Is it just us or do all-in-ones seem to be having a moment? Over the past two months, we've seen Toshiba make a belated jump into the market, while Lenovo went and added one to its family of Think-branded laptops and desktops. And that's not even counting models by old-timers like Apple, Dell, and MSI. And then there's HP, which has been making touchscreen all-in-ones for three years -- long before they were a thing. The company's had plenty of time to fine-tune its finger-friendly TouchSmart software, and now, its newest model, the TouchSmart 610 ($899 and up), ushers in a fresh design, highlighted by a hinge that allows the display to slide down and lie nearly flat. Although it's been shipping since this spring, it's only been available with Sandy Bridge for about a month now. We took one of these tricked-out beasts into our living room and got reacquainted with the comforts of not-so-mobile computing. At the risk of spoiling everything, we think this should be on your shortlist if you're considering an all-in-one, especially one with a big 'ol touchscreen. Read on to find out why.
Gallery | 22 Photos

HP TouchSmart 610


Look and feel


The slimmest all-in-one this is not. Compared to the 2.5-inch-thin Lenovo ThinkCentre 91z, which actually makes that claim, it's 4.1-inch thick shell is chunky, though no more so than a small television. It's also thicker than the 27-inch iMac, which also measures 2.5 inches thick at its widest point. But the 610 redeems itself with a profile that's more shell-shaped than boxy, and a fine speaker grille discreetly lining the bottom of the bezel. Like a TV, it'll blend in well in your living room, which -- let's face it -- is where you're likely to stick this thing anyway. All told, it's not-too-modern design could be a good thing: the 610's design might be safe, but it will also call less attention to itself than the 91z, whose anorexic panel borders on avant-garde. And for what it's worth, the 610 hardly took over our modest urban apartment, which has a combined eating-living room area. Those of you lucky enough not to live in a studio should have no trouble finding room for it.

Fortunately, HP didn't take too much inspiration from the other consumer electronics populating your den. The company's design team blessedly kept the bezel and front surfaces matte and fingerprint-free. The sides are lined in plastic, but this bothered us a lot less than we would have guessed -- partly because of the subdued gunmetal color, and partly because the paneling isn't even that reflective. Alas, the pedestal and hinge 'round the back have a glossy piano black finish that will demand dusting. Although HP comes dangerously close to using too much shiny stuff, it keeps these materials low-key enough that the overall design looks handsome, even if it's not exactly premium.

And, to be fair, part of why the 610 takes up so much more space is that it needs a formidable hinge to allow it to tilt the way it does. The 610 has a mechanism that allows you to slide it down so that the display is lying almost face-up and at an almost-flat 60-degree angle, a position HP is dubbing Recline Mode. When you think that this is as likely to be a central media hub as a primary computer, it's convenient to be able to walk by it and tap the screen without having to sit down in front of it. And, as an HP rep noted, children might find it easier to interact with the screen this way, though admittedly, we don't have any little ones around who could have tested this claim.




As for build quality, the hinge is durable enough to withstand all that maneuvering. The PC doesn't make any noise as you slide it up and and down, and the rig is rigid enough that you can push the display down using one hand. Lifting it back up, of course, requires two.

HP stuffed a lot of ports into the 610's 23.0 x 17.7 x 4.1-inch body and clearly had to set some priorities in terms of which ones would be easy to reach. On one side, you'll find a large volume rocker, mute button, 6-in-1 memory card slot, two USB 2.0 ports, and headphone and mic jacks. On the opposite side, there's a Blu-ray drive (also with a large button), and a power button that glows blue.

We're not done yet. The 610's also home to two more USB 2.0 ports, dual USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI-in socket, an Ethernet jack, a PCIe slot, and two MiniCard sockets. But these are all tucked in the back of the machine, and are covered by a drop-down latch door. Happily, even if you've got a cable plugged in, you can snap the flap shut, so that it won't hang open awkwardly. As a final flourish, on the back of the chassis, right behind the megapixel webcam, you'll find a wheel that you can use to adjust the angle of the camera.


