Design and the Zero-Gravity Hinge

Microsoft has built a brand around Surface, and that’s not an easy thing to accomplish. The Surface Studio fits in very well with the design ethos of the rest of the Surface lineup, and there has been quite a bit of attention to details paid in the creation of their first desktop computer. The first, and most obvious, is the finish, which matches perfectly with the other Surface devices, despite being made from aluminum rather than the magnesium alloy used on the portable products.

The 3:2 aspect ratio of the Surface Studio display is now a hallmark of the Surface brand (outside of Surface Hub), and having a taller display makes doing most tasks on a desktop a more pleasant experience. The increased surface area can’t be forgotten either, with the Surface Studio offering 17% more screen real estate than what's arguably the Studio's closest competitor, the 27-inch iMac, which amounts to an additional 54 square inches of display. Widescreen at 16:9 has never been a great aspect ratio for PC tasks, but the proliferation of high definition television seems to have moved the entire industry this way in an effort to save costs. When looking at the price of the Surface Studio, it’s important to remember that the entire display industry has moved to 16:9 as a standard, which impacts the entire supply chain and tooling required. Moving to an aspect ratio outside of 16:9 has large cost implications, but the end results are certainly worth it. Hopefully we will see a few other manufacturers use this as a means to source displays like this, much like the Surface Pro 3 and Pro 4 have ushered in more 3:2 devices at that much smaller size. And speaking of attention to detail, the Surface Studio is actually 28.125-inches diagonal, and as we'll see in a bit, that last 0.125-inches is very important.

It seems with Surface, Microsoft always wants to have a trick up their sleeve. With the original Surface RT and Surface Pro, it was the kickstand, which has been adopted by quite a few manufacturers for their own device since it works so well. When they launched their first laptop, the Surface Book, it was the muscle wire locking mechanism to remove the display from the base, as well as the dynamic fulcrum hinge to make the top-heavy laptop more stable. With the Surface Studio, the zero-gravity hinge is most definitely its signature design feature.

With two chrome arms flanking the base, the Surface Studio can almost effortlessly be folded down into a drafting table. The hinge mechanism provides a perfect counterbalance to the weight of the display, making it feel like it has almost no weight at all. The hinge is a single movement as well, so you don’t tip and fold the screen, but instead folding the screen also causes it to move down. While this does limit the functionality somewhat – for instance, you can't move the screen half way down and then fold it up straight again – the result is truly a wonderful design which almost needs to be seen in person.

Because you can’t tip the screen without folding it, once you stop at any angle, the screen is very solid to work with, although it is the most secure when folded all the way down to the 20° angle. You would think a large desktop display would not be ideal to use with touch, but the Surface Studio zero-gravity hinge invites you to be more interactive with it, by keeping the display close and folding it down when needed. More traditional all-in-one computers with a touch screen are nowhere near as easy to work with, since holding your arm in dead-air can be tiring, but the folded display doesn’t suffer from these burdens.

The PC base also exudes Surface quality, with the signature color, and cooling vents all the way around in the same fashion as the Surface Pro and Surface Book. The PC base can be disassembled from the bottom if required, for access to the storage and fans, but the remainder of the system is soldered to the board as you would expect in a small form factor device like this. The most frustrating part of the Surface Studio base is that all the inputs and outputs are on the rear of the device, so connecting something over USB, or inserting a SD card into the PC, is not as simple as it should be. This is a form over function decision, and it would be nice to see some of the ports offered at least on the side of the base to make it a bit easier to access.

The desktop PC market has not been as exciting to watch as the smaller and more portable laptops and tablets, but the Surface Studio sets a new high mark for desktop PC design and looks. Some of the decisions are form over function, but the majority of the design decisions actually improve the user experience. The zero-gravity hinge is a masterpiece of engineering, with such a smooth action that it really does feel like the display has no mass at all.

Introduction Outfitting the Surface Studio: Keyboard, Mouse, Pen, and Dial
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  • jlabelle2 - Friday, January 27, 2017 - link

    - Unique doesn't automatically mean "better." I realize you want to defend this for psychological rather than practical reasons and that's completely okay.

    Correct (1st sentence) and wrong (2nd sentence).
    And this is why I make a difference between the fixed trackpad and home button of the iPhone / Mac that serve absolutely no purpose compared to the SB hinge that have a clear functionality of pushing the screen further away of the base when open (to counteract its weight).
    On top of that, it helps avoiding marking of the key on the screen but it is not its primary function.

