What's hot: Attractive, high quality design, sharp no-grain screen, Wacom digitizer, runs long and cool.
What's not: Screen glare.
Reviewed February 2, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
in Chief (updated March 2010)
Editor's note: the TM2 is now sold with an Intel Core i3 and i5 ULV CPUs.
The HP TouchSmart TM2 tablet replaces the long running AMD processor-based HP TX series of convertible tablet PCs that began with the Pavilion TX1000 in mid-2007. The HP TouchSmart TX2z, the last of the TX series, offered a lot of bang for the buck, but thanks to the AMD CPU stuffed into a small package, it ran hot and noisy. That might be OK for a traditional notebook, but for a tablet which you hold in your arms or use in a school room, it wasn't so grand. Were it not for that, HP might have had the perfect consumer tablet, and despite the machine's warm-running/short battery life characteristics, it sold very well. Why? While Lenovo and Dell offered tablets with dual digitizers that supported both capacitive touch and an EMR pen, they cost double what the HP did. And the TX2z was a machine that could do it all with a fairly fast CPU, dedicated graphics, 8 gigs of RAM max and an internal optical drive.
The new HP TM2 does an about-face and opts for a quiet, cool and long-running Intel CULV processor packaged in a very attractive metal casing that shares design elements with HP's high end Envy notebook line. Gone are the slippery plastics and less professional look of the TX2z. In fact, the TM2 shares the Envy's trackpad and chiclet keyboard along with the metal casing. Though the TM2 weighs about the same as the TX2, it feels more balanced and thus less heavy. Though it isn't lighter, it loses the internal optical drive and ExpressCard slot along with the multimedia remote that would reside in the ExpressCard slot, which may be a drawback for college students looking for a machine that can play DVDs (the machine works fine with external optical drives, though none is included with the TM2-1070US we're reviewing). Likewise, though the TM2's CULV processor performs surprisingly well, if you're a student using this as your sole computer and need a very powerful machine that can do heavier lifting, consider a tablet like the Fujitsu T4310 with a 2.2GHz Intel T6600 Core 2 Duo or the older TX2z while it's still available. There are two basic design routes for convertible tablets: the all-in-one that does everything your mid to high end notebook does (Fujitsu T4310/T4410, TX2, Toshiba Portege M750) and the slim, long and cool running models (Dell XT2, Lenovo X200t and now the TM2).
What is the TouchSmart TM2?
The TouchSmart is HP's consumer tablet PC with a convertible design. Convertible means it converts from a "normal" looking laptop to a tablet (in tablet mode, it looks like a large slate). With Windows 7's greater support for tablet features, we've seen notebooks with a non-convertible design and touch screen like the Toshiba Satellite Pro U500 and Lenovo ThinkPad T400s, but honestly they don't make a lot of sense if you really want to use touch extensively, let alone a pen. The HP weighs 4.72 lbs. and that's pretty much the going weight for tablet PCs, excluding the 4 lb. models from Dell and Lenovo that sell for a considerable premium.
The TouchSmart has a 12.1" LED backlit gloss HP BrightView display with a Wacom digitizer that supports both 2-finger multi-touch via the capacitive layer and active digitizer input via the included pen that lives in a silo on the notebook's left side. The Wacom digitizer supports pressure sensitivity in applications such as Adobe Photoshop CS4 and Corel Painter 11.
In our review, we take a look at the retail store version, the TM2-1070US (which will likely become the HP website's quick ship model). If you buy direct from HP, you can customize the configuration, and we'll note that throughout the review. Our TM2-1070US ships with the Intel Core 2 Duo S7300 1.3GHz CPU, 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM (upgradable to 8 gigs), Intel 4500HD integrated graphics, a 320 gig 7200 RPM hard drive, Intel WiFi 802.11b/g/n and a fingerprint scanner. It does not have Bluetooth and the TM2 doesn't ship with an external optical drive (you can order one if you buy the tablet from HP's web site). A 1.6GHz CULV Intel SU9600 processor is optional as is switchable discrete graphics courtesy of the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4550.
HP alternately refers to this tablet as the TM2 and TM2t. The "t" indicates an Intel processor in HP's product numbering lingo, and it's a bit superfluous since it's unlikely this machine will ever ship with an AMD CPU.
