HP TouchSmart tx2 Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (272,598)

by Jerry Jackson

The newest 12-inch notebook from HP is no ordinary ultraportable laptop. The HP TouchSmart tx2z is the first consumer notebook and tablet PC that offers on-screen multi-touch control. Forget about using the notebook’s touchpad or an external mouse. If you see something on the screen you want to press or move just reach up and touch it. HP’s new “MediaSmart” software allows you to use your fingertips to take command of everything on the screen with a quick touch or simple gestures. Is this the future of laptop computing? Keep reading to find out.

HP TouchSmart tx2z specifications:

  • Genuine Windows Vista Home Premium with Service Pack 1 (64-bit)
  • AMD Turion X2 Ultra Dual-Core Mobile Processor ZM-86 (2.4 GHz)
  • 12.1″ WXGA High-Definition HP LED BrightView Widescreen (1280×800) with Integrated Touch-screen
  • 4GB DDR2 System Memory (2 Dimm)
  • ATI Radeon HD 3200 Graphics with 64MB Display Cache Memory
  • 400GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive
  • Webcam + Fingerprint Reader with HP Imprint Finish (Reaction)
  • Wireless-N Card with Bluetooth
  • LightScribe SuperMulti 8X DVD+/-RW with Double Layer Support
  • 8-Cell Lithium Ion Battery
  • HP Mini Remote Control
  • 5-in-1 digital media reader
  • Express card/34 PC card slot
  • Dimensions: 8.82″ x 12.05″ x 1.23″/ 1.52″ (with 4-cell battery)
  • Weight: 4.65 lbs (varies by configuration)
  • Starts at $1,149.99 (Price as configured: $1,733.99)

Build and Design

The TouchSmart tx2 is a solid convertible notebook designed to function as either a standard notebook or you can rotate the screen 180 degrees to turn the notebook into a tablet and write directly on the screen using the included digital pen. The overall chassis design is nothing new; the design is virtually the same as the tx2500 with the only obvious change being the new glossy “Reaction” Imprint Finish which is a dark gray rather than silver seen on the previous generation. HP’s Imprint Finish always looks cool but the glossy surface is a fingerprint magnet and HP even includes a polishing cloth because this notebook will start picking up finger smudges after just a few minutes. The body of the notebook is smooth with rounded edges, making it extremely comfortable in your hands while carrying it around.

The plastic and metal chassis is quite rigid and doesn’t suffer from flex even when twisted between my hands. Weighing in around 4.5 pounds the tx2 is perfect for students. It gets a little heavy to carry around in tablet mode all day, but it’s great for sitting at your desk and taking notes and you can always remove the DVD drive and substitute in the weight saver module if you don’t need the optical drive.

One of the big questions surrounding the release of the TouchSmart tx2 was whether it would have an active digitizer like the tx2500z or if it would sacrifice the active digitizer (and quality tablet functionality) in order to provide multi-touch screen controls. We’re pleased to tell you the tx2 still has an active digitizer along with the multi-touch screen. You can use your fingers or the pen. The tx2 also has great entertainment features, like Altec Lansing speakers and a mini-remote control. For the price this tablet seems to be packed full of features just like its predecessor.

The pen is solid but it’s a pretty basic pen. It reads the screen when it’s about an inch above and then disables the touchscreen, this way your hand doesn’t interfere if you rest your palm on the screen when writing. The N-trig pen technology used is fantastic, just remember you can’t keep picking the pen up or the touch feature will be activated again and your hand might trigger something on the screen.

Screen

The 12.1″ WXGA display is less grainy than the display panel used in the tx2500, but it’s still a little grainy compared to notebooks without touchscreens. This slight grain is very common with tablets and is an acceptable trade-off considering the multi-touch and pen tablet functions. It is glossy and reflective, but if you like high-gloss screens then you’ll love this one. The screen is hard to read under direct sunlight and brightly lit indoor spaces. The viewing angles are perfectly usable but, depending on how the tablet is tilted, sometimes it may be very hard to read because the colors invert at sharp vertical angles.


