Buttons belong to 20th century. While we’re sure that making electrical contact with the press of finger seemed nigh-miraculous at the same time that most people were still using the bathroom outside, the little switches and levers that brought us to this current age of technology have worn out their welcome. We’re ready for something better. We’re ready for something more refined. We’re ready for touch screens.
The pretty little displays you can actually lay hands on and interact with have been popping up everywhere over the last few years, sweeping away the clutter of keyboards and buttons and replacing them with 65,000 shades of full-color LCD glory. They may not click – or feel like much of anything – but there’s no denying the inherent beauty and versatile of controls that can literally change beneath your fingers. Here are a few our favorite devices that make the best use of this blossoming technology.
Archos 7, $550
The 7-inch touch screen on the aptly named Archos 7 makes it closer to a personal television than a personal media player. Besides serving as a home to photos, videos and music, the Archos 7 also has a built-in Web browser that displays full HTML pages – usually without any resizing necessary on the massive screen, and it can also stream television and radio channels via Wi-Fi.
Apple iPhone 3G S, $200 on AT&T with contract
The phone that jumpstarted a touch-screen handset revolution gets even better in its latest generation, with a much-needed boost in processing power and camera quality. The 3.5-inch multi-touch screen makes browsing through the Web and photos easy with two-fingered pinching, and all but eliminates the need for buttons. It’s also one of the few phones to feature a real glass screen, which feels smoother under the finger and resists scratches better than plastic – even if it does have a tendency to shatter into a million pieces when dropped.
Check out our Apple iPhone 3G S Review
HP TouchSmart IQ804 Desktop, $1,499
Anyone can slap a touch screen on a computer and call it an all-one-PC – witness MSI’s flaky Nettop AE1900. But HP has actually designed the software on this machine to bend around the touch interface. Everything from photo browsing to music playing happens with a flick of the finger, making this the kind of machine that doesn’t look out of place in living room – or even a bar.
T-Mobile G1, $150 on T-Mobile with contract
The G1 stands out as one of the few phones to follow the iPhone that actually adopted the same capacitive touch screen technology, which is more responsive and accurate than the cheap resistive-type screens that most imitators use. As a consequence, the 3.2-inch touch screen delivers an extremely fluid feel. And though its manufacturer hasn’t enabled multi-touch capabilities, hackers have, leaving it open as an option if you’re feeling frisky.
Check out our T-Mobile G1 Review.
The iPhone may have ushered in the age of multi-touch on cell phones, but tablet-based PCs have been slow to adopt the tech needed for the natural-feeling user interface. Dell’s Latitude XT series became the first to introduce multi-touch on a full 12-inch screen, bringing finger-based operation past games and dialing to working professionals. The XT2 allows users to pan, rotate, scroll and zoom using two fingers, and works with a pressure-sensitive stylus as well. Use it to sketch a prototype on the fly or arrange x-ray photos for a patient – no keyboard needed.
Microsoft Surface, $12,500
Microsoft’s phenomenal Surface computer just may be the ultimate touch-screen device. Using a 30-inch screen as big as a coffee table, users can sit down and manipulate objects on it as naturally as if they were actually there. That means stretching and moving photos with two hands, finger painting with all 10 fingers, and creating real-time ripples in virtual water. At the moment, they’re being sold for commercial use only, but Microsoft expects to eventually introduce them for households in coming years, as well.
Pioneer Avic-Z110BT, $1,799
When you cram this many features into a car receiver, it had better have either mouse and keyboard, or a touch screen. Pioneer wisely chose the latter for its flagship receiver, which will play DVDs and MP3s from CDs, DVDS or SD cards, route calls from your phone to the car speakers via Bluetooth, control your iPod, and of course, get you around town, all using a gorgeous 7-inch touch screen.
While old-school universal remotes become gridlocked with niche buttons that most users will never use, a 3.5-inch touch screen on the Harmony 1100 allows it to display only the options you need at any given time. Just choose an activity – like “Watch TV” and the interface morphs to suit. You can even customize the icons used for different buttons.
Check out our Logitech Harmony 1100 Review.
Palm Pre, $200 on Sprint with contract
The 3.1-inch multi-touch LCD on the Pre may stand out as the smallest of the mobile phones we mention here, but its touch capabilities quite literally go a bit further than the rest. An invisible “gesture area” below the Pre’s screen allows users to start motions on the border of the phone then carry them on to the screen. For instance, dragging a finger up from the bottom instantly brings up a menu that bends around with movement of the finger, an effect as impressive as it is convenient.
Check out our Palm Pre Review.
Nikon Coolpix S60, $300
Do you really need a touch screen on a camera? Not really, but you can do some pretty cool stuff with one. The touch-sensitive 3.5-inch touch screen on the Coolpix S60 allows you to adjust camera controls without groping for microscopic buttons, poke a spot on the screen to focus on it, and after you snap a shot, you can paint custom frames and write messages on it with a stylus. Don’t worry, there’s still a shutter button.