Keyboard and mouse

In conversations with HP, the company said it envisions the 610 as a repository for digital content, particularly in mature markets like the US where people tend to enter and leave the home with mobile devices in tow. In other words, your main computer might not be an all-in-one, but a laptop. If the perfunctory keyboard is any indication, HP is assuming that's the case.

Everything about the keyboard is flat: the panel, save for a slight wedge, and even the tops of the keys themselves. We were able to type comfortably enough in short bursts, but we can see where this wouldn't be ergonomically sound enough for us to pound out news posts for eight hours straight. In that respect, we really admire what Lenovo's done with the 91z. Granted, we've only got a few minutes' hands-on time, but we were struck by how similar the sculpted chiclet keys felt to the ones you'd find on an Edge laptop or the ThinkPad X1. (And if you've ever typed on a ThinkPad, you know that's a wonderful thing.) With the 610, the keyboard feels like more of an afterthought.



On the flip side, the bundled mouse is a delight -- amply sized with a clickable scroll wheel and contoured shape that's easy to grip. And we were able to use it every surface around us, including a glass tabletop, wooden desk, granite counters, a rug, and our fabric couch. It would seem to be a big improvement over the mouse Lenovo is throwing in with the 91z -- a travel-sized number that felt too small for even our hands. In short, if we could combine the 610's mouse with the 91z's keyboard, we'd be happy campers.

Oh, and remember how we said this all-in-one reminded us of a small TV? Well, lest you needed more evidence, the system comes with a full-sized remote control, replete with dedicated buttons for photos, music, videos, radio, and even visualization. It also has a full number pad, and various guide keys, all of which makes it virtually indistinguishable from the remote that came with your cable box. We found that navigating through TouchSmart menus using the arrow buttons was a no-brainer, though we were disappointed to find that when we pressed "Pictures" and other launch keys, the computer opened Windows Media Center instead of HP's TouchSmart software.


Display

It's gorgeous, friends. The 23-inch (1920 x 1080) panel offers a bright, vibrant smorgasboard of colors. Despite its glossy finish, the viewing angles from the side are pretty good -- when the display is sitting upright, anyway. After sliding the screen down, we had a harder time watching from the side (see the gallery above to see what we're talking about). If you look at the screen head-on with the panel pushed down, you'll notice the colors will look a touch washed-out, but you won't actually have a problem keeping up with what's happening onscreen.


Sound

As you'd expect, the TouchSmart also comes equipped with Beats Audio, which HP and Dr. Dre have been promoting up and down the company's line of netbooks, laptops, and desktops. As promised, the sound is rich, with deep low notes. Really, though, we need to tell you about the volume. We actually cringed when we cranked it to the max -- the speakers are just that loud. And while we're usually content to leave a computer's volume at about the median setting, in this case we pushed it down lower, to about a third of its capacity.


Performance and graphics

Our $1,459.99 test unit came stocked with a desktop-grade, quad-core 3.4GHz Core i7-2600 CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 1.5TB 5400RPM hard drive, Blu-ray drive, TV tuner, and NVIDIA GeForce GT 425M graphics with 2GB of video memory. All of that juice was enough to help us juggle our usual array of tasks with aplomb. We were able to jump among various tabs in Chrome, perform triage on our Gmail inbox, stream music through Grooveshark, download the very benchmarks you see listed below, and work on stories in Engadget's content management system. The system booted in one minute and seven seconds, which isn't exactly stellar for a Windows machine, especially one as generously spec'd as this. Still, it's far from pitiful. We also attempted to slow the system down by batch editing two dozen photos, sending them through three filters while running a first-time full system scan in Norton Internet Security, but to no avail: the 610 spat out the touched-up photos in seconds.



Whether or not you'll be sated with gaming on the 610 depends on how low of a resolution you're willing to settle for. NVIDIA will be the first to admit that the 425M is a mid-range card for multimedia machines, and not hard-core gamers. Playing Call of Duty 4 at the default 1024 x 768 resolution, we saw frame rates range from 59 to 146 frames per second (as measured by Fraps), with the numbers skyrocketing when we pointed our character's gun toward an empty sky and fired away. Crank the resolution to 1080p, though, and you'll find that the frame rates hover around 39 fps, occasionally sinking as low as 19 fps. Just to see how high we could get those numbers, we once again pointed our gun at the sky and opened fire. Even then, we maxed out at 67 fps.

