Microsoft’s next operating will have a huge emphasis on touchscreen technology but, while that may be some way off, HP has been staking its ground early. The Touchsmart IQ500 is its second finger-friendly desktop already, following last year’s really quite charming IQ770.

With no real competition, HP could have rested on its laurels. But while the Touchsmart’s model numbers may be going down, the quality is skyrocketing up.

Don’t mention the iMac

The IQ770 was an ugly duckling, so it comes as a surprise that the new TouchSmart is one of the best looking all-in-one PCs available. At the PC pageant it leaves Dell’s One crying in the wings, and is only beaten to the silk sash by the iMac, natch.

The shiny black plastic finish may not be to everyone’s taste, but the thin build, with a discrete but powerful speaker bar, is attractive. The supplied keyboard and mouse are also the epitome of understated style. The former is thin and practical, while the latter is silky smooth to the touch.

The only real oddity is a white ambience light that shines from under screen. It serves no particular function, and is best turned off completely.

Top touch tech

Behind the screen there’s a spacious 500GB hard drive, 4GB of memory and a swift but near silent Core 2 processor.

It’s the other side of the panel that’s best though. The display is bright enough that any finger smears are invisible while it’s turned on, and there’s a custom interface designed for finger navigation. This is slow to load, but it’s as intuitive as an iPhone for scrolling through photos, music and video.

The problem is that, like an HTC Dual Touch smartphone, Vista is never far away. Starting a game or app takes you right back to the regular Windows desktop, which seems clunkier by the day.

Using fingertips to move through documents and surf the web may be slightly slower than a mouse at first, but it’s a liberating experience. Grabbing and dragging is accurate, and even stubby fingers can select narrow text hyperlinks with a little practice.

Annoyingly, though, the TouchSmart beeps to let you know when you’ve made contact with an icon: it’s initially helpful, but quickly sets the teeth on edge and seems to be impossible to turn off.

Confused personality

A small footprint, low power, quiet operation and great picture quality on a big 22in panel make this the perfect home desktop. The graphics performance isn’t amazing, but it will cope with games like World of Warcraft without difficulty, and the touchscreen adds a novel way to play them.

HP is pitching this machine as an all round entertainment device: there’s a media centre remote bundled and a TV tuner. Why use a touchscreen from a distance though? Leave them in the box and buy yourself a proper media centre for the lounge. This superb machine is best kept in the study.


Stuff says... 

HP Touchsmart IQ500 review

The best all-in-one Windows PC around, with a brilliant touchscreen interface to boot