When the Dell XT debuted with multi-touch drivers last spring we were excited about the ability to use multiple fingers on its capacitive touch screen to rotate pictures and pinch and zoom in on Web sites. But at over $2,000 (the starting price now is about $1,800) we just couldn’t recommend it to the regular consumer. Today’s debut of the $1,299 HP TouchSmart tx2z changes the game for multi-touch tablets not only, because it’s affordable but also because it’s the first multi-touch tablet aimed at consumers. Updated (12/22/08): Our full review of the HP TouchSmart tx2z is now up. We got a detailed look at the TouchSmart tx2z and even shot an exclusive video of the multi-touch in action. Read on below to see what we think of the tablet and its touch experience. Tx2z Design The Tx2z will live alongside HP’s Pavilion tx2500 tablet and the two look like they could be brother and sister. Measuring 12.05 x 8.82 x 1.23 -inches, the Tx2z isn’t only similar in size but it sports the same chassis as the tx2500 with the same rounded edges, port placement and a durable 180 degree hinge. However, it wears slightly different clothes; instead of the “Echo” Imprint finish on the tx2500, the tx2′s lid sports a newer more flowy Radiance Imprint finish. The model we looked at was adorned in bronze and gold. We were happy to see that they keyboard has also gone unchanged and that the keys are full size and have a nice coating that make them comfortable and smooth. HP also continued its use of the unique inverted nub design on its touchpad, which provides precise cursor control. The separate column of nubs on the right is great for scrolling.
Touch Experience But it was our hope that we wouldn’t need to rely on the touch pad all that often and that our fingers could do the navigating on the12-inch, 1280 x 800-resolution capacitive touch screen. Like we saw with the capacitive screen on the Dell XT (that utilizes the same N-Trig drivers as the HP tx2z), tapping your finger lightly works very well. Unlike other tablets that require a firmer press, we were moving through the Vista Start menu and windows with just simple, soft taps. HP has built in some pretty neat tricks to take advantage of the screen’s mutli-touch capabilities. As you will see in the video, double tapping the screen and then drawing the letter M, brings up the multimedia touch panel, which includes shortcuts to your pictures, music and more. The menu is pretty neat, especially how you access it, but we were hoping for a more compelling graphical user interface, like that on the TouchSmart PC along with some more applications. We tested out the multi-touch gestures in Microsoft’s Photo Gallery. Pinching in on one of the preloaded Vista images was smooth and panning with just a finger was precise. As we saw with the Dell XT, rotating images took a bit of practice. It is best done by planting one finger on the screen and using another to pivot the image with a circular motion. We also were able to do some zooming in Internet Explorer even though the Wi-Fi connection was spotty. Zooming in on Web sites was quick and flicking the pages up and down worked for scrolling. Using your finger(s) in the applications mentioned above is the best bet for now or at least until HP rolls out an API for developing software for the touch laptop. Pen Experience Those demanding a pen experience still get it with the included stylus that pops out the right edge of the system. As soon as the pen hits the screen, it senses the input and immediately turns off the finger input and enables palm rejection. Writing in Microsoft Works was fluid and the Tablet PC Input panel recognized our somewhat messy handwriting and converted it into digital text. Early Verdict Since the debut of the Apple iPhone, people have wanted to control displays with touch their fingers to control their technology (Updated: Thanks Wired, though we did use our toes before the iPhone). Touch phones and touch cameras are all the rage, but can you navigate your laptop in the same way yet? Unlike with the iPhone, there is a learning curve when using the HP TouchSmart tx2z and, until additional applications are written for the platform, the functionality is limited. Nevertheless, consumers who are looking for advanced tablet functionality in a very mobile form factor and want to sit back and use their fingers to navigate the Web will be more than satisfied with the HP TouchSmart tx2z.