 
 

 

Again, the TouchSmart tx2 has both a multi-touch screen and active digitizer, it’s a real tablet. The screen automatically changes orientation when rotated into tablet mode and the small hinge is exceptionally sturdy. The pen feels nice as well and although it’s cool to use your fingers to navigate on the screen I often used the pen simply because it is a little more accurate. At the highest brightness setting the screen is bright and the colors are rich with good contrast, but you can’t tell what you are setting it too because there isn’t an on-screen indication for brightness levels, which would be a nice feature to have on this high-gloss display.

Of course, the really important thing about this notebook’s screen is the multi-touch functionality. Since still images just don’t do justice to showing you how this works we’ve included a nice little video below:

It’s worth mentioning that the TouchSmart tx2 doesn’t have all the same multi-touch applications (now called MediaSmart) that HP included with the TouchSmart all-in-one desktop earlier this year. Why not? Well, it’s a matter of screen size and intended use. HP didn’t include the TouchSmart software for calendar and notes for example because the smaller screen makes it difficult to use the multi-touch interface for those applications. Likewise, while the TouchSmart desktop made a great family computer for a central location in your home the tx2 is designed to be carried with you at all times. Still, we would have liked to see more of the applications from the TouchSmart desktop in the new TouchSmart tx2.

Input and Output Ports

The tx2 has a reasonable selection of ports with some nice additions you won’t find on most tablet convertible notebooks. Still, compared to some larger notebooks like the HP Pavilion dv4 and dv5, the tx2 does lack a few ports. Here’s a run down of what you get:

  • 3 USB 2.0 ports
  • ExpressCard/34 slot
  • 5-in-1 multi-card reader
  • Microphone in, two headphone/audio out ports
  • 1 Expansion Port 3 Docking Station Connector
  • 1 RJ -45 (LAN)
  • 1 modem port
  • 1 VGA out
  • Kensington lock slot

While three USB ports might seem just fine on a 12-inch notebook, we were a little sad to see HP didn’t make one of the USB ports a combo USB/eSATA port. All other HP consumer notebooks currently offer a USB/eSATA port and it would have been nice if we could connect an external eSATA storage device to the tx2. For those who don’t know what eSATA is, an eSATA port can transfer data to and from an eSATA-equipped external storage drive six times faster than USB.

We were also sad to see there is no FireWire or HDMI port on this notebook … two ports that many consumers find very useful.

On the flip side, it’s important to keep in mind the tx2 includes a dedicated docking station connector for those of us who use our laptops as desktop replacements. This is far more important than most people realize. Most other notebook manufacturers have removed dedicated docking ports and now only offer USB docking stations. USB is great for connecting one or two devices at the same time, but if you are trying to transfer data, video, audio, and perhaps even your Ethernet connection over a single USB port you will suffer a major reduction in speed. The dedicated Expansion Port 3 on the tx2 handles all of your docking station needs all at the same time with virtually no reduced performance.

Performance and Benchmarks

HP offers the new TouchSmart tx2z with a range of AMD processors starting with the 2.1GHz Turion X2 RM-72 dual-core processor and ending with the 2.4GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-86 in our review unit. However, the big news in 2008 has to be the availability of AMD’s new “Puma” platform with improved processors and graphics. The new AMD dual-core processors are nice and perfectly capable of handling your computing needs, but it’s the integrated graphics that will get your attention.

Sure, it might be hard to get excited about an integrated graphics processor (IGP). Every IGP on the market prior to this year was painfully inferior to a dedicated graphics card and every IGP on the market struggled to handle high definition video and 3D video games. That all started to change this year with the introduction of the ATI Radeon HD 3200. For the first time ever consumers had a low-cost IGP that offers flawless 1080p video playback and can even play many 3D video games at reasonable frame rates!

