HP TouchSmart tx2

Touch screens have mostly been limited to business-minded Tablet PCs. But HP's TouchSmart tx2 gets props for bringing touch to the masses. This hybrid notebook lifts HP's desktop experience from its TouchSmart and drops it into a smallish package--small in that it has a 12.1-inch screen; but it's a little on the big-boned side, and too heavy to be truly portable, as most laptops with this size screen would be. Size and slow performance are the only drawbacks to HP's otherwise reasonably smart design.

The biggest deal about the tx2: It's a fully-functional touch-screen tablet. The screen recognizes multitouch gestures (zooming in and out) within some basic Windows areas. It's not a perfect implementation--and it doesn't work across everything in Windows--but it works as advertised with or without the stylus. (I was able to resize desktop icons and zoom in on Web pages with pinching motions on-screen.)

Second, the 1280-by-800-pixel display is sufficiently bright. Its glossy coating makes it fairly easy to see both indoors and out, despite a little glare; this stands in contrast to most other tablet PCs I've seen, which have some sort of no-nonsense matte coating. Of course, there is one issue to using a glossy multitouch screen: smudge city. If the CSI team dusts the screen, I'd be busted. To make matters a little worse, the display is a tad grainy compared with standard notebooks that you'll likely see next to the tx2 on store shelves.

The tx2 starts at US$1000; our test machine had a 2.4-GHz AMD Turion X2 Ultra Dual-Core Mobile Processor ZM-86, 4GB of RAM, and a relatively meager 64MB ATI Radeon HD 3200 GPU, a configuration that sells for about $1573. That combination of parts resulted in a score of 68 on our WorldBench 6 tests--but also presents a bit of a bind for the tx2. While the 12.1-inch screen makes the tx2 a perfect candidate for ultraportable status, the total package also packs on the weight. Tipping the scales at 4.3 pounds, it's a bit too bulky and falls in with all-purpose laptops. A score of 68, while not great, is slightly below average among ultraportable machines. In the all-purpose category, though, that's bottom-of-the barrel performance.

So how does this model do otherwise? Fairly well, in my hands-on evaluation. The keyboard's buttons have just the right amount of spacing, as well as give for when you start typing away. And I really dig the settings shortcut button next to the screen: It is probably the handiest button on the laptop, besides the power toggle. A quick tap and every major setting you'd likely fiddle with on your PC is in one handy window.

However, the size of the notebook means a small keyboard where sacrifices must be made. Notably, the function keys get short shrift. Shrunken down to pygmy size, these little buttons also host second functions. Every notebook does that to some degree, so it's not a huge shocker, but there are so many functions crammed along the top, it takes some doing to find and relearn the commands you want. One thing that's easy to locate, however, is the recessed mousepad: Little dips lead your hand to the controls, and it is plenty responsive.