The greatest student laptop ever? No, but it's close

The greatest student laptop ever? No, but it's close

Summary: It's quite possible this is the best contender in the ultimate student laptop race. With the sheer awesome technology packed into it, what is the one thing holding it back? Article

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Alright, so I'm getting quite a few things wrong this week. Now is the time to admit to yet another failing - touch technology. I once, relatively recently, branded it to be the most evil technology on the planet and up until this week would have defended that to the grave. An awful lot can change in the course of a week, mind you.

Take this one. And I quote:

"I’ve used many-a-touchscreen device, including the iPhone and the Microsoft Surface table. The Surface table, granted, isn’t bad to use. It’s fast, responsive, and works well using high-powered applications as it sucks out the power of the GPU."

Before I spend half of the post writing about the touch capabilities, I'll run through a few of the more essential items on the checklist. The HP TouchSmart tx2, one of the contenders in the race of the best student laptop I have ever used has:

  • 2.2Ghz AMD Turion X2 64: dual core and supports 64-bit technology;
  • 12.1" high definition, multi-touch enabled, tablet PC with 180° degree screen;
  • ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics, 320GB hard drive, 3GB RAM memory;
  • Lightscribe enabled DVD-RW, wireless a/b/g and n supported;
  • Integrated fingerprint reader, more hotkeys than you can cope with, and a wealth of connector ports available (including 3 USB ports and a removable media center remote)

I won't be too geeky - if you want to read the full specs, head on over to Amazon.

The leaking of the Microsoft Touch Pack which was supposed to demonstrate the sheer awesomeness of multi-touch technology in Windows 7 got me in stitches. I downloaded it, installed it after a few attempts, of which, hat tip goes to my colleague, Ed Bott, for helping me out in form of a handy tweet. (I was smashed at the time, but got it working through sheer determination).

Oh yeah, this will automatically play in HD so go full-screen because it looks awesome.

But there is so much more to this device than just touch (albeit it probably is the striking feature).

The battery lasts at most 2 hours 15 minutes, but with wireless turned on that gets halved. Still, it is plenty of time to run through a lecture or two, and comes with a spare battery in the box. The battery charger is around 3-4 metres in length and surprisingly lightweight; considering my old laptop charger was so heavy it felt like it was made of depleted uranium.

I still haven't quite got used to the touch technology yet; so much so that on my other laptop which has no touch capabilities whatsoever, it takes me a while to realise you have to use the scratchpad alone, otherwise you're just smudging greasy fingerprints onto a screen and nothing else.

Handwriting is absolutely fantastic and I've used this more than the finger touch capabilities. For those who aren't a fan of wiping their screen every few minutes to remove the strawberry jam, WD-40, the wide range of bodily fluids or milkshake, the digital pen is going to be your best friend. You get a more precise feeling using it. Your cursor follows it around and allows you to use the touch without actually touching it. This isn't new though, so I won't keep going on about it.

But the handwriting is a dream. If you are sat in a lecture theatre and just fancy writing for once, flip the screen and use it as a tablet. Because the touch screen picks up only fingers, you can rest one side of your hand on the screen and write as you ordinarily would on paper without it making too much of a mess where you are writing. Again, it's far from perfect but not bad for a developing technology. But...

With a hotkey on the right hand side of the screen which rotates the display from portrait to landscape and vice-versa, it feels brilliant to read from. Sure, a Kindle may cost significantly less than this device, the battery will last longer, and the screen is easier to read from, but it's certainly a novelty to have a tablet device which displays an e-book on.

Something I noticed after using the laptop in "laptop mode" is the imbalance; when using it on a desk, it is fine but when you're sat cross legged on a sofa in the library, because the screen is much heavier than the keyboard panel, you might notice it close to toppling backwards. But, if you're typing away, the weight of your hands on each side of the scratchpad holds it down. It's worth mentioning anyway.

Considering the screen is multi-touch, you forget simple pleasures of typing on screen. It really isn't very easy because no matter how hard you try, the finger calibration will never be perfect, so it's very much like using a bigger version of an iPhone or an iPod touch to write with. Still, typing on screen isn't too bad - and when you want to write a capital letter, yes you can hold down the virtual Shift key and press another virtual key. Maybe this is what multi-touch was invented for: consistent typing from a standard keyboard to a virtual one?

So, after using this fantastic new laptop over the weekend, I'll throw in my expert opinion.

