HP’s TouchSmart tx2z isn’t the first notebook to offer iPhone-esque multi-touch functionality (that would be the Dell Latitude XT), but it’s the first geared toward consumers—and with a more reasonable price to match. Well, a more reasonable starting price; the tx2z starts at $1,149, but our configuration was a pricey $1,733. Although the tx2z’ touch display is certainly brighter, crisper, and more accurate than its predecessor, the tx2500z, you can’t do a lot with mult-touch gestures on this notebook, and HP’s own MediaSmart interface could be more responsive. Still, the TouchSmart tx2z might appeal to students and early adopters.
In size and weight, the tx2z is almost identical to the HP tx2500z. Its 12.1 x 8.8 x 1.5-inch body is portable enough to stow in a small bag. The new HP Imprint finish, called Reaction, is a silvery bubble-like pattern that should appeal to hipsters and students. Our unit’s eight-cell battery brought the total weight of the system to 5 pounds and added a bit of heft, especially for a 12-inch notebook. However, HP sells a smaller (and lighter) six-cell battery.
Whereas the tx2500z is silver on the inside, the tx2z is dark blue with a matching keyboard, deck, and palm rest. The plush keys were comfortable to type on but make a clicky noise. The touchpad, dotted with perforated circles, is on the small side. It has a low amount of friction, but the mouse buttons were distractingly narrow (but at least easy to press). The touchpad has a thin strip on the right side that users can tap and slide to scroll through windows.
The area above the keyboard has buttons for increasing, decreasing, and muting the volume. On the right side of the bezel are launch keys for Windows Mobility Center, which includes information on battery life and screen brightness, among other things; changing the orientation of the screen; and the touch-optimized MediaSmart suite (more on that later). Above the display is an embedded webcam and dual mics. The power switch is recessed on the front side of the chassis.
The tx2z is enabled with multi-touch, a technology made famous by the iPhone and iPod touch, but powered here by N-trig’s DuoSense digitizer. This means users can control objects on the screen by making gestures with multiple fingers at once, such as pinching and rotating (in addition to swiping with one finger).
HP’s previous touch-enabled notebook, the tx2500z, had a resistive touchscreen, which means you could tap to make selections, but you couldn’t make any finger gestures. Moreover, because the resistive screen comprises two layers—as opposed to multi-touch, which has a single layer—we had to apply more pressure with the tx2500z and the screen appeared washed out. The capacitive display on the tx2z, conversely, recognizes even the slightest taps and looks brighter.
Now for the $64,000 question: What can you do with the tx2z’s touchscreen? And how well does it work? In addition to the above gestures, users can make an “M” shape with two fingers to launch HP MediaSmart, a suite of touch-enabled media programs that comes preinstalled on the tablet. This gesture, which looks like the McDonald’s arches, took half a dozen tries to master, but once we did it successfully, it was easy to replicate.
With this software users can control DVD playback; play music and create playlists; and view—and lightly edit—photos and videos. This suite is much more limited than the software offered in HP’s TouchSmart All-in-One, which lets users draw sticky notes, leave voice messages, record videos and upload them to YouTube, and check calendars, RSS feeds, and the weather. That interface, too, is more intuitive, with a large sliding panel of icons.
We enjoyed dragging and dropping songs into the playlist panel in the Music app. We could swipe through photos, as well as correct red eye, auto-enhance, and crop with a finger tap. But when it came to rotating photos the tx2z often didn’t recognize the gesture.
Touch gestures—specifically, zooming and rotating—work with applications besides MediaSmart. So, even though HP did not release its SDK to developers, tx2z owners can use gestures in other applications. For example, we were easily able to magnify pages in Internet Explorer and in Microsoft Word. On the other hand, unlike the Dell Latitude XT, two-finger scrolling is not enabled. That means if you want to scroll down or up on a Web page, you have to stick to the narrow scroll bar.
The touch experience needs work. Aside from the fact that reaching above the keyboard to touch the display wasn’t always comfortable or useful, the display itself wasn’t impressively responsive. For instance, when we used two fingers to zoom in and out of Web pages in Internet Explorer 8, the page looked jerky while resizing, and the response was delayed.
Moreover, the MediaSmart software felt slow; launching the program took 3 seconds, and it took an additional 12 seconds for the Photo application to fully load. It took 10 seconds for the MediaSmart Music app to load. Worse, you can’t easily toggle between photos, music, and video within the MediaSmart suite; they’re all separate apps you have to bring up by pressing the MediaSmart icon in the upper left corner once you’re in the MediaSmart program.
