Dell's review strategy tends to lean toward sending us the more expensive configurations of its built-to-order desktops. We wish it had chosen a different course with its new all-in-one desktop, the Studio One 19, because we have a feeling the baseline $699 model ($869 with the multitouch input option) would offer a compelling counterpoint to the recent batch of low-cost, low-performance Nettops. Unfortunately, our $1,024 Studio One 19 review unit bumps up too close in price to Apple's 20-inch iMac and Sony's Vaio JS250J, which offer larger screens and better features for the same price. We suspect you can configure a price-competitive Studio One 19 with or without touch capability. We just can't recommend this one.
Before we dig into the touch input, the Studio One 19 chassis itself deserves some mention. Dell's philosophy behind this desktop was to offer a streamlined, stripped-down version of its larger, more expensive XPS One. Gone are that system's sharp, dramatic angles and touch-capacitive external lighting, replaced here by a gradually curved back panel and a fabric wrapper that provides a backdrop for the 18.5-inch wide-screen LCD. You can choose from four colors for the fabric: dark red, pink, dark blue, and charcoal. Ours came in dark blue, which we found attractive.
Similar to other all-in-ones, the Studio One 19 lets you adjust only the tilt of the screen. According to Dell, it designed the stand so you can adjust the screen to a touch-friendly angle when you're standing in front of it, and we were happy with the screen's range of motion. We hope someday for an all-in-one that can swivel. We'd also like to see Dell adopt wall-mounting options for its all-in-ones, as Sony has with its LV series.
Because of a relatively sparse software library, we consider touch-based input for desktops still in the experimental phase, even though HP's TouchSmart line has been on the market for more than two years. We're glad Dell makes touch input optional for this system, though, and for $100 opting in involves relatively little risk.
We've seen basic paint, photo, and music applications on other all-in-ones that support touch, all of which you'll find on the Studio One 19 with touch input. Some of the Dell's touch programs, like the drum set software and the DrumZone rhythm game are new to us, but we saw the same Webcam software and its cheesy special effects on the Asus Eee Top 1602.
Most of the programs are easy to use and range from harmless to fairly useful. We were especially glad to see that, as with HP's TouchSmarts, Dell used the context-aware software keyboard via Windows Vista's Tablet software. Touch a text box in a browser with your finger and an icon will pop up to call up the software keyboard. That context-awareness makes typing with your finger on screen much easier than with the Windows XP-based Asus Eee Top, which requires you to drag the keyboard over manually when you want to use it.
Windows' Tablet software also provides controls for "flick" and multitouch gestures to allow for more touch-friendly navigation. We found the flick navigation easy enough (slide your finger up, the page scrolls up), but the multitouch gestures only give you four custom controls, and they weren't as responsive as we wanted them to be.
|Dell Studio One 19||Sony Vaio JS250J|
|CPU||2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E5200||2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E5200|
|Memory||4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM||4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics chip||256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 9300 GS integrated graphics chip|
|Hard drives||320GB, 7,200rpm||320GB, 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||Dual-layer DVD burner||Blu-ray/dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g wireless||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n wireless, Bluetooth|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)|
We're willing to forgive a few issues with the Studio One 19's touch interface because it only costs $100 to add touch input, and it really does open up a whole new way to use your computer. The ability to use your PC as a home entertainment/organizational kiosk in a kitchen or other high traffic area has a degree of usefulness and novelty we think many people will appreciate. Our disconnect comes with the lack of truly compelling touch software. We can justify touch input if the system is very cheap, like with the Asus Eee Top, or if touch is just one component of an otherwise rich feature-set. At $1,024, our Studio One 19 review unit doesn't fit into the cheap category, and its features fall flat compared with similarly priced all-in-ones desktops from other vendors.
Sony's Vaio JS250J is the biggest problem in our minds for the Dell Studio One 19. For just $75 more than our review model, the Sony gets you a larger 20.1-inch display, a Blu-ray drive, and 802.11n wireless networking. The Dell's 18.5-inch LCD is crisp enough, but it feels very small, especially because it has so much chassis framing it. And while Sony does not offer a touch input option, we'd trade a spot in the Dell touch experiment for the Sony's Blu-ray drive and its larger screen, which has less trouble entertaining a whole room of people. Drop the $100 touch option from the Dell and the price goes down to a more attractive $924. Add a Blu-ray drive to the Dell and the price goes up another $150, though, and you're still stuck with its smaller screen.