Microsoft might have put a lot of money behind the concept over the years, but tablet PCs have always struggled to capture the imagination of the public. You need a screen big enough to write on, but with big screens come heavy laptops, which isn’t ideal if you’re planning to carry it around with you all day.
This hasn’t stopped HP from attempting to breathe new life into the tablet PC, though, and the TouchSmart tx2 is, somewhat unusually for a tablet, aimed at home users as opposed to businesses. It’s powered by an AMD Turion Ultra ZM-84 processor, has 4GB of DDR2 memory and relies on an ATI Radeon 3200 card to provide the graphics.
Before we examine the ‘touch’ side of things, we’ll take a closer look at the design of the TouchSmart tx2.
HP’s certainly done a good job as far as aesthetics go, with the TouchSmart tx2 looking smart in its dark-grey livery. The left side of the chassis is home to a Lightscribe DVD burner, 34mm Expresscard slot and SD card reader.
At the back you’ll find two USB ports (these are stacked, so if you plug a large USB stick into one, it may block off the other) and a 56kbps modem. A further USB port is found on the right side, along with Gigabit LAN, VGA-out and a proprietary HP expansion port. Audio inputs/outputs and a Wifi switch are at the front.
The hinge holding the 12.1-inch display to the rest of the chassis feels robust and the swivelling motion smooth. Joining three shortcut buttons on the screen’s bezel are a fingerprint reader, webcam and two microphones. HP has sensibly equipped the TouchSmart tx2 with a decent-sized keyboard, but we’re not fans of the left Shift key, which has been reduced to nothing more than a slither. The tiny function keys also require something of a delicate touch.
In terms of raw performance, AMD’s Turion Ultra dual-core processor certainly delivers enough power for most applications. In PCmark05 it scored 3,803 points, which isn’t to be sniffed at. The Radeon 3200 graphics aren’t anything special, but they’ll be able to cope with light gaming as long as you keep resolutions down and turn off detail settings. The TouchSmart tx2 collected a score of 1,641 in 3Dmark06, which reinforces this point.
So what about this touchscreen, then? Well, the big news is that HP has included a multi-touch feature with the TouchSmart tx2, so instead of just prodding at the screen with one finger, you can use two fingers to activate a range of functions. However, the majority of these gestures can only be used within the set of HP MediaSmart applications, which includes the usual media tools such as a photo viewer, DVD player, etc.
You’re supposed to be able to load the MediaSmart launch screen by drawing an ‘M’ on the screen with two fingers, however after only managing to do this once in 10 attempts, we resorted to pushing the dedicated shortcut button on the monitor’s bezel. Aside from this, the touchscreen actually works pretty well. It doesn’t require too firm a prod and it was quick to recognise two-fingered gestures to rotate and zoom into photos.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a huge amount of gestures to play with, and only a few will work when you’re outside of the MediaSmart suite. Both IE7 and Firefox responded well to commands such as zoom in/out, but we had to resort to using the scroll bar in order to move up and down web pages.
What we’d really like is to be able to create our own gestures, for example dragging four fingers down the screen to switch the laptop off. Whether this sort of functionality will be introduced by HP at a later date remains to be seen.
If you tire of jabbing your fingers at the screen, a stylus is available and slots neatly into the right side of the notebook. Windows has some great tablet features (Vista Home Premium is installed on the tx2), such as the Windows Journal application and, thanks to the large screen, scribbling notes using the stylus is effortless.
Battery life via the four-cell battery is reasonable, and under Battery Eater’s Classic test, which runs the notebook at full steam, it kept going for just over one hour. In the Reader test, which gives an indication of maximum battery life, it managed two and a half hours. HP also includes an eight-cell battery, which achieves roughly double the life of the four-cell unit but also adds an extra 200g to the weight, tipping the scales at just over 2.2kg.
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