Lifestyle PCs tend to follow similar designs: a bright, high-quality screen, decent mobile components and bags of style. But HP’s latest venture adds something distinctive to the mix. As the name suggests, the TouchSmart IQ508A comes with a touchscreen - something we haven’t seen in a desktop PC since the IQ508A’s predecessor, the IQ770
To make the most of this, the IQ508A uses HP’s TouchSmart software. Double-tap the TouchSmart icon and the Vista desktop is replaced by a front-end similar to Windows Media Center. It’s finger-friendly, the super-sized icons are easy to use, and we were soon prodding, dragging and tapping away.
By swiping our fingers left and right across the screen we were able to scroll through a horizontal menu with links to games, movies, our music collection, websites and RSS feeds. This can be customised with any program, website or RSS feed you care to add - for each new item a ‘tile’ is added to the menu.
Delve more deeply into the interface and further options are present. Music can be collated into playlists, and pictures touched-up with basic editing: one button corrects red-eye while another launches crop and rotate tools.
All is not entirely rosy, however. The touchscreen isn’t as accurate as we’d like, and it’s difficult to select tiny taskbar items or links on web pages. The TouchSmart’s oversized icons are large out of necessity: when working in Windows we reverted to using the mouse. Just note the keyboard can’t easily be used on your lap; unlike the keyboard that comes with Dell’s superb XPS One, it has no built-in trackpad or media-specific controls.
The display is superb. The 22in panel produces bright, punchy colours, and the native resolution of 1680 x 1050 makes high-detail areas appear clear and sharp. It feels suitably tough, too, and we also applaud the small grip on the bottom of the rear stand, so it won’t slide across the table when you press the screen.
The left side of the IQ508A offers a decent selection of ports and sockets: you get five USB ports and several media-friendly sockets, including audio jacks, an S/PDIF output and S-Video out socket. There’s also a gigabit ethernet port for those who have no use for the built-in 802.11bg and draft-n wireless networking. On the right-hand side is a slot-loading DVD writer, a 4-in-1 card reader and a mini-FireWire socket, as well as a volume control and mute button. Finally, there’s a small light to illuminate the keyboard and mouse when they’re close to the main unit.
The internal components are mainly mobile parts, helping to ensure quiet operation. The 2.16GHz Core 2 Duo T5850, coupled with 4GB of RAM, is powerful enough to handle 64-bit Vista Home Premium and the sort of tasks expected of it: in our 2D benchmarks, the IQ508A achieved a respectable 1.06. Its GeForce 9300M graphics chip isn’t up to serious 3D gaming, but that’s not what the IQ508A is intended for.
Decent speakers are dotted around the IQ508A - two on the front provide crisp treble, while a subwoofer on the rear provides surprisingly powerful bass, which really helps when watching movies or music. There’s also a hybrid tuner supporting both analogue and Freeview digital TV signals, enabling you to watch programs and record them onto the generous 500GB hard disk. It’s only a single-tuner card, though; you can’t watch one channel while recording another. The one other thing the IQ508A conspicuously lacks is a Blu-ray drive.
Still, everything else is superb: the touchscreen interface makes the HP tremendously easy to use, and there’s enough power to keep everything smooth and responsive. If you’re not concerned about the lack of an HD video player, the TouchSmart IQ508A makes an attractive and versatile addition to any room.