Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon review

The Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon portable all-in-one desktop is impressive, but it makes too many compromises for portability.
Photo of Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon

The Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon ($1,849 list) is the largest of the portable all-in-one desktop PCs that we’ve seen. Its 27-inch screen houses the notebook-class components of a Windows 8 PC, in a large semi-portable desktop system. The system’s touch screen is the centerpiece of what could’ve been a good argument for merging the portable and desktop form factors. However, the myriad concessions that Lenovo had to make to bring this PC to the market are daunting and ultimately spoil the party.

Design and Features
The IdeaCentre Horizon is so huge that it looks like a portable HDTV. The front face is dominated by the 27-inch screen, bordered by a black bezel. The edges of the IdeaCentre Horizon are coated in a soft rubber material for comfort. The back panel of the system is silver colored metal. Its dimensions run about 17 by 27.25 by 1.25 (HWD), so it’s a big sucker. You’d never in a million years consider this to be an upsized tablet, as it weighs 18.02 pounds and is merely transportable, not really portable. With that 27-inch width, you’ll need a large table or desk to rest it on. It’s gargantuan compared to the Sony VAIO Tap 20 ($999.99) and Dell XPS 18 ($1,349.99), two other portable all-in-one desktop PCs we’ve seen recently. In fact, next to the IdeaCentre Horizon, the 18-inch XPS 18 almost looks like it’s pocket sized (though it most certainly is not). The IdeaCentre Horizon can be carried around by hand, but institutional users and people who plan to move the system often should think about adding the Multimode cart as an accessory. The Multimode cart should be available in the July 2013 time frame.

There is a reason for the IdeaCentre Horizon’s size, however. It is meant to be a sharable PC. Its 27-inch diagonal, 10-point touch screen can be laid flat and can be used simultaneously by a three-person family, plus two to three more people. The system has a beefy metal arm permanently attached that is spring loaded, so it can recline from a few degrees from vertical down to a 60-degree angle comfortably. Past 60 degrees, you can lay the IdeaCentre Horizon flat, which turns the pseudo-tablet into a table PC. Once laid flat, the IdeaCentre Horizon automatically launches its Aura overlay, which covers up Windows with a sci-fi movie style interface that lets you open media like music, photos, and videos, as well as a selection of touch-optimized games. The system asks if you want to return to Windows when you tilt the screen back up.

Aura uses a puck-like controller on the screen, which opens up to show media like photos, videos, or music, depending on the type of media you select on the puck. The puck can be moved around the screen, as can the photos, video, and music tiles. The puck and daughter tiles have inertia and friction, so they keep moving for a bit if you flick them across the screen. It’s all like a science fiction movie in execution, and it works well enough. The Aura interface lets you interact with your digital life, no matter which side of the screen you’re sitting on. You can rotate and zoom into media with two-finger pinch and zoom gestures. It’s all very cool, but since most of us are used to using the PC in a traditional way, we have a feeling that the Aura interface will be trotted out once in a while to show off the PC, but hardly used at any other time.

The system comes with a handful of pre-loaded apps on the Windows 8 Start screen, including some that work fine with the screen vertical, like Accuweather, rara.com, YouCam, Kindle, and several Lenovo-branded kids apps. Within Aura, there are several touch-optimized apps like Air Hockey, Roulette, Draw Race 2, Raiding Company, Monopoly, and Texas Hold ‘Em Poker. Texas Hold ‘Em is notable for its ability to use Android phones or tablets to view your hole cards. Otherwise you’d have to view them on the screen, covering them with your hand so others can’t see your cards.

The IdeaCentre Horizon comes with several specialized controllers that work with the touch screen: a joystick that stays put via a suction cup, strikers that slide like air hockey paddles, and an electronic die (E-Dice) that works with board games like the copy of Monopoly that was installed on our review unit. The physical controllers blur the divide between the real world and the virtual world, but it remains to be seen if software developers will code their games with these controllers in mind.

The system came with a copy of BlueStacks, which lets you use Android apps on a Windows (or Mac) PC. BlueStacks kind of works, but load times are a lot longer than on your smartphone or tablet due to the emulation performance hit and the slow hard drive. Smartphone apps also have a problem when blown up to 1080p, with jaggy text and graphics elements. One tower defense game we tried was unplayable, since the app’s menu screens wouldn’t render right. If you really need to run both Android and Windows on the same system, the Asus Transformer AIO (P1801-B037K) ($1,299) is a better solution because that system is essentially a Windows PC with an Android tablet used as its screen.

