The HP TouchSmart 600 shows how getting an early jump on unproven technology can pay off. HP was first to market with a touch-based all-in-one PC more than two years ago. Now that Windows 7 has spurred almost every major desktop vendor toward multitouch, HP has the advantage of years of real market feedback to help refine the TouchSmart 600. The result, while still not perfect, is the best implementation of touch input we've seen so far in an all-in-one. Also to HP's credit (and likely Sony's chagrin), even if the TouchSmart 600 had no touch capability, by incorporating all of the features we've loved in Sony's Vaio LV line, HP has matched Sony in crafting a robust standalone home entertainment device. This $1,599, 23.5-inch all-in-one won't be for everyone, but those willing to find room for the TouchSmart A600, cooks especially, will be rewarded with an innovative, feature-rich all-in-one.
On the outside the TouchSmart 600 doesn't look that different from HP's previous all-in-one, the TouchSmart IQ816. It has the same glossy black plastic exterior, with graceful curves down its side. It's not quite as design-forward as the iMac, but it's as visually appealing, if not more so, than new all-in-ones from Gateway and Sony.
What HP's design lacked in its earlier version was an easy means to mount it on the wall. Sony made a big push last year to position its LV series all-in-ones as living room-ready devices, which had both the hardware and the design elements to match. Clearly taking a page from Sony's guidebook, HP has made the TouchSmart fully VESA-mount compliant. Simply unscrew a panel on the back and then unscrew the stand to reveal the wall-mount inputs.
HP has also borrowed from Sony's shrewd connectivity features, and taken them one step further. HP has added not only an HDMI input with a dedicated button for switching input signals, but also a set of composite video and audio ports as well. That means you can connect multiple external video sources to the TouchSmart, such as game consoles, a cable box, or HD cameras, and switch between them and your Windows desktop seamlessly. Sadly, but not surprisingly given the regulatory implications, you can't get Windows to talk to those devices, which means your DVR options are restricted to the built-in hybrid TV tuner. Sony's all-in-one has the same limitation.
Along with the inputs for external video sources, the TouchSmart A600 comes with a slot-loading Blu-ray drive, as well as touch-driven Hulu and Netflix interfaces into its new touch software carousel (more on that in a minute). All of these features would be meaningless without decent screen and audio quality to back them up, and for the most part the TouchSmart 600 delivers. The audio ouput is easily the strongest we've seen from an all-in-one this year, mostly because it's loud enough to fill a room. We noticed some pixel noise in the HD video from the 23.5-inch 1,920 x 1,080 display, but not enough to be distracting, especially if you're watching from a distance.
While HP has clearly borrowed from Sony in its wall-mounting and video input capabilities, the software designed for its touch interface is unique and just as compelling. We won't go over every feature in HP's custom-made application carousel, but you'll find the usual collection of painting, note taking, and other apps. But four new additions to HP's touch-screen arsenal set it apart, three from choosing partners wisely, and the fourth the product of its own development.
The three partner programs provide straightforward interfaces with Hulu, Netflix, and Twitter via the TouchSmart software carousel. We asked HP about a possible Facebook interface and received a vague nondenial. Even without Facebook, accessing streaming content from Hulu and Netflix are smart, obvious choices to add to the home entertainment-oriented TouchSmart 600. Of course you could simply get to those services via a standard browser window, but making them touch-friendly actually makes them easier to use, especially if you put the TouchSmart in a place in your home where you might walk up and use it.
Your kitchen may be the most obvious place for many of you to install a PC you might walk up to, at least provided you have the counter space. If you do bring it into your kitchen, you'll be able to take advantage of one of the TouchSmart 600's best features. Scroll along the TouchSmart's application carousel and you'll find the Recipe Box program, which gives you the best tool we've seen for organizing recipes you find from the Internet.
Recipe Box has a built-in browser window from which you can navigate to, and bookmark, any Web site. Once you find a recipe online, the Recipe Box software can scrape it, and then format it properly onto a touch-friendly form, neatly isolating ingredients and instructions. You can then use Recipe Box's built-in voice recognition and text-to-speech software to verbally command the TouchSmart to read the recipe back to you out loud, step-by-step.
We found the scraping capability worked with more sites than not, with a few notable exceptions. We were able to pull recipes down from Epicurious, Food Network, Martha Stewart, and About with no transcription errors and mostly perfect formatting. We had no luck at Food and Wine Magazine and Cook's Country, however. You can enter recipes manually, and also edit and add notes to recipes you pull down automatically, but the capability to grab and organize recipes from the Web in such a highly intuitive manner will surely appeal to Web-inclined chefs.
The voice-recognition and text-to-speech capabilities are more of a work in progress. Standing a foot, and then 5 feet away from the TouchSmart, we had luck on our first try speaking commands like "Beginning," "Back," and "Continue," to advance the text-to-speak function through each recipe. Voice-recognition training software can help you improve accuracy, but we found the TouchSmart had trouble recognizing our voice when we stood off at an angle. It also sometimes took a few tries before it responded to our commands, and it also wouldn't recognize voices other that of your reviewer. A Bluetooth headset (not included) can let you command Recipe Box from longer distances.
