The same day Microsoft showed off the new touch-friendly user interface for the upcoming Windows 8, a demo unit of the recently updated HP TouchSmart 610 all-in-one desktop PC arrived, with Windows 7.
Even before I opened the box, I felt bad for HP knowing this product will be exponentially better with a new operating system a year from now. Having said that, I was still curious to find out how the flagship Windows touch PC has improved in a post-iPad world with vastly different expectations for touch devices.
After spending almost a week with it, it stands as an awesome all-in-one Windows PC but the touch experience leaves a lot be desired. But it’s not all HP’s fault either.
Right out of the box, the new TouchSmart 610 sports a much more professional look than its flashy multi-colored predecessor which suits my tastes better. After all, it’s a computer, not a rave. The stand, which is sturdier than it looks, now also allows the screen to slide 60-degrees down for a more comfortable touch experience. This is great for personal use but it does make it harder to show off photos and videos to others.
For the senses, the glossy but bright screen is now up to a cinematic 23″ which means videos and the occasional YouTube video can be enjoyed by multiple people from a reasonable distance. Accompanying, HP’s trademark Beats audio system also produces a decent amount of sound from the low-profile speakers at the bottom of the screen. Of course it’s no replacement for a standalone 2.1 but its better than most monitor speakers.
Inside the inconspicuous plastic shell is actually a surprising combination of pretty decent hardware that will even give most standalone towers a run for it’s money. The Intel Core i7-870 2.95GHz, 8GB of RAM, 2TB hard drive, ATI Radeon 5570, a Blu-ray drive, built-in WiFi, DTV tuner and a plethora of inputs and outputs means you’ll get most work and play done pretty quickly and quietly – it produces very little noise.
For touch, HP has opted for a very peculiar implementation of hardware – infrared. Although it may have been a cost limitation for a display of its size, HP’s infrared touch technology recognizes up to only two fingers at once. Compared to the more mainstream capacitive alternative, it’s also a lot less accurate due to its extra sensitivity. Many times I’ve unintentionally clicked on items just by hovering slightly above the screen.
Of course it doesn’t help that much of Windows 7 isn’t designed for touch-only use either. Granted it is useful to scroll the occasional web page with just a finger, small icons and buttons makes most tasks a lot harder than it should be. To fill the void left by Microsoft, HP resorted to create a custom touch-only wrapper exclusive for these PCs appropriately named the TouchSmart Software.
In it’s fourth revision now, the software has also seen its fair share of changes with an interesting mix of the familiar and new. The most obvious addition is the panoramic canvas on the homescreen which allows users to pin drawings, media, websites and widgets for quick access without diving into the application screen. The usual suspects of apps makes an appearance accompanied by some new faces including Twitter and Facebook.
Granted novice users may find the shell sufficient but I find myself asking for more than what the shell could deliver sooner than later.
The HP TouchSmart 610-1030A, a sleek piece of hardware much improved from its predecessors is unfortunately at the mercy of Windows 7’s primitive touch experience. Of course this will be a different story comes Windows 8, but until then, I can only recommend it as a worthy PC all-in-one alternative to the iMac with an equally premium price-tag to match.
Update: HP’s TouchPad running webOS on the other hand looks to be a much more compelling touch device coming out later this year.