With its 22in touch screen, HP's TouchSmart IQ518 is one of the most interesting PCs on the market. It offers a new way to interact with a PC, giving it more of a kiosk feel right in your own home.
The touch screen works most effectively when used in conjunction with the TouchSmart's media interface, which lets browse albums by cover, similar to the way you would on an iPod Touch. You can also drag-and-drop songs to playlists, and pretty much undertake any function just by touching the screen. The touch screen really is a fun way to navigate around your media files and the Vista operating system in general.
The TouchSmart is thin (approximately 7cm at its thickest point) and rests on a desk like a photo frame, taking up approximately 22cm from the front to the rear of the stand. As such, it won't take up much more space than a regular 22in LCD monitor, as the guts of the PC are located behind the 22in screen itself. However, this means that the screen needs great viewing angles if it is to be usable from various sitting positions — and it does. It can be viewed comfortably from the sides, and also when you're standing or sitting (if you view from too high up the picture does become slightly harder to see).
The screen is vibrant, contains plenty of contrast and is suitable for watching movies. However, it has a glossy coating that will get on your nerves as it is susceptible to reflections from room lights and windows. You can't just change the angle of the screen by tilting and rotating it to overcome these reflections, so the only option is to switch off the lights.
An Intel Core 2 Duo T7250 CPU (2GHz) runs the TouchSmart's 64-bit Windows Vista operating system, and it also comes with 4GB of RAM, NVIDIA 9300M GS graphics, and a 7200rpm, 500GB hard drive. These specifications are slightly better than the HP Touchsmart PC IQ500, which we reviewed in June 2008. It will run most office applications that you throw at it, and it will also do a relatively swift job of encoding videos and music. Indeed, it's a jack-of-all-trades type of PC that's just as capable of being a regular PC as it is a media centre. But you can't use it for much gaming.
There is a slot-loading DVD burner on the right-hand side of the TouchSmart; it's a little stiff and discs sometimes require more than a little nudge to go in. This side of the unit also has an SD memory card reader and a mini-FireWire port, as well as physical volume controls. A cluster of ports on the left-hand side of the unit includes three USB 2.0 ports, a TV aerial port (it has a digital tuner), S-Video out, as well as analog and S/PDIF audio output. It lacks an expansion slot of any kind, but that's not a major flaw considering it has almost everything you need built in — including 802.11n wireless networking, Bluetooth and Gigabit Ethernet.
A bigger omission is a monitor output port. The TouchSmart lacks a DVI port and HDMI, so the only video output option is S-Video. While the touch screen is the main drawcard of this unit, it would still be nice to see a high-definition output port should you ever want to plug it in to your big-screen TV or run a second monitor.
The TouchSmart has built-in speakers and a keyboard light, and it comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse. Overall, it's a well-built unit with a sensible and mostly functional design. We would have liked the port cluster to be a little easier to get to — as it stands, you have to turn the TouchSmart sideways to plug anything into it.
The TouchSmart isn't your everyday type of PC, but it was loved by everyone in our office who used it. It's a convenient PC for use in the lounge room or in any room where space is at a premium. Check it out if you want something that's a little different from the norm.