We thought the Microsoft Surface Studio was the perfect workstation for digital artists, but Dell is giving us something to think about at CES 2017. The Dell Canvas is not quite the same kind of machine that the Studio is, although there are some striking similarities between the two.
The main problem with the Studio is that it’s extraordinarily expensive, starting at $3,000. The Canvas looks the same — a 27″ touch device on a stand that makes it similar to a drafting board — but the computer hardware has been stripped out, making it much cheaper. The Canvas can be connected to PCs that users already have, with the PC’s content streamed onto the larger touch screen as an external monitor.
That gives artists and editors a little more room to work, but Dell’s peripherals really make the Canvas shine. Similar to the Studio, the Canvas can be paired with a stylus and knobs called Totems that are work the same way as the Microsoft Dial — when placed on the touchscreen, they can become anything from color wheels to drawing tool selectors to editing menus. But, it’s less clear how that will work in practice — the Microsoft Dial is context-aware thanks to a Bluetooth connection, but Dell’s Totems are completely passive.
The Canvas has a 27″ 1440p display with large bezels, making the device seem very large. It’s covered with anti-glare Corning Gorilla Glass, and Dell reps said it should be able to take punishment or drink spills without breaking down. There are a few A/V ports around the edges, but the most important one is the USB Type-C port. Over this single connection, content from the PC can be streamed to the Canvas and edited with touch controls.
Dell brought along reps from Avid to demo how the Canvas can be used for video editing, and it was a compelling show. Using a second monitor, the demonstrator was able to use the Canvas as an editing dashboard for a video, with the video showing up full-screen on the second display. It’s like the Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pro, but it’s 27 inches and way more powerful for pros.
The display itself doesn’t look as sharp as you might expect, so again, this isn’t necessarily going to rival the Surface Studio. Dell says it does cover 100 percent of the Adobe RGB color spectrum, though, so it’ll satisfy artists in that way. Dell is betting that a cheaper device that works with existing PCs is going to be more popular for stylus-and-touch artists — we’ll see if they’re right when the Canvas becomes available on March 30 for $1,800.