When Lenovo introduced the first Horizon, an all-in-one with a touchscreen, built-in battery and fold-flat stand, it caught everyone’s attention. For about two weeks. Though interesting, the original model was thick, slow and expensive. It was a nice conversation starter, but not a great PC.
Lenovo isn’t one to abandon an idea because it doesn’t immediately work, though, so it has introduced the Horizon 27 2. The new model is a simple refinement of the same formula. Signature features like the massive touchscreen and fold-flat stand are now bolstered by better hardware and slimmer design.
The price has remained the same; most retailers ask $1,500. That’s a lot of money for an all-in-one. Even Apple’s iMac (without the Retina display) can be purchased for just $200 more. Are Lenovo’s refinements enough to make the Horizon’s sequel a winner?
Slimmer than ever
The original Horizon was 1.2 inches thick and weighed almost 18 pounds. Both figures were impressive for a 27-inch all-in-one, but not enough to make the system feel easy to move. Lenovo addressed that by reducing thickness to just eight-tenths of an inch and dropping weight to 15 pounds. The back is now curved, as well, which makes gripping the system easier.
We’re still not fans of the kickstand that supports the thin-and-trim Horizon. It works as intended, flipping out for PC use and retracting for tabletop enjoyment, but it doesn’t allow ergonomic adjustment or support VESA mounting. This radically specializes the system’s purpose by making it unsuitable for office use.
The Horizon’s lack of connectivity is a problem, as well. The system offers only three USB 3.0 ports, one of which is spoken for by the wireless dongle needed to connect the mouse. A combo audio jack and HDMI-in round out the options. 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth come standard.
Touch, but don’t look
Unlike the original Horizon, which had a glossy display, the sequel has opted for a matte coat. And that’s not all. Lenovo picked a buttery-smooth finish that makes using the touchscreen a joy.
Unfortunately the sequel carries over the first model’s inadequate 1080p resolution. That translates to barely more than 81 pixels per inch, 40 less per inch than a 2,560 x 1,440 display of the same size and three times fewer than Apple’s fancy new Retina iMac. Even users with less-than-perfect eyesight can notice the difference.
A buttery-smooth display panel makes using the touchscreen a joy.
Other aspects of the display proved mixed. We measured a gamut that spans 97 percent of sRGB and 73 percent of AdobeRGB, figures strong enough to keep pace with stand-alone monitors like the CTL X2800 and the Acer XB280HK. Contrast was solid, too, hitting a ratio of 720:1.
Yet we also saw a lackluster gamma reading of 1.9 (2.2 is the target) and varying color accuracy. The average color difference was DeltaE 1.65, a low reading (a difference of one is the lowest noticeable by the human eye). But the difference exceeded three in cyan, red and some grayscale hues.
All these factors add up to a disappointing sum. The low pixel density was noticeable in HD video and inaccurate gamma led to a washed-out look. Even the high contrast ratio is the result of an extremely bright backlight rather than inky blacks, so images lacked the depth the raw numbers suggest.
Audio quality is reasonable. The speakers were loud at maximum volume and offered clear sound in most scenarios. We noticed a lack of oomph in the bass range, though, and music can sound flat as a result.
Not a star performer
Our review unit arrived with Lenovo’s standard configuration of an Intel Core i5-4210U with 8GB of RAM and a 1TB mechanical hard drive. Let’s see how the processor holds up.
Ouch. In this benchmark the new Horizon proved far off the mark set by less expensive HP and Acer all-in-ones. It was even defeated by the Toshiba Satellite Radius, a 15-inch laptop with a touchscreen that can rotate 360 degrees for all-in-one or tablet use.
The Horizon 27 2 was consistently outclassed in benchmarks.
7-Zip’s compression benchmark told the same story. It settled on a score of 7,009, way behind the HP Envy Beats AIO’s score of 9,865 and the Acer AZ3-615’s score of 8,228. The Horizon’s processor, which is meant for laptops, is out of its league. Geekbench further supported our conclusions with its single-core score of 2,266 and multi-core score of 4,566.
While the processor could be better, the 1TB mechanical drive was the real bottleneck. We measured an average read speed of just 78.8 megabytes per second and access times of 2.5 seconds. Those numbers are enough to beat the HP Envy Beats All-in-One, but it’s still a poor showing, and we noticed frequent hesitation as the system waits for the hard drive to access data.
