HP TouchSmart IQ770 PC
Flexible, beautifully designed and reasonably priced. An excellent attempt to attract the masses.
Source: Copyright © PC Pro, Dennis Publishing
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.
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 Australia 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 1440 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.
In fact, for the most part, HP sees people using the TouchSmart as a ‘screen’ rather than a PC – the high-quality wireless mouse and keyboard can be neatly tucked away, and the screen can be angled to be comfortably accessible from a standing position. For watching TV or a DVD, the screen will move straight on, and you can retire to a more comfortable spot with the Media Center remote. For playing music or listening to the radio, there’s a keyboard button combination for turning off the screen, although we’d like to see a hardware switch on the unit itself. There are plenty of other buttons on the chassis, including volume and transport controls. The speakers are good too – expect the same quality as with a TV.
The inside story
As is often the case with integrated PCs, the insides are a mix of what would normally be considered desktop and notebook components. The Turion 64 X2 TL-52 is the prime sacrifice to the gods of cool and quiet running, but it isn’t so much of a compromise when you look at its performance. It’s a dual-core CPU running at a healthy 1.6GHz, and HP has sensibly opted for 2GB of RAM, leaving everything very responsive. An overall benchmark score of 0.94 won’t make any headlines, but it’s frankly enough to not have to think about it. The Nvidia GeForce Go 7600 graphics chip is similarly modest, but will handle most recent games at basic settings, averaging 36fps in our easiest Far Cry test, for example.
Everything else is as it should be: built-in 802.11a/b/g, Bluetooth, RF and infrared leave no cables trailing; the slot-loading all-format DVD writer (which also comes with LightScribe) is similarly tidy, albeit not high definition or easily upgraded. There’s Gigabit Ethernet, a healthy six USB ports, both mini- and full-size FireWire, and even a 1.3-megapixel webcam and a microphone integrated into the bezel. On the right-hand side, there’s a slot for one of HP’s Personal Media drives – essentially a hot-swappable hard disk that can boost or complement the already sizeable 320GB internal disk.
The attention to detail is incredibly satisfying. From the (patronisingly named) Connection Center on the front to the position of the infrared detector, there’s great design throughout. Another nice detail is the area behind the screen that can be utilised for a compact photo printer – there’s a proprietary DC power connector for one of HP’s Photosmart printers built into the back, so you still need only one AC cable to turn the IQ770 into a fully functioning photo booth.
Build quality is also exceptional. HP envisages this PC being put in people’s kitchens, and the sealed base (which can still be opened to upgrade the hard disk or RAM) provides reassuring protection against dust and spillages. The base is also artificially heavy; at 21kg, it’s all but impossible to knock this PC over.
We do have a few complaints. The single TV tuner means you’ll sometimes run into technical limitations when you want to handle more than one broadcast, although it isn’t a huge issue unless you’re using this as your main TV; more disappointing is the omission of an FM radio from the Australian model. We’d also like to see fold-down feet for the otherwise excellent keyboard, and for such a non-user-serviceable unit we’d definitely like more than the uninspiring one-year, collect-and-return warranty.
Our gripes are rather churlish at this price, though: you can add another TV tuner over USB for under $100 and extend the warranty if you wish. Considering the superb design, flexibility and desirability of this PC, we can see many people being tempted. If its currently unique capabilities will fit happily into your lifestyle, go for it – just beware the relative lack of upgradability and modest computing power.