications available, you'd basically be paying an extra €1,400 for add-ons that probably only cost Microsoft an extra €250 itself. But that's the way of tech hardware these days, from phones to PCs: much of the margin is in things like additional memory.
Otherwise, it has four USB 3 (type A) ports and one USB-C port.
It comes with a touchscreen pen, which snaps magnetically onto the side of the display. It also comes with a (gorgeous) wireless keyboard. For me, the whole PC setup almost right out of the box - a fairly unprecedented thing in my experience of Windows PCs.
While the display is superb, I'm going to be harsh and say that Microsoft could have given it a slightly higher resolution. Sure, 4K (4,500 by 3,000) is great. But rivals (like Apple) are now moving to 5K and 6K in their displays. My guess is that in two or three years, this screen will still look great but will be significantly behind other PCs in this ultra-premium category.
That isn't really a reason to be put off, though. If you get a chance, play with one before you buy. This is one of those devices where you're more likely to walk away really wanting one than thinking it's simply fine. At the very least, you'll be sorely tempted by one when you see it in action.