As for benchmarks, we'll be the first to admit that our database of scores for desktops isn't nearly as fleshed-out as the one we keep for laptops. Still, if Geekbench can give you at least the basic gist, you'll see that this $1,460 TouchSmart 610 bested the $2,000 21.5-inch iMac's score by about 500 points, even though they pack similar processors. Also remember that though this high-end 610 configuration costs more than $500 less, it still crams in twice the RAM, which likely made a difference in this test. That particular iMac had AMD Radeon 6970M graphics with 1GB of video memory, not two, and a faster 7200RPM hard drive.


PCMark Vantage Geekbench 3DMark06 3DMark11
HP TouchSmart 610 (3.4GHz Core-7-2600) 9,977 8,982 7,168 X264
iMac (spring 2011) (3.4GHz Core i7-2600K) N/A 8,465 N/A N/A
MSI Wind Top AE2420 3D all-in-one (2.53GHz Core i7-860S) 7,318 N/A 7,714 X347
Notes: the higher the score the better.

Software

Gallery | 18 Photos

TouchSmart 4.0


And now, the moment you've been waiting for. The part where we talk about just what you can do with that expansive touchscreen. This is the fourth generation of HP's TouchSmart software, and it's been shipping on other products since last fall. By now, HP's beefed up its offering so that it includes Facebook and Twitter apps, Netflix, a browser, a recipe manager and note -taking / shopping list app, Hulu, live television (via Windows Media Center), eBay, weather, and, of course, dedicated apps for photos, music, and videos, among others. There's also the Apps Center, where you can download a handful of additional ones, including an app by Marvel Comics. Conveniently, you'll find all of these apps dumped in an intuitive carousel lining the bottom of the screen, leaving plenty of empty space above for post-it notes and open windows for the browser and those apps.

These so-called apps are, for all intents and purposes, widgets. Note that to use TouchSmart, you have to open it as you would any other program, and when you do, it runs in a full-screen window that you can't resize. Having more space for touch apps is nice, though it also means you can't drift between these apps and keyboard-and-mouse ones as spontaneously as you might like. Still, if you are, indeed, planning on leaving this parked in the kitchen, you might end up using the touch apps most of the time anyway, since it won't be in a location where people can conveniently use it as their primary computer.

This is a good time to confirm that the touchscreen is responsive, reacting speedily and precisely to taps, swipes, and other gestures. And though we particularly appreciated some of the apps, such as the Tweetdeck-esque Twitter one, a few of the others felt half-baked. Take the recipe manager -- it's not nearly obvious enough how you can go about adding your own to the handful that come pre-loaded. The calendar app also has lots of promise, but we wish it could pull in appointments from our Google Cal. Additionally, the touch-enabled browser lacks a scroll bar, meaning the only way to move through webpages is to swipe the screen with your fingers. We know, we know -- the software is called TouchSmart for a reason. But you can already use your physical keyboard to type URLs, sticky notes, and other text, so it feels unintuitive that you can't still reach for a mouse to scroll in the browser.


All told, HP has come a long way with its TouchSmart software, though there is undoubtedly still room for it to beef up the selection -- not to mention, make the quality and usefulness of the apps uniformly good. It just so happens, though , that the TouchSmart 610 is an excellent Windows computer, so even if you don't plan on using this feature 24 / 7, you might still think of it as a pleasant add-on separating it from the pack.

On the multimedia front, HP also included its own LinkUp software, which allows you to wirelessly share media with other PCs running on the same WiFi network. Since these computers all have to have LinkUp installed, you'd better be prepared for a one-time chore. Other than that, as far as bloatware goes, you won't find much extra software other than the (admittedly large) array of HP-branded utilities. These additional apps include Bing Bar, LabelPrint, Power2Go, Microsoft 2010, and Norton Internet Security.

Configuration Options

The 610z starts at $900 with 2.5-GHz quad-core AMD Athlon X4 615e processor, while the Intel-based 610t starts at $950 for a dual-core 3.06Hz Core i3-540 CPU. Either way, they come with 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive, though as of this writing, at least, HP was offering promotional upgrades to 6GB of RAM. Both models also get promotional hard drive upgrades, though the AMD-based one gets a boost to a 1TB 7200RPM drive, while the Intel-based model gets a 750GB 7200RPM number.


