Posey's Tips & Tricks

PC Showdown: Microsoft Surface Studio 2 vs. Dell Canvas

Has Brien finally found a viable alternative to Microsoft's cool but pricey drafting table of a PC? Here's how the Dell Canvas stacks up against the second-generation Surface Studio.

I wrote a column several months ago in which I talked about some potential alternatives to Microsoft's cool but pricey Surface Studio. At the time, I was seriously contemplating getting a Surface Studio 2, but was a bit put off by the fact that its hardware is already somewhat dated and non-upgradeable.

I had just about decided to bite the bullet and order a Surface Studio 2 when something unexpected happened: Through a purely serendipitous chain of events, I ended up getting a Dell Canvas (brand-new and unopened) at a price that was way, way too low to turn down.

As you may recall, I mentioned the Dell Canvas in my original column but had never actually used one. Now that I have a considerable amount of experience with both the Canvas and the Surface Studio 2, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about how the two devices compare with one another.

The Dell Canvas (top) and the Microsoft Surface Studio.

Monitor
To recap, the Surface Studio 2 is an all-in-one PC, while the Dell Canvas is just a fancy touchscreen monitor that is designed to be used in a position that mimics a drafting table.

Unfortunately, the Canvas' resolution is not as high as the Surface Studio's. The Canvas has a resolution of 2560x1440, while the Surface Studio 2 has a resolution of 4500x3000. Being that the Canvas acts as a supplementary monitor, however, this lower resolution may be a blessing in disguise since it keeps your PC's graphics adapter from being over-taxed. My PC has two 4K monitors connected but the graphics adapter (a Nvidia Titanium 1080 TI) is still able to comfortably handle the Canvas.

Drawing Experience
When I first started using the Canvas, I didn't think that drawing on it was as smooth as what the Surface Studio 2 delivers. After using it for a while, though, I began to realize that although the Canvas feels a little bit different than the Surface Studio 2, both devices allow for smooth and accurate drawing.

One thing I especially like about the Canvas is that Dell included a button that you can press to disable the touchscreen. This means that you can draw on the screen without having to worry about your hand dragging across the display, causing unwanted input. In all fairness, the Canvas does a reasonably good job of ignoring your hand when it accidentally touches the screen, but disabling the touchscreen while drawing is an effective way to eliminate the potential for frustration.

Pen vs. Dial vs. Totem
The Canvas stylus differs from the Surface Pen in a few ways. The biggest difference is that the Canvas stylus does not require a battery. Dell also provides several interchangeable tips that can be used to personalize the Canvas pen. My only complaint about the Canvas pen is that there are two buttons on the side of the pen that I am constantly pressing by accident.

But the Canvas' biggest con, in my opinion, is the Totem. The Totem is Dell's version of the Surface Dial. Like the Surface Dial, the Totem can be used on the screen to control a variety of drawing tools. In fact, the Dell Canvas supports the same APIs as the Surface Studio 2, meaning that the Totem supports native Microsoft tools such as the ruler, the protractor and the color wheel.

Unfortunately, though, the Totem lacks the precision of the Surface Dial. When using the ruler, for example, it can sometimes be difficult to place it accurately, and the ruler also sometimes drifts out of place by a few pixels. In my opinion, the Totem will work in a pinch, but it requires a bit of patience. Given a choice, I would greatly prefer to use the Surface Dial.

Design
Another disadvantage to the Canvas is that it takes up a lot of desk space. The device's footprint is roughly 31x17.5 inches. I had to do some serious rearranging of my desk to make room for the Canvas.

I have also found that because the Canvas stays in a drafting table-like position, it seems to be a bit of a dust magnet. I don't mind dusting the Canvas every few days, but I do wish that Dell had included a dust cover.

One thing that I do appreciate about the design is that Dell seems to have built a USB hub into the Canvas. I haven't actually used this feature so I don't know how well it works, but it is nice knowing that I have a few extra USB ports available if I need them.

A Draw?
So is the Canvas a viable Surface Studio 2 replacement? In my opinion, the answer probably depends on the use case.

If you are a professional artist, photographer or someone who needs an extremely high-quality monitor, then you are probably going to be better off with the Surface Studio 2. In my case, though, the Canvas does everything that I would have used a Surface Studio 2 device for, but at a fraction of the cost. For me, it really is a viable Surface Studio alternative.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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