Of course, given the lower resolution of the tx2′s screen and the lack of HDMI you probably won’t be using this notebook for 1080p playback. Let’s take a look at a few basic benchmarks so you can get an idea of how the TouchSmart tx2 stacks up against the competition in terms of performance.

wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, this processor benchmark program is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, it measures the amount of time to run a set amount of calculations.

wPrime comparison results (lower scores means better performance):


Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
HP TouchSmart tx2 (Turion X2 Ultra ZM-86 @ 2.4GHz) 34.940s
Lenovo ThinkPad X200 Tablet (Core 2 Duo ULV @ 1.86GHz) 71.210s
Dell Latitude XT (Core 2 Duo ULV @ 1.2GHz) 61.197s
HP Pavilion dv5z (Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80 @ 2.1GHz)
39.745s
Dell Inspiron 1525 (Core 2 Duo T7250 @ 2.0GHz) 43.569s
Dell XPS M1530 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)
37.485s
HP Pavilion dv6500z (Turion 64 X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 40.759s
Sony VAIO NR (Core 2 Duo T5250 @ 1.5GHz) 58.233s
Toshiba Tecra A9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 38.343s
Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.299s
HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 40.965s
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz) 76.240s
Lenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.705s
HP Pavilion dv6000z (Turion X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 38.720s

 

You can see from the results in WPrime the new Turion X2 Ultra processor from AMD’s new “Puma” platform provides a respectable amount of raw processing power.

PCMark05 measures overall notebook performance (higher scores are better):

Notebook PCMark05 Score
HP TouchSmart tx2 (2.4GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-86, ATI Radeon HD 3200) 3,488 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X200 Tablet (Intel Core 2 Duo 1.86GHz, GMA X4500) 4,318 PCMarks
Dell Latitude XT (Intel Core 2 Duo 1.2GHz ULV, ATI Radeon Xpress 1250) 2,692 PCMarks
HP Pavilion dv5z (2.1GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80, ATI Radeon HD 3200) 3,994 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 4,149 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 5,412 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT) 4,616 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 4,591 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 4,153 PCMarks
Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,987 PCMarks
Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,189 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks
Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400) 3,646 PCMarks


3DMark06 comparison results for graphics performance (higher scores are better):

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
HP TouchSmart tx2 (2.4GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-86, ATI Radeon HD 3200) 1,685 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X200 Tablet (Intel Core 2 Duo 1.86GHz, GMA X4500) 921 3DMarks
Dell Latitude XT (Intel Core 2 Duo 1.2GHz ULV, ATI Radeon Xpress 1250 graphics) 432 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv5z (2.1GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80, ATI Radeon HD 3200)   1,599 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 545 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv6500z (2.0GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60, NVIDIA 8400m GS)  1,551 3DMarks
Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100) 504 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 4,332 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT) 2,905 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,408 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks

 

All of the 3DMark06 scores for all of the systems listed above were run at 1280 x 768 or 1280 x 800 resolution. Bottom line: AMD is speaking truthfully when they claim that the new ATI Radeon HD 3200 IGP provides roughly three times the performance of the Intel X3100 IGP and rivals the performance of low-cost dedicated graphics cards.

In short, there’s absolutely no reason to complain this laptop doesn’t offer a low-end dedicated graphics card because the Radeon 3200 integrated graphics solution performs just as well as entry-level dedicated graphics at a fraction of the cost.

HDTune storage drive performance results:


Keyboard, Touchpad and Media Controls

The keyboard on the tx2 is solid with zero flex and soft key presses. The keys are accurate and responsive and I enjoyed typing on this keyboard. The keys are coated in the matching HP “Reaction” Imprint Finish, which improves durability and protects the keyboard from those greasy fingers. The keys are easy to read and are a good size … except for the top row of Function keys which are a little too small and not particularly easy to press without hitting another key by mistake.

HP decided to remove the media buttons from along the frame of the display (as found on the tx1000, tx2000 and tx2500) since the TouchSmart tx2 features a touchscreen that works perfectly for the media player controls.

The palm rest area features the same “Reaction” Imprint Finish used on the lid. The touchpad is still the famous perforated design. Our staff loves this design very much because it doesn’t get worn down easily and is responsive. Your finger doesn’t slide off the touchpad because it is indented in the palm rest area, which makes navigating a breeze. We really wish HP would start putting this style of touchpad on all their notebooks rather than using the smooth and glossy touchpads on their other notebooks.

One of the nice features found on HP touchpads is the touchpad on/off button. If you press the small button above the touchpad you can disable it … perfect for people using an external mouse or people who decide they want to use the multi-touch screen all the time.

Another added bonus is the inclusion of a media remote. This little remote tucks away in the ExpressCard slot and is great for moving through slide presentations or for controlling the notebook when it’s connected to your TV.

