Zorro Macsk review: instantly add touchscreen functionality to your 21.5-inch iMac

Over the years we've come across a few signs that pointed to the possibility of touchscreen-enabled iMacs, but Steve Jobs had already dismissed this as a possibility for current Mac form factors. Quoting the man at the "Back to the Mac" keynote from two years ago: "It gives great demo, but after a while your arm feels like it's going to fall off. Touch surfaces want to be horizontal."

So perhaps our fantasy's still stuck in the "research project" phase.

Luckily, the more adventurous touchscreen lovers can look to third-party solutions. For MacBooks you have Axiotron's Modbook, except you lose the keyboard and you can't perform the modification yourself. As for iMacs and Cinema Displays, we've been following Troll Touch for its resistive touchscreen replacement panels, but they aren't exactly affordable and most of them have to be installed by the company. Even its user-installable SlipCover series starts from $899, anyway.

This leaves us with the Zorro Macsk, a cheekily named iMac accessory hailing from TMDtouch of Shenzhen, China. The 21.5-inch model is priced at just $199 on Amazon with no modifications required. Plus, it supports multitouch -- a glaring omission from Troll Touch's Mac lineup. So is this truly a bargain? Or is it just a case of "you get what you pay for?" Follow past the break to see how we got on with the Zorro Macsk.%Gallery-165013%

Hardware and installation

Given the massive price difference from its main competitor, it's no surprise that the Zorro Macsk works in a very different manner: instead of using a pressure-sensitive, resistive overlay, what we have here is a light plastic-and-metal frame bearing several infrared transmitters around its 4.6mm-thick inner side. All told, it's very much like what you get on many touchscreen-enabled all-in-ones these days (especially HP's). Oh, and there's no extra sheet of glass or plastic within the canvas, so the picture quality isn't affected, and you're still touching solid glass. That said, the Zorro Macsk does come bundled with a good quality protective film should you wish to use one. The package also includes a metallic stylus with a soft rubber head, and rather conveniently, it's compatible with capacitive touchscreens as well. But is a stylus practical on a near-vertical display? We're not so sure.

TMDtouch lists a selection of seven colors on its website: black, silver, white, pink, blue, green and a "classic" silver-and-black combo, reminiscent of the current-gen iMac. As you can see, the model we received was the black one with a soft matte finish, and it actually looked pretty nice on our machine, though we suspect many would prefer the "classic" version for the sake of authenticity. Installation is simply a matter of hanging the frame over the front of the iMac (the built-in magnets help lock it in position), plugging in the short USB cable located near the iMac's USB ports and waiting for about 15 seconds. No additional software is required, but TMDtouch told us that the firmware can be upgraded for future performance tweaks.

Zorro Macsk review instantly add touchscreen functionality to your 215inch iMac

The Zorro Macsk is designed in such a way that it doesn't block any of the Mac's holes and ports. For instance, the outer sleeve stops just before the microphone on the top side of the iMac, which consequently leaves a fair bit of space before the optical drive and SD card slots on the right. There's also an opening for the webcam plus its LED indicator, and again, there's no glass or plastic here to affect the webcam's optical performance. One feedback that we'd like to offer here is that while our Zorro Macsk had a snug fit overall, the middle part of its bottom edge -- just below the circular transparent piece of plastic for the iMac's infrared receiver -- bent away from the iMac, but this didn't affect the inner frame's shape or the performance.

Performance and experience

You can't go wrong for $199, especially when the company is committed to providing firmware upgrades.

While the Zorro Macsk was developed with Lion in mind, the 21.5-inch iMac which we used to test the Zorro Macsk was originally running OS X Snow Leopard (10.6). Still, we couldn't help but blurt out, "This is awesome" as soon as we started tapping random objects on the screen. In principal, most of the basic gestures worked fine -- even right-click could be toggled by holding down a finger for about two seconds. We also appreciated how the inner frame gave just enough space for our fingers to comfortably reach the very last pixels in all four corners. However, from time to time we would struggle to tap the right targets, but the real culprit here is likely the fact that OS X's UI is not optimized for touch input; therefore it's all too easy to miss the small buttons. This became less of a problem once we got the hang of it.

Sadly, we can't say the same for double tapping. It seemed that no matter how much time our index finger spent cozying up to the Zorro Macsk, we still couldn't master the specific tapping speed that this peripheral preferred. Moving into multitouch territory, two-finger scrolling worked like a charm, whereas pinch-to-zoom and rotations were slightly trickier -- these two showed noticeable lag (the spec sheet lists a response time of under 16ms), and it was even more frustrating when the system mixed up these inputs while we were trying to pinch-to-zoom in Preview and Safari. With rotation, too, the system often overshot, in the sense that the image would rotate by 180 degrees when we only needed it to move 90. We don't doubt that a firmware upgrade can easily fix these quirks, but that's not going to be of much help for our tired arms.

Now, like many geeks, we tend to avoid the user manual unless we're really struggling, but it's a good thing we did flip through the packet included here: it turns out that this device also supports gestures with three fingers and more, many of which are found on the iPad since iOS 4.3 beta. Clearly, we had to upgrade our iMac to try these out, but since we're now in the Mountain Lion era, the Mac App Store gave us no option but to jump straight to the latest OS version.

Alas, the new cat didn't scare away the aforementioned issues, and only a few of the additional gestures worked, namely: minimizing and maximizing windows with a vertical three-finger swipe (though the minimizing gesture wasn't very responsive); switching desktops by horizontally swiping one hand; toggling Exposé by swiping one hand down; and quitting an app by swiping both hands down. For the sake of the engineers at TMDtouch, here are the gestures on the fail list: swiping up to toggle Mission Control; pinching or spreading five fingers to toggle Launchpad or desktop; swiping up both hands to toggle desktop; and horizontally swiping both hands to zoom in and out of the screen. And in case you're wondering, even if you lay the iMac down flat, typing with the on-screen keyboard (System Preferences lets you enable a keyboard viewer shortcut on the menu bar) is simply asking for trouble, as the Zorro Macsk registers inputs even if your fingers are hovering just above the glass.

While our iMac didn't have Windows installed, TMDtouch promises compatibility for Windows XP all the way up to Windows 8. We doubt there'd be any issues with the Zorro Macsk in XP since the OS doesn't support multitouch; and likewise with Windows 7 and Windows 8 since you'd only get the basic multitouch gestures like pinch-to-zoom and rotation. Chances are that the peripheral's slight response lag with multitouch would be the only problem when running Windows, but again, this might be repairable.


Zorro Macsk review instantly add touchscreen functionality to your 215inch iMac

Despite the bugs and missing gestures, we still see huge potential in TMDtouch's Zorro Macsk: you can't go wrong for $199 when you compare this with alternative solutions, especially when the company is committed to providing firmware upgrades. And if all goes well, the Chinese startup will also launch a 27-inch version very soon, but that might depend on how many people actually want this peripheral. For instance, artists and designers will probably stick with pressure-sensitive drawing tablets, though we can imagine shops and hotels installing Zorro Macsks onto their iMacs to, you know, enhance the customer experience. Nevertheless, this is still a relatively affordable and easy way to add a lot of fun to the iMac, especially for kids -- just imagine touch-enabled Angry Birds or World of Goo on that large display!