HP’s top-of-the-line third-generation TouchSmart touchscreen PC should keep the line front and center for consumers looking for an all-in-one running a Microsoft operating system. Its sharp design, surprising utility, and inspired suite of touchscreen applications makes it an ideal choice for any family looking to place a stylish computer in a common area.
From an aesthetic standpoint, each new TouchSmart model seems to be just a little slicker looking than the last, and the TouchSmart 600-1055 is no exception.
Its thin piano black bezel rests on three legs; a pair of u-shaped supports in the front and a photo frame-inspired kickstand in the back. A recessed blue light, the intensity of which can be altered via a button on the side of the display, shines down on a super-slim wireless keyboard and matching mouse, both of which can be slid under the display and out of sight when not in use, ensuring that the machine maintains a relatively small footprint.
In most home use scenarios only a single cord—for power—will trail out from behind the computer. There are, however, plenty of ports that provide for connection to a wide range of devices, including a coaxial input for television, five USB jacks, a six-in-one memory card reader, headphone and mic ports, an HDMI jack to let the kids hook up their PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles, and several additional audio/video inputs and outputs to allow users to connect other video playback devices and speakers.
Long story short, it’s a fully-functional and mighty pretty all-in-one PC system that consumers can proudly display anywhere from the kitchen counter to the living room sideboard.
The TouchSmart 600’s design is sexy, no question, but even more important than the hardware is the software.
Since the beginning, HP has marketed the TouchSmart line based on its titular suite of simple and intuitive applications, and the company’s latest version of the program offers the best, most well-rounded selection of apps yet.
If you’re unfamiliar with TouchSmart, you can think of it as a second, simpler operating system that provides bigger buttons better suited for a touchscreen interface and gives people easy access to many commonly used applications. The version running on HP’s latest generation machines has been revamped for Microsoft’s Windows 7 OS, which itself has been retooled to work seamlessly with touch-enabled screens.
When launched, you’ll see a row of inactive programs defined by large square icons HP calls “tiles” lining the bottom of the screen. Active applications above can be flipped through with the brush of a finger. Tap a tile to open a new application, or slide an open application down to the bottom row to close it.
There are TouchSmart programs that let users browse music, videos, and pictures (you can spread images out and then stack them, tag them, or change their size in a way that vaguely recalls Tom Cruise interacting with his open air computer in Minority Report); create voice, video and written messages for family members that appear as sticky notes on the screen; and keep calendars of events that can be shared and printed as needed. It’s a great group of programs for busy families.
There are also tiles for television viewing and movie playback. Connect your cable signal to the built-in tuner card and you’ll be able to play, pause, rewind, and record live television shows via TouchSmart’s simple but effective Live TV program. Or you can just pop in a DVD or Blu-ray disc. TouchSmart apps also exist for the online video services Hulu and Netflix. Regardless of the content source, you can control the action with not only touchscreen buttons but also a full-sized media remote that comes in the box. Indeed, few other computers feel so at home (or perform as admirably) doubling as a television.
On the Web side, you can record videos using the tilting webcam above the screen and then upload them to YouTube at the tap of a button. You can also launch Internet Explorer 8, keep an eye on your Twitter feed, and set up RSS feeds.
Another neat app is Recipe Box, a program for chefs that grabs and formats recipes from the Web. It can respond to voice commands and read cooking directions out loud, helping ensure you don’t grease up the screen while preparing meals.
While there is certainly room for more TouchSmart apps (where’s Facebook?), those HP has provided are well-designed and useful. Plus, users can always create their own customized TouchSmart tiles for any website they choose (though websites generally aren’t designed for touchscreen interface).
Our only real beef is that the touch interface is still just a smidge finicky. It sometimes registers a tap when your finger is hovering just above the screen, and slow brushes are sometimes picked up as quick flips (we noticed that even the woman in the video meant to demonstrate the interface wasn’t always able to flip through apps with perfect smoothness). Still, it’s a minor issue.