Lenovo's Horizon all-in-one: Testing out the tabletop PC

Lenovo's Horizon all-in-one: Testing out the tabletop PC

Summary: Laptops are learning new tricks, but the desktop is also due for a makeover. Lenovo's IdeaCentre Horizon is among the first of a new breed of touchscreen all-in-ones designed to be shared by the whole family.

TOPICS: PCs, Windows 8
(Image: Lenovo)

The industry has been busily reinventing the PC in hopes of winning back customers captivated by tablets. Much of the focus has been on convertible laptops that double as tablets. But desktops are also getting a makeover. In particular, computer makers are designing more versatile all-in-ones that can be shared by the whole family.

The use of touchscreens on all-in-ones is not new. HP has been trying to jumpstart this market with its TouchSmart PCs for years. But the introduction of Windows 8, which is optimized for large touchscreens, really got things rolling. Now, PC makers are taking it a step further by adding batteries, so that you can easily move all-in-ones from room to room, and display hinges that fold flat, so that you can share them. Although some reviewers regard these as oversized tablets, a better name for the category is the tabletop PC.

For the past few weeks, I've been testing out one of these new tabletop PCs, Lenovo's IdeaCentre Horizon. Others in this category include the Dell XPS 18, HP Envy Rove 20, and Sony Vaio Tap 20. The Asus Transformer All-In-One is a sort of hybrid that is part Windows desktop and part Android tablet (I wrote about these in a previous post). And the Acer Aspire R7 accomplishes much the same thing with a 15-inch touchscreen that folds flat, but it is more mainstream laptop than all-in-one, with its built-in keyboard and trackpad.

The Horizon is based on a 27-inch, 10-point touch display with a resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels. It is big and weighs a hefty 17 pounds, but a black rubber frame makes it easy to grip the display to adjust it or move it. When you tilt it forwards or backwards, it stays perfectly in place. If you fold it all the way flat, it automatically launches Lenovo's Aura tabletop user interface. And if you pick it up again, the sturdy kickstand automatically pops out and the system prompts you to return to Windows 8. (You can also exit Aura and use Windows 8 when the Horizon is folded flat.)

There are several good, in-depth reviews of the Horizon PC available elsewhere — including Dan Ackerman's take on ZDNet's sister site CNET — so I won't spend too much time on the basic specs or performance. The configuration I tested, with a third-generation Core-i7 mobile processor, 8GB of memory, Nvidia discrete graphics, and a 1TB hard drive, is $1,600 at Best Buy. The store is also offering a $1,500 model with a Core i5 and 6GB of memory. Either one should have plenty of performance for typical productivity and entertainment applications, as well as basic gaming.

The Windows 8 apps from the Windows Store look great on a large touchscreen. Lenovo's Aura interface has its own set of apps and games designed for touch and for special Horizon peripherals. And Lenovo has its own App Shop — really a version of Intel's AppUp store — with a handful of "Horizon Select" apps. Lenovo said it is working with Electronic Arts and Ubisoft to create versions of their games for the App Shop. For good measure, Lenovo throws in the BlueStacks emulator so that you can run Android apps, though they don't look great on such a large display, and not all apps or features will work properly.

Choice is good, but this makes for a fragmented experience. Each store has its own set of apps and games. And the Lenovo App Shop only works with standard Windows applications, so even though all of the same games and educational apps were already pre-installed in Aura, the App Shop didn't recognize them, and wanted to install stand-alone Windows versions, even though they seemed identical. Ultimately, it isn't realistic for every hardware company and each device to include three or four different app stores — there just aren't enough developers or users to go around — and it would be better if all vendors concentrated on distributing apps with or without special optimizations for their hardware through the regular Windows Store.

Having said that, the Aura apps do a nice job of demonstrating the potential of tabletop computing. These include games (such as Air Hockey, Roulette, Monopoly, and Texas Hold 'Em); educational apps; and basic photo, music, and video viewers. The apps don't have any real editing features, but they work fine for sharing content. Using your fingers, you can resize windows, move them around, and rotate them to give everyone a better view. Lenovo has also developed several accessories, including joysticks, paddles, and USB dice to enhance the games. Some of the Aura games had a slight lag, but overall, they looked good and were fun to play with a small group.

Ultimately, that's the idea behind this emerging tabletop category. Some of the hardware decisions are questionable. For example, despite its size, the Horizon doesn't have a slot-loading DVD drive, includes only two USB slots (one of which is used up by the dongle for the wireless keyboard and mouse), and gets only a couple of hours of battery life — a bit short even for a so-called transportable designed to be moved from room to room. But this is version 1.0, and Lenovo said future versions will include models with smaller displays, more features, and (hopefully) longer battery life. Lenovo deserves credit for trying something innovative on the desktop and pioneering this tabletop category. By the holiday season, I expect to see many more of these hybrid all-in-ones that also function as large tablets or tabletop PCs.

Topics: PCs, Windows 8

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  • USB

    The fact that it only has two USB ports is almost baffling. I know, I know, you can use hubs, but hubs can just be a pain and ruin the utility, especially for a portable PC like this. Like the idea though, and look forward to future refreshes.
    • Baffling

      I am mostly baffled by the low resolution touch screen. For something that is 27" I would expect something much better. To get far enough away to hide individual pixels you would not be able to reach it for touch.
  • No HDMI?