Design and Ergonomics
The HP Touchsmart TM2 has a slimming design that makes it look thinner than it is. Not that it's thick at 1" at the front and 1.5" at the back. The back is thicker thanks to the battery hump. Rather than extending the battery out the back as with the TX2, the TM2 opts for a more integrated design. No, the hump doesn't make drawing and writing awkward when the tablet is on the table, nor does it stick out enough to cause problems when putting it in a bag or backpack. The hump makes typing more comfortable, and that we like. I confess I miss the the way the TX2z's protruding battery acted as a grab handle in tablet mode, though it wasn't attractive and unlike the hump, it did require extra space in a bag.
The lid and keyboard deck are brushed aluminum and look as chic as the Envy line. Both the lid and deck have an abstract pattern that's typical for HP notebooks. The laptop is "argento blush", or more descriptively, a complex matte silver whose color changes subtly depending on the environment. In bright, cool light it looks silver, and in subdued incandescent lighting it has a lilac blush, but the color isn't strong enough to make manly-men run. Build quality and edge finish are top notch and put the TouchSmart above the usual plasticky/average build quality thousand dollar convertible tablet notebooks.
The oversized trackpad is taken from the HP Envy line and it features the same buttonless design. When you press the left and right button areas, there's a tactile click so there are switches under the unbroken surface. HP and Synaptics have improved the driver since the first Envy models shipped, and the trackpad is easy to work with. It supports gestures and these can be disabled if they harm more than help. As with the Envy, you can turn off the trackpad by tapping twice on its upper left hand corner where the LED lives (it turns amber when the trackpad is turned off).
The keyboard, again like the Envy, is an island style chiclet keyboard with discrete keys that we absolutely love. The key surfaces have a soft-touch finish that prevents slips and slides but it's not so sticky that it slows you down. Good job, HP! The keyboard is recessed just a bit which feels natural when typing and prevents the keys from touching the LCD.
Gone is the lid's jiggle and wobble noted in the TX2z when closed in notebook and tablet positions. The hinge mechanism is sturdy and stiff, and a set of holes and nubs on the bezel help keep it in place and magnets help keep it closed. The TouchSmart TM2 has a bi-directional display hinge, which means you can rotate it in either direction to switch to tablet mode. But you must turn it back using the opposite rotation motion (if you turn it left to tablet mode, you must rotate it right to return it to notebook mode). The notebook doesn't rotate the display when physically turn the LCD; instead you'll need to press the tiny display rotation button on the edge of the bezel on the right side. The fingerprint scanner is also on the edge of the bezel on the right side. The power slider is very stiff, but after using it a few days I can say that's a good thing since the less stiff wireless button next to it is too easy to hit when handling the notebook in tablet mode.
The Altec Lansing stereo speakers are placed where they belong on a tablet: on the lower display bezel so you can hear them loud and clear in tablet mode. These are very good sounding laptop speakers, though they're not as deafeningly loud as the old TX2z's.
The notebook's underside is traditional black plastic and there are passive heat vents for the hard drive and RAM, an air intake vent on the front edge and a large exhaust grille on the left rear. The machine runs extremely cool and quiet. For some reason ours shipped with the BIOS set to "fan always on", though this doesn't seem to be the norm. We turned that feature off, and the fan ran only as needed, keeping the CPU cores running at 26C/78F when idle or doing light work, and in the 86-92F range when working hard. In terms of heat and noise, the machine is a pleasure to use. Even when holding it on an arm, tablet style, it remained cool.
The TouchSmart TM2 has a decent selection of ports, though we've lost a few from the TX to TM evolution. It has 3 USB 2.0 ports (2 on the right and 1 on the left), an HDMI port (left), VGA port (rear), a 5-in-1 card reader slot and a single 3.5mm stereo 4 conductor headphone/mic on the left. The TM2's webcam lives dead center above the display and dual mics surround the camera.
