Back in January when HP announced the TouchSmart tm2, we had high hopes for this machine. And then a few months passed. And then the iPad launched. And then HP announced it was buying Palm for its webOS (presumably because Windows 7 isn't good enough for consumer tablets). So when the tm2t ($919 as configured) finally reached our lab this month, we had to ask ourselves: Do consumers still want a full-size convertible tablet PC with pen and touch input?
On the plus side, the tm2t sports a svelte aluminum chassis and pairs a moderately fast Core i3 ULV processor with switchable ATI graphics. It also lasts close to six hours on a charge. However, the slow and limited touch computing experience and a somewhat frustrating touchpad prevent this notebook from earning a higher rating.
Editor's Note: We updated this review on July 1 after installing a touchpad driver update for the tm2t.
The TouchSmart tm2 certainly catches your eye with its aluminum lid and deck decorated with a wave-like, laser-engraved illustration. (HP calls it Riptide.) This treatment isn't as in-your-face as what you'll find on the Envy line, which we appreciate; it's only on the right part of the lid and to the right of the large touchpad. The bright and glossy 12.1-inch display (1200 x 800 pixels) has a thick black bezel surrounding it, which houses two loud but tinny Altec Lansing speakers along the bottom. The chiclet-style keyboard and touchpad are also black.
Weighing 4.4 pounds, the tm2t is considerably lighter than its chunky plastic predecessor, the 5-pound tx2z. That's partially because this notebook omits an optical drive. The tm2t also has a thinner profile, tapering from 1 inch in the front to 1.5 inches in the back to accommodate the beefy battery. (The tx2z measured 1.2 inches at its thinnest point.) This slope on the bottom of the machine actually makes it easier to hold in tablet mode.
The tm2's sturdy hinge creates a bulge on the back, but it allows users to rotate the screen in either direction. Overall, this convertible feels solid, but we noticed that the touch display makes the system somewhat top heavy. If we tilted the display more than 20 degrees backward the whole notebook would start to topple while on a desk or in our lap.
Speaking of laps, the tm2t stayed fairly cool during our 15-minute Hulu test. The machine registered 83, 92, and 98 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively, between the G and H keys, on the touchpad, and on the bottom. The typical thin-and-light notebook reaches 90, 92, and 97 degrees in the same areas.
The left side of the tm2t houses the stylus holster, headphone jack, USB port, and HDMI out. Two more USB ports, a memory card slot, a wireless on/off button, and power switch line the right side. We'd prefer that a power button was built into the deck. HP included a small screen orientation button on the right edge of the display, as well as a fingerprint sensor. Unlike most notebooks, the tm2t houses a few ports on the back, including VGA, Ethernet, and a Kensington lock slot.
Like most other HP consumer notebooks, this one is equipped with a Synaptics ClickPad with integrated touch buttons. During our first round of testing, brushing up against the pad ever so slightly while typing caused the cursor to jump up a few lines. But after installing a recent driver update (which includes a PalmCheck feature) we no longer experienced this issue, making the use of this notebook much less frustrating.
Still, even after this updated selecting text even clicking on web links was more of a challenge than we'd like. That's because the cursor often jumps just as your're about to press down on the left touch button. The pinch to zoom gesture worked only some of the time, but that's not unique for a Windows laptop. The bottom line: the touchpad works, but the execution could still be better.
Click to enlarge
The TouchSmart tm2t sports a spacious layout, and we like that it has dedicated action keys above the numbers. You can do anything from adjust the brightness to turn Wi-Fi on and off quickly and easily. Although we like the soft touch finish on the keys, which prevents slippage, the keys felt a bit chintzy and hollow as we typed, especially toward the edges of the keyboard. We also don't like how HP unnecessarily shrunk the up and down arrow keys, to which we had to adjust.
Click to enlargeSixteen seconds. That's how long it took for HP's TouchSmart software to load its photo app. And that's just one example of this suite's sluggishness. It took another 9 seconds to load the music app, which we otherwise like because it includes both Rhapsody and Pandora. We also like the touch-friendly Hulu and Twitter apps that come with TouchSmart. However, we quickly tired of staring at spinning circles while waiting for things to load. The much cheaper iPad is far more responsive, and it has really reset consumers' expectations as to what constitutes a good touch experience.
