HP TouchSmart IQ770 PC review

Price when reviewed

While the touchscreen PC might be a compelling idea, it’s yet to get much further than supermarket checkouts and print-your-own photo booths. Microsoft’s Tablet PC concept has produced plenty of smoke, but precious little to fire the imagination. The trouble is, touchscreens are expensive to implement, and the Windows Desktop GUI is, sadly, inadequate for the average prodding finger.

HP TouchSmart IQ770 PC review

But the concept just won’t go away, and HP has spent the last four years scurrying away at it, this time with the consumer launch of Vista in mind. The result, the TouchSmart IQ770 PC, proved to be one of the real stars of CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) earlier this year. What we weren’t expecting was for it to come to the UK so soon, and especially at such an attractive price.

Using an all-in-one design previously attempted by only a few manufacturers, it’s certainly a brave piece of design. It’s rare for a PC like this to sit in the office without at least one negative comment from passers-by, but the TouchSmart impressed all who saw it.

Touch of class

The wide-aspect panel runs at 1,440 x 900 – what you’d expect on a 19in-wide desktop panel, and 720p HD video looks fantastic on it. Thankfully, there’s no disfiguring digitising mesh or opaque, touch-sensitive membrane either: HP has used infrared sensors around the bezel, leaving the panel’s ample brightness and wide viewing angles undiminished. It’s a responsive and accurate solution to the touchscreen problem, to the point that you don’t even need to make physical contact with the screen for your touch to be recognised. You do have to get within a millimetre or two, though, so you can’t quite use Minority Report-style gestures.

HP has recognised that some serious software intervention was needed to make a touchscreen Windows PC work and, while Vista’s interface scaling makes a big difference in itself, it’s HP’s SmartCenter software (essentially a plug-in for Vista’s improved Media Center interface) that’s the killer stroke. Touch the Home button on the bezel to launch it, and you’ll be greeted by a set of big, friendly icons. You can customise this with applications, web links or one of HP’s proprietary applications.

Dump the Desktop

It’s surprisingly effective in practice: you’ll probably find you can fit all your common tasks into the space. In fact, with a bit of time spent configuring this start page, internet bookmarks and application shortcuts, there’s little reason to delve back into the Windows Desktop – a liberating experience that should give Microsoft some food for thought.

Much of the time you’ll find yourself in Media Center, with mixed results. The new-look parts (as opposed to those carried over from Windows XP Media Center Edition) lend themselves particularly well to touch. More of an issue is the screen transition between SmartCenter and Internet Explorer, or to another area of Media Center: where we’d expect a smooth fade-in, fade-out approach, there’s often flickering or a black screen. It’s a momentary blip that may be ironed out by software updates or new graphics drivers, but it’s a shame. Nonetheless, for a “version one” piece of software, it feels remarkably mature.

Even being dropped into a Windows environment isn’t a major imposition. Closing windows, browsing the Start menu or clicking on hyperlinks with your finger is surprisingly effective. We found ourselves using a combination of the mouse, keyboard and touchscreen when in Explorer – sometimes tapping the screen is the most natural thing to do, and an onscreen keyboard is at hand if needed.

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