Review: HP's Touchsmart iQ600: is it time to step up to a touchscreen PC?

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Review: HP's Touchsmart iQ600: is it time to step up to a touchscreen PC?

Touch enabled all-in-one that improves over the previous model and ticks almost all the boxes

When it comes to lifestyle PCs, the tendency over the last year has been for manufacturers to produce a very basic appliance computer - a kitchen PC if you will - with bare minimum processor, simplified touch interface and icon navigation. Think the Asus Eee Top and MSI Windtop series, for example.

The exception has been the HP Touchsmart all-in-ones, which are finger-friendly and with super-sized icons. But the new version comes with Windows 7, which is already touch-enabled - so how does it shape up?

The design is a step above the smaller, cheaper models that Asus, BenQ and Shuttle have produced, with a solid and well-hinged adjustable stand, and a gorgeous piano-black surround for the 23in screen.

The Eee Top's screen was lacklustre at best, but the HP's 1920 x 1080 resolution and its rich, bright colours are worthy of a front-and-centre placement in a studio apartment or media-room in your home.

The blacks are deep, the text is crisp, and colour accuracy is marvellous. Admittedly, it doesn't meet the impressive standard set by the iMac 27in.

Just as Asus has a simplified GUI with phone-menu style touch interface for launching programs, so too the HP has its own customised touch interface.

There's a Mac-like dock at the top of the screen that can be customised to include applications you prefer, although it's worth remembering that many of the applications you launch through the dock won't be optimised for a touch interface, and may not be ideal when navigated using your fingers.

Everything that's Windows 7 touch-enabled also works, including the games and photo-viewer software.

The keyboard and mouse, should you resort to them, may have you reaching for the screen again. While the keyboard's keys are well sized, they are hard and flat, with not much bounce or responsiveness to speak of.

We wouldn't want to bang out our novel on it. The mouse is a simple wireless affair, and it's perfectly adequate to the task.

For lifestyle PCs, the HP is far in front in specifications - only the Sony VAIO L series comes close. There's a grown-up 4GB of RAM and a real Core 2 Duo CPU in the HP, for example, even if it's a mobile T6600 model rather than the full-fat versions found elsewhere. Even with these, however, our test system achieved a bearable 2D benchmark score of 1.07.

When it comes to graphics, the Nvidia GeForce GT 230 is fine for Vista Aero effects, but struggles to perform well with modern games, averaging a not-quite-playable 24fps in our medium Crysis test.

Despite the performance results not being particularly noteworthy, they're still an impressive step up from the benchmark results of Atom-based all-in-ones. It's enough to graduate the HP Touchsmart from being an appliance PC to being a media PC.

But as a media PC, it supplies barely enough connections and ports to keep most users happy. With S-video or co-ax in, S/PDif and audio in, you can at least view live TV and hook it up to other devices, but the lack of HDMI or component connections is a disappointment.

Having said that, the price is good. At just $2248, the iQ600 is the cheapest of the big-name media PCs, and while it won't blaze through ray-tracing tasks, it had no problem with any sort of media we threw at it.

With its integrated DVB-T tuner and a Media Center remote, it could even steal into the living-room. The TouchSmart iQ600 also includes a Blu-ray drive. We were as surprised as anyone to discover it in Windows Device Manager: you won't find any indication on the box.

Again, makes the price seem far more reasonable, given that it's effectively a 23in TV and Blu-ray player combination.

For more mundane computing tasks there's a decent complement of network and data ports, though it comes with 64-bit Windows 7, so if you're planning to attach older peripherals you'll need to find 64-bit drivers for them.

The TouchSmart iQ600 makes an attractive media centre, with better quality speakers than in previous models. You may still want to hook it up to external speakers for more powerful range, however.

With more powerful innards it might also make a decent luxury PC. As it is, though, it feels like a compromise that isn't quite at home in either role.

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