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Michael Brown

Jan 24, 2009

HP TouchSmart tx2

At A Glance

Skin

Outstanding touch-screen; excellent handwriting recognition.

Skinned

Outstanding touch-screen; excellent handwriting recognition.

We’re unabashed fans of HP’s TouchSmart desktop machines, so we were really looking forward to getting our digits on the new technology in a tablet-style notebook PC. But such eager anticipation only made the reality of the TouchSmart tx2 all that more disappointing.

This is the first tablet PC designed for the consumer market, and its underlying hardware—which in our review unit included AMD’s best mobile CPU—delivered plenty of horsepower for this machine’s touch-screen elements. Benchmark performance, on the other hand, was dismal (more on that later).

You can use the TouchSmart tx2 as a conventional notebook PC or rotate its 12.1-inch screen 180 degrees, lay it flat, and use the machine as a tablet PC. The 1280x800 touch-screen uses active digitizing technology and supports the use of either a fingertip or a digital pen (as opposed to the simple stylus that HP shipped with its first-generation TouchSmart desktops). The digital pen delivers hover feedback (it doesn’t have to touch the screen to activate user-interface elements such as tooltips) and considerably more precision than a fingertip.

The pen is particularly useful for drawing diagrams and jotting notes, and HP’s handwriting-recognition software is nothing short of excellent. It had no problem recognizing even our sloppiest handwriting as fast as we could scribble. The vaunted multi-touch feature—which lets you manipulate objects and certain aspects of the user interface—is really only useful with HP’s very basic MediaSmart applications. That could very well change once Windows 7 hits the market, since the new OS is slated to offer native support for multi-touch screens. (This machine came with the 64-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium).

If you don’t have a work surface and don’t need to type, you can put the machine in tablet mode and cradle it one arm. But we found that our elbow and shoulder could tolerate this position for only about 20 minutes because the TouchSmart tx2 is so heavy for its size: five pounds, one ounce (with the optional eight-cell battery). Adding the power supply brings the weight up to five pounds 13 ounces. Replacing the optical drive with the non-functional “weightsaver” sheds five ounces, but renders the machine much less useful.

As you can see in the chart, the TouchSmart tx2 is abysmally slow with hard-core applications. And while the machine was nearly silent when idle or playing a movie, it sounded like a hairdryer when given a heavy load. The battery delivered two hours and 51 seconds—long enough to watch both Boogie Nights and its supplemental disc—using HP’s recommended settings (which balance battery life with performance).

We made many allowances for the performance of HP’s touch-screen desktops, with the caveat that they shouldn’t be a Maximum PC reader’s only computer. We can’t do the same for a notebook. You can buy a TouchSmart tx2 for as little as $1,000; tricking this one out with nearly every available option (faster CPU, more memory, bigger hard drive, Bluetooth, 802.11n, larger battery, etc.) pushed the price tag to $1,675.

And while we can ignore the TouchSmart tx2’s crappy gaming performance—no one buys an ultra portable to play games—we can’t ignore this machine’s other shortcomings and high price tag.

THE VERDICT

HP TouchSmart tx2

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