If two days from this posting, Apple announces a touch screen iMac at its 2007 MacWorld event, we may have to reconsider this review. Until that happens, HP's new $1,779 TouchSmart PC IQ770 is our all-in-one family PC of choice. You probably wouldn't want to make it your main PC for doing serious work or playing games, so even with fewer features than the TouchSmart PC, the iMac is still more well rounded. But if you're looking for a desktop computer to act as a media hub that also has easy-to-use tools to organize your busy family, we know of no better system on the market.
In addition to its own unique design and features, the HP TouchSmart PC IQ770 has the distinction of being the first Windows Vista desktop we've reviewed. It uses Vista Home Premium, which means that it in addition to the core operating system, you also get the Windows Media Center interface, the touch screen capability (which HP uses to great effect), as well as the Aero Glass visual effects among other things. Rather than shoehorning an operating system review into a desktop story, (Vista will be getting plenty of its own coverage shortly, don't worry), we'll simply say that HP is doing Microsoft a great service with this system. The TouchSmart PC is a convincing showcase for the new features Vista brings to the table.
Not the first all-in-one
HP is certainly not the first major vendor to offer an all-in-one desktop. Both Gateway and Sony (and arguably Dell) have all-in-ones, but as slick as some of them have been, none has approached the elegance of Apple's iMac. The same is true of the HP TouchSmart PC, but its display also has a more flexible range of motion than any current all-in-one. That makes more of a difference than you might think. When you position the glossy, 19-inch wide-screen LCD (1440x900 native resolution) at its lowest pivot point, the TouchSmart PC looks remarkably compact and unobtrusive. It's easy to imagine keeping it in a kitchen, an office or a den. But pull the screen out and tilt it upward, and it takes on the appearance of a futuristic terminal. In this position, the TouchSmart PC practically begs you to touch it, which is exactly the idea.
Touch screen capability is one of Windows Vista Home Premium's many new features, and we commend HP for taking advantage of it so quickly and implementing it in the TouchSmart PC in such an intuitive manner. You can use either your finger or an included stylus (which you store in a slot on the top of the screen) to drive the Windows cursor around the screen. HP includes a wireless mouse and keyboard, which work well enough, but once you pick the stylus up, it immediately feels comfortable. We suspect that many users will leave the keyboard stored in its slot beneath the display the majority of the time. Windows Vista includes configuration software for setting the touch screen sensitivity and customizing the double-click and drag-and-drop strokes, and using the basic PC functions this way is easy enough if not as quick as with a mouse. HP puts the touch screen to better use in its SmartCenter program, a custom application in which HP uses Vista's touch screen capability to make the TouchSmart PC shine as a family computer.
HP's stylus-driven SmartCenter
Designed to be driven entirely with the stylus (or your finger, if you don't mind greasing up the screen), SmartCenter combines a handful of day-to-day applications into an amazingly easy-to-use package. The default application set includes a calendar, a photo editing application, and a basic local weather display. The weather program delivers a very basic feed from Weather.com (almost too basic), but the SmartCalendar and Photosmart Touch image-editing software are both very useful, as well as easy to use. The calendar includes virtual Post-It-style notes that you can write on with the stylus. You can leave them on the main screen, or drag them to a specific date and time on the calendar. You can use the keyboard to type notes as well, and a virtual keyboard interface lets you poke out letters with the stylus directly on the calendar itself. HP also includes voice recording capability, and lets you attach a voice message to a note, and it couldn't be simpler to use. All you need to do is hit the record a message button, press the big record button that pops up on the screen, say your message, then press the button again to stop. We can easily imagine a busy family using the SmartCalendar as a organizational hub to keep track of various members' comings and goings.
The Photosmart Touch editing software is easy to master. Also a stylus-driven application, Photosmart Touch has basic cropping functions, as well as a red-eye remover. You can then print your images directly from the applicatoin. This is another reason why we like the TouchSmart PC, it can work like a photo kiosk. If you use it in conjunction with HP's Photosmart A510 and A610 printers, you can hide one of those printers behind the display, where it will sit atop the TouchSmart PC's base (which also houses the guts of the system). This space-saving design hides the printer except for its output slot, which lines up in the space below the screen. The effect is very much like having your own photo kiosk at home, and it puts the design of the system's chassis to very effective use.
All the trappings of a modern PC
Otherwise, the TouchSmart PC works very much like a typical modern PC. It includes all of the amenities of a system in its price range, including a slot-loading, LightScribe-capable DVD burner (standard definition), an 8-in-1 media card reader, integrated 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, a TV tuner, a Webcam and a microphone on the top edge of the LCD, as well as the usual assortment of video and audio connections. You won't find an HDMI port or an HD optical drive on the unit, but you do get digital audio out, as well as a set of integrated speakers that work well enough (just don't crank them too high, as the sound tends to break up at loud volumes). The 320GB 7,200rpm hard drive gives you plenty of room for digital media storage, and if that's not enough, HP also built a Pocket Media Drive bay into the side of the unit, in case you'd like to expand via one of HP's small, portable hard drives. You could, of course, connect any old external hard drive via one of the many USB 2.0 or FireWire 400 ports.
If we have a gripe about this PC, it's its performance. It's slower than an $1,800 PC should be. Its pokey performance relative to other systems in its price range could be due to the demands of Windows Vista. We'll be able to say for sure when we've tested Vista with more hardware configurations. As it stands, the combination of a dual-core AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52 processor, 2GB of DDR2 SDRAM, and a discrete Nvidia GeForce Go 7600 graphics chip gives you enough juice for day-to-day applications, as well as fancier Vista features like the translucent Flip 3D task switcher and the Aero Glass visual effects. We noticed occasional dropped frames in DVD movie playback, though, and its 47.7 frames per second on a forgiving Quake 4 setting isn't a heartening picture of its game performance. Still, the video image quality is outstanding thanks to the wide-aspect glossy screen, and you wouldn't use the TouchSmart PC for games anyway. Just be aware that you might get bogged down during intense digital media editing, otherwise, you shouldn't be disappointed in the TouchSmart PC's overall power. It's all you get for now, too, as this configuration is the only one that HP will offer when the TouchSmart PC goes on sale at the end of the month.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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