Friday, June 18, 2010

HP TouchSmart tm2-1010ea

HP TouchSmart tm2-1010ea

The HP TouchSmart tm2-1010ea can swivel. Its 12.1-inch touchscreen twists around, transforming a humble laptop into the kind of tablet device that we're all continually informed is the future. For £730, however, you could buy a more powerful standard laptop instead. It's also more expensive than the priciest Apple iPad. The question is: does the tm2-1010ea's touchscreen interface add enough value for you to part with your hard-earned pennies? 

Go swivelThe tm2-1010ea looks slightly odd. The whole design clearly centres around the swivelling touch panel, and the eye is drawn to the conspicuous gap between the screen and the chassis. The laptop's design is eye-catching, but we're not overly thrilled by it -- the whole unit looks more like a toy than the productivity-boosting machine it will doubtless become once placed in your capable hands.

Although the overall design could use some work, we were pleased by some of the details. The lid and chassis are etched with a flowing design that brings to mind either wispy, swirling clouds or a large pile of spaghetti, depending on how hungry you are. The keyboard, with its isolated buttons, looks particularly modern and fresh. The square shape of each key is pleasing, as is the glossy black plate that fills in the gaps between the buttons.
The keyboard is also comfortable to type on. The keys themselves don't offer much travel, but they are pleasingly springy, so typing at speed for extended periods of time is no problem at all. The trackpad is similarly brilliant -- it's massive, smooth and responsive, and a world away from some of the cramped, knuckle-splintering oddities we've had to grapple with in the past.
Around the sides of the tm2-1010ea, you'll find all the usual connections -- VGA and HDMI outputs, three USB sockets, an Ethernet port, a multi-format card reader, and a 3.5mm headphone socket. There's no 3.5mm socket for a microphone, though, and there's no optical drive either, although an external USB drive comes included in the box.
Touch of class
The tm2-1010ea's 12.1-inch, touch-sensitive display offers a maximum resolution of 1,280x800 pixels, which is about ideal considering that a higher resolution would cause icons to render at a smaller size, making hitting them with your fingers pretty tricky.
As it stands, though, hitting the mark is simple enough. Windows 7 isn't exactly an ideal basis for a touch interface, as it's built very much for navigation with a mouse and keyboard, but finding your way around using the touchscreen is dead simple. You tap once to click something, twice for a double click, and hold your finger to the screen for a moment to bring up the right-click menu.
Perhaps the greatest accolade we can bestow upon this touch interface is that we often found ourselves using it instead of the trackpad and keyboard. The screen itself is responsive to the touch, although, if you don't fancy smearing the screen with grease, there's a stylus housed in the chassis that you can pop out for a quick prod.
Actually looking at the display is reasonably pleasant too. It's clear, sharp and bright enough to neutralise most of the reflections that result from its glossy coating. The screen doesn't have great viewing angles, although, if you can't quite make out the display, it's no disaster -- the screen swivels in just about every direction, so readjusting the angle as you slowly sink into an armchair isn't much of an ordeal.
The compact chassis doesn't have a DVD drive built in, although an external USB drive is provided which includes LightScribe technology for burning labels.
Performance unfortunately falls short, with the Pentium processor lagging behind its rivals. Basic office applications run well, but more resource hungry programs grind things to a halt.

A dedicated GPU is in place, however, which offers decent graphical power for basic 3D games and photo and video editing. A low-powered integrated GPU is also in place and takes over when the laptop is running from the battery for increased lifespan.

Bitter tablet to swallowSwivel the screen around and down, and the tm2-1010ea will be in tablet mode, with not a button in sight. While far from unusable in this configuration, there are a few issues that stop the tm2-1010ea from really working well.
Firstly, usability takes a hit. The chances are that you'll want to do some typing at some point. A virtual keyboard lurks in the corner of the screen, ready to burst onto centre stage if you need to input any characters into a document or search bar, for example. This keyboard doesn't work brilliantly, though. It's rather slow to register your inputs, and dragging it out every time you need to write something quickly becomes tiresome. We found ourselves guiltily parting the screen from the chassis slightly, and sticking our hand in the resulting gap, so we could quickly use the physical keyboard.
Secondly, the tm2-1010ea has a weight problem. At 2.15kg, it's pretty hefty, and your arms will quickly tire if you carry it around with you for long. Additionally, the distribution of weight is far from even, due to the very chunky battery pack at the laptop's rear. This imbalance caused the tm2-1010ea to wriggle out of our grip several times during testing. If you're thinking the tm2-1010ea might be a good alternative to something like the iPad, think again.
Mediocre performance
The tm2-1010ea offers switchable graphics -- you can switch between an ATI Radeon HD 4550 GPU, which beefs up performance, and a lower-power integrated Intel graphics card if you need to conserve battery life. Both of these work in tandem with the dual-core, 1.3GHz Intel Pentium SU4100 CPU.
Backed up by a hefty 4GB of RAM, the tm2-1010ea racked up a reasonably respectable score of 3,230 in the PCMark05 CPU benchmarking test. The tm2-1010ea doesn't feel sluggish at all when it comes to tasks such as Web browsing or watching high-definition videos online, but you can't push this machine too hard.
It scored a similarly middle-of-the-road score of 1,436 in the3DMark06 benchmark test, using the ATI GPU. That means playing games is out of bounds on this machine, unless they're at least a few years old.
With the Intel GPU in use, the tm2-1010ea held out for 2 hours and 40 minutes when we ran the punishing Battery Eater Classic test, which runs the CPU at full tilt until the battery's exhausted. That's by no means a disgrace, but it's not particularly great either.
We also found that performing this test caused the laptop to get very hot. When we tried to turn the machine on again after the test had finished, it gave us some stern words about cooling fans and being overheated, and promptly shut itself down. After waiting a while, we got it working again. You probably won't find this to be a problem unless you're really pushing the tm2-1010ea to its limits, but it's worth bearing in mind if you plan on undertaking any particularly intensive tasks.