Samsung is a new player in the U.S. all-in-one desktop market, and its first effort, the Series 7, shows what can happen when an experienced consumer electronics vendor brings fresh eyes to a product category. The striking Series 7 all-in-one has a unique appearance as well as a strong assortment of common-sense touch software and general usability features. Samsung is not targeting performance-driven customers with this system, but with its reasonable $1,199 price tag, the Samsung Series 7 provides the most accessible, family-friendly touch experience we've seen to date.
We found ourselves immediately struck by the Samsung's design, which is nearly perfect. The crisp, angular brushed aluminum lining the sides of the display and forming the majority of the lower body suggests that Samsung was determined to give the Series 7 a clean appearance. Uniformly aligned ports on the back of the case, the slot-loading optical drive, and the touch capacitive buttons on the protruding edge all work to maintain the look.
The system is so clean-looking that the two most significant design missteps, however minor, stand out. The protruding optical drive, for one, interrupts the plane of the front panel, and makes for awkward placement of the mouse and keyboard. When you lay the screen down flat--have we mentioned that the screen folds back a full 90 degrees?--both the optical drive and the placement of the hinge are arranged such that the screen feels out of alignment with the base unit.
Those objections are admittedly subjective, and almost entirely cosmetic, and overall the Samsung Series 7 is second only to the iMac in terms of its visual appeal.
The ability to lay the screen entirely flat, reclining farther than any previous all-in-one, also sets the Series 7 apart from its competition. Desktops from other vendors, notably Hewlett-Packard's TouchSmart 610 series, have offered some flexibility, but not one has followed the adjustable display concept through to its obvious extreme. We can imagine Samsung offering the same flexibility the other way, wherein the base would swing down a full 90 degrees to create a flat, wall-mountable design, but the Series 7 is not there yet.
What you'll do with a screen that lies flat, like the Microsoft Surface concept, is another question. Using Google Maps (or the included Bing Maps application) is satisfying, and makes you feel like you're planning a military operation. We can also see drawing programs and at least basic games like chess, checkers, board games, and air hockey mapping well to the Samsung's flat screen. More passive applications, like Web browsers, image viewers, and media players, seem less well-suited.
Another difficulty with Series 7's fully reclining screen is that to take advantage of it you need to put the system in a place where it's comfortable to use in such a manner, especially if multiple people will be using it simultaneously. A typical desk or office environment doesn't seem ideal, but a kitchen counter, a coffee table, or some other locale with multidirectional access makes more sense. You don't need to ever lay the system back like that, of course, but if you do use it that way you'll want to consider its physical placement carefully depending on the programs you intend to use.
That brings us to the Samsung's touch screen and the accompanying applications. Rather than capacitive touch, Samsung uses surface acoustic wave (SAW) technology to track your finger movements on the screen. The screen can detect two input points at once, and in general we found it suitably responsive, although it does need a bit more consistent pressure than touch devices generally do.
Though the touch input works well, the real star of Samsung's touch show is the Touch Launcher software environment. Touch Launcher is reminiscent of older incarnations of HP's TouchSmart Suite. Touch Launcher acts as a separate environment within Windows 7, offering apps and a general interface designed specifically for touch input. In execution Samsung's environment is closer to that of Apple's iOS and Google's Android than HP's more complex TouchSmart Suite.
Samsung's bundled applications are simpler than HP's, and fewer in number, but the experience is more welcoming thanks to the cleaner design. The Touch Launcher environment consists of a sidebar with the time, weather, and a to-do list, and the main field consists of large app shortcut icons. Samsung includes typical applications that have a specific touch-responsive design, for example a clock, a movie file player, and a picture viewer. You can also drag any standard Windows icon to the Touch Launcher. The main Touch Launcher page holds 20 icons, and you can easily create a second page via a drag-and-drop process similar to that of a smartphone.
The last significantly distinctive feature of the Samsung Series 7 is the row of seven touch capacitive buttons that dot the top of the optical drive protrusion. The buttons perform core multimedia and interface functions. You get buttons for optical drive eject, brightness and volume control, display menu, source toggling between the PC and the HDMI input, display power, and to start the Touch Launcher environment. That last one is important (although not unique to Samsung), because it means that you don't have to use the mouse and keyboard at any point between powering the system on and launching the touch software. The Samsung's buttons are almost as good as a similar set on the Lenovo IdeaCentre B520. The Lenovo's advantage is that they light up when you touch them, whereas the Series 7's buttons would be hard to use in a dark room.
|Samsung Series 7||HP TouchSmart 520||Lenovo IdeaCentre B520|
|Display size/resolution||23-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels||23-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels||23-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels|
|CPU||2.7GHz Intel Core i5-2390T||2.8GHz Intel Core i7-2600s||3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600|
|Memory||8GB 1,33MHz DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,33MHz DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,333MHZ DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||64MB Intel HD Graphics 1000||1GB AMD Radeon HD 6450A||2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 555M|
|Hard drives||1TB 7,200rpm||2TB, 5,400rpm||2TB, 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||Blu-ray RW burner||Blu-ray/DVD burner combo drive|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
Compared with recent all-in-ones such as the HP TouchSmart 520 and Lenovo IdeaCentre B520, the Samsung Series 7 for the most part offers the value we expect for its price. The primary sacrifices are that is has a Core i5 CPU, only a 1TB hard drive, no discrete graphics card, and only a standard-definition DVD burner instead of a Blu-ray drive. The absent Blu-ray drive hurts the most since we've seen Blu-ray in plenty of sub-$1,000 all-in-ones. Otherwise, the Series 7 is fairly priced, particularly when you consider its unique, attractive design and excellent touch software.