Display - Touchscreen - Pen
The TM2's LED backlit 12.1" display will likely wow most folks. It reminds us of the TouchSmart desktops: high gloss, high contrast and so good looking you'd never guess it has both a capacitive layer and an active digitizer. It looks worlds better than the very grainy TX2z, and better than the modestly grainy Fujitsu T4310. In fact, there is no grain-- none, nada, zip. But there is an abundance of glare, something that wasn't a problem on the matte TX2z, the Fujitsu or the Lenovo X200t. Mainstream shoppers generally seem to favor the rich blacks and high contrast of a gloss display on regular notebooks, so we expect the glare won't stop them from buying the HP. But graphic artists who are sensitive to glare might not be pleased. The glare doesn't bother me, and I'll take it any day as a tradeoff for a great-looking LCD. I tend to work in subdued office and home lighting and I can angle the machine as necessary to reduce glare. But those of you who work outdoors will find the HP turns into a mirror, though colors and contrast remain unexpectedly good. The viewing angle is better than the TX series but not as good as a thousand dollar traditional notebook sans touch screen. When color accuracy in your work matters, you'll want to look dead-on at the display to avoid minor color shifts.
Brightness is quite high, as mentioned contrast is excellent as are black levels and colors are rich, deep and accurate. The LCD picks up fingerprints, but we suspect there's some coating since it doesn't get as mucky-yucky as you'd expect. A few days' worth of smudges actually reduce glare and aren't detrimental to image quality so there's no need to constantly clean it. When it does need a cleaning, a microfiber cloth does the trick and Klear Screen and iKlear are good for heavy duty grime.
The touch screen supports two fingers (sorry, no idea if it's the hardware or software that limits it to two), and like the iPhone it's a capacitive multi-touch display. That means you can pinch-zoom, rotate an image or document with two fingers and do gestures. The screen requires a slightly firmer touch than the very light touch HP TX that used an N-Trig rather than Wacom digitizer. But it's definitely easy and fun to use.
Our only complaint is that the touch screen sleeps if you've been using the keyboard and trackpad for some time and we had to poke at it a few times to wake it up. This was intermittent, and is the result of a power management setting in Windows Device Manager. To fix this, right-click on the My Computer icon on the desktop. Then select the Device Manager link. Expand the HID devices listing and select the first USB input device (you'll find it low down in the HID devices list). Double-click on it and change the power settings via the power managment tab. Uncheck the "turn off this device to save power" option. Now the touch screen won't keep going to sleep!
The active digitizer works with the included battery-less EMR Wacom pen-enabled pen that lives in a silo on the notebook's left side. The pen is the same size as the TX's, and is about average in terms of comfort, size and design for a tablet PC stylus. The barrel is matte so it won't slip and it has a single click button. There's an eraser up top that works fine in Photoshop, Corel Painter and MS Office 2010. The pen has pressure sensitivity if the app supports it, and most major graphics apps do support the Wacom digitizer (see our video part 2 below to watch graphics apps and pressure sensitivity in action).
Pressure sensitivity in Photoshop and Painter aren't as good as the Wacom Intuos4 tablet, but for a tablet PC, it's pretty good (256 vs. 1024 levels). Twiddling with application settings will help increase sensitivity to a light touch as will setting the Pen Tablet control panel pen to a firmer setting. The included pen feels perfect for inking (writing), with a sense that ink is flowing freely but not sloppily. It's bit heavy on the ink when drawing and I found that switching to a softer, rougher nib (not included but you can buy a set of nibs for $5 from Wacom's website) improves pressure control a bit and using Wacom's generic pen-enabled pen was much better for drawing and painting with pressure (I had one left from a several generations old Wacom tablet, but Wacom also sells these).
The HP TouchSmart TM2 in tablet mode.
The power slider, wireless button, card reader slot, 2 USB ports and the charging port on the right side.
The TouchSmart TM2 is a hot topic and it has a lot of features, so we've made three videos of the machine.
Part 1 covers unboxing, physical design and comparisons with the HP Envy 15 and HP TX2z:
Part 2 shows graphics apps in action such as Photoshop CS4, Corel Painter 11, ArtRage and Corel Paint it! touch.
We test out pressure sensitivity, image manipulation times and more:
Part 3 covers MS Office business/student stuff: inking and handwriting conversion in MS OneNote 2010,
MS Word 2010 and a demo of Hulu full screen playback.
Horsepower and Performance
Normally, we don't expect a lot from Intel CULV processors in terms of performance, though they're great when it comes to battery life and heat. The latest crop of CULV CPUs used in the HP TouchSmart pleasantly surprised us though. The 1.3GHz Intel SU7300 Core 2 Duo is standard, and HP offers the 1.6GHz Intel SU9600 for $200 more. Our machine has the 1.3GHz CPU, and the machine felt responsive with no undue lagging. The fast 7200 RPM hard drives that are standard with the TM2 do help performance, and our machine shipped with the 320 gig Western Digital Scorpio Black notebook drive. This is an SATA 3 Gb/s drive with a 16 meg cache and it ran fast and quiet in our tests.
