Several years ago HP came out with the first all-in-one touch screen PC, the TouchSmart 770. This machine was mostly a desktop PC with a touchscreen mounted to the top. This year they redesigned the TouchSmart and made it much more elegant and smaller. The TouchSmart iQ506 is not much bigger than the touchscreen it is built into.
- 22″ diagonal hi-def widescreen LCD
- Intel Core 2 Duo Processor
- Windows Vista 64-bit
- Built-in 2.0 speaker system
The screen that is used by the HP iQ506 is a 22″ glossy, touch sensitive, widescreen LCD. This screen is the highlight of the machine.
The machine is powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo processor. This processor provides the power that the machine needs to perform all its functions — from watching TV, to playing DVDs.
The operating system for the iQ506 is the 64-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium. This operating system provides many multimedia features that are used by the system.
The iQ506 has a built-in 2.0 speaker system. A fairly basic system, but it does a good job with TV and movies.
There is also a TV Tuner built into the iQ506 that allows you to pick up both NTSC and ATSC channels.
The front of the iQ506 is dominated by the 22″ LCD. This screen easily takes up the vast majority of the front. The outside of the screen is surrounded by a piano black design with espresso side panel highlights. There is a single button located at the bottom right of the screen. This button is used to launch the HP TouchSmart software. It can also be used as a power button. The way this works is if the computer is turned off or sleeping, the button will turn it on and then launch the software.
The outside of the screen is surrounded by a very glossy case. This piano black finish looks really nice, but it is a magnet for fingerprints. If you are a clean freak then you will be cleaning this every day. Luckily, HP includes a microfiber cleaning cloth with the TouchSmart.
The screen uses HP’s BrightView technology. This technology uses a glossy screen which gives the picture a great deal of clarity and brightness. The bright touch screen also acts like a protector for the LCD screen that is underneath. From what I was told, the screen can even be cleaned with normal glass cleaner. I am not really fond of glossy screens. In fact, I rather dislike them because of the glare they produce. This particular screen is so glossy that when it is turned off it is as reflective as a mirror. Because of this, I would like to see an option to choose a less glossy screen, or even a screen protector that could be placed on the screen, not only to protect the screen, but to dull the glare.
The right side has the power button, DVD drive, hard drive activity light, volume controls, mute, SD card slot, and a Firewire port.
The left side has the ambient light button, two USB ports, a headphone and microphone jack.
On the back you will find a lot more connectors. There are 3 more USB connectors, an Ethernet port, SPDIF, Audio out, TV In, S-Video, Audio In, and IR Out. This area also has some good cable management. This does a great job of keeping the cables out of the way and out of view.
At the bottom is a power plug and a Bluetooth USB stick for the keyboard and mouse. I was very surprised when I saw that HP had chosen to use a USB Bluetooth solution for their keyboard and mouse. When I asked them about it they said it was the most stable and reliable solution they could find.
Also, on the back is the stand that holds the iQ506 up. There are two small feet under the machine, they seem a little small, but they have not yet given me any trouble.
The tuner that is included with the TouchSmart iQ506 is a dual format NTSC/ATSC tuner. It will accept either standard cable or an over-the-air HD signal. I was also hoping for more than one tuner, however, for now we only get one. Once again when I talked to HP they said they would look into it for a future release.
Now that I have looked at the outside of the TouchSmart I also want to look inside. The TouchSmart is fairly easy to take apart, but there are a lot of screws so you will need a good memory to remember where they all go. HP actually makes it really easy to get to certian parts and they even provide a diagram for taking off the the back of the TouchSmart. The first step is to remove a small cover that is under the stand. This opens up access to the memory. Easy access to the memory is great because it allows upgrading without any trouble, and with a 64-bit operating system the TouchSmart can easily handle more than the included 4GB of memory. The next step is to remove the stand and the back of the case. There are about 8 screws that you have to remove to get inside. Once inside you have access to the hard drive and DVD drive. Once again having easy access allows upgrading without a lot of trouble. This is as far as most people should need to go. There is nothing else that is meant to be user upgradable. However, out of curiosity I wanted to see the motherboard and CPU. Luckily removing the cover on this is easy. As you can see everything is organized very nicely. The two copper heatsinks connect directly to the CPU and the graphics card.
I like the design so much that I would love to see a Home Theater PC (HTPC) built with the same quality. If HP could remove the touch screen and put the other hardware in a small box it would make a perfect HTPC. In addition, because both machines would use the same parts it would easily fit in their current production line and be fairly inexpensive.
Using the TouchSmart iQ506 is really the only way to test it out. Fortunately, setting it up is really easy, which means I could test it out soon after taking it out of the box. The only two cables that I had to plug in were the power cable and the TV cable.
The startup process is rather lengthy because you need to go through quite a few setups and the registration of the TouchSmart. By using the onscreen keyboard I was able to use the touchscreen even during the registration. Once you’re done the rest is not only fun, but easy.
The HP software is the main attraction of the TouchSmart. Through this software you can access most of the features of the iQ506. The software is specifically designed to be used with your fingers. The screen is broken up into two sections. The top section has large icons that represent your favorites. These icons show the real time status of the programs they access. The bottom section shows smaller icons that are just like desktop icons and only show a generic picture for each program. You can drag icons from the bottom to the top section and back again.
