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 Touch
Smart 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.
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).
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.
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.