You can say that every all-in-one PC owes a debt to Apple for its longtime support of the iMac, but HP's new TouchSmart 310z is a bit more blatant in paying homage to the iMac's screen-and-pedestal design. It wouldn't be the first time a PC vendor copied Apple, and there's no particular harm in HP's tribute. The new design even makes it easier to tilt the touch-screen display to a usable angle. While we like the makeover, we're mixed about this system's overall value. Our $1,109 review unit is a terrible deal for its small screen, slow performance, and relatively subpar features. Stay near the $699 baseline configuration, and you'll find the TouchSmart 310z a far more reasonably priced kitchen PC or home media kiosk.
We liked HP's earlier TouchSmart design well enough, but the new design feels both sturdier and more comfortable than the original. You can tilt the screen up to make it easier to use the touch interface while you're standing, and you don't need to use two hands or be overly gentle to adjust it. The system comes with a wireless mouse and keyboard, and between the cord-free input devices and the simple, glossy black bezel around the display, the TouchSmart 310z cuts a clean profile.
In addition to the new hardware design, the TouchSmart 310z comes with HP's updated touch software. HP already had the most fully developed touch software among its Windows-based competition. The new touch environment sets HP even further apart.
The previous incarnation of HP's touch software relied on a carousel design that took up most of the screen. You would scroll through each application, and the app would then take over the entire touch environment. HP's new approach is more holistic. You still get the familiar app carousel, but it's smaller in this version and set across the bottom of a lightly animated backdrop image. Here you can assign shortcuts to specific movie, photo, and music files and playlists, enabling you to simply touch a specific content shortcut to play it. There's no need to open the appropriate player app first.
The resolution of the main touch backdrop image is also wider than the resolution of the display itself. That means you can slide the screen over to reveal more space for shortcuts. This is useful if you want to cluster movies, photos, or other kinds of links in one space. HP has also made it so that you can "pin" shortcuts to the backdrop image, and any shortcut you pin will stay in the same relative position on the screen as you scroll the backdrop from side to side.
The TouchSmart environment still includes distinct programs--28 of them to be specific--among them customized interfaces for Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, and Netflix. HP includes its media player programs, as well as its Recipe Box application, one of the better cooking apps, which can scrape and format recipes from various popular foodie sites and then dump them into a touch-friendly format.
New to this version of the TouchSmart software is an app store, dubbed the Apps Center. At launch HP had 10 apps available for download, all of them free, few of them consequential. An eBay app and a Marvel Comics' Digital Comics Unlimited app are the most compelling (the Marvel app requires a $5 monthly subscription to access 5,000 comics). Others include simple games, and widgets, like a currency converter.
Perhaps these initial 10 downloads are there to get the ball rolling on the app store. Otherwise, since they're all free, HP could just have installed them already. We suspect HP's thought is that seeding the store might draw you into it, and might also spur developer interest in the touch platform. HP's app library-building efforts had little apparent success with the previous generation of TouchSmart systems, at least based on the number of apps that came of the free software development kit. The new Apps Market, though, is up against a lot of competing platforms, and we'd hazard that, at least at the moment, smartphones have created a more enticing market for developers than HP's touch-screen desktops.
|HP TouchSmart 310z||Gateway One ZX6951-53|
|Display size/resolution||21.5-inch, 1,600x900||23-inch, 1,920x1,080|
|CPU||2.5GHz AMD Athlon II X4 615e||3.2GHz Intel Core i5 550|
|Memory||6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM||4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||256MB (shared) ATI Radeon HD 4270 integrated graphics chip||64MB (shared) Intel GMA 4500 integrated graphics chip|
|Hard drives||1TB, 7,200rpm||640GB, 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||Blu-ray/DVD burner combo|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
The Apps Market does no harm, of course, and the new software and streamlined design are both welcome changes to HP's already polished TouchSmart family. Still, compared with other all-in-ones in the $1,000 price range, we can't justify the relatively weak hardware in the 310z.
Consider the $999 Gateway One ZX6951-53. Its touch software is nowhere near as developed as HP's. To make up for it, Gateway gives you a 23-inch, full 1080p display, a Blu-ray drive, and a significantly faster processor. Not everyone will want a 23-inch all-in-one in the kitchen, but the idea that you would pay more for a smaller PC with lesser specs is laughable, even considering HP's touch environment. It's good, but it's not worth the trade-offs HP is asking you to accept in this souped-up TouchSmart.
We'll grant that the runaway pricing on this 310z is likely due to configurator creep. Start with the baseline $699 310z and you can keep the price more reasonable. You'll want to bump the memory to 4GB of RAM to ensure smooth HD playback, so tack on an extra $80. You'll also have to settle for a slower CPU and sacrifice 320GB of hard-drive space (or lose 500GB if the free upgrade to the 640GB drive disappears) in the default model. Assuming you'd be buying this PC as a touch center, and not as your primary PC, those hardware cuts shouldn't have a significant effect on the 310z's main media and light-app duties.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)