Pro's before hos

  • The integrated webcam and microphone will never be as higher quality as dedicated webcams or microphones, but they both excel themselves. The webcam supports more features than the Microsoft LifeCam software, similar to the Apple application which adds backgrounds, effects and styles to your pictures.
  • Hidden inside is a mini infrared Media Center remote which lets you control Windows Media Center from a distance. When you open your laptop normally, keyboard in front of the screen, this picks up the infrared from the remote. But when when rotate the screen 180° degrees away from the keyboard, the infrared still works. Whether the infrared is built into both sides or just the screen, I don't know, but this shows attention to detail in ergonomics of the design of this device.
  • Having an integrated fingerprint reader is really useful especially in a university environment. A lot of people will want to play and screw around with your tablet once your back is turned, but this way it stays much more secure than that of password power. Plus, the hardware has significantly improved since my old laptop, meaning you can literally flick your finger against the reader and it'll let you in; no multiple attempts with this laptop.
  • Considering there's only one hinge, the screen barely wobbles and stays fixed so even when you are frantically tipping out the final few words to your essay, the screen won't bounce around or wobble too much, even if you shake it furiously.

Con's-ecotaleophobia

  • The scratchpad gets some taking-used to because it isn't the most conventional of scratchpads. Instead of having a dedicated shiny pad which feels springy to some extent, it is streamline with the outer-casing with circular inverted bumps a millimetre apart. I can only describe it as "a bit strange" to use, but it's nothing out of the ordinary.
  • The screen isn't crystal clear but I suspect this is due to the layers of the screen itself. The resolution is excellent but because the screen needs a protective layer for the touch capabilities, it is obvious when viewing predominantly white background pictures or applications.
  • Cleaning the screen can be a pain in the arse; you'll end up tapping all kinds of things and confusing your computer a bit. The only really effective way of doing it is whilst your computer is locked or turned off.
  • There is no eraser on the digital pen which is a bit of a shame, but nit-picking if anything. In some touch devices the digital pen allows you to write with ink on the screen, flip the pen over and erase out as if you would with an ordinary pencil. But as all ink applications have an eraser function anyway, it just means an extra second out of your life choosing the option.
  • The location of the hard drive activity light isn't the wisest of choices. It's located on the bottom-left of the screen, rather than on the panel of the keyboard. Because of this, no matter which way you rotate the screen, you're stuck with a constant flashing and therefore distraction. Not great for when you're watching videos, but if you are tucked up in bed, you can hide it using the duvet like I do.

But, no matter how much I want to love every ounce of this laptop, it isn't the perfect, ultimate student laptop. The simple fact of the matter is, is that touch is still very much a non-commodity and more of a rich-man's feature than anything else. It doesn't offer anything too special and the cost alone would deter most people. A £750 (around $1,200 I reckon) is a lot for a laptop, but going back a few years, this would be an ideal price.

But we're about to head into the biggest depression since all those bankers threw themselves out of windows. Can you really part with this much money for a laptop which you probably won't make the most out of?

Topics: Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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20 comments
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  • As a former tablet PC user . . .

    As a former tablet PC user:

    -Handwriting is interesting, but slow. A good touch typist types far faster than any sort of handwriting.

    -The on screen keyboard is nice, I'm sure, but I still prefer a real keyboard when possible.

    -What it is great for is diagrams and equations. This is a huge plus for students wanting to use it for taking notes.

    "In some touch devices the digital pen allows you to write with ink on the screen, flip the pen over and erase out as if you would with an ordinary pencil."

    This is due to the differing technologies,I think. The technology for touch devices is different from the technology used for tablet PC devices.
    CobraA1
  • RE: The greatest student laptop ever? No, but it's close

    You wrote a great review, one major problem,though, The name and model
    number of the laptop are noticeably absent. How is someone supposed to
    know what laptop you're talking about?
    nerdyjen
    • If you click the link to amazon he provided...

      ...you'd know it was an HP TX2-1020US...

      Wolfie2K3
    • Hahahaha!

      Yeah you're right - sorry! Haha :) It's the HP Touchsmart tx2 :) Updating the article now...
      zwhittaker
  • Another Convert.... I see...

    Amazing how your perspective can change if you really put aside your prejudices and check something out.

    Btw.. I don't know how much that laptop's going for in the UK these days, but that link to Amazon shows that laptop on sale for $899.99 (18% or $200 off)... Get 'em while they're hot...

    And Zack - that's a fairly good price for any brand new laptop - and pretty amazing for a tablet. That's even before the discount.
    Wolfie2K3
  • RE: The greatest student laptop ever? No, but it's close

    I am a senior sysadmin and have used many types of input devices.
    The mouse is cheap, accurate, fast, reliable, easy to use and does not drain your CPU power one bit.
    The mouse is King for productivity.
    Touch screens are for playing with if you have too much time and money.
    MadByte
    • The Mouse Is King

      The mouse is king in productivity for tasks designed for a mouse. How does a mouse help me write equations and draw graphs and diagrams in my physics class? How does it help me take notes? How does it help me draw a picture or get a signiture? How do I use a mouse when I'm standing up or where the is no desk?

