Houston: The frenzy around Apple's iPhone has renewed interest in using touch screens as a friendlier way for interacting with computers.
Once an interface relegated to niches, touch is hot again. The technology has improved dramatically in recent years so it's actually useful. The iPhone's multitouch screen, in which using more than one finger allows for more complex control, is state -of-the-art.
The new HP desktop computer which is the TouchSmart PC can be controlled in several ways, using either a traditional keyboard and mouse, a TV-style remote or by tapping and dragging on its 19-inch touch widescreen.
HP is billing the TouchSmart as a PC for the kitchen -- the hub of many family activities, where calendars, to-do lists and photos get checked -- but it would work well in just about any room of the house. Because of its all-in-one design and the fact that it contains a TV tuner, it can fit in nicely in a student's dorm room, where space is tight.
The TouchSmart PC model IQ770 comes with an AMD Turion 64 X2 dual-core processor running at 1.6 GHz. This is a chip usually found in notebook computers. It is powerful and has 2 gigabytes of memory, a 320-GB hard drive, slot-loading LightScribe DVD burner and an nVidia GeForce Go 7600 graphics card with 256 megabytes of its own memory.
Gamers are going to recognize these specs as having some real horsepower. If HP is selling it as a "kitchen PC," maybe the company expects you to engage in a fragfest while you boil your pasta.
The all-in-one design is heavy and quite bulky. The screen is mounted so it can be moved up and down, as well as tilted forward and back.
However, it won't rotate from landscape into portrait orientation. It lies down flat so you can write on it like a Tablet PC.
The computer's system board sits in a base bristling with connections. It has FM, analog TV and broadcast HDTV inputs (more on this in a moment); 5.1 stereo audio, as well as digital audio; Gigabit Ethernet; 802.11a, b and g Wi-Fi (sadly, no Draft-N); five USB 2.0 ports; two FireWire ports; an 8-in-1 media card reader; Bluetooth wireless; and a bay for HP's Pocket Media external hard drive.
Hiding the keyboard
In addition, the base is designed so the keyboard can disappear underneath it, and a small printer available as an option can be mounted on the back.
There are however a few advanced features that are missing. It supports HDTV, but only in over-the-air broadcast form -- there's no capability to receive cable-based HDTV. It also doesn't have a high-definition DVD drive.
Of course, these would have added to the TouchSmart's already-substantial $1,700 price tag. As for the touch screen aspect, the computer's software is the key to its success.
The TouchSmart uses an add-on for Windows Vista Home Premium's Media Center component, which places a slick, high-resolution series of icons up front in what's called the HP SmartCenter.
This screen provides information, such as the current weather conditions, as well as providing quick access to frequently used programmes. It's very customizable, so you can pick and choose what you want on the SmartCenter.
You can also use the regular Windows desktop with touch if you like. With a couple of clicks, the resolution of the text can be increased and the icons are larger, making it easy to click on objects and Web links. This feature could also be a great boon to seniors or those who are vision-impaired.
The TouchSmart is also an excellent media center device, playing video and DVDs flawlessly. As with most HP consumer PCs, the TouchSmart comes loaded down with junkware. There are about a dozen extra icons on the desktop, and more on the Start menu. You'll want to spend some quality time in the programmes and features module in Vista's Control Panel, uninstalling most of these.
The cost is a bit of an issue, but then it is a powerful machine and one you are paying a premium for the touch screen feature. It's definitely a machine you'll want to lay hands on before you buy to see if it's a real match for the way you use a computer.