The photo portion of the TouchSmart software is great for viewing photos and making some simple changes. There are several ways to interact with the photos, but using the touch screen is the most fun. When the photo software first starts it shows a thumbnail list of all the folders the software found. In the bottom right of the screen is a small group of photos that when clicked, opens another view of the photo folders. This view allows you to use your fingers to flip through the folders and select one. Unfortunately, this view is only for lists of folders and not for lists of photos. So as soon as a folder is selected, it switches back to the thumbnail view. The new folder view is great and would have been nice to use for photos. When a photo is selected a screen is opened that has some options for editing the picture. The software can do things like rotate, crop, auto-enhance, and fix red-eye. Down at the bottom is an upload photos button that will let you upload to Snapfish.
The interface for the video section is almost exactly like the photo section. When it is first opened it shows a list of all the folders with videos in them. The bottom right corner has the same button to activate the alternative folder view. When a video is clicked on, the following screen provides several options for playing and sharing it. The most notable feature is the upload to YouTube button. With this functionality you can easily share all your favorite videos. If there aren’t any videos to share it is easy to make new ones with the built-in web camera. The web camera is activated from within the video section by clicking the Webcam button. The web camera does a good job recording and it has really good quality. Unfortunately, the angle of the camera is not adjustable. So if the TouchSmart is at a steep angle, then the camera will also have a steep angle and it may not be able to use it. For this reason, the TouchSmart should be kept as straight up a possible.
The Notes are another interesting feature. With this you can quickly create sticky like notes all over the screen for anyone to view. Normally when you think of notes you conjure up images of a hand written note that may be hard to read, especially when you have to write with your finger. However, it is also possible to leave voice notes. As long as you are able to speak clearly, the note is easy to understand. The only problem with notes is that you have to exit out of all the other programs, like photos and browser, and switch to the note screen before you can read or listen to any of them. It would be nice if there was a quick link that would open a small window for reading notes while doing other things.
If you are like me it is impossible to remember everything that is going on all the time. Luckily, the TouchSmart iQ506 has a built-in calender. With the calender it is easy to add events and reminders. Since the TouchSmart is meant to be the center of your kitchen it is always going to be around to remind you when it is time for the next event.
If you are a news junkie or you have some favorite websites that you like to keep up on, the RSS feeds are for you. Unfortunately, like the notes, RSS feeds are not visible while you are working with the calender, browser, photos and other programs.
Because most users will want to use more than one program at a time it would be nice if you could split the screen into multiple windows and have a different program running in each. For example, I would like to split the screen into four windows, calender, photos, notes, and RSS feeds. That would give me immediate access to all my favorites. When I clicked on a window it would expand to fill the screen. After a few minutes of inactivity it would would shrink back to a smaller window so the other programs are visible again.
There are some multi-touch capabilities in the TouchSmart. For example, you can use two fingers to expand the size of the preview windows that show up when the TouchSmart software is first started.
One button that the TouchSmart software is missing is a watch TV button. In order to watch TV you must exit, or minimize, the HP software and start up Windows Media Center. Going back to the TouchSmart software is easier because you can just press the button that is on the front of the device.
It might also be useful to include a stylus of some sort. I personally feel more comfortable when writing with a stylus then I do with my finger. However, HP designed the software so that when you are writing a note or something you can vary the width of the pen that is used. This helps keep the writing clean and prevents the lines from getting so big that they run into each other.
While using the software the thing I was most frustrated about and the reason I stopped using it, was the inability to access network folders. I keep all of my music and pictures on a Home Server so I don’t have to keep copies on each computer. Unfortunately, the HP TouchSmart can only see local folders when it looks for those things. For this reason I started using Windows Media Center as my main program because it can use network folders for music and pictures. In addition, since I had to use Media Center to watch TV, it was more convenient to just stay in the same program.
I was also disappointed to see that HP only included a DVD drive. I was really hoping for a Blu-ray player, with an HD screen it only makes sense to include the ability to play HD content. When I talked to HP they indicated that they left the Blu-ray player out to keep costs down during the initial release.
The ambient light button cycles through three brightness levels and off. I found this to be only slightly useful because I don’t watch TV in the dark. I usually like to keep a little light on and that light made the ambient light from the TouchSmart not very useful.
The power usage is also fairly low, even with everything turned on it only used about 90 watts of power. Considering that this includes the LCD, CPU, Hard Drive and everything else I am really impressed. When you turn the power off using the remote control it goes into sleep mode and it only uses about 50 watts of power.
Service and Support
The HP TouchSmart iQ506 comes with a 1 year parts and labor warranty. While this is not a very long warranty, it does seem to be the standard for desktop computers these days. I suppose they want to make more money by selling extended warranties. Depending on where you buy the TouchSmart from, they may offer different extended warranties. For example, if you buy from HP you can get up to 3 additional years of coverage, while other sites like Newegg are only offering an additional two years.
Support comes in the standard ways, which are: phone, web, email and if on-site service.
The iQ506 is the version that I described above and it is currently selling for $1399 at Amazon.
For those that want save $200 you can buy the iQ504.This version does not have a TV tuner, discrete graphics card, or a remote control. It also only has a 320GB hard drive. This version is currently selling for $1199 at Amazon. I personally think the extra $200 is well worth the extra hardware you get.
I am very happy with the TouchSmart iQ506 because it offers so much. I think there needs to be some improvements to fine tune the software, but that can easily be done in the future without having to buy new hardware. If you are looking for a media Hub for your kitchen, or other workspace, and you have the room, I think the TouchSmart will work out great. The HP TouchSmart easily captures the Editors choice award for Media PC category. As always compare prices before purchasing.
|JusTech'n editors' rating|