The Surface Dial: Is Microsoft Leading The Next Tech Revolution?

Microsoft’s Surface Studio & Surface Dial – A Match Made In Heaven

Here at Two Honest Guys, we are super excited about Microsoft’s big reveal for the Surface Studio, what is clearly going to be a big contender for the likes of Wacom and Apple. But what really peaked our interest was the Surface Dial; a new piece of tech that we think is going to revolutionise the digital drawing industry. As it stands, it’s not exactly all it’s cracked up to be, yet, but what it promises is wholeheartedly refreshing, a product entirely it’s own and something quite special.

Microsoft Surface Studio

In terms of digital drawing, Wacom has remained to be the go-to brand. It’s always been way ahead of its contenders in everything from pen pressure, software compatibility, to the size and scale of its products. However, when the Surface Pro hit the markets, heads were turning. It was a brilliantly crafted alternative to a Wacom tablet. A sleek, lightweight, all-encompassing laptop and graphics tablet designed to fit a multitude of creatives.

Not too long ago, we released an article comparing the Surface Pen to the Apple Pencil. It was an interesting debate, and both Microsoft and Apple proved they were serious about their products entering the digital drawing world.

So, without further ado, here are the four reasons why we can’t wait to try the Surface Dial.

A Different Way to Work

Microsofts Surface Dial. A design we’ve seen trail the generations of tech from Apple Ipod’s, all the way back to the good old days of radio. It’s a simple enough mechanism, but Microsoft has transformed this wheel into an intuitive and seamless tool, changing the face of computer interaction.

The Surface Studio is the next product in line to follow its predecessors the Surface Book and the Surface Pro 4. The Surface Pro tablets were designed to bridge the gap between tablet and laptop; a slim and multi-faceted device with a detachable keyboard, a touchscreen as powerful as many graphics tablets and of course the unique Surface Pen. In recent years, there have been many examples where the capabilities of two devices are combined into one multi-functional, powerful machine.

As a quick insight into Microsoft’s products as of yet, I have found my experience of the Surface Pro to be outstanding. It is an extremely powerful device for its size, and from a creative perspective, it’s pen pressure, and sensitivity is comparable to many graphics tablets on the market. On the other hand, I feel there is a palpable loss of control when switching into tablet mode and navigating with the pen alone. This is not a problem unique to the Surface Pro; many Wacom tablets have been criticised for their accuracy of navigation via the touchscreen and have only recently begun to tackle this blunder. From a design perspective, transitioning from the cursor to touch minimises the capacity of the user’s interface considerably.

This is where the Surface Studio is changing the game. In terms of touch capability, the Surface Dial makes up for what the pen alone offers. It is an astute solution to navigation that provides maximum control over your workspace. Simply place the dial on the desk or perhaps more invitingly, on the screen itself, and press to bring up an on-screen menu you can cycle through smoothly.

Combining these distinct and very intuitive tools allows for one of the fastest, most seamless interactions we’ve ever seen on a tablet. Our interaction with tech is getting more intimate and more ‘human’ with every new product on the market, to list a few, fingerprint recognition, Siri and Cortana voice commands, motion gesture through the Xbox Kinect and Virtual Reality. We are designing devices that work for us and not the other way around.

The Surface Dial also works with haptic feedback, vibrations from the dial through your fingertips, to guide you through your work. This is something that we’ve come to expect from our handheld devices – games controllers and texting on our smartphones – the feedback helps us to feel connected to our devices and confirms it’s responsiveness.

Solutions to hidden problems

Microsoft has reimagined how the digital drawing process should look and feel. It is the first tool that makes it possible to simultaneously make live changes to pen properties such as stroke thickness, colour or opacity while the pen is still drawing.

Pause for effect.

Surface Dial changes pen properties









Isn’t that just mind blowing? Microsoft has shown a tendency to come up with solutions to problems we never knew existed. As a budding digital artist myself, this is something I had never thought should exist, let alone could exist.

