HP TouchSmart 520-1010a touchscreen PC

A 23in touchscreen PC that can be quite fun to use, especially in a family setting

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HP TouchSmart 520-1010a touchscreen PC
  • HP TouchSmart 520-1010a touchscreen PC
  • HP TouchSmart 520-1010a touchscreen PC
  • HP TouchSmart 520-1010a touchscreen PC

Pros

  • Smooth 2-input touchscreen
  • All-in-one design
  • Full HD

Cons

  • Slow graphics performance
  • No digital audio out

Bottom Line

The TouchSmart 520 is a capable computer system for everyday tasks, but its touchscreen offers a better way to interact with your content. Simply point to, drag or tap your files to let the magic happen. It's a very decent home machine that should go down well with kids especially, but we do wish it had a better graphics card.

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For anyone who wants more than just a typical, boring old home computer, the HP TouchSmart 520-1010a is there for you. It's an all-in-one computer that's easy to set up and use, and it features a built-in 23in LCD touchscreen that gives you one more way to interact with your programs and media — by using your hands to point, drag and tap. It can be a fun product to use, but only if you're willing to let go of the mouse and play around with some of the preinstalled software that HP has included.

Touchscreen functionality

HP supplies an application called TouchSmart Magic Canvas, and this can replace your typical desktop. It provides a handy dock at the bottom of the screen that you can swipe through to launch various applications, and you can even swipe on the desktop itself to see items that have been pinned to the desktop (such as photos and notes). You'll also find your regular desktop icons on this 'canvas'. The dock offers a quick way to launch many apps, including the webcam utility, as well as regular applications for music, videos and photos; there are also other bits and bobs that could come in handy in a domestic setting, such as the apps for documenting recipes and creating shopping lists. Even a Web browser specifically designed for touch is installed — HP calls it the TouchBrowser and it has a bigger address bar and buttons than a typical Web browser.

Touching the screen for all tasks is not practical though, especially while browsing the Web, but dragging your fingers across the screen to look through photos and play music files is a nice way to go. Users that are new to computers, from little kids to grown-ups, may find it to be an easier experience than pushing a mouse around all the time. However, it can get uncomfortable to use the screen for everything and it feels unnatural to keep your hand elevated and pointed at the screen while you sit at your desk; it's fine to perform this action in short spurts though.

The screen is 23 inches, has a Full HD resolution (1920x1080) and it uses optical technology (little cameras mounted around the screen) to triangulate whereabouts on the screen your fingers are pressing. It supports two finger inputs and its accuracy in our tests was spot on. We had no problems tapping on 'close' buttons or menus in applications, and drag-and-drop operations were a breeze — the screen felt very smooth. Because it uses optical technology, you can use pretty much anything you like to control the pointer, and this means you can control the touchscreen even while you are wearing gloves or holding a pointer.

We're not fans of the screen's glossy finish though. It's way too reflective and can be uncomfortable to view in a bright environment, especially while you are watching movies or viewing photos. That said, you can tilt the screen very easily (with one hand) thanks to the well-engineered base, which also holds the screen perfectly in place at the angle you desire.

Features

Because the TouchSmart 520-1010a is an all-in-one unit, its set up is very simple. Basically, all you have to do is plug in the power supply, make sure there are batteries in the supplied wireless keyboard and mouse and switch them on. The keyboard and mouse are of good quality and the keyboard especially feels quite comfortable to type with. It has dedicated volume buttons, which we think is more convenient than having those controls on the computer itself. We like the fact that the receivers for the keyboard and mouse are located within the unit — not only does it make setup a breeze, it also frees up some USB ports.

The majority of the TouchSmart's ports are located on the rear: four USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet (a Realtek chip), line in and sub-woofer ports and the power port. (The power supply is a power brick that has to reside outside the PC's body.) The left side has an SD card slot, two USB 3.0 ports, and headphone and microphone ports. The right side has the built-in DVD burner (HP CDDVDW TS-T633P) and the top has the power button and the webcam (it's not an adjustable cam though).

You also get an integrated 802.11n Wireless LAN card. However, it mostly provided a weak signal to our Linksys router and sometimes we weren't even able to browse the Web. Depending on where you end up placing this PC, you might need to consider an external Wi-Fi card or a wired networking solution.

Speakers built in to the front of the screen work in conjunction with Beats Audio technology to bring a better-than-usual sound quality from integrated PC speakers. We were very pleased with what we heard while watching movies and listening to music and they do a fine job of filling a small room with sound. You can plug in external speakers if you wish, but there is no optical audio port.

Specifications and performance

The gear that makes the TouchSmart tick includes an Intel Core i5-2400S CPU (2.7GHz, four cores), 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM, a 1TB Seagate hard drive (ST31000524AS) and an AMD Radeon HD 6450A graphics adapter. At first, the PC seemed sluggish during regular operation; however, it got faster after we rebooted it a few times and all the installed applications were configured. Our performance tests showed that it's a decent configuration for running office and multimedia apps, and it's well-capable of heavy multitasking.

In the Blender 3D rendering test, it recorded a very respectable time of 30sec. It also went well in the iTunes MP3 encoding test, recording 47sec. In the DVD-to-Xvid file conversion test, it took only 43min. The hard drive recorded a transfer rate of 46 megabytes per second in our tests, which is a solid result, too. What wasn't so crash hot was its score of 4054 in 3DMark06. This is a very low mark for a PC with a discrete graphics card and it basically means that the TouchSmart can't be used to run many recent games. We'd prefer it if the TouchSmart came with a better graphics adapter for its $1599 price. As it stands, if you want better graphics performance, you have to opt for the more expensive TouchSmart 610 ($1999).

It's not a completely silent system. A fan sits high in the rear of the chassis near a vent and it makes a noticeable whirring noise, even while just Web browsing. The hard drive is also a bit of a noise maker when it's reading and writing data.

Conclusion

For $1599, the HP TouchSmart 520-1010a doesn't have the best configuration, but its speed is fine for Web browsing, editing photos, watching and creating videos and more. You just can't use it for gaming. Configuration aside, this isn't a typical computer. Its 23in touchscreen interface is the main drawcard and it offers an interesting, perhaps even easier way to interact with your PC in a home setting. We think that if you're after a space-saving all-in-one PC for casual use, then you should put the TouchSmart 520 under consideration. If you want something super-fast and capable of running the latest games, then look elsewhere.

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