Microsoft out-innovates Apple with the Surface Studio

by Haadi Bakar
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REMEMBER those viral “Get a Mac” commercials that ran from 2006 to 2009? The ones that had two guys against a white background: one guy in casual clothes introduced himself as a Mac while a man in a suit represented a Windows PC, and those ads always concluded to how Apple’s Macs were better than PCs.

Those ads were aired during the height of the Mac’s popularity. At that period of time, Apple’s all-in-one iMacs and Macbooks were elegant and user-friendly machines while Windows PCs took a backseat with uninspired design and a clunky operating system.

But now it seems that the tide has turned. Apple’s Macs these days have not caused as much excitement as before. Meanwhile, Microsoft is killing it with its brand of Surface laptop computers.

Recently in October, Microsoft unveiled its first all-in-one PC, the Surface Studio, while Apple had its new Macbook Pro event the day after.

Having watched both keynotes, I have to say that Microsoft’s presentation was far more interesting than Apple’s. I haven’t had this much excitement for a new computer unveiling since the late Steve Jobs pulled a Macbook Air out of a manila envelope back in 2008!

Microsoft’s Surface Studio in desktop mode. Picture Courtesy of Microsoft

Microsoft’s new all-in-one PC has a massive 28-inch ultra-high resolution touch display with pen input support and a flexible hinge on its back that lets you tilt the display down for a table-top tablet experience. It’s as if Microsoft built a desktop computer for the smartphone and tablet generation.

Apple on the other hand added a Touch Bar on its ‘pro’ laptop and called it a day.

The Surface Studio is like a breath of fresh air. Amidst the sluggish global PC sales, Microsoft brings something new to the table hoping to win back interest from consumers and revitalise the desktop computer.

At first glance, the all-aluminum Surface Studio may seem like it’s designed to take on Apple’s iMac, but the more I think about it, the more I feel that the iMac should be taking cues from the Surface Studio.

Microsoft’s Surface Studio reminded me of the groundbreaking iMac G4 which Apple announced some 14 years ago. The G4 wowed the computer industry with its swivelling flat-panel monitor. Fast forward today and Microsoft wows the audience with a desktop computer that transforms into a table-top PC.

But this isn’t a computer for the masses. With its high price tag, the Surface Studio is a high-end desktop PC for creative professionals.

Microsoft demonstrated during its Surface Studio presentation how designers, artists and architects sketch on the giant LCD touch display (tilted all the way down) with Microsoft’s Surface Pen.

The company also introduced a new accessory to go with its new desktop PC – a small metal puck called the Surface Dial that can be placed against the screen and rotated. As you sketch on the screen, for example, the dial gives you software tools like colour sliders.

Meanwhile, the 28-inch LCD touch display is the thinnest I’ve seen on an all-in-one PC. It has a resolution of 4,500 by 3,000 and has 63 per cent more pixels than a 4K TV.

It also uses a 3:2 aspect ratio instead of the 16:9 widescreen standard, which means more screen real estate for artists to work on.

The entire CPU is located at the base of the Surface Studio. It’s a pretty powerful PC, with the base model equipped with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 2GB GeForce GTX 965M GPU and a 1 terabyte hybrid drive.

The high-end model, which retails for a whopping US$4,199, has an Intel Core i7, 32GB of RAM, a 4GB GeForce GTX 980M graphics card and 2 terabytes hard drive.

The square-shaped base also houses the speakers and ports, including four USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet, SD card slot and a Mini Displayport. Microsoft also isn’t ditching the 3.5mm headphone jack on its device.

At a starting price of US$3,000, the Surface Studio may not be for everyone, but you can’t help but praise Microsoft for reinventing the desktop PC and giving us a glimpse of where computers are heading. After the release of the Surface Book a couple of years back, Microsoft has really outdone itself once again.

Surely its partners like Acer, Dell, Asus and Lenovo will eventually come up with their own take on the Surface Studio with price tags that are more consumer-friendly.

One thing is for certain: With the Surface Studio, Microsoft is out-innovating Apple this time. Apple’s iMacs and Mac Pros are long overdue for an update, and the company’s refusal to adopt Touch on its Macs is preventing it from making something fresh.

Meanwhile, on the PC side, you get high-performing ultraportable notebooks, laptop/tablet convertibles, powerful gaming rigs and now the Surface Studio. Not to mention, Windows 10 is also a pretty solid OS that fully supports touch and pen input.

The Mac’s glory days are over. The PC is the new hip, cool and trendy computers of this generation.

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