It doesn't help that the TouchSmart software doesn't work in portrait mode. And why doesn't the tm2t know when you've changed orientation and rotate the display accordingly? Say you want to read The New York Times in your browser and see more text on the page at once. After you swivel the display around and collapse it on the keyboard, you have to press the screen rotate button three times. Yikes.
HP also bundles Microsoft's Touch Pack, which includes two basic touch-enabled games (BlackBoard and Garden Pond) and its Google Earth-like Surface Globe.
Since Windows 7 itself wasn't designed for touch input, we sometimes had trouble exiting or minimizing programs on the first try. However, we had a pretty easy time activating options in the task bar and selecting web links. Just don't expect much from the touch keyboard. It's too small.
The tm2t's Wacom digitizer and included pen provided pinpoint accuracy and did a good job of rejecting inadvertent palm touches on the screen. We found it fairly natural to scribble notes in the standard Windows Journal app that comes with Windows 7, and the handwriting recognition was spot on most of the time. However, in portrait mode the pages got smaller and didn't fill up the whole screen. The bundled Paint It app also supports both pen and touch-based input. Other pen-based apps like OneNote are sold separately. Still, we could see students and artists taking advantage of the stylus on a regular basis.
Performance and Graphics
While this system's no speed demon, the 1.2-GHz Core i3-U330 processor and 3GB of RAM inside the tm2t combine to offer fairly snappy performance--when you're not fighting the touchpad. While its PCMark Vantage score of 3,806 is below the category average (4,033), the notebook barely flinched when we had several tabs open in Google Chrome while streaming Hulu in HP's TouchSmart software in a smaller window.
The tm2t booted in 56 seconds, which matches the thin-and-light notebook average. The file transfer time of 22.6 MBps is only slightly below average (23.5 MBps). Oddly, this notebook struggled when transcoding video, taking 2 minutes to convert a MPEG-4 clip to AVI, when similar machines take a little over a minute.
Conveniently, the tm2t switches from Intel's integrated HD graphics card to a discrete ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5450 GPU when you plug in the system. Alternatively, you can toggle between the two cards manually by right-clicking on the desktop and selecting Configure Switchable Graphics. Then you select Intel or ATI, but you'll see a pop-up warning you to close any open programs. We much prefer Nvidia's Optimus technology, which seamlessly switches modes on the fly.
Using its discrete graphics, the tm2t outclasses most other notebooks in its weight class; it turned in a 3DMark06 score of 2,882, considerably higher than the 2,127 average. The machine also notched very good frame rates in World of Warcraft, reaching 109 fps at 1024 x 768 and 35 fps at native resolution. The tm2t also managed 37 fps at the lower pixel count, though it dropped to an unplayable 17 fps at 1280 x 800.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
Click to enlargeEven with discrete graphics enabled, the tm2t's six-cell battery lasted nearly 5 hours on a charge (4:55), which is two minutes longer than the category average. In integrated graphics mode, the tm2t's runtime increased to 5:41, which is plenty of endurance for, say, a full day of classes.
The Atheros AR9285 802.11n radio inside this notebook delivered top-notch throughput. Its data rates from both 15 feet (39.4 Mbps) and 50 feet (24.6 Mbps) are both well above the category averages. HP also includes a Bluetooth connection.
Software and Warranty
In addition to the TouchSmart suite of apps, HP includes a bunch of other programs and utilities. BumpTop is a touch-friendly 3D desktop that lets you organize and access files in a new way, and it also makes it relatively simple to share photos on Facebook and Twitter--you just drag and drop them onto the respective widgets. HP also bundles a 60-day trial of Norton Internet Security, the aforementioned Corel Paint It Touch, and an amusing touch-enabled 3D screensaver called DigFish. You'll also find a link to download the free Barnes & Noble eReader.
HP backs the tm2t with a one-year warranty and 24/7 tech support. To see how the company fared in our Tech Support Showdown, click here.
The HP Pavilion tm2t offers good performance, battery life, and features for the price. On the other hand, those who have used an iPad will scratch their heads when this tablet doesn't change screen orientation based on how you're holding the device. They'll also wonder why it takes so long for the TouchSmart apps to load when there's a Core i3 processor under the hood and why there isn't an app store. And while the touchpad is better than when we first reviewed this laptop, it's still not great. Nevertheless, if you want a good-looking Windows 7 tablet with pen and touch input, the tm2t is worth a look.