The SU7300 has an 800MHz FSB and 3 megs of level 2 cache. It's a 64 bit, dual core, non-hyperthreading CPU that supports virtualization. The machine has 2 standard SODIMM slots that are easily accessible under a door on the bottom, and it ships with 4 gigs (two 2 gig SODIMMs) of DDR3 PC3-8500 1066MHz RAM. Max RAM is 8 gigs using two 4 gig RAM modules. The hard drive is likewise easily accessible through a door on the machine's bottom.
In our experiential tests, Windows Aero ran flawlessly, YouTube playback was fine (even full screen 720p content), Hulu full screen worked wonderfully using the included Hulu desktop player (Hulu occasionally lost A/V sync when playing full screen via the web browser rather than the desktop player) and Netflix played perfectly. You can watch our video to get a feel for Photoshop CS4 and Painter performance-- I'd call Photoshop definitely acceptable and Painter excellent. For a low power computer, the TouchSmart does its job very well. Just don't expect Alienware or Core i7 Envy 15 performance from this little fella. But for 2D graphics work, Flash video, Silverlight playback and MS Office work it's fine. In fact, it performed as well as my 2.2GHz AMD TX2z except for demanding games. Speaking of games, HP offers a built-to-order option that adds the ATI Radeon Mobility HD 4550 for only $75. It's definitely worth the modest price increase if you want to game, though this low-key dedicated GPU won't turn your TM2 into an Envy 15 or Qosmio. If you go with the dedicated ATI GPU, you'll get the Intel integrated graphics as well and you can switch between them depending on your performance vs. battery life needs for a given task.
Update, February 2010: HP now offers a lower-spec CPU, the 1.3GHz Intel Pentium SU4100. We don't recommend this CPU as it's significantly slower than the Core 2 Duo 1.3GHz SU7300.
PCMark Suite overall score: 2714
Memory Suite: 1735
Gaming Suite: 1685
Music Suite: 2889
Communication Suite: 2616
Productivity Suite: 2372
HDD Test Suite: 2645
Wireless and other Goodies
The TM2-1070US ships with Intel WiFi 802.11b/g/n and 10/100 Ethernet. Bluetooth and WWAN broadband (Gobi, your choice of Verizon, AT&T or Sprint) are optional. The webcam is standard and the TM2-1070US ships with a fingerprint scanner for biometric security (it's optional on CTO models) and Digital Persona software.
Nice... the standard 1.3GHz TouchSmart with Intel graphics lasts 5 to 5.5 hours when being frivolous with the juice (balanced power setting, brightness at 70% and WiFi on and active). When using it with wireless off and brightness set to 40% (it's a bright display so 40% is tolerable) and doing MS Office work, it lasted us 7 hours on a charge. The machine ships with a 6 cell battery and a compact 65W AC adapter.
Software and Bloatware
HP ships the TouchSmart with an impressive array of both useful and annoying software. Fortunately, the useful and custom software outweigh the bloatware. HP's own TouchSmart software is a highly graphical, easy to use and finger-friendly set of applications that include Hulu and Netflix players (our Netflix player got cranky but using it via the web worked fine). Watch our second video review to see this software in action and watch part 3 to see Hulu playback. The included "Corel Paint it! touch" application is a very useful program that supports both finger and pen drawing and painting, and supports multi-touch gestures too. HP includes BumpTop 3D desktop, and that's a replacement desktop application that's fun for the first 20 minutes but in the end not so useful (novice computer users may appreciate it more than seasoned computer types).
Bloatware includes the usual 60 day MS Office 2007 trial (dump it and download the free MS Office 2010 beta), MS Works 9.0, Norton Internet Security 60 day trial and 28 Wild Tangent online game trials.
We gave the HP TouchSmart TM2 our Editor's Choice award not because it's the Cadillac of tablet PCs. If money is no object, we'd probably opt for the ThinkPad X200t. Though touch works better on the HP, the Lenovo's bright, barely-grainy non-glare display is luscious and the machine weighs less. But the X200t costs twice as much, and for the money the HP TM2 can't be beat. Times are hard and tablets appeal to two not very well-heeled groups: starving artists and students, and the HP is a wonderful machine for a thousand dollars. The build quality is excellent, it's got an aluminum casing, high-quality looks and one of the nicest touch-active digitizer displays we've seen as long as you don't mind the gloss. The HP runs cool and quiet and battery life with the standard battery is very, very good. The Wacom digitizer ensures compatibility with Photoshop and most other graphics apps that support pen input. Even with the 1.3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, it has enough horse power to make working with these apps a pleasant experience. And it's got enough power for fun watching YouTube, Hulu and iTunes SD content.