    Those have been explained to y ou but you still dismiss those and I don't know why even if you try to put some psychology into that whereas it is basic proven fact.
    Reply
  • sorten - Friday, January 20, 2017 - link

    Apple only has 5% of the PC market, and yet we still take them seriously. Right? The Surface line has been very successful and very profitable for Microsoft. The Surface line has also brought innovation and excitement back into the PC market. Reply
  • hlovatt - Sunday, January 22, 2017 - link

    Apple sells about 5 million macs per quarter and Microsoft sells about 1 million surface branded computers per quarter. Therefore Apple is significantly bigger than Microsoft in sales, the difference is even more in terms of revenue.

    However, despite the low sales of surface I am glad that Anandtech covers the surface range since they are innovative. I would also like to see more Apple coverage, likewise because it is innovative.

    In general, I am keen on reviews of niche products and I am bored by reviews of mainstream except for providing a benchmark to judge the innovative products against.
    Reply
  • fanofanand - Monday, January 23, 2017 - link

    What exactly has Apple innovated in the last ten years? Reply
  • hlovatt - Monday, January 23, 2017 - link

    Gee let me think for a second: iPhone, iPad, retina displays, gloss displays, uni-bodied products, all day battery life for laptops, touch pads on desktops, iMac style all-in-ones (which the studio owes a great deal to), ...

    Got bored if thinking of things, who do you suggest has done more?
    Reply
  • fanofanand - Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - link

    So Apple's innovation is taking someone else's idea and improving on it? And that impresses you? They didn't invent the smart phone, they didn't invent the tablet design or form-factor, retina is a marketing term, not anything "real". Glossy displays reflect light more and are difficult to see in several situations, they weren't the first to do an all-in-one, and what on earth do you mean by "touch pads on desktops"?
    Sorry but your list is weak, and is nothing but Apple taking other's ideas and running with it. Apple's only true "innovation" is making things pretty, and simple enough for tech illiterate folks to use them.
    Reply
  • simonm - Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - link

    And adding to hlovatt's list:

    Mostly solid-state trackpads with very realistic click sensation, MagSafe (RIP), best fingerprint reader, Thunderbolt, pressure sensitive phone screens. Lightning connector, which despite being propriotory is actually very good (I've had numerous micro USB cables break on me). Ultra-slim laptops. Plenty of software tech underpinning OS X (I refuse to call it macOS for a few years). Pushing to have sRGB phased out. Pushing adoption of USB-C (and collaborating on the spec).

    The company may be greedy and risking their competitiveness but they have some good innovative tech that keeps them in the business. To say Apple isn't innovative is kind of a troll-worthy comment.
    Reply
  • fanofanand - Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - link

    TB was designed and invented by Intel, not Apple. solid-state trackpads? You realize they don't build those right? Pressure sensitive phone screens have been around for years. Best fingerprint reader is an opinion not a fact that can be validated. Ultra slim laptops are the bane of actual computing, they take dramatically reduced internals and jack up the price because "thin". "pushing adoption of USB-C" so now that's an innovation? I think your love of Apple has blinded you to the truth. Seriously, you said "with a very realistic click sensation" wtf does that even mean? Who decides what a "realistic click sensation" is? Pathetic fanboys. Reply
  • jlabelle2 - Thursday, January 26, 2017 - link

    Yes Apple has realized really some innovation, but as Samsung or LG or Microsoft or others.

    But they have also push a lot of standard things with marketing terms to try to appropriate themselves a perception of innovation (high resolution screen, Thunderbolt, all-in-one..) or try to make "different" without advantages and tried to push that as innovative: glossy screen (often necessary with touchscreen tech but avoidable for non touch screen Mac), fix simulated trackpad (which is a complete non sense as the gain of place with the motor unexistant and worse than a real one), only USB-C ports, touch pad for desktop...

    At last, they are very good at battery life but when it is at the expense of a TN low resolution non-touch screen like the iPad Air, it is just a different set of compromise than others.
    And the lightning cables of Apple are abn absolute chores. They last 2-4 months in average and I must have had more than 10 cables failing as regularly as a clock. This is not per see a problem of the Lightning port but the construction but still...
    Reply
  • osxandwindows - Wednesday, February 1, 2017 - link

    Apple pay, the first real mobile payments solution, airpods, it changed the wireless headphone market for the better, the smartwatch, little features with new updates and the new watch are innovative, little things that turn out to be really useful. Reply

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