The Nvidia GT 840M graphics chip in the Horizon 27 2 is a significant upgrade over the GT 620M in the old model, but it’s still no gaming powerhouse. Have a look for yourself.
The real win was in the demanding Fire Strike test where the Horizon doubled the score of its competitors. That said, the result of 1,399 is six times lower than a gaming laptop like the Asus G751JY.
We further tested real-world gaming by playing League of Legends. The game averaged 80 frames per second at medium detail and 1080p resolution with a maximum of 89 and minimum of 66. Kicking detail up to very high decreased the average to 63 FPS with a maximum of 77 and minimum of 52. That’s still playable, though, and proves the GT 840M has merit even if it’s not for serious gamers.
Abysmal battery life
While Lenovo says the Horizon 27 2 can last up to two and a half hours on battery, we found its endurance far less impressive. The Peacekeeper web browsing benchmark drained a full charge in just one hour and 44 minutes.
We squeezed less than two hours of life from the Horizon’s battery.
That highlights the problem with the Horizon’s core concept. A fold-flat AIO for sharing photos and playing games sounds great, but even a large battery struggles to power the 27-inch display. A major leap forward in processor efficiency or battery capacity is required to make this system’s intended usage possible.
Our wattmeter put battery life in perspective by reporting average idle power draw of 50.1 watts and average full-load draw of 83.1 watts. The idle figure is slightly better than the HP Envy Beats All-in-One, which ate 60.5 watts at idle, and the load figures are identical.
At least the system is quiet. We recorded no more than 41.1 decibels of fan noise at full system load. Idle noise was a smidge lower at 40.1dB. The fan has a whiny quality, however, so it can be annoying if not drowned out by ambient noise.
A laptop keyboard for your desktop
Wireless peripherals come standard with the Horizon. Both feel solidly built; the keyboard is mostly metal. However, both are also a bit weird.
The keyboard isn’t as large as most and many of its keys are too small as a result. Key feel is vague, as well, because of limited key travel. On the whole we found it better than an average bundled keyboard, but it did take some getting used to.
We never quite felt comfortable with the mouse. It has an unusual wedge shape that fit awkwardly in our hands. Only two buttons are included along with a touch-sensitive scroll pad located where a scroll wheel would normally be found. It works, but a physical scroll wheel would’ve been more comfortable.
What’s your Aura?
Lenovo knew from the beginning that Windows isn’t great for the Horizon’s intended use as a communal device placed on a table for everyone to touch. To address that the company built a custom interface, Aura, which can be launched within Windows.
Aura is based on a wheel that can open various programs and functions. Tap the Photos icon, for instance, and you’ll see photos appear on the outside edge of the wheel. Users can then scroll by rotating forward or back.
Photos and other media, including videos and music, open in Aura itself, after which they float over the software’s desktop. Familiar multi-touch gestures can be used to make media larger or smaller, and start or stop playback of videos and music. There are games, too, some of which are compatible with special peripherals like joysticks and digital dice.
We’re happy with Aura’s design. The interface is slick and responsive. That said, we’re not sure it’s more than a gimmick. Only a small handful of apps are coded for Aura and none are compelling. Lenovo’s advertisements imagine that users might take out their Horizon to share photos and videos with friends, but that role was stolen by smartphones and tablets years ago. Aura seems built for a purpose that’s already irrelevant.
In some ways the Horizon 27 2 is an improvement over the original. Weight and thickness are down, the new matte display is easier to on the eyes and wireless connectivity has been upgraded. The $1,500 MSRP is still pricey, but at least it didn’t go up.
Closer inspection reveals flaws, however. Performance, a weakness of the first model, hasn’t improved. Neither has battery life. And the display is still 1080p. When the Horizon first showed up in 2013 its resolution was a disappointment, but today, in late 2014, it’s a deal breaker. Why buy a 27-inch 1080p all-in-one when so many 1440p alternatives, like the Dell XPS One and standard 27-inch iMac, are available at a similar price?
Lenovo thinks the touchscreen and fold-flat stand are an answer to that question, but we disagree. The system’s intended use just doesn’t make sense. No one wants to lug a 15-pound PC out of their living room to share photos with friends or play virtual air hockey. The Horizon was a bold experiment, but it failed, and the new model doesn’t do enough to patch its problems.
- Attractive, slim design
- Responsive touchscreen
- Still too heavy
- Mediocre performance
- Short battery life
- Not a good value