Wacom graphics tablet designAs previously mentioned, navigation with the Surface Dial is flawless. Its competition in the field is still sacrificing usability for touch capability or on the other end of the spectrum, making up for lost navigation with clunky and unattractive buttons. Graphics tablets, in particular, have always followed these same design principles. That being said, Wacom has begun to head in the right direction, what with the recent release of their Wacom Mobile Studio Pro but this is another article altogether (we’ll get to that). With this in mind, the Surface Dial is changing the way we interact with a myriad of creative software we are familiar with.

A Tool for Everything

Since the Surface Studio was announced, the Surface Dial has been made compatible with a long list of software that is only going to keep growing. The full list at present is as follows:

  • Bluebeam Revu
  • Drawboard PDF
  • Mental Canvas Player
  • Sketchable
  • Moho 12
  • Spotify
  • StaffPad
  • Silicon Benders
  • Smith Micro
  • Word, PowerPoint, Excel (Office Win32)
  • OneNote (UWP version)
  • Windows Maps
  • Plumbago
  • Sketchable
  • Sketchpad
  • Groove Music
  • PewPew Shooter
  • Microsoft Photos
  • Paint
  • Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator

The Surface Dial, with such a simple interaction can adapt it’s functionality dramitcally to compliment software, for example, a turn of the dial can navigate the 3D landscape within Mental Canvas or cycle through the playback of an animated character in Moho. Microsoft has already been working very hard to extend this list, and with technology ever-changing and evolving, we’re sure to see many more updates on the firmware in the future. What excites me most about the Surface Dial is the endless possibilities as technology keeps improving.

Microsoft has talked about how the Surface Dial and the Pen should work in harmony to create a seamless, experience. As ‘touch’ has become almost second nature for our relationship with tech, Microsoft is providing us with tools that enhance this hands-on experience.

Intuitive Editing

Surface Dial used in Moho animation

To date, animators and film editors alike have been met with unprecedented software to streamline their processes and create an uninterrupted workflow. However, the Surface Dial offers an unbelievably fast and pertinent way to review moving image, cycling through playback with precision control over position and speed. This organic gesture can also be seen in drawing software to review the artist’s process or undo pen strokes.

3D Capabilities

In Mental Canvas, the Surface Dial truly comes into its own demonstrating its abilities to streamline navigation. The dial offers an entirely new way to move through a virtual 3D space, the movement is fluid and gives an artist ultimate control. My experiences with 3D software in the past shifting between zoom, orbit and pan have always been frustrating and cumbersome. A cyclical motion instead allows for groundbreaking optimisation. At THG we think this demonstrates the possibilities for how Microsoft may attempt to break into the world of Virtual Reality. With this kind of technology, we could see the face of 3D interaction change once again.


The Surface Dial even finds its uses in apps such as Spotify. Now, it may not seem like this is at all impressive or even necessary. However, as a tool designed to streamline the creative process, it’s easy to imagine how a designer absorbed in a project could skip a song in their inspiration playlist effortlessly and without interrupting their workflow. It’s about minimising the leap and the conscious thought patterns we have throughout our daily interactions with technology.

Surface Pro & Surface Book Compatibility

Perhaps, like me, you’re the proud owner of one of Microsoft’s latter products? If you are wary of the justifying the expense for the Surface Studio, or simply do not desire a product aimed at more professional creatives, there is no need to fret. Microsoft has always been kind to us in the sense of ‘backwards compatibility’, and the truth remains with this release.

The full Surface family









Microsoft has made the Surface Dial compatible with both the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book. This is a brilliant move financially, with the Surface Studio being such a high-end product with a hefty price tag, a high percentage of consumers for the Surface Dial will now be existing Microsoft product owners. With the Surface Dial itself costing £99, it’s a pretty affordable addition to the Surface family having already invested in one of Microsoft’s products.


Alongside the Surface Studio, what was already an impressive new Microsoft product, the Surface Dial is taking technology to new levels. It’s products like these that are pushing for change and advancing our future technology. So, like Microsoft, let’s reinvent how we work best and take the Surface Dial for a spin.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to check out our article where we review both the Surface Pen and the Apple Pencil. So, what are your thoughts on the Surface Dial? Are you raring to go or hesitant to add a new tool to your tech box? Leave your comments below. 


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