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Tech Creature: Surface Laptop Studio

Here on Cereal Creatures, we use a lot of technology—especially tech focused on art and design. We normally don’t cover a lot of the latest tech here on the blog, but as 2021 comes to an end we’re highlighting a particular device that has added a creative jolt to our processes. The device is Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio.

When I started digital art many years ago with Compaq’s Tablet PC TC1000 running Windows XP on a Transmeta Crusoe processor I never imagined the ups and downs of digital art tech that would follow. From Wacom to N-Trig, now Microsoft, to various others in between, each has improved over time. But with each new device or each incremental improvement comes a degree of stagnation. I moved on from that Compaq wonder (slow as it may have been) to any number of slates or convertible laptops using Wacom tech. After Microsoft acquired N-Trig’s tech and integrated it into the Surface Pro 3 I found a new way of drawing on glass. After several Surface products and the overall lack of innovation in the N-Trig tech, I gave up and moved to iPad Pro. Apple’s tech is flawless and somehow they managed to improve upon it with the 2018 iPad Pro with it’s second general Apple Pencil. Then came this year’s Surface event and the introduction of this new Surface Laptop Studio. It looked like something I’d seen before in other tablets, but, yet, it remained unique. Along with it came the second generation of what Microsoft calls the Slim Pen—designed like a carpenter’s pencil, but now more pointed on the end. The pen also includes haptic feedback on the Surface Laptop Studio and the Surface Pro 8, giving users the feeling they are writing on actual paper (but your app has to support it). Could these seemingly minor improvements bring Microsoft back to the game? Absolutely, yes!

I was concerned that the Surface Laptop Studio, a laptop whose screen can be adjusted in 3 distinct positions, would be little more than the next iteration of the Surface Book line. I’d had a Surface Book 1 and Surface Book 2. Neither were bad computers, but they were overpriced and could never serve as my daily driver for artwork. So, where did that leave this new Surface in the lineage? I’d say it’s something unto itself. The new pen tech is remarkable. Lines show no jitter. Drawing is smooth. And yes, it’s as good as Apple’s drawing experience. I’m not saying that lightly.

My Surface Laptop Studio has an i5 with 16 GB (I’d never purchase a computer with less than 16 GB nowadays), but I opted to go with the integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics. The 14” display is crisp, and the 120 Hz refresh rate ensures a fluid touch experience. Add the new Windows 11 operating system on top and you have a computer that feels both fresh and a delight to use. I haven’t experienced that since the iPad Pro 2018. Speaking of the iPad, I still use that, too. I appreciate the ease of the desktop features that come with the Surface—file management, for example. Typing on the Surface’s keyboard is excellent, as well. I’d gotten use to the Mac (even, the just-okay scissor keyboards), but returning to the Surface keyboard is like coming home to something familiar and missed when absent. Microsoft’s Precision touchpad employs the same haptic feedback as Apple’s MacBooks and is almost as good. It can be a little sensitive at times, but not overly so.

I’ve been immersed in the Apple ecosystem for several years now, dropping Windows altogether for a bit. But introducing the new Surface Laptop Studio into that ecosystem by way of the iCloud app has been mostly seamless.

Now, it’s not perfect. Intel processors continue to be a drag on Windows devices. The 11th gen is better, but can’t hold a candle to the Apple’s M1 ARM tech. Don’t get me started on Microsoft’s ventures into ARM—we’ll save that for a future article. For authentication, I much prefer Windows Hello to Apple’s FaceID or TouchID, but it still experiences glitches. For example, on more than one occasion, I’ve had to hard reset the device because it seemed to perpetually hang. Windows Updates, the main reason I ditched Windows last time, seems to be improved and somewhat akin to Apple’s updating mechanism. I still prefer Safari to Edge, but I don’t hate Edge by any means (though I do wish Microsoft would get rid of the ads, offers or whatever they want to call them). The SSD is fast but doesn’t perform as well as those on the MacBook Pro’s. While nothing noteworthy, I’ve noticed a few hang ups when reading the drive in a way that I’ve never experienced on the Mac.

Microsoft has had trouble distinguishing its computers as premium devices, despite heavy price tags and legitimately industry-changing innovations. But with the Surface Laptop Studio (and what I’ve read about the Surface Pro 8), Microsoft has a quality, almost next-gen devices that are both at home with work productivity and easily integrated into a creative professional’s workflow.


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