As promising as we find HP's new touch programs, Recipe Box in particular, we found the touch interface unresponsive at times, and the main touch software carousel can be slow to load. The lag time is similar to what we found with Gateway's first Windows 7-based touch all-in-one, the One ZX6810-01. As long as you're patient with the touch response and willing to suffer a few repeated finger movements, the experience is for the most part fine, but it's clear that there's still room for the technology to improve.
|HP TouchSmart 600||Gateway One ZX6810-01|
|Display size/resolution||23-inches, 1,920x1,080||23-inches, 1,920x1,080|
|CPU||2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7450||2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200|
|Memory||4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 230||1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4670|
|Hard drives||750GB 7,200 rpm||64GB Toshiba SSD, 1TB 7,200 rpm|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray drive||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||10/100 Ethernet, 802.11n, Bluetooth||10/100 Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g, Bluetooth|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium||Windows 7 Home Premium|
We'll compare the TouchSmart 600 to the Gateway ZX6810-01 for now, mostly because we've already reviewed the Gateway. Sony's forthcoming Vaio L Series will likely be a more appropriate competitor for the HP, simply because the two share so many multimedia capabilities. Neither Sony nor Gateway have put as much effort into their respective touch software as HP has.
Features-wise, the HP and the Gateway have few similarities. They share the same screen size, but Gateway has opted for a more performance-oriented configuration. Its quad-core CPU and solid-state hard drive help propel it past the HP on our performance charts, as you'll see below, but the HP also trumps the Gateway in video playback options with its Blu-ray drive and the HDMI and composite video inputs. The two are clearly aiming for different customers, so it's hard to compare their value based on features alone. We found the Gateway had a reasonable price given its performance strengths, and although it's not quite as fast, the HP's vast collection of features seems to justify its higher price.
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
|(1,280 x 1,024, in frames per second)|
HP's performance story isn't pretty compared even with older all-in-ones from Apple and Sony, let alone the quad-core-based Gateway. HP obviously doesn't have traditional productivity or digital media editing in mind for the TouchSmart 600, at least at this price, and we wonder if a faster CPU would help the touch response. You should be fine converting audio files and lower resolution video clips, and light photo editing shouldn't be too painful either. Expect to feel most of the performance pain if you get into editing HD video, or when you have multiple processor-intensive apps open at once.
With most of the TouchSmart's standout features covered already, we're left with a few other tweaks HP made to its TouchSmart design that help it stand out. A dedicated button on the left side of the TouchSmart controls an underside LED to light up the wireless keyboard. You can also change the color of the LED via an included color selection app. The Webcam on the top edge of the system has a tilt-control, the first we've seen in an all-in-one, and a perfect addition to a PC you might use while standing up. And we also appreciate the rolling foot HP put on the support stand. The foot helps reduce the friction just enough to make it easier to rotate the TouchSmart from side to side on a desk or a countertop.
The TouchSmart also has more connectivity options, although none as interesting as the video inputs. Behind a removable cover on the back panel you get three USB 2.0 jacks, a coaxial SPDIF input, an S-Video port, an analog audio in, and an input for an IR Blaster. The panel you take off to remove the support also gives you access to system memory and the hard drive should you need access to them. USB 2.0 ports and microphone and headphone jacks line the left side of the system, and a media card reader, volume controls, and a display settings button go down the right. About the only features missing are FireWire, eSATA, and video-out ports, none of which we particularly miss given everything else the TouchSmart 600 can do. FireWire
|HP TouchSmart 600|
|Raw (annual kWh)||197.10876|
|Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$22.37|
We were also pleasantly surprised by the HP's power consumption. To a certain extent that goes in-hand with its slow performance, and especially next to the hyper-efficient, faster iMac, Windows all-in-ones have room to improve. But $22.37 on the year in power cost puts the TouchSmart 600 among efficient company. Next to some of HP's desktops, which have been terrible power hogs, the TouchSmart 600 is a marked improvement.
Finally, HP's service and support for its systems lines up with what we expect from a major PC vendor. You get a year of parts and labor coverage standard, along with 24-7 toll-free phone service. HP's Web site has all manner of support features as well, including support chat and the capability to fix your system remotely. You might also appreciate the numerous video tutorials included with the system to help you navigate the new touch software.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Apple iMac 24-inch (2.66GHz, Winter 2009)
Apple OS X 10.5.6; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 4GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 9400m integrated graphics chip; 640GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows 7 Home Premium; 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD4670; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
HP TouchSmart 600
Windows 7 Home Premium; 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7450; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 230; 750GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive
Sony Vaio LV250B
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7400; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT graphics chip; 500GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive
Velocity Micro Edge Z30
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.22GHz Intel Core i7-860 (overclocked); 8GB 1,330MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 896MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 260 (216 core); 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive