The future of the home computer lies in making it easier to use by everyone. Central to this is the way we browse files and folders, or open, close and resize windows – areas that are today being seriously redeveloped with various types of multi-touch technology. Most famous of these is Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch, where users can pinch, swipe and drag to navigate their way around; but the idea scales well to regular desktop systems too.
Enter the HP TouchSmart computer with its touch sensitive screen, now relaunched as two models. We tried the IQ506, the same size as the IQ504 but with slightly higher processor specs.
It’s an all-in-one desktop PC that's all screen, not unlike the latest Apple iMac – 22in of 1650x1080-resolution display. And with its multitouch screen, it’s a centrepiece attraction that makes you realise you're playing with a PC that's slightly ahead of its time.
You could almost mistake the slim, subtle design of the TouchSmart for that of a modern LCD TV. It also includes a remote control and built-in TV tuner, and a serviceable wireless keyboard/mouse combo.
Like the iMac, the TouchSmart IQ506 is all about elegance. This isn't HP's first attempt at an all-in-one, either. However, the first-generation TouchSmart IQ770 more closely resembled a highly stylised desktop than it did a display. As much as it got right, a few things disappointed us back then, such as the fact that its 19in touchscreen would recognise only a single point.
When first booted, you’re confronted with a regular Windows Vista desktop, which can be controlled in the normal way with keyboard and mouse. You can also try using your finger on desktop icons, but the TouchSmart system only comes into its own when you switch to HP’s new graphical user interface (GUI), with a dab at an icon on the desktop. You’re then presented with a rich, colourful layout which more closely resembles a cross between Apple’s OS X dock and CoverFlow. You can move an app with a fingertouch from the bottom row up to the larger Tiles – large graphical squares – where it’s possible to work with such things as music, video, photos, post-it notes and web browsing.
HP takes advantage of Windows Vista's ability to recognise two points of touch on the screen. Whether you want to zip around documents, enlarge images, or swipe your finger across the display, using the new TouchSmart is a simple matter of onscreen finger movements. It works just as the iPhone's screen does: you can pinch your fingers together or push them apart to zoom in or out, for example. This only works on some apps, though. You can even play some basic games with the touch interface, namely chess and solitaire.
It pulls ahead of other recent all-in-ones with its ability to handle most productivity tasks easily. Its configuration is reasonable, but it lacks the processing oomph of competing value desktops.
The model we tested came with a 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, 4GB RAM, and a 500GB, 7200rpm hard drive. There are five USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire port, gigabit ethernet, a slot-loading DVD player, an S-video input, and 802.11b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth built in. It sailed through some of our WorldBench 6 tests – everything from Photoshop to media encoding ran smoothly.
On our gaming tests, however, the HP TouchSmart IQ506's nVidia GeForce 9300M GS graphics processor brought its performance down (the iMac, for example, ran two and a half times faster). The graphics results brought down the IQ506's WorldBench 6 score, dragging it down to an overall mark of 79.
HP has nailed the design aesthetic with the new TouchSmart: this model would look equally at home in your living room, bedroom or office. The adjustable screen is finished in a glossy piano black with lighter dark brown edge details, while a special ambient light illuminates the keyboard in darkened rooms. And when you don’t need it, the keyboard neatly stows away under the screen in its own reserved space.