All-in-one computers aren’t often looked upon fondly by geeks, but they’re a segment of traditional desktop computers that’s gaining attention while old-fashioned towers fall out of the spotlight.
The reasons for this are not hard to understand. All-in-one PCs are far more attractive and also easier to manage. Most of them ask that you do nothing more than plug in the power and go. You can connect to your peripherals and the Internet via Wi-Fi. Desktops can do the same, of course – but features like Wi-Fi cards are often an additional option with sometimes spotty reception.
Touchscreens are another defining feature of many products in this segment. Certainly it’s a defining feature of the TouchSmart 520 – so much so that it’s part of the brand. HP was one of the first to pioneer luxurious, slim all-in-one computers with touchscreen displays, and the company hasn’t let off the gas pedal.
Late last year, we reviewed the HP TouchSmart 610 and generally liked it, but found that it was expensive enough to be impractical for some buyers. The HP TouchSmart 520 seems intended to create a package that’s a little more palatable without losing high-end features or performance.
The least expensive version, called the 520z, is powered by AMD Fusion processors and starts at $799. Our review unit is the most expensive Intel-powered version which starts at $899.99 with a Core i3 processor and integrated graphics. We received several upgrades including a Core i7-2600S processor, 8GB of RAM and Radeon HD6450 graphics, not to mention a 2TB hard drive and a Blu-ray/DVD combo optical drive.
With all of these options accounted for, the TouchSmart 520 rings in at $1,540. Suddenly it’s in the same territory as the TouchSmart 610 and 620, which may complicate matters.
The TouchSmart 520 costs less than the 610 and 620, but it looks a bit more expensive thanks to a base that is made from heavy plastic and metal, and coated in gray-silver paint. You won’t find a “magic hinge” here, which means that you can’t slide the entire display forward for easy touch use – but you can still tilt it forward and back slightly. The 30-degree range of motion available will be acceptable for many users.
Matte plastic surrounds the display and the rear of the PC. It’s a good choice. None of the plastic appears cheap and fingerprints are easily thwarted. Our only aesthetic complaint is the strip of silver plastic that borders the entire display, including the top. There’s nothing wrong with the quality of the material, but the way it’s used suggests that the trim should be metallic. Using plastic seems wrong, like discovering the wooden floors in a home are in fact painted vinyl.
Still missing HDMI out
Connectivity options are significant. On the left side of the computer you’ll find two USB 3.0 ports, a SD card reader and individual headphone and microphone jacks. Around back there are five additional USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet, and several audio ports including a subwoofer out. On the right side you’ll find HDMI in. Our model also had a cable jack for input to the computer’s TV tuner.
The only major omission is HDMI out. We get it — this is primarily meant to be a computer that you’ll be connecting sources to, not one that will be used as a source. But people don’t always use products like engineers plan, and the lack of HDMI cuts off a lot of options. For example, you’ll never be able to use this computer with an external display.
Feel free to touch
Touch this PC’s display and you’ll find an experience that’s identical to that found on other TouchSmart computers. A quick press of your finger can quickly access icons and menu items, and while drop-down menus and other smaller interface elements can be a pain to manipulate, the overall experience is as good as you’ll find on a computer running Windows 7.
With that said, you will in truth use the touch functionality less than you anticipate. It’s just not convenient to wave your arms around at a display when you can use a keyboard and mouse instead. Fortunately, the peripherals included with the TouchSmart 520 are more than adequate. We found ourselves leaning back and browsing the Web thanks to the light, wireless keyboard and wireless mouse. Key feel is poor and the mouse only has two buttons, but no one is buying this laptop for serious productivity.
A remote control also came with our review unit. It’s designed to work with Windows Media Center and, as with the touchscreen, it works as well as Windows allows. The remote only shines when used in conjunction with a DVD/Blu-ray or the TV Tuner. In those situations it stops being a nice extra and starts to feel like a necessity.