Does it make sense to buy a PC with a touch screen?

Many laptops, and some desktops, now come equipped with touch-sensitive displays. Does this add value to the experience, or is it just a gimmick?

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
3 min read
You may beg to differ, but this is not my idea of productive computing.
You may beg to differ, but this is not my idea of productive computing. CNET/CBS Interactive

Smartphones with touch screens? Great! Tablets with touch screens? Duh. But PCs with touch screens? Meh.

Recently I purchased a Lenovo IdeaPad U310 ultrabook, my first-ever touch-screen-equipped computer. I didn't necessarily want the feature, but figured I might as well give Windows 8 the benefit of the doubt. It was, after all, designed to be touched -- which explains why using it with a mere mouse and keyboard is such a dreadful experience. Plus, it was priced only about 50 bucks higher than its non-touch-screen sibling.

Having worked with the system for a couple weeks now, I'm ready to draw this conclusion: A touch screen adds zero value to a PC.

There are, of course, exceptions. If you spend most of your computing time within Windows 8's tile-powered Start screen (a.k.a. Metro), you may find it useful to swipe through menus and tap tiles to run apps.

But I continue to maintain that apps make little sense on a traditional desktop or laptop, unless the latter is a convertible that can twist, fold, or otherwise transmogrify into a tablet. I work (and play) in the likes of Chrome, Office, Steam, iTunes, and Adobe Reader. These aren't apps; they're programs. They don't respond well to touch, and I see no advantage in bothering to touch them.

Indeed, although I spent plenty of time poking (and tapping) around the Metro UI, I inevitably returned to the Desktop so I could get some actual work done. And at that point, a touch screen adds nothing to the experience. Sure, you can tap an icon to launch a program, or swipe up and down to scroll documents and Web pages. But this feels awkward when your screen is propped up in front of you, rather than cradled in your arm or lap (as with a tablet).

I also suspect that touch screens diminish battery life, though this is based solely on my own anecdotal evidence. CNET's video-playback test of the non-touch U310 suggested a minimum runtime of just under five hours, but during my everyday usage (using the awesome BatteryBar utility as a gauge), I was lucky to get more than three. Even after I swapped the included SSD/HDD hybrid drive for a straight-up SSD, battery life nudged up only to around four hours.

I wish I could have disabled the touch capabilities to further test this theory, but the IdeaPad lacks the option. However, a screen that's constantly monitoring for contact must be drawing more power than one that isn't, right? (Engineering types, back me up, here -- or tell me why I'm wrong.)

Even if that's not an issue, I still see no point in having a desktop or laptop with a touch screen. That's just my $.02, and I fully admit to some bias because of my general dislike of Windows 8. My question for you: Do you think the feature makes sense? If so, why? Don't just tell me I'm stupid (I already know that) -- give me some legitimate points in favor of adding the technology to our desktop/laptop lives.