Hewlett-Packard's redesigned TouchSmart PC solves at least one of the problems of the original. The new look stays much truer to that of a traditional all-in-one, leaving behind last year's clunky hinged design (that we admit we kind of liked). The $1,499 TouchSmart PC IQ506 also shares an issue with the original model, in that it's not as fast as it should be for its price. In the post-iPhone era, we also find the TouchSmart's touch functionality less charming than we did last year. We don't recommend this new TouchSmart as a traditional deskbound computer, but it does work as a walk-up kiosk/entertainment center, and it has a respectable number of features to help with the task.
Similar to the Averatec All-in-One we reviewed last week, one of the TouchSmart's chief advantages over Apple's 20-inch iMac (not counting the touch sensitivity) is its 22-inch LCD. But at $1,499, the TouchSmart is only $300 less than the $1,799 24-inch iMac, which, in addition to the larger screen, has an even faster CPU and a more robust 3D chip. That's something to consider with this higher-end TouchSmart, although HP also offers a lower-end model, the IQ504 with the same size screen for $1,299.
|HP TouchSmart PC IQ506||Averatec All-in-One|
|CPU||2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5850||2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E4600|
|Screen size||22 inches||22 inches|
|Memory||4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM||2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS||256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 8400M GS|
|Hard drives||500GB 7,200rpm hard drive||320GB 7,200rpm hard drive|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11/b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g wireless|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit, SP1||Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit, SP1|
But of course, neither the Averatec nor the iMac have touch-based input. That feature is the biggest reason to purchase the TouchSmart. As with the original, the new TouchSmart encourages you to use it while standing. Combined with a special suite of HP-designed touch-friendly applications, it's easy to imagine using this system in a kitchen or a den, serving as a family's organization and entertainment center. No other desktop we know about offers such a usage model.
The large screen and the included HP TouchSmart Software suite in particular help make this system what it is. With the suite you get a calendar, a refrigerator-style note-taking application, an RSS reader, as well as programs for browsing and playing your digital media. You can add programs and their icons to the TouchSmart Software launcher bar, and you can also have the main page load as soon as you boot up the system, making it work more or less as your new desktop screen. Non-TouchSmart Software applications open in their own window, and you can get back to the main Windows desktop with a single press. The touch functionality works outside of the TouchSmart suite as well, and in general the screen does a fairly good job of tracking your presses accurately, even on small or tightly packed Web links.
The programs that do come with the TouchSmart suite are intuitive and have large, finger-friendly icons, making them easy to use. The note program is like a cross between Microsoft Paint and a refrigerator door covered in Post-it Notes, and is actually fun to play with. The calendar, the RSS reader, and the video and music applications are all straightforward as well. You can import your iTunes music to the music program, and the video application lets you run the Webcam easily, in addition to playing video files.
Our one gripe is the photo software. We wish it had a few more features. For example, rather than giving you a one-button way to view a photo full screen, you need to create a slide show with only one image in it. There's also no way to rearrange your photos among different folders in the HP program itself. We don't expect a Photoshop-quality photo application, but a few more features would make the TouchSmart software's photo capabilities really shine.
Even if we find the software generally useful, we just can't help comparing the TouchSmart itself with an iPhone and the iPod Touch. Aside from tablet PC makers, few if any desktops have taken advantage of the touch-recognition features built into Vista. Perhaps this is because, unlike the multitouch Apple products, Vista-based systems can only recognize a single point of input. This means no two-finger zooming, among other things, which won't be available to the Windows world until Microsoft's next operating system.
If the lack of multitouch is not HP's fault, it can take some responsibility for the screen quality. Rather than the hypersmooth iPhone glass, the TouchSmart's screen offers more resistance when you drag your finger across it. It also feels less responsive. It works well enough, but compared with Apple's touch implementation, HP's is simply not as good. We have no idea if Apple will ever add touch capability to the iMac, but if it does before the next version of Windows comes out, there's a good chance it will make the TouchSmart seem instantly dated. Still, the iPhone currently lacks a 22-inch screen, and the TouchSmart delivers some unique capabilities today that you can't get anywhere else.
What the TouchSmart can't do is outperform other all-in-one desktops in its price class. As our performance charts show, this system is far from the best pure computer out there, making it tough to recommend as a sit-down PC for serious productivity or multimedia editing. Apple's iMac and the Averatec All-in-One are both faster and deliver similar sets of features, touch excepting.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)