In the age of bundling more processes and tools into fewer machines, HP wants the Touchsmart PC to be all things to all people and for the first time, it looks possible.
It’s not enough to have S video ports, TV inputs, full sound inputs, removable hard drive and every sort of card reader you can think of — all of which it has and which makes it a multimedia machine that could conceivably replace your stereo, DVD player and TV.
HP wants it to be the virtual meeting place, front and centre in the home. Not just in the lounge room or the study, but the kitchen or other common areas the whole family uses. It boots into HP SmartCenter, an application suite with the time, calendar, music player, web browser, digital photo editor and viewer and more that overlays Windows Vista. The idea is that everybody can leave calendar notes and reminders for everyone else to check, even embedding recordings if necessary.
It’s all accessible from one button on the body, making it easy to call up the collected family ‘data’ if everyone in the household is on the go. Best of all, it’s all operated by touch — using either your finger or the stylus stored in the body of the odd-looking machine.
Another click can take you to Windows, and you can slide the wireless keyboard out of the cradle hidden in the body to take over if you can’t do everything using the touchscreen interface. In short, the TouchSmart PC’s ambition to be everything is a perfect idea, which leaves just the execution to assess.
The machine is enormously heavy, so wherever you put it should be where you want it to stay. HP’s stated aim of it living in an area like the kitchen is partly plausible for two reasons; it doesn’t look like a typical PC you want to hide away in the study or bedroom, and in this age of wireless modems, a computer can live just about anywhere.
There’s definitely a cultural curve to be overcome — looking up recipes on the Internet while you cook is a tantalising promise but are we ready? If fingerprints on the screen irritate you you’ll stick to the stylus, but it has the potential to be a family computer like few others and not everyone might share your quirks.
The 18 inch screen seems bigger than it is, especially with two large, high quality speakers down each side that do away with the need for movies and making watching DVDs or TV a pleasure.
We found a few bugs. Any attempt to switch applications or minimise windows resulted in a short system freeze, stopping the music CD dead in its tracks for several seconds.
It’s also less successful as a standalone PC as it wants to be despite good specs of a 1.6Ghz AMD chip and 2Gb of Ram. The keyboard — while attractive and fitting snugly away into the body — is just too small, making the quick typing you’re used to on an extended PC keyboard almost impossible with tiny arrow, shift and caps lock keys.
The touch screen is sensitive and responsive and represents a surprising new future in computing when considered alongside the recent Apple iPhone. The TouchSmart PC is a bold venture for HP, and given some usability tweaks, could really be the technological hub of the whole house.