Review: HP TouchSmart IQ506

Word on the street is living rooms and kitchens are the next hotspots for PCs. The problem is that no one has perfected the recipe. HP garnered some fanfare a year ago with its flagship kitchen computer, the TouchSmart IQ770. Since then all-in-one contenders like the Dell One and iMac have risen to power. So, here’s the question: Does HP’s newest TouchSmart still rule the roost?

The short answer is, “no.” But in all fairness, HP gave the new IQ506 an honest try.

The biggest (and most impressive) improvement is the IQ506’s face lift. That space eating base attached to last year’s model? Gone. HP went for a counter top friendly design by packing all the components into the IQ506’s brilliant 22-inch, touch sensitive display. A quick tour reveals the new slot loading DVD-RW drive on the right side of the display, while the video and USB ports are located in a hidden compartment on the left. As a whole, this makes for a much more streamlined and clutter-free presentation compared to its predecessor. For non-touch navigation, HP has included a stylishly understated wireless keyboard, an optical mouse, and a Media Center remote. But let’s cut to the chase — the TouchSmart line is about flinging your applications around via the unit’s touchscreen.

…and that’s where things start to take a dive.

The problem isn’t the functionality of the interface — it’s the lack of cohesion. We’ll get to those details in a minute. In terms of general ease and responsiveness, the IQ506’s touchscreen does a marginally good job. Common maneuvers like double taps and click-and-drag highlighting can be pulled off with minimal hassle. Even problem areas like corners were accessible with relatively effortless finger pokes. But does the experience rival other touch-based consumer devices — say, like the iPhone? Hardly. Yes we know we’re comparing a touchscreen phone with a touch compatible computer but bear with us here. The IQ506 definitely offers more landscape to paw, but even with its pokey 2.16GHz Intel Core2 Duo, 4GBs of RAM, and an nVidia 9300M GPU, this rig can’t match the liquid smooth scrolling of Cupertino’s wunderkind.

And there were awkward software issues a-plenty. Since the system runs on Vista, the TouchSmart dashboard is constrained by the OS’s multi-touchless limitations. So, save for a pinch/zoom gesture, all the image-rotating fun we were expecting was largely non-existent. In its defense, the dashboard works well for the handful of household tasks it was designed for. Using the handwriting recognition tool for leaving notes, creating calendar reminders, and a host of other ‘bulletin board’ tasks were a cinch. However, after just an hour of poking around we found a huge usability blunder. Even though you can incorporate non-dashboard programs like Firefox into the interface, opening these applications kicks you back out to the Vista desktop.

It’s hard to say whether this damns the IQ506 entirely. On one hand, the system is a great value when one compares the sticker price to the components. Still, it’s disconcerting that a $1,500 computer lacks the flair and usability of a relatively inexpensive device like the iPhone. In the end, these cracks at the seams prevent the IQ506 from being a truly innovative and timely device. We’ve got our fingers crossed for next year’s model.

  • RAM Size: 4GB (2 GB x 2GB)
  • Clock Rate: 2.16GHz
  • Hard Drive Size: 500GB
  • Screen Size: 22 inches (diagonal)
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