The most exciting attractions at HP’s recent unveiling were easily the TouchSmart 300 and 600 all-in-ones, now the third generation of Touch-capable computers offered by the PC giant. In 20- and 23-inch sizes, and more affordable than ever, the new TouchSmart line is definitely something to see. Read on for our preliminary opinions.
HP was really the first major computer company to actively pursue touch-oriented computing in any meaningful way for consumer audiences. The first TouchSmart series was introduced a few years ago and was…less than successful. Then in 2008, HP introduced the contemporary TouchSmart series, which bundled improvements of almost every description into a sleek and sophisticated package.
This update introduces two new multitouch-capable all-in-ones to the public: the TouchSmart 300 and the TouchSmart 600. In terms of overall look and feel, they’re very similar to the last generation of TouchSmart units; be sure to check out our review of the IQ506 http://www.desktopreview.com/admin/newsEditor.asp?userID=119717&newsId=465 to compare between the revisions. At first glance, it’s hard to tell that there’s any differences at all. It doesn’t take long, however, to see that the similarities are only skin deep.
First of all, all of the specs get a bump. New motherboards, new CPUs, new graphics, new RAM, new hard drives, new optical drives…you name it, it’s new. Unlike previous generations, which came in multiple sizes and configurations, the new models have been simplified, at least for the moment: two sizes, two configurations each. The 300 is 20-inch model with AMD processors, ATI discrete graphics, a slot-loading DVD burner and options like a TV tuner and Bluetooth. The 600 series sits at the top of the heap with a 23-inch, full 1080p display, TV tuners, Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs, NVIDIA integrated and discrete graphics, and slot-loading DVD burners or Blu-ray players. Additionally, one very cool feature that the 23-inch TouchSmart 600 offers consumers is video in. This way users can take advantage of the nice 1080p screen with pre-existing Blu-ray players, game consoles and more. There’s an HDMI-in port for users with Xbox360s and composite video in for SD systems such as the Wii. No component video inputs though, unfortunately.
Physically (apart from the video inputs), the two models look the same; one is simply smaller than the other. One nice feature that was added over the last model is a swivel ball on the rear stand; users can more easily turn the unit from side to side without tipping it over or scooting back and forth. This leads us to the most interesting part of the products: what’s new? Easily, the biggest change over former TouchSmart units has to be updates both to Windows and the HP-designed TouchSmart suite of software. All TouchSmart computers will ship with 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium (to take full advantage of all four gigabytes of RAM). Thanks both to driver updates and Windows 7’s native multitouch capabilities, the responsiveness of the TouchSmarts, especially when using a second finger, is better than ever before. Pictures can be resized easily and quickly, and flicked back and forth.
It’s not just Windows, though; the very sleek TouchSmart suite of applications has been updated as well. All of the applications have been improved, and scrolling through the ribbon-esque interface is easier than ever. Just like in the last versions of the computers, users can customize the menus and software, choosing programs they use more often than others, move icons around, and generally personalize it as they need.
HP has set up guidelines on how to use the new software and worked with third parties to develop TouchSmart-oriented widgets and programs. You can see a new Twitter client in the pictures above; just sign in and scroll through all of your tweets with a couple of fingers. You can even push through your contacts on Twitter in a way similar to the music app – contacts are apread over a giant virtual wheel than you spin with your finger back and forth until you find the one you want. It’s a very intuitive and fun way to use Twitter, even though it might not be the fastest.
Hulu was another partner approached by HP to develop software for the TouchSmart desktops. While Hulu has had a desktop client for a while, it’s been pretty spartan and basic, and not used by very many visitors. It’s obvious that the TouchSmart Hulu client is simply a reworking of the Flash-based Hulu Desktop application; that being said, it looks really nice on the TouchSmart’s crisp, high contrast screen. Flipping through your favorite movies and tv shows is now easier than ever before. Hulu isn’t the only new video content provider joining HP in adding streaming video content to the TouchSmarts; Netflix has also come on board in a move that will very likely make many TouchSmart owners cheer. The new Netflix client is very sleekly designed; while you can still navigate the content with the provided wireless keyboard and mouse, it’s clear that it was designed to be finger-friendly and once you add a few Watch Now content pieces to your queue, you’ll be able to flip through them in just a fewstrokes, very similar to both the new Twitter app and the Music app.
While the TouchSmart has always been looked at by HP as something of a media-centric device, as there have always been video and music apps as well as Windows Vista Media Center included, these new applications sent it to a level that we really haven’t seen before. Whether you want to use your fingers, keyboard, mouse or (included) remote control, the TouchSmarts are starting to become something of an instant media center – and you don’t even have to provide your own content thanks to services like Hulu and Netflix.
Speaking of media, the new apps aren’t limited to just video. The music app has been completely revamped and while it feels better than before, there have been a number of changes. One of the things that HP worked to accomplish with the new TouchSmart software is that in the old software, you would pick the icon of the TouchSmart utility you wanted to use, then “dive in” to that application and wait for it to load. While naturally some of the applications are still working like that, a lot of them are immediately usable from the ribbon menu bar first, no dive in necessary. It’s a smart idea and means users can access desired software and utilities quicker, without having to sit and wait for something to take over the screen.
Pandora has also joined the club; users of the streaming internet radio service will undoubtedly be surprised to see this. While the interface is a little busy, it too has been updated to be very finger friendly. One of the cooler aspects to the new Pandora widget interface is that in places where information like songs and artist bios would be spread across multiple pages and locations, the TouchSmart app puts it all in one logical place. There’s no need to look around and constantly page through text. It’s pretty slick, all things considered; my one wish is that HP would update the TouchSmart software with something like a Zune interface that accomplished the same goals. The Zune software already feels very slick and media-rich, and I think it would fit very well into the rest of the TouchSmart ecosystem.
One very cool new application I’ve never seen so simply done before is the concept of the HP TouchSmart Link software. If you’re a user that likes to take a lot of pictures with or store music on a Bluetooth-enabled device like a cell phone, you can link it to your new TouchSmart. The Link software is only available on units that have been preconfigured with a Bluetooth transceiver from the factory. Simply approach your TouchSmart, open the application, and pair up the devices by entering the security code onscreen. Once linked, all of the media on your phone will be visible on the TouchSmart Link application in a sleek, easy-to-browse fashion. It sounds like a gimmick, but worked very well in practice.
Both of the new TouchSmart desktops come with some of the features we saw introduced on the last model. Users can select any of a large number of colors on-screen with their finger and see the bottom of the TouchSmart and the keyboard in front bathed in the soft glow of colored LEDs. It’s reminiscent of the Alienware AlienFX lighting system, but it’s a neat effect, and could make for great mood lighting at a party or when watching something on Netflix. Additionally, all of the fun applications like the webcam special effects setup are there; users can add things like decorations or party hats, or, more impressively, animate their own avatars. The webcam detects where users are looking, and when they’re speaking, and animates the avatar on the TouchSmart accordingly, making it look left and right, and moving its mouth up and down when the user speaks.
In all, the new TouchSmarts are an evolutionary, if not revolutionary, update to HP’s all-in-one line. They offer the same elegant design we liked in the last generation, but push the boundaries a little bit with fun new software and third-party utilities. Windows 7 provides native multitouch support, which means better performance when using the TouchScreen, and HP worked hard to add desirable new software applications like the Twitter app and HP TouchSmart Link. Stay tuned for DesktopReview’s full review of the new HP TouchSmart 300 and 600, coming soon.