But wait, there's more. If you want a quad-core processor and a two-year warranty, you can choose from either the 610xt ($1,050 and up) or the 610 Quad Edition (starting at $1,370). Starting with the base-model 610xt, you'll get a Core i5-2300 CPU, integrated Intel HD graphics, a promotional 6GB of RAM (up from 4GB), and a 1.5TB 5,400RPM drive (another "free upgrade" over 750GB). The Quad Edition, meanwhile, starts with a Core i7-2600 CPU, AMD Radeon HD 6450A graphics with 1GB of video memory, a TV tuner, and promotional upgrades to 8GB of RAM and a 1.5TB 5,400RPM drive, up from 6GB of RAM and 750GB of storage space.

Whichever model you choose, you can add a TV tuner and a 7200RPM hard drive topping out at 2TB of storage, or opt for graphics cards that include an AMD Radeon HD 5570 or 6550A (1GB or 2GB of video memory) and NVIDIA's GeForce 425M (1GB or 2GB).

The competition

We don't have to tell you you'll pay more for either a 21.5- or 27-inch iMac, which start at $1,199 and $1,699, respectively. We can see where the iMac's sexier aluminum design would help boost the price, but it's harder to forgive the gap in specs you get for the money, particularly since the TouchSmart 610 is, too, a solidly built machine. Even if you opted for the entry-level 21.5-inch iMac, you'd get a 500GB (7200RPM) hard drive, 4GB of RAM, 512MB graphics memory, just four USB 2.0 ports, and -- surprise, surprise -- no USB 3.0 or HDMI output. (You would get a Thunderbolt part -- two if you chose the 27-incher.)

The 610 also holds its own at the low end. It's true, this is hardly the only Windows-based all-in-one that starts at a reasonable price. Gateway's 23-inch ZX series starts at $1,000 with either a Core i3-550 or Core i5-650 CPU, while a 21-inch version starts at $599 -- with a Pentium E5800 processor inside, mind you. Toshiba's 21.5-inch DX1215 starts at $930 with Core i5. Some -- including the DX1215, to name one example -- match the 610 in the storage and ports department. Others, such as Gateway's HDMI- and USB 3.0-less ZX series, do not.

We could go on, but you get the idea. The TouchSmart 610's starting price is fair, but not extraordinary. But even if you opted for a lower-end configuration, you'd still be getting something most others can't offer: a slick package of touch apps -- albeit, one that still leaves plenty of room for growth. And while some of you might prefer the slimmer stylings of, say, Lenovo's 91z, we think the 610's design is innovative, practical, and mostly well-executed.

Wrap-up

There's a lot to like about the HP TouchSmart 610: it's fast, has a fresh, useful design, a gorgeous 1080p panel, and it offers more bang-for-your-buck than many of its competitors -- even the skinnier, sexier ones. And we stand by that even if you don't end up making much use of all those touch apps. It just so happens that we set it up in our living room / home office, where we're inclined to get real work done. But some of you might default to the touch UI -- if you place this thing in, say, the kitchen, where it would be less convenient to use as a primary computer.

All in all, if you're inclined to stick to a budget, think you'd actually use the touchscreen, or are just a Windows kind of person, you'd be hard-pressed to find something with a better value proposition -- unless it's a slimmer, more modern profile you're after. And yes, we suspect you can get an excellent user experience even if you don't spring for the tricked-out configuration we tested. That said, we also still highly recommend the iMac, which has a more striking aesthetic. But as we said in our review, we particularly suggest it for power users, creative professionals, and people who just prefer Macs. If that's not you, we'd more than empathize if you went with the less expensive, comparably powerful, extra port-packing 610.
HP

HP TouchSmart 610

Pros

  • Gorgeous 1080p touchscreen
  • Innovative and useful sliding hinge design
  • Great performance and specs for the price

Cons

  • Design has a few chintzy bits
  • Takes up more space than competing models
  • The keyboard isn't our favorite
Summary