The tx2z comes with a stylus stowed away in the right side of the chassis, close to to the front of the keyboard. When we used the stylus in conjunction with the tablet’s handwriting recognition software the notebook was able to correctly decipher our words, by and large, even when we simulated the kind of chickenscratch we make when we’re taking notes in meetings. It read cursive handwriting well, too. We barely had to apply pressure while writing, but we liked that when we heavily crossed out a word it just disappeared.
The screen also supports hover gestures, too; holding the stylus a few millimeters above the screen, we were able to write and perform other functions, such as right-clicking, by using the button on the stylus.
Display and Sound
The 12.1-inch (1280 x 800) display looked bright when we watched a DVD of Starter for 10 using the integrated optical drive. It’s certainly an improvement over the display on the tx2500z, which appeared dull. The tx2z’ viewing angles were particularly versatile; the picture was excellent at vertical angles, and we could even watch a movie at almost a 180-degree angle horizontally, too. Although the lid stayed put when we closed it with the screen face-up, we could feel it shifting a bit in its latch.
The Altec Lansing speakers, located on the underside of the convertible display, produced surprisingly loud and rich sound. That’s because it has SRS Premium Sound, an audio technology normally reserved for entertainment PCs (a category usually known for bigger displays).
Ports and Webcam
The tx2z has three USB ports, a VGA port, Ethernet and modem jacks; one microphone, one expansion, and two headphone ports; a 5-in-1 memory card reader; ExpressCard/34 slot; consumer infrared; Kensington lock slot; and a fingerprint reader.
The VGA webcam delivered dull colors and resolution, but HP’s MediaSmart Webcam software packs plenty of special effects into an intuitive console. Also, the dual mics recreated voices pleasantly and minimized background music well. In a Skype call our friend said the picture looked clear, but she noticed delays in movement (for which we blame our Internet connection more than the webcam).
Like the tx2500z, the tx2z runs on AMD’s Puma platform. Our configuration, one of the higher-end ones available, had a 2.4-GHz AMD Turion X2 Ultra Dual-Core ZM-86 processor, 4GB of RAM, Windows Vista Home Premium, and ATI Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics.
While we were unable to run PCMark Vantage, our usual benchmark for Vista performance, in hands-on testing we were easily able to navigate among four tabs in Internet Explorer, work in Google Docs, place a VoIP call via CallingAmerica.com, and download iTunes with MediaSmart’s music player and photo viewer open. Again, however, the MediaSmart software was slow, and the notebook took 78 seconds to boot up—about 14 seconds behind the average thin-and-light laptop.
Our configuration had a massive 400GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive; it, too, was on the slow side, notching just 14.8 MBps on the LAPTOP Transfer Test, a little more than 2 MBps less than the thin-and-light average.
In 3DMark06, the tx2z scored 1,218, about 100 points lower than the thin-and-light average. In the F.E.A.R. frame rate test it notched 23 frames per second on autodetect settings, and 19 fps when set to maximum, which is significantly below average for a thin-and-light. That won’t affect simple, everyday use, but it means this notebook isn’t a good choice for people who like to play graphically demanding games.
Transcoding a 2-minute-and-16-second clip from MPEG-4 to H.264 took 3 minutes and 41 seconds. When we repeated this with a DVD running, it took 4:21, and the vents at the back of the notebook became hot to the touch, at 119 degrees Fahrenheit.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
The eight-cell battery lasted 4 hours and 29 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), which is a few minutes longer than the thin-and-light average. The wireless-N radio managed throughput of 20.3 Mbps at 15 feet—about 2 Mbps better than the thin-and-light average—and 14.0 Mbps at 50 feet—about 2 Mbps less than the average.
Software and Warranty
For better or worse, the tx2z comes with a good deal of trialware, including 60-day trials of Norton Internet Security and Microsoft Office 2007 Home and Student Edition, as well as Microsoft Office OneNote, a bunch of games, Muvee Reveal, Corel Painter Essentials 3.0, and Sling Media Player.
HP TouchSmart tx2z Verdict
The HP TouchSmart tx2z is certainly innovative, and its brighter, more-accurate display is an improvement over the tx2500z. Plus, it offers a cool design and very good speakers. However, the multi-touch experience—which adds a $300 premium over the tx2500z—proved somewhat of a letdown; it just wasn’t fast or responsive enough. Nevertheless, the TouchSmart tx2z is a solid Tablet PC that offers a good balance of performance and battery life.