    This could be somewhat fun to mirror on a tv since they run the same resolution. You could in essence turn your large screen tv into a touch screen. I don't know that it would be that useful, but fun to play with.
    Sam Wagner
    • This is a 27 inch device

      I think a smaller tablet with 1080 resolution would be a better candidate for connecting to a TV. Better battery life and the ability to hold in one hand. You actually have TV's the size of this guy.
  • Although some reviewers regard these as oversized tablets

    They *are* tablets. They are *also* tabletop PCs. My wife's Sony Ultrabook with a touchscreen is tablet, too. My cellphone is also a tablet. And by the way, any of those things can sit on a table, too.

    Once you put a touchscreen and a battery in there, it's a tablet. Once you set it on a table, it's a tabletop device. There isn't a "PC market" and "tablet market" and a "smartphone market," there's a market for computing power and it increasingly comes in all shapes and sizes and is very often interchangeable.

    For instance, if I want to Skype and I'm at my desktop, I use my third-party Web cam. If I am at my laptop, I use my built in camera. And if I don't have a computer near me, I use my phone. For me, at that moment, what there is a market for is Skype -- and all these devices just become Skype-machines.

    Same thing for when I want to check my email. Or know the weather. Or listen to a song. Or watch an online video. Or...

    I understand the need for heuristics to make the world a simpler place. But the world isn't simple. Fact is, a device like this will compete with an iPad, or a Surface, or a laptop, or a desktop, for a share of a family's compute cycles. So it *is* an iPad competitor.
    x I'm tc
  • This was the original Microsoft Surface technology

    Microsoft developed their multitouch technology for table top under the Surface moniker back in 2006.

    GREAT IDEA! I always wondered why it never caught on? Then I remembered- It was Windows based! Nobody ever does Windows just for FUN!

  • Can't wait...

    to get my hands on one of these. Looks great for family fun!!
  • Get it down to 10 pounds and I'll get interested.

    Get it down to 7 pounds and I'll buy.

    I know it's a tall order, but I don't want to be lugging around a 17 pound brick.
    Michael Kelly
  • Just because it can be done,

    Does not mean that it's a great product. There are many reasons this will fail, and the main one is that the market will be so very limited.
  • A PC for the whole family?

    Fat chance. No kids under 10 allowed near it. Not at that price. They can break their $79 knock-off tablets, not a $1700 tabletop device.

    Just another toy that runs on potentially dangerous batteries, has a lifespan optimistically 1/4 that of a desktop, has limited expandability, and costs enough to fund a decent desktop, a nice tablet, and a smartphone or two.

    I'll pass. On the next one, as well. I'm holding out for true holographic computers.
    Iman Oldgeek
  • This will fail

    For the same reason most people are not putting touch screens on their desktops. It is simply too much hassle to be moving your hand from mouse to keyboard to screen. Plus, who wants a screen messed up by fingerprints? (Especial the small family members who like to finger paint with peanut butter on the screen).

    Just another attempt to cram Windows 8 down our throats.

  • Outside the home, too

    This would make a great mixing surface for live music using ProTools or Cubase. And a lot less money than the Avid hardware controllers.
  • I bought one I like it!

    After carrying it to a friends house and putting it across my lap to use as a 'replacement iPad(!) I went out and bought a TV Wall Mount Bracket and mounted it beside my bed, this way it doesn't cut me in half and I can use the mouse or keyboard or Touch or Dragon Naturally Speaking 12.5 or even the voice recording (recognition?) apps built in. I was very surprised on the sensitivity of the built in microphone, it picked up people talking across the room in normal conversation! I just bought Leap Motion's Leap gesture controller hoping to attach it upside down at an angle to the top of the screen to control things but the software is not quite 'there' yet! I don't think that they envisioned it being used in that orientation(!) but it's just a matter of software I think, and that may be added in a future release... I'm also anticipating the Leap II with better infrared light source and cameras with better discrimination and improved software. For now I'll take the Horizon and the leap over to a friends house on occasion so their 9 and 3 1/2 year old girls can play with the leap and have some fun while not stealing my iPad ever time that I go over there ,even though they each have their own iPad, even the 3 1/2 year old has her own and knows how to use it, since she was 3! (Little Monster!)

    So I use my desktop less and then even when the horizon is too much I use my iPad and when I'm out and about even with my iPad, I'll use my Galaxy S4 phone! Smart Watch here I come! ...naw too small!

    I want to upgrade the Horizon with 16 Gigabytes and a 256 Gig SSD... Don't know if I can do it but I'll look into it.

    It's a little slow for some things but for the most part it's ok. I've put win 8.1 'consumer preview' on it and it's an improvement over '8' but even '8.1' at this point doesn't go far enough back toward '7' at least for me, no true start button even now with 8.1.

    I was going to buy MS's Surface Pro but then I heard about Lenovo's Helix which did everything that MS's Surface pro did not and then looked at the Horizon and went for that. $1,600 -$1,800 was just to much for an iPad replacement even if the Helix was a laptop as well so I went for the Horizon and then went out and bought a cheaper iPad, even if I'm still lusting after the Helix!

    Lenovo seems to be doing better than Microsoft in this department, so what's it with MS that they introduce The Surface three years ago and then finally come out with the crippled Surface RT? Better they had not till they were ready too and not take a $900 Million write down, I still won't buy it at the cheaper lower price with expensive peripherals thrown in for free!!! It's still to crippled in comparison to the iPad and to expensive, even now, to compete with the less expensive Android tablets, especially the Tab 3's. All of them, tablets, need to add memory slots and USB ports and more!

    Shrink down the Horizon and they will be perfect! On the high end give them a 4th gen processor, better graphics, faster HDD, preferably SSD, more ram and ports, memory slot (even two!).

    Then the new Horizon's will be 'Good To Go'!
    • wall mount

      which wall mount works with this?