Review: HP Touchsmart IQ506 PC

The Gadget: The Touchsmart IQ506 is HPs second gen, touch-sensitive computer. In addition to its all-in-one design, built-in webcam, TV tuner and wireless keyboard and mouse, the selling point here is the custom touch interface created by Frog Designs.

Price: US$1500 (The IQ504, sans TV-tuner, sells for US$1300)

The Verdict: The TouchSmart comes with the standard array of features you'd expect in an all-in-one PC — 22-inch widescreen, 2.16 Core 2 Duo Processor, ATSC tuner, 4 GB RAM, 500 GB HDD, 5 USB ports and an SDHC reader. These are all solid features, though not mindblowing. The real hook here is whether or not the touchscreen features are as good as advertised. The short answer is that they're satisfactory within the custom interface, and not so great in the normal Vista environment.

The touch interface has a homescreen with a row of giant, oversized tiles up top, and smaller ones underneath that display various widget-like apps. Examples of these apps include a music player, photo browser, movie player, RSS feed, calendar, weather, chess, solitaire, notes, etc... Both rows can scroll from side to side, similar to that of the iPhone and tiles can also be exchanged between the top and bottom rows freely.

Once inside individual apps, they take advantage of using pan and scroll features for lists and thumbnails. The movie player even has a record feature that lets you create a short movie with the webcam that you can email out when finished. The photo browser lets you perform basic adjustments, or even use the touchscreen to crop your photo.

Some apps are better than others. Apps like the photo browser, and weather widget are perfectly suited to the touch interface, because the menus are simple and typing is hardly ever required. The RSS reader and Web Browser are not so great because they both use Internet Explorer as its backbone (you have to enter your RSS feeds as bookmarks in IE). The calendar app is decent if you just want to check your schedule, but you ultimately need the keyboard and mouse to do anything more.

And while the touchscreen works well within the interface, trying to control the rest of Vista (Media Centre notwithstanding) can be maddening. Buttons and icons in Vista are too small for fingertaps on the screen, resulting in hitting the wrong button, or not hitting anything at all. I basically gave up on navigating Vista with the touchscreen after the first 30 minutes.

But even within the interface, though it functions competently, you can't help but feel like it needs a bit more polish. Sure, it looks great, but sometimes its choppy or laggy in reacting to your touch, making it feel less than intuitive.

Part of this is due to the fact that the touchscreen isn't a real touchscreen, but rather an IR ring around the front of the monitor that tracks the position of your finger on a 2D plane. When the plane is broken, it interprets that as a mouse click. It isn't microscopically precise, but the big buttons of the custom interface help compensate for that to a degree. While I'm sure this helps keep cost low, It doesn't have the same smooth feel.

The Touchsmart IQ506 is a good computer, both in design and features, but is a little rough around the edges when it comes to it's touch features. If you want a kitchen computer that looks nice, functions well with a keyboard and mouse, and has a few neat touch functions to boot, this $1500 machine, or the IQ504, isn't a bad deal. But if you're expecting to be blown away by the touchscreen experience, you may want to hold off. [HP Touchsmart]

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