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The TouchSmart series, in our view, has been a laggard for a few generations now; it's an opportunity that continues to be missed. Still, it holds interest for a specialised group of people, and HP continues to beaver away at its all-in-one touch product.
The 23-inch, 1920x1080 TouchSmart 520 does away with the ability to lean almost entirely flat in table mode, and instead instigates a base with a huge footprint. The first thought is that it's entirely too huge, but then you notice that you'd take up the same space by adjusting the monitor tilt anyway, proving that a smaller stand would just be an illusion.
The included keyboard isn't great and the mouse is only passable, but this is de rigueur for bundled kits, it seems. HP's Magic Canvas software, which replaces the Windows Desktop with a touchable, swipe-able home screen, now appears as a continuous desktop rather than distinct screens to swipe between. We've criticised HP in the past for having a laggy interface, something that's simply not acceptable in a post-iPhone world, and the same is true here again.
What's different, though, is that we've discovered that the lag is entirely touch-induced, and not related to hardware acceleration as previously thought. Navigate Magic Canvas by mouse, and it's as smooth as churned milk. Start using your finger, and things begin stuttering and lagging all about the place. We're unsure if this is a problem with HP's software, or if it's the infrared technology used to detect touch that's causing the skittishness.
Speaking of said technology, its multi-touch is, as always, not very responsive, and slightly unpredictable — such is the price you pay for a cheap touchscreen.
Connectivity is good, with an SD card reader, 2x USB 3.0 ports, 4x USB 2.0 ports, headphone and microphone jacks and a gigabit Ethernet port. Unlike the trend in laptops, the TouchSmart very much still has an optical drive, opting for a DVD+-RW this time around. A small point of interest: the 420 includes a subwoofer-out in addition to its 3.5mm-out jack, allowing you to hook into more bass if required.
As with many of its products, HP has managed to cram in Beats Audio technology, making Dr Dre's bank account that little bit fatter. Here it does make a difference, though, rather than simply pumping up the bass at the cost of fidelity. Trebles became clearer, and mid range and bass are decently defined. In our test track, Karnivool's Umbra, some complex drumming disappeared, but by and large this is good audio for an all in one. Well done, HP.
As this is the first all-in-one touch product that we've tested using our new benchmarking system, it will take a little while to add comparative results. Over time, these will flesh out.