The system has a wide expanse of space on the sides for I/O ports, so it’s kind of puzzling why there are only two USB 3.0 ports on the IdeaCentre Horizon, particularly because the wireless keyboard mouse combo we got in with our review unit came with a USB receiver dongle. If you’re using the keyboard and mouse, then the IdeaCentre Horizon effectively has only one USB 3.0 port. That’s puzzling because the IdeaCentre Horizon comes with Bluetooth and could’ve simply been served by a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, like the Dell XPS 18. If you simultaneously use the keyboard/mouse dongle and the USB dongle for the E-Dice, then you fill the system’s USB ports. The system comes with an HDMI-in port, which is nice if you’re going to connect the system up to your cable box or newer PC once this system becomes obsolete. The IdeaCentre Horizon comes with a SD card reader and audio ports, but that’s the limit of the system’s I/O. Speakers were fine, they sounded like a large laptop or small HDTV. The 27-inch Acer Aspire 7600U (A7600U-UR308) ($1,899) doesn’t have a built in battery, but it has HDMI in and out, two USB 3.0, four USB 2.0, audio, memory card reader, and an Ethernet port in a system that takes up just about the same amount of desk space. The IdeaCentre Horizon’s lack of ports really hurt its overall score.

Another problem with the IdeaCentre Horizon is its day-to-day performance. The combination of a huge screen and a 5,400rpm SATA drive mean that using the system with touch is a frustratingly laggy experience. When using the system in table PC mode, tiles and the puck interface in Aura sometimes render a few centimeters behind a fast dragging finger, at least until the puck catches up to your finger. Also, loading apps and documents take a lot longer than they would on a SSD-powered system like the XPS 18 or slate tablets like the Razer Edge Pro ($1,449). Taken alone, each delay is miniscule, but you’re going to quickly notice the load and lag issues pile up during a normal computing session.


Performance

The IdeaCentre Horizon shows the lag issue empirically in its benchmark tests. The IdeaCentre Horizon has an ultrabook-class Intel Core i7-3537U processor, 8GB of memory, Nvidia GeForce GT 620M graphics, and that 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive. The system was only able to manage a middling 2,737 point score at PCMark7, much slower than the SSD-equipped Dell XPS 18 (4,221 points) and the SSD cache drive + hard drive-equipped Dell XPS One 27 Touch ($2,599) (4,905). Granted, the XPS 27 Touch also has a standard-voltage desktop processor working in its favor instead of the ultrabook-class processor found in the Dell XPS 18 and IdeaCentre Horizon.
The 3D performance of the IdeaCentre Horizon is slightly better than the XPS 18, due to the Lenovo’s Nvidia GeForce GT 620M discrete graphics, but the IdeaCentre Horizon lags behind the Asus Tranformer AIO’s more powerful GeForce GT 730M graphics. As a result high-end 3D games are playable on the Asus, but not on the IdeaCentre Horizon. The IdeaCentre Horizon’s discrete graphics are better suited to video playback and casual games, situations where the Lenovo works well.

The IdeaCentre Horizon and other portable all in one desktops aren’t technically laptops nor tablet, but their built in batteries give them a modicum of around the house or around the office portability. The battery is really there so you can do things like continue to watch an online video while moving away from your home office and setting up a seat in the breakfast nook of your home. The IdeaCentre Horizon lasted 2 hours 44 minutes on our battery rundown test. This is an hour more than the Sony VAIO Tap 20 (1:48), but hours less than the Del XPS 18 (4:38). Essentially, you can move the IdeaCentre Horizon around the house, but make sure you take the AC adapter with you or have multiple adapters where you use the system.

The Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon is an intriguing experiment. It adds portability and the ability to share to the traditional all-in-one desktop form factor. However, because of the plethora of compromises it must make to become portable it can’t reach the standards set by the Editors’ Choice all-in-one desktops like the Dell XPS One 27 Touch. Though quite a bit more expensive, the XPS One 27 Touch has a higher resolution, sharable touch screen as well as a much more powerful processor and better internal components. So far, the IdeaCentre Horizon is not distinguished enough to become our first portable all-in-one desktop EC either. The system could work in the home school or formalized education markets, since it makes it easy to share information with a group, but we suspect that most schools already have smart whiteboards or projector setups that can perform the same duties. The IdeaCentre Horizon is worth a look, but unless you’re the type who collects the latest, most expensive gadgets, we’d wait to see which portable all-in-one desktop comes next and (possibly) wins the first EC.

BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS
Check out the test scores for the Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon

COMPARISON TABLE
Compare the Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon with several other desktops side by side.

More desktop reviews:

Specifications
Touchscreen Yes
Processor Family Intel Core i7
Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce GT 620M
Screen Size 27 inches
Monitor Type LCD Widescreen
RAM 8 GB
Type Mainstream, All-in-one, Touchscreen All-In-One
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 1000 GB
Operating System Microsoft Windows 8

Verdict
The Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon is a huge 27-inch all-in-one desktop that you can carry around the house. Aside from the novelty, however, there are few reasons to recommend this system over a traditional all-in-one desktop.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc