Dell SX2210T versus HP L2105tmSee all photos
Since the two monitors use the exact same optical multitouch technology, what we hope to achieve here will be somewhat unorthodox. On the one hand, we'll use both to try and determine whether multitouch is worth it, and on the other, we'll pit them against each other in order to find out whose execution of the hardware around the multitouch interface is better. We've broken things down for you by category, assigning a winner for each, though quite naturally you can always hurry along to the wrap-up where we'll dish our opinion on the all-important and heavily pressing questions set out above. So let's dive in already.
So, the headline feature. The sinker or swimmer, the riser or faller, the coup de grace or the graceless cretin. The optical part of this multitouch display explains the way it functions -- a CMOS sensor, or tiny camera to the rest of us, is located in each of the top corners of the monitor panel, and the user's attempts at interfacing through touch are merely the two-dimensional mapping of his finger(s) in the space immediately in front of the screen. The good thing about this is that you don't have to touch the screen itself to get it to register your finger inputs, the bad thing about it is that you get no feedback or response when, inevitably, you do touch the screen. Additionally, you're pretty much forbidden from hovering over icons with your finger, because if it strays too close, the cameras might pick it up and register a click where you did not intend one.
Overall, this force-field approach to gathering input data is unintuitive to use, but with some acclimation time you can make it work. The major issue for us is that when a person, particularly a modern touchscreen smartphone-bred one, sees a big screen that invites "touch," his mental acuities are focused on physical contact and it's irksome to have so much touching going on with so little direct feedback.
What we can conclude is that the stalwart keyboard and mouse aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Multitouch, whether on laptops or desktops, remains a pale shadow of its input elders, particularly when compared in terms of responsiveness, ease and logicality of use, and celerity of feedback. Which is not to say it doesn't have a role to play in the future of personal computers. While we cannot see it replacing the traditional tools of the trade, we can certainly envisage scenarios where a touchscreen would complement them rather nicely. There's no law that says you have to use either a monitor's touchscreen capacities or the old school combo, and we'd say having the full set of options is no bad thing. Another positive, if digressive, conclusion to draw from our time is that yes, a netbook (Lenovo S10-2) can drive a 1920 x 1080 resolution pretty nicely, and even power through multitouch zooming, so long as it's used with patience and understanding.
Unboxing and setup
You'd be lying to yourself if you said you didn't care about how a monitor looks. Frankly, with so much convergence around similar standards and resolutions, the one true distinguishing factor between monitors nowadays is exactly how they look. In terms of design and appearance, the Dell wins in a landslide. We particularly like the tapering transition on the side of the monitor between its dark front and creamy white back panel -- its sumptuous curvature makes the whole monitor seems slimmer than it really is, and grants it the sort of elegance that gets people commenting with approval. We should know, the few outsiders passing through the Engadget mansion noted the Dell's pretty exterior without fail. HP, on the other hand, appears somewhat confused about what it wants to achieve. The angular straight lines and bulky swiveling stand make allusions toward the serious, buttoned-up, and professional user, which are all but destroyed by the extra-glossy display. We still don't know what focus group decided that the consumer end of the market prefers its electronics in super-shiny glossy flavor, but there's certainly a clash of styles on the HP which even in the absence of the prettier Dell would be somewhat jarring and unappealing.
Draw. The Dell's on-screen configuration menu is controlled by four side-mounted buttons which are helpfully accompanied by explicatory icons alongside each one so that you never have to wonder or guess what each button press will do. The HP moves these keys to the middle of the panel, which we found harder to access, although we appreciate that such a design is ambidextrous whereas Dell's is only convenient for right-handers. HP's big advantage on paper is in its stand, which swivels left and right, and also seems to have a greater vertical tilt range than Dell's. The benefit of this is debatable though, as in order to turn the monitor laterally, you have to hold the base down with your other hand, which essentially requires just as much effort as rotating the base itself. HP also throws in a set of speakers on its panel, which we found clear, but also pretty quiet even on their maximum setting. Certainly nothing to rely on in the long term, but a helpful extra if you're in a pinch. Dell's retaliation is in the form of a plenty useful webcam with stereo microphones around it, and an integrated USB hub.
Little details such as the above, getting the monitor's center of gravity just right, and ensuring a smooth and unerring exterior, are why we developed a strong preference for the Dell over the HP. Don't get us wrong, the HP aims at a broader audience with its added speakers, stylus, tilting and swiveling stand, and more universal OSD controls, but we just can't look past the fact that Dell gets right the things we care about. If you're a lefty, or someone who must have integrated speakers with his multitouch, perhaps HP fits the bill better. Our impression is that we thoroughly enjoyed using the Dell, whereas the HP was merely satisfactory.
On the multitouch front, regrettably little has changed over the past nine months. It's still a gimmick of sorts, and getting accustomed to the idiosyncrasies of the optical interface hardly seems worth the effort given the marginal advantages you can derive from it. Still, in some niche circumstances, such as running a HTPC of some flavor, we can definitely see why you might prefer ditching the keyboard and mouse, and in those cases -- aside from minor niggles and the odd unregistered tap -- you'll probably be quite happy you did it. It also functions as a pleasant occasional complement to regular old button mashing, but we reckon we'll be sticking with our tired but trusty board-based and rodent-inspired peripherals for now.