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I got my hands on Microsoft's $3,000 PC that's also a giant tablet

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Microsoft’s new Surface Studio desktop is an absolute beauty.

With computer sales tumbling due to the rise of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, you’d think the last thing a company like Microsoft would do is launch a new desktop PC. You’d also be wrong.

Yes, Microsoft (MSFT), a company that has never built a desktop of its own in its 40-year history, debuted a new all-in-one (AIO) PC called the Surface Studio at an event in New York on Wednesday. But this isn’t your average desktop.

That’s because, like its fellow Surface devices — the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book — the Surface Studio can transform from PC to tablet by simply tilting its screen back and down. Okay, it’s not a tablet in the sense that you can carry it around; this 28-inch behemoth isn’t exactly portable. It’s more of a drafting table.

I spent some time with Microsoft’s new Surface Studio, and while it’s certainly not for everyone — it starts at $3,000 — it’s an exceedingly beautiful device.

A true Windows PC

In general, the only AIO computer I like is Apple’s iMac. It’s attractive, well built and feels like someone sweated over every one of its minor details. And that’s the exact same feeling I had when I looked at the Surface Studio.

Microsoft says the Studio’s 28-inch PixelSense display is the thinnest such screen ever made, and it’s quite an impressive sight. Colors are absolutely stunning, and thanks to Microsoft’s built-in color profile switching, art professionals can change the panel’s color gamut on the fly.

Microsoft’s Surface Studio gives Apple’s iMac a run for its money.

Two chrome arms connect the screen to the aluminum base where the Studio’s brains live. Inside the Studio can be equipped with an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor, between 8GB and 32GB of RAM, built-in Nvidia graphics and between 1TB and 2TB of storage. So yeah, the Studio is a powerhouse.

I used the Studio to play the racing game “Forza Horizon 3,” and it ran as smooth as silk without a single hiccup. What’s more, the game, which is also available for Microsoft’s Xbox One, actually looks better on the Studio than it does on the company’s own gaming console.

From its looks to its performance, it’s clear Microsoft is setting a new standard for Windows PCs and its OEM partners (Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc.) to follow.

Slide into Studio

Push back on the PC’s display to put the desktop into Studio mode. In this mode, the Studio’s display sits at a comfortable 20-degree angle, which the company says is ideal for everyone from architects to artists. Drawing on the Studio with Microsoft’s Surface Pen felt completely natural thanks to its excellent palm rejection, which allows you to lean your entire arm on the computer’s screen while writing without interrupting your pen inputs.

The Surface Studio in “Studio” mode.

Microsoft has also introduced a new accessory called the Surface Dial that makes it easier for artists to do things like select colors or adjust the size of your pen’s brush by twisting the Dial’s knob.

More impressive is the fact that the Studio can recognize when you place the Dial on the computer’s screen and provide location sensitive options. In the Mental Canvas app, for example, placing the Dial above the brush icon and turning the knob lets you quickly select different brushes. Meanwhile, placing the Dial on the undo button lets you scroll between recent changes you’ve made to your document.

Apple awareness

The Studio doesn’t exist in a vacuum, though. It’s clearly aimed at the high-end market and designed to take on the likes of Apple’s iMac and Mac Pro. In fact the Studio seems to fall in between the iMac and Mac Pro in terms of power and pricing. But Microsoft’s device benefits from the added ability to be used as a tablet.

It will be interesting to see how well the Studio compares to Apple’s own devices. We’ll find out when the Surface Studio goes on sale in limited quantities in time for the holidays. Stay tuned.

Dan Howley is tech editor at Yahoo Finance.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.