Happy day! Microsoft shipped me a Surface Dial to play with. I have been looking forward to the opportunity to use the Surface Dial in a real-world scenario ever since the Microsoft unveiled it alongside the Surface Studio at a media event in New York last fall.
Now that I’ve had a week or so to play with it, I can say it was worth the wait. The genius of the Surface Dial is that it allows you to be more productive by giving your other hand something to do. The world is conditioned to use a mouse and keyboard-but those are generally two separate actions.
You can either use the keyboard with both hands, or stop using the keyboard so you can use the mouse instead. The Surface Dial changes that dynamic. How does it do that? That is an excellent question. The answer is, “It depends.”
The reason it depends is that the Surface Dial functionality is contextual. It varies depending on which application you’re using and what you’re doing in the moment. The design and use of the Surface Dial is deceptively simple. It is a small aluminum puck that can be depressed like a button, or rotated left and right.
It also provides haptic feedback-small vibrations that let you know it’s doing something. Pushing down on the Surface Dial displays a radial menu on screen that allows you to select the functionality you want for the device.
In normal use in Windows 10, the Surface Dial can be used for things like controlling the volume, moving back and forth between tracks of music, scrolling, or zooming.
It can also be used to unwind actions-as either an “undo” or to erase or replay things that are drawn on the display with Windows Ink. The real magic and power of the Surface Dial, however, lies in the ability for developers to customize its functionality for specific applications.