It’s been a long road to mainstream acceptance for the touchscreen. HP built one into a desktop PC called as far back as 1983, but since then it’s had to settle for a niche role on PDAs and tablet PCs.
Like the Rasputin of tech, though, it’s returned in the guise of the Touchsmart. This HP is powered by Vista and is the first all-in-one you can navigate with your pinky. But is it an iMac-botherer?
Not quite the icon
First impressions suggest not. Unlike Apple’s iconic desktop and Sony’s minimalist LA2, the Touchsmart doesn’t build its brains into the screen, but keeps them stored in a fairly hefty base unit.
The brains themselves are also a mixed bag: there’s a generous 320GB of storage, but the laptop-esque AMD processor and nVidia graphics card won’t impress hardcore gamers. There’s also no HD-DVD drive.
Still, it’s perfectly capable of handling some fairly intensive Vista multi-tasking, and easily has enough power for its family audience. We’d also be perfectly happy to see its glossy black styling in our lounge.
Get into the kitchen
But that’s not where the Touchsmart feels most at home – HP is instead billing it as a kitchen PC for the family. The idea is that most of the time you’ll stash the keyboard and mouse under the screen, and use the touchscreen to leave messages, show off photos and check the weather before you go to work, without having to boot up and go into Vista.
It’s an interesting concept, and to help HP has designed a landing page called SmartCenter. There are neat features like Post-it notes that you can attach voice messages to, but the coolest part is that you can customise the whole page to feature links to anything you like, such as favourite web pages.
But how well does the touchscreen work once you’re in Vista land? The screen itself is fine – responsive, bright and capable of handling 720p video. The problem is that web pages are just too small for your fingers to accurately navigate, unless you blow up the font to size ‘massive’. This means that beyond SmartCenter, it’s back to the keyboard and mouse – hardly revolutionary.
It may not herald a new era for media centers, but the Touchsmart’s other talents mean it’s still a fine all-in-one option. Add the diddy Photosmart A510 printer – available for £50 – and it’ll sit on the hard-drive and spit out photos from behind the screen. Plug in an analogue USB antenna or use the built-in DVB-T tuner, and it makes a decent second TV, with a 320GB hard-drive on hand for recordings. The forceful speakers also serve the DVD playback well.
HP deserves a few high fives for trying to inject some originality into the uninspiring desktop market. The Touchsmart’s touchscreen struggles to rise above novelty status, but anyone who likes their PCs stylish, media savvy and Vista-powered will be pleased to hear it’s a strong alternative to the iMac.