HP’s been working on touchscreen interfaces for years, now, and they show no sign of stopping. They’ve gone from a lone consumer model several years ago to two consumer models today, a business unit, multitouch monitors, a 42-inch touchscreen and more. The TouchScreens have come a long way and now offer up 23 inches of two touch glory, accent lights that span the rainbow and some surprisingly strong speakers. Read on for our first look.
Let’s cover the basics. The TouchSmart 600 is the premium model in the TouchSmart lineup. It offers a 23-inch multitouch screen at a 1920×1200 resolution, 4 gigabytes of RAM, a 750 gigabyte hard drive and an Intel Core 2 Duo processor. There’s a slot-loading Blu-ray drive and combination DVD burner, a webcam with a physical tilting lever and integrated microphone, integrated NTSC/ATSC TV tuners and composite and HDMI in so you can use the 23-inch screen as an auxiliary display for something like an Xbox360 or PS3.
The unit is a wedge design of glossy black plastic outlined in chrome trim and fitted with silver legs. HP designed the TouchSmarts to rest on three points – two legs in the front and a pivot point in the rear that folds out from the back of the machine. The hinge clicks distressingly loud, but it isn’t going to break. Frankly, it’s a stylish piece of equipment. The TouchSmart 600 offers a contemporary look and feel with the appeal of a premium piece of electronics. Which is fitting; the TS 600 is cool.
From an exterior standpoint, it’s a little hard to tell the difference between this revision and the last – it follows the same basic look with a few exceptions. The overall color is the same, and regardless of its actual dimensions, it feels longer thanks to the switch from 16:10 to 16:9 aspect ratio displays. Some of the less obvious improvements, aside from CPU and graphics, include the Blu-ray drive – with a 1080p display, the TS 600 is a good option for users wanting to both a fully-fledged desktop as well as a compact media center. While the older TouchSmart could also be configured with TV tuners, the new one also has video in, which is a direct response to customer and critical feedback of the last generation. On the left-hand side is both HDMI-in as well as composite-in (no component, sorry) so you can use the TouchSmart as a TV or monitor. This is really geared toward people with a space premium, like users staying in college dorms. Instead of having multiple screens taking up room, you can have one screen that serves as computer, TV, game system, etc.
Below the screen is a speaker bar, as always. Typically, speakers like this, as well as speakers on all-in-ones in general aren’t very good. Tinny sound, poor bass – generally a poor experience. Fortunately, it’s an opposite experience with this machine. The speakers are actually very nice – both for listening to music over the included Pandora application, or watching movies from Netflix or Hulu. All told, the newer TouchSmarts are far more media-centric than previous generations – frankly, that’s a good thing.
So if the hardware and design are more similar to the last generation than not, what’s the big fuss? Well, HP put a fair bit of effort into designing a new software suite for the new systems. The TouchSmart user interface, a skin that sits on top of the standard Windows interface and makes it more finger friendly, is unique to HP’s line of computers. Most touch-capable systems come with some kind of manufacturer-designed software, but no one has a setup that is as capable, elegant or refined as the one put into place by HP. It’s eye-catching and includes a number of programs not seen in the originals.
Old standbys like the music and movie apps are back, but improved – the music app now includes a tab with a TouchSmart-specific interface for Pandora. Now, users who want to stream their music over the internet can do so with just their digits. Additionally, there are TouchSmart applications for Twitter and Hulu, and even Netflix. The Netflix app specifically should be commended – it’s graceful and user friendly, and while somewhat limited in its implementation, works very well overall. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the rest of the interface, which is buggy and relatively slow. Which is a shame – the design is pleasant and the hardware relatively powerful, especially for an affordable all-in-one, but the reskinned interface can often become an exercise in frustration.
To be fair, the system works very well in Windows proper. Users who become fed up with the TouchSmart UI can always just leave it disabled and work in plain Windows. At that point, however, the question becomes why bother with the TouchSmarts at all? Well, there’s a few reasons, and we’ll cover them further in our full review. Be sure to stop back later in the week to check it out!