Hands-on with the Surface Dial

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Easily the surprise hit of today’s big Window 10 event in New York City today, the Surface Dial is the new input device that none of us knew we needed. The $100 peripheral is, as “a completely new way to interact with technology and create in the most natural, immersive way,” according to the company’s press material.

What that means in non-marketing speak is that the Dial is basically a standalone wireless knob that lets users adjust a whole bunch of different things with a turn. The sky’s kind of the limit when it comes to functionality. On a very basic level, you can perform simple tasks like adjusting brightness and turning up and down system volume.

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That’s all well and good, but the device is meant to be more than just a dumb switch. And, given the fact that the company is making a newly aggressive push toward creative types through Windows 10 Creators Update and the new Surface Studio, the company trucked a bunch in to the event to show the hardware in action. What was most impressive was the already diverse selection of applications it was already being employed on at the event.

In one station, populated by a pair of guys who help design jet engines, it was used to subtly adjust the length of a simple 3D model – turn left it gets smaller, turn right, larger. At another station, an animator was using it to move a character a few frames with the turn of a wrist.

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The hardware itself is simple, but nice. It’s got a good heft to it and a premium feel, and it glides smoothly, without offering enough give to accidentally turn too far. Response is instantaneous, as one would expect with a wireless mouse, keyboard or other input device. You can stick it directly to the display on the Surface Studio, for direct interaction, and when you take it off, a surrogate digital version pops up on-screen.

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The device was clearly designed with the Studio and all of its screen real estate in mind, but it will also work with a number of current entries in the product line. [Bonus shot of the puckish device’s guts above.]