Speakers

The speaker quality was “above average” for a notebook without a built-in subwoofer. The speakers for the tx2 are located at the bottom of the screen so that the speakers are facing out regardless of whether you’re using the tx2 in notebook or tablet mode.

There’s not much to write home about the Altec Lansing speakers. They get loud enough with minimal distortion and the sound isn’t as “tinny” as is the case with nearly all laptop speakers. However, the speakers don’t produce the kind of output that “fills a room” the way you might want if you’re listening to your music collection on the built-in speakers. On the brighter side, both audio out ports delivered crystal clear audio to my earphones during the test period.

Bloatware

We rarely bother to mention the software that comes pre-installed on new notebooks because most people accept (and even expect) that notebook manufacturers include various trial version of programs like Microsoft Office or anti-virus software. Most of this pre-installed software (or “bloatware”) falls into one of two categories: helpful or troublesome. In the case of the TouchSmart tx2, we were surprised to discover some of the bloatware is not only troublesome … it can actually prevent the notebook from working properly.

After turning on the tx2 we discovered that if we attempted to start the MediaSmart application before all the bloatware finished loading the MediaSmart application would fail to open. Not only that, but we had to restart Windows in order to get the MediaSmart application to start working again. It turned out that the Norton anti-virus software was causing the problem, and as soon as we uninstalled the trial version of Norton we could launch the MediaSmart application as soon as Windows started. Bottom line, expect to spend some time uninstalling bloatware if you buy this notebook.

Heat and Noise

The TouchSmart tx2 does an acceptable job keeping heat under control. The system fan and heatsinks in the notebook do their job managing heat when the system is under load … as we discovered when we ran multiple benchmarks back to back. However, considering the fact that the tx2 is designed to be carried with you all day it does get a little hotter on the bottom than we’d like. Below are images with temperature readings listed in degrees Fahrenheit:

Noise was a non-issue with the fan on the tx2 when the notebook was on battery power. Unfortunately, it’s a completely different story when the notebook is running off a power outlet. The fan moves a significant amount of hot air but the fans spins at the maximum setting whenever the notebook is plugged in … making it sound like someone is using a weak hair dryer in the room. You can adjust the fan settings in the BIOS, but most average consumers probably won’t know how to do that. When the fan is on low it is perfectly silent.

Battery Life

The tx2′s overall battery life performance was good, but nothing extraordinary. Like its predecessor the tx2500, the standard 6-cell battery provides about 2 hours worth of power in “High Performance” mode with maximum screen brightness and Wi-Fi turned on. The number increases to a little more than 3 hours in “Balanced” mode with Wi-Fi on. The 8-cell extended life battery provided a little more than 5 hours of battery life in the “Balanced” mode with screen brightness around 50% and Wi-Fi on. The “Power Saver” mode should provide even better battery life numbers, but we didn’t test that because the screen gets too dark to be useful in anything but very dark environments.

Conclusion

After everything is said and done it’s tough to be overwhelmingly positive or negative about the HP TouchSmart tx2. On one hand, HP succeeded in bringing us an affordable multi-touch notebook loaded with cool entertainment features and a slick interface to keep consumers happy. On the other hand, the new multi-touch interface doesn’t always respond exactly as it should and you may end up touching the screen multiple times before the screen finally does what it should have done the first time you touched it.

Despite a few minor frustrations the TouchSmart tx2 is a great notebook … but those minor frustrations prevent it from being “one of the greatest” notebooks we’ve tested. College students and other consumers will be happy with all the tx2′s features, especially considering its affordable price tag. The active digitizer and multi-touch screen is very nice and you’ll have a hard time finding a better 12-inch notebook loaded with entertainment features for less money.


Pros:

  • The first affordable consumer notebook with a multi-touch screen
  • Great design and build quality
  • Fantastic keyboard and touchpad
  • Solid overall performance
  • Excellent integrated graphics performance 

Cons:

  • First-generation multi-touch screen doesn’t always respond as it should the first time you touch it
  • Bloatware makes it difficult to use the notebook during startup
  • No Firewire, eSATA, or HDMI
  • Doesn’t have all the same applications as HP’s TouchSmart all-in-one desktop
  • Cooling fan runs loud when notebook is plugged into power outlet


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