      You see, there are many different tasks one can use a computer for, and some forms of input are better than others in certain situations.

      To say the mouse is best is like saying the keyboard was best when mice were first introduced; yeah you could do everything with the keyboard but that's only because every program was designed FOR the keyboard.
      ModernMech
  • Always good for a chuckle

    The author starts with how this is just about the perfect
    laptop ever then goes on about how the battery life sucks,
    the screen sucks, the balance sucks, the usability sucks and
    then ends with it's almost perfect.

    Translation: I totally geeked out over the touch screen.
    frgough
  • Battery Charger is how long?

    You say that the battery charger is "3-4 metres in length" (sic) .... That just can't be right. 3-4 metres ends up being between 12 and 16 feet long. How would you get it through doors or a crowded hallway? How did they even get it in the box???

    I'm glad to hear that it's 'surprisingly lightweight' though, which is good considering it's size...

    Steve G. ;-)
    aureolin
    • Er.. It's a long CORD...

      It folds up.. Still.. that's one very long cord...
      Wolfie2K3
    • Please don't tell me...

      ...you take everything I say *literally*? lol
      zwhittaker
    • Well, nobody had the heart to tell him

      that wasn't the battery charger he was using, it was really a portable power generator he grabbed by mistake... :)
      John Zern
  • buy it for $829 then play World of Goo

    Here are a few links for those that might want to put Windows 7 on the tx2. I've been using this for a few months now and have been *very*
    happy with it. World of Goo is frikkin awesome on this too btw.

    Purchase: http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?skuId=9168189&st=tx2&lp=1&type=product&cp=1&id=1218041998718

    Win7 RC 64 bit: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/download.aspx

    Touchscreen drivers: http://www.n-trig.com/Content.aspx?Page=Multi_Touch

    World of Goo: http://2dboy.com/games.php
    hefeweiss
  • 'hos'? If you expect some respect for your views don't disrespect women

    and others by using abusive and cheap terms like 'hos'!
    pjher
    • Ho's

      what are you smoking
      mpgme
  • I'm not sure what kind of students you know

    You say 2.25 hrs battery life without wireless,
    half that with?

    Show me a student that DOESN'T use wireless all
    the time. Now tell me how a mobile computing
    device that gets an hour of battery life is ever
    acceptable...
    jred
  • RE: The greatest student laptop ever? No, but it's close

    The worst part about this machine?

    HP built it, one of the most unreliable laptops around. HP forgot how to build a laptop that is reliable, doesn't overheat, and provide decent customer service a long time ago.

    I'm a graduate student in computer science, I would NEVER get one of these. I tell anyone in the business world not to buy a HP, get some other product - I've done too many repairs on HP/Compaq laptops.

    Today, in another thread the editors are declaring the netbook dead. Not.

    Take your notes, go home and work on a real machine - a desktop with a widescreen 20+ inches.
    monsterdog
    • The worst part about this machine?

      Normally I would agree with you as I have had a lot of troubles with HP Laptops. I wanted to buy a tablet PC and all that was available around here was a HP TouchSmart 1070CA which I bought. My wife has been using it for 2 weeks non stop on battery and wirless and it is getting around 6-10 hours of use before she has to plug it in (she does stuff, leaves for a bit and back and forth) Personally I want it back from her so I can play. :-)
      bvonr@...
  • Opps! Grammar error..

    Ooops! Popular grammar error...

    "when you're sat cross legged on a sofa" should read "when you sit" or "when you are sitting".

    It's like saying "I was ran" instead of "I ran" or "I was running"

    They even make the same mistake on a number of BBC reports!!

    Nice article though... thanks.
    113
  • Greatest student laptop ever? Not even close...HP cant make Tablets!!!!!

    I have had a HP tablet TX1000 (I dont care for the exact name).... I paid lots of money for bleeding edge technology and it died within a year...In fact if you take a look online, I am not the only one..Thousands got affected by the Nvidia chipset used...
    And HP never issued recalls or for that matter fixes on the issue...HP tablet no sir ... not for me!
    I would rather buy a macbook at those costs! Maybe some should consider opportunity cost as well before purchasing an HP tablet... If you pay for a premium product you rightfully expect premium treatment
    pranavmdesai@...