As I mentioned, there are two camps for tablets: those that are all-in-one powerhouses and those that forego the optical drive and fast CPU for long battery life and slimmer, lighter designs. The HP TouchSmart clearly shoots for the second camp, though it's it bit heavier than the more expensive competition. If you can have only one computer and need an all-around performer, the HP might not be for you since it uses the CULV processor rather than a high-powered Core 2 Duo and you must use an external optical drive. For those who need a powerful and complete notebook, the (more expensive) Toshiba M750 and Fujitsu T4310 or T4410 are worth a look. The Fujitsu models have pretty much everything a normal notebook has, though their build quality and screen aren't as good as the HP.
Pro: Attractive design, brushed metal casing, excellent build quality. Absolutely no grain in the display and it's got great contrast and is sharp. Supports both pen and touch and uses the industry standard Wacom technology. Very good battery life, runs cool and quiet. Strong performance for a CULV laptop. Has a good selection of ports including HDMI and 3 USB ports. A fast 7200 RPM hard drive is standard, has built-to-order options for discrete graphics for a small upcharge and a faster CPU (though not that much faster). Great keyboard and large trackpad.
Con: No internal optical drive, some drivers could use bug fixes (likely we'll see them) to handle glitches like twitching login field when it wakes from hibernation/ failure to re-init the fingerprint scanner in tablet mode (slide the power switch to sleep it then wake it up and all is back to normal), touch screen seems to go to sleep requiring a poke or two to wake it.
Price: $999 for the TM2-1070US. CTO prices start at $949
Display:12.1" LED backlight HP BrightView display with Wacom active digitizer (pen-based) and capacitive touch screen supporting 2 fingers. Resolution: 1280 x 800. Has HDMI and VGA ports. Intel 4500HD integrated graphics. ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4550 graphics with 512 megs dedicated VRAM optional. If ordered with ATI dedicated graphics, the machine ships with switchable graphics so you can switch to Intel integrated graphics to reduce power consumption.
Battery:6 cell Lithium
Ion rechargeable. Claimed battery life: up to 9.75 hours. Our tests got 5 to 5.5 hours with wireless on and brightness set to 66%. 65W compact AC adapter.
Performance and drives:CULV Intel
Core 2 Duo SU7300 running at 1.3GHz standard. CULV Intel Core 2 Duo SU9600 running at 1.6GHz is optional. 4 gigs of DDR3 P-8500 RAM is standard, max is 8 gigs (has 2 SODIMM slots that are easily accessible under RAM door on the bottom of the computer). 7200 RPM drives are standard, 320 gig ships with the TM2-1070US, 160 - 500 gig drives available when built to order. Our drive was a Western Digital Scorpio Black. HP's 3D Drive Guard software is standard (parks heads when accelerometer senses sudden movement). No internal optical drive, HP sells an external USB drive from their website or you can use the USB optical drive of your choice.
Size:11.9x 8.7 x 1.03/1.55 inches. Weight: 4.72 pounds.
Audio:Altec Lansing stereo speakers located in the bezel below the display. 3.5mm stereo headphone jack (works with mic/headset combos using 4-ring plug. Dual mics above display.
Networking:10/100 Ethernet. Intel wireless WiFi 802.11b/g/n. Bluetooth optional, 3G WWAN Broadband (Gobi) optional (choose Verizon, AT&T or Sprint).
7 Home Premium Edition, Windows 7 Professional is optional. HP TouchSmart software, Hulu and Netflix desktop apps, MS Works 9.0, MS Office 2007 60 day trial, Norton Internet Security 60 day trial, BumpTop (3D desktop software), Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7 (MS Surface applications that work with the touch screen), Cyberlink DVD software, LightScribe disc-labeling software, Digital Persona software (for fingerprint scanner) and Corel Paint Touch application.
Security: Biometric fingerprint scanner standard on the TM2-1070US, optional when built to order.