Promising technology, or technology without promise? That’s the question with any “touch” computer that relies on a “natural user interface” (NUI), hoping to make the mouse a distant memory. About 18 months ago, HP released the first TouchSmart to a mild but interested reception. Now, the new 22-inch all-in-one IQ506 model is a second attempt: It has better touch features, a bright and vivid display, sleek accessories, and a new touch interface. But is it a worthwhile desktop computer?
Features and Design
Nothing seems generic when you first unpack the IQ506. It’s easily the most impressive all-in-one we’ve tested, thanks to a stylish black-and-silver design, a spacious 22-inch display, and almost no cable clutter at all. The Bluetooth-enabled keyboard is so flat and thin that it’s easy to misplace (think: MacBook Air thin) but also surprisingly responsive for fast typing. You can even use an under-carriage light on the IQ506 to illuminate it for nocturnal computing. The mouse is also sleek and responsive. A large pull-out pedestal easily supports the 24-pound, 21″(W) x 2.6″ (D/L) x 17.4″ (H) all-in-one enclosure. In fact, the only cable dangling from your desktop will be for power. Connectors include a 5-in-1 memory card reader, a FireWire port for your video camera, five USB 2.0 ports, and even a digital audio out port. Though our HP demo did not include a TV tuner, HP now includes TV tuners on even the most basic IQ506 models.
The display looks bright and clear, comparable in quality to one of those $1000 LCD displays you can buy at Wal-Mart, but not quite as bright as, say, a Sony Bravia HDTV. The IQ506 has a slot-loading DVD player (sorry – it does not support Blu-Ray discs), a 500GB hard drive, 4GB of RAM, and built-in speakers that sound as good as most all-in-one PCs, but lack the subtle definition of a real home speaker set.
Image Courtesy of HP
So what about all these new-fangled touch features? The IQ506 is a step in the right direction, but will not challenge the Apple iPhone in terms of amazing multi-touch control. In fact, the IQ506 is really just a single-touch PC. The touch interface, which is well-designed and could stand on its own without Windows at all, offers a way to browse through movies, music, and photos, write notes to family members (sort of like a whiteboard you’d stick to your refrigerator), or run a built-in webcam, among other things. There is one small multi-touch gesture you can do: In the main window, flipping through the different touch thumbnails (for music, photos, etc.), you can use two fingers to zoom in and out of the thumbnail view. It’s a start, but it’s still a long way from the iPhone or the Microsoft Surface table that lets you freely spin photos around and zoom in and out just about anywhere on the screen.
Image Courtesy of HP
A Problematic Processor
The most glaring shortcoming on the TouchSmart is its processor, an Intel Core2 Duo Processor T5850 running at just 2.16GHz. It’s essentially a notebook computer CPU that’s quite sluggish for a system that has so many other trendy features. Yet, when buying a PC, the processor should be the first component you consider because every other feature lives and dies on the speed of the machine. In fact, every other component – including 802.11n Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet, and a 256MB graphics card – would leave you to believe that the IQ506 is a powerhouse. Because the system is designed to sit in a public space, such as your living room, kitchen, or at a library or coffeehouse, you’d think HP would have beefed up this system to run fast enough to run both Facebook and Photoshop.
The CPU continually mars this otherwise stellar all-in-one. At times, just loading one photo can take eons. Testing the IQ506 in a busy family room, just about anyone who used the system complained that it seemed slow, whether they were browsing the Web (there’s one in the touch interface, as well as IE7), playing chess, watching a DVD movie, or just typing up a document ion Wordpad. It’s odd because HP provided plenty of RAM, but the Intel T5850 is just a bugger for desktop processing. The system also has a sluggish 667MHz front side bus, and a somewhat miniscule cache (2MB, compared to much higher on true desktop workstations).
It’s interesting to note that the CPU would have been plenty fast if the system booted directly into the main touch interface (perhaps as a Linux kernel). Yet, the system runs Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit, so it is a general purpose computer as well.
If only the TouchSmart IQ506 22-inch were a better desktop computer. We’d buy one, set it up in the kitchen, find recipes online, and live with the single-touch interface in hopes that the mouse would become a less vital part of our daily routine. And the IQ506 is an amazing touch computer with a lot of promise. But we can’t recommend it for one simple reason: it just runs too slow for everyday computing – those times when you really just want to write your grandmother a letter in Word. It has every other feature we want in an all-in-one PC, at a sane price of $1,350.
• Cool touch interface
• Many hardware perks
• Nice looking GUI
• Runs slow for general computing
• No Blu-Ray media support