Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon 27 review: A tabletop PC built for casual gaming

Sarah Tew/CNET

However, you're not locked into that Aura software view even in tabletop mode. It's easy to quit back into the Windows 8 menu, and many apps, from news and video apps to games, work great as tabletop experiences, including ones obtained from the Microsoft app store and Steam. If someone makes a killer touch-screen Dungeons & Dragons tabletop app, I'm sure it'll find a big audience.

The 27-inch display has a native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, which is standard for bigger screens -- but I've also been spoiled recently by the 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution on the 13-inch Toshiba Kirabook. The screen picks up fingerprints easily, as nearly all touch screens do, so you'll be wiping it down frequently. There is a glass overlay over most of the front face of the system, but there's also a raised rubberized lip on the outermost perimeter.

One nice bonus, rare but not unheard of, is an HDMI-in jack, allowing you to use the 1080p 27-inch screen for your game console, Roku box, or other video device.

Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon 27
Video HDMI output
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone, mic inputs
Data 2 USB 3.0, SD card slot
Networking Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Connections, performance, and battery
Aside from the useful HDMI input, the ports and connections on the Horizon are standard, if few for an $1,800 computer. Using the keyboard and mouse supplied by Lenovo will eat up one of the USB ports, so a Bluetooth set may be a better idea. The included keyboard and mouse are ugly plastic models anyway.

One pair of air hockey sticks, called "strikers," is included with the less expensive Core i5 configuration, along with one pair of tiny joysticks with suction cups to attach to the screen. We've seen similar joystick gadgets for the iPad -- they're OK, depending on which games you try and use them with. The more expensive Core i7 configuration comes with four of each controller, and both models include a single wireless six-sided die that works for Monopoly.

Sarah Tew/CNET

We tested the Core i5 version, and it performed as one would expect a Windows 8 Intel Core i5 system to -- keeping in mind this is the low-voltage mobile version of the CPU, so it makes sense to compare this with laptops instead of traditional desktops. The Windows 8 interface's biggest achievement is that it's zippy and responsive even with low-end Intel Atom CPUs, so there's no problem with everyday use, even HD video streaming, multiple Web browser windows, Photoshop, and other common apps. The sluggishness we felt in the Aura interface and some of the tabletop apps comes from the apps themselves, not any shortage of CPU power (although running the Aura interface on top of Windows 8 definitely adds processing overhead).

That may be why Lenovo felt the need to include a basic Nvidia graphics card with the system, namely the GeForce 620M. That's a lower-end part, even by laptop standards, but as so few non-gaming PCs these days include any discrete graphics, we'll take it. I can't imagine it's needed for air hockey or Fruit Ninja, but it enabled us to run the new BioShock Infinite benchmark at 1,366x768 and medium settings with a rate of 28.4 frames per second.

As an 18-pound megatablet with a 27-inch display, you can rightly assume the Horizon isn't going to spend too much time on the road, or at least away from an outlet. That's why we're forgiving of the relatively short battery life shown in our video playback battery drain test -- a mere 2 hours, 8 minutes. If you're going to set this up for family game night, be sure to keep the A/C adapter handy, and keep everything within reach of an outlet. That said, the 18- and 20-inch tabletop PCs from Dell and Sony both ran significantly longer.

The Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon 27 is not quite my dream all-in-one, nor my dream tabletop PC, but it does both jobs well, especially considering the tabletop/megatablet genre is very, very new. The Horizon 27 makes a much bolder statement than the smaller versions from Dell, Sony, and others, and really feels like one might simply leave it in tabletop mode full-time, where it has a great retro sci-fi feel, especially when manipulating photos and videos by hand.

Gaming is a big selling point, and the Horizon needs an easier way to highlight good games such as the touch version of Monopoly, and also more-accessible versions of its casino games, which could really be a killer app for the system.

I'm not ready to call tabletop PCs in general, and the Horizon in particular, totally ready for mainstream family use, but the Horizon 27 is still tremendously fun to use, if you put time into figuring out its quirks. For the promised lower prices coming to retail versions in June, $1,499 to $1,599 for a solid 27-inch all-in-one with all these extra features sounds like a deal that will appeal to early adopters.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking: iTunes and HandBrake (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Cinebench 11.5
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon 27 (1.8GHz Core i5, May 2013)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon 27 (1.8GHz Core i5, May 2013)

System configurations

Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon
Windows 8 (64-bit) 1.8GHz; Intel Core i5-3427U; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT620M graphics card; 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive

Apple iMac 27-inch (December 2012)
Apple OS X Mountain Lion 10.8; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-3770; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive, 128GB solid-state hard drive

Asus Transformer AIO
Microsoft Windows 8 (64-bit); 3.1GHz Intel Core i5-3350P; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 730M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Dell XPS 18
Windows 8 Pro (64-bit); 1.8GHZ Intel Core i5-3337U; 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; Intel HD Graphics 4000 embedded graphics chip; HD1 32GB SSD, HD2 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive

Sony Vaio Tap 20
Microsoft Windows 8 (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M; 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000 embedded graphics chip; 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive

Dell XPS One 27
Microsoft Windows 8 Pro 64-bit; 3.1GHz Intel Core i7-3770S; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics card; 2TB 7,200rpm hard drive