Blimey, the original TouchSmart IQ770 was ugly, wasn't it? We didn't think so at the time, but we came to that sudden realisation when HP sent us its brand-spanking new IQ500-series. It has a bigger screen -- 22 inches instead of 19 -- has a better spec, and sports the same touch-sensitive panel that intrigued us about the original. It's on sale now direct from HP for £1,099. But is it worth buying? Let's take a closer look.
The new TouchSmart gets a big thumbs-up from us -- particularly in the looks department. Gone is the awkward multi-hinged weirdness of the original. Instead, we get a minimalist, TV-esque chassis with a flip-down stand that allows it to be tilted by about 40 degrees. There are clues to its PC heritage, such as the Perspex legs on the bottom and the HP logo on the speaker grille below the screen, but the IQ500 series should fit the décor of just about any room.
All-in-one PCs tend to be really fat in profile, and while the TouchSmart IQ500 isn't size-zero material, it's not so bad, really. The sides taper gently from bottom to top section, in a sort of vertical wedge -- an old trick designers use to feign skinniness. There's still a fat bit jutting out from behind the screen -- where all the PC parts are stashed -- but we'll let that slide.
HP's done well to mask the input-outport ports on the TouchSmart IQ500. Its main trick has been to limit the number of ports on display. On the left, you'll find two USB ports plus mic and headphone audio jacks, and another interesting addition -- a light switch. Hit that and it activates a downward-facing LED that can be used to illuminate the keyboard, or to set a nice ambient mood in the evening.
The right side of the PC is home to a slot-loading DVD drive, volume controls, a memory card reader and a four-pin FireWire port. More ports can be found at the rear of the system, hidden behind a flap. There are three additional USB ports, Ethernet, an RCA S/PDIF port, an audio-out port, an RF aerial socket, S-Video port and audio in.
The TouchSmart was never intended to be a hyper-quick PC, but it does have a fairly solid foundation. HP's given the nod to an Intel T5850 Core 2 Duo CPU running at 2.17GHz, and a whopping 4GB of RAM -- which on paper sounds better than the 1.6GHz AMD and 2GB of RAM in the original. Unfortunately, as with all PCs using a 32-bit operating system (Windows Vista Home Premium here), the most the TouchSmart can address is in the region of 3.12GB, which is rather a waste.
All-in-one PCS are rarely good at pushing polygons, and the TouchSmart IQ500 is no exception. Its Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS card is quick enough to run high-definition movies, and even the odd game at low detail settings, but it's the sort of thing you might expect to find in a mid-range laptop, not a hyper-quick gaming machine.
The aforementioned 22-inch touch-sensitive display is the PC's biggest talking point. The first thing you'll notice about it, once you get it out of the box, is how glossy and reflective it is. That's not a good thing if you're using the IQ500 in a room with sunlight streaming in, as you won't be able to see anything on the screen but your own face. That glossy coating does improve the perceived contrast levels, however, and it makes colours look extremely vibrant. It's really rather good in rooms with diffuse lighting.
Like its predecessor, the IQ500 gets its touch capabilities from a set of LEDs around the screen, which detect the movement of a user's fingers. The system works well, and even incorporates multi-touch, but it's very tricky to point at small icons. Closing dialogue boxes by touching the 'X' at the top right of a window is difficult enough, not to mention the petite icons in the system tray next to the on-screen clock.