Tablet PCs are many things, but affordable and powerful they generally aren't. HP changed that with their TX line of tablets, first introduced in the summer of 2007 with the Pavilion tx1000. Nearly 2 years later the tx has come a long way and has moved from the Pavilion line to its own TouchSmart line along with the all-in-one desktop TouchSmart PC. The TouchSmart tx2z features an active digitizer combined with a capacitive multi-touch screen. Neat stuff. That means you have the accuracy of an EMR pen and the finger-friendliness of the iPhone in a tablet PC. The digitizer knows when you're using the pen and automatically disables touch until the pen rises, thereby offering palm rejection (important to avoid vectoring when drawing with the pen while your hand rests on the display).
The HP tx2z sells for approximately $1,000 after HP's rebate, and that's about half the price of the Dell XT2 tablet, currently the only other tablet PC using the same dual active digitizer plus capacitive touch display, a technology developed by N-trig. We expect to see tablets using the N-trig digitizer to bloom in the coming year since Windows 7 makes great use of its capabilities (more on that later).
There are 2 major convertible tablet factions: the very slim and light models like the Lenovo ThinkPad X200t and the Dell XT2, and those that approach regular notebook processing power and drive configurations like the Toshiba M750 and Fujitsu T5010. The HP is closer to the power models, weighing in at 4.6 lbs., having an internal DVD burner and a dual core AMD 64 bit CPU running at 2.2GHz. For our review, we're using the tx2 1020US which is a pre-configured model that's available on HP's website and from retailers like Fry's and Office Depot. There are a variety of CPU, RAM and hard drive configurations available when building to order from HP's web site, and Best Buy sells a lower spec-d version of the tx2 (read the specs fine print before buying from Best Buy!).
In terms of price, nothing beats the HP given its healthy set of features, specs and N-trig digitizer. Like most convertible tablets, it has a 12.1" 1280 x 800 display, and it's LED backlit, making for more vibrant colors and reduced power consumption. HP's first shipment of the tx2z featured clear, high gloss displays similar to the desktop TouchSmart. Early in 2009 they switched to a more matte display which caused consternation among those who liked the less grainy high gloss display. I personally prefer a more matte finish since glare is a particular problem when using a tablet (one holds it a variety of angles so it may pick up reflections). The matte finish provides for more traction when using the pen (a more pen on paper feel) as well. But the drawback is that as with many tablets over the years, the display shows a bit of graininess. In comparison, the HP is brighter than the Lenovo x200t with the resistive touch plus active digitizer option but not as sharp and clear as the Toshiba m750 with the resistive touch plus active digitizer option. The HP is much better than the budget-minded Fujitsu T1010 tablet whose resistive display is milky and washed out. In the end, the HP display is by no means bad, and in fact is remarkably good given the laptop's price, but those who need the absolute best in clarity (doctors examining x-rays and other visual lab results on-screen) may want to pass. The tx2 gets a demerit for its narrow viewing angle, which is smaller than other tablets currently on the market.
Specs and Horsepower
The HP tx2 1020US ships with 4 gigs of DDR2 RAM and Windows Vista Home Premium 64 bit (required to address all 4 gigs of memory). It runs on the AMD Puma platform (AMD's counterpart to the Intel Centrino 2 platform) with a 2.2GHz AMD Turion X2 Ultra ZM-82 dual core CPU. The Puma platform features ATI's Radeon HD 3200 graphics with 64 megs of dedicated memory (additional memory is available as shared memory). This DirectX 10 compatible graphics solution is faster than current integrated graphics solutions from Intel and performs on par with the Nvidia GeForce 9400M. The notebook handles moderate gaming just fine (excluding crazily demanding games like Crysis), though the fan will blow loudly when playing 3D titles while plugged in to an outlet. Fortunately, the Altec Lansing stereo speakers are full and loud enough to drown out the fan.
The tx2 has an excellent keyboard.
The dimpled trackpad is more precise than standard trackpads. We like!
The tablet has a dual layer DVD burner with Lightscribe disc labeling technology, a 320 gig 5400 rpm hard drive (ours was a Seagate), WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/draft-n with above average connections speeds and range on 802.11n, Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR, a biometric fingerprint scanner, 3 USB 2.0 ports, a VGA port, an SD card reader, ExpressCard/34 slot and Altec Lansing stereo speakers. Those are very good specs for a tablet at this price. The only things missing are HDMI and FireWire. Experientially, the notebook feels very fast and it beats the pants off of ULV tablets like the Dell XT2. It performs on par with the Toshiba M750 with the Intel P8600 Centrino 2 platform in terms of CPU performance and beats the M750 in the graphics department. We were unable to benchmark the tx2 using PCMark Vantage due to incompatibilities between that program and the very recent hardware used in the tx2.
Tablet features, Multi-touch and Windows 7
As mentioned, the tx2z has both an active digitizer (the kind that works with a special EMR pen) and a capacitive touch screen layer that supports up to 4 simultaneous touch points. The included pen fits in a silo on the notebook's right side and HP includes a tether cord if you're the type to lose the stylus. The pen is average in size among tablets and it feels good in the hand. There's a single button on the side and no eraser on the back end (this means you'll have to select the eraser tool in your graphics program). The nib (replaceable stylus tip) isn't the same as that used with Wacom tablets and digitizers, it has a very thin metal shaft on the end that inserts into the pen barrel and the battery-less pen charges when in use. HP doesn't include spare nibs in the box and they list the $25 spare pen but not nibs for sale on their accessory web site. We haven't had the tablet long enough to discover just how long the nib lasts before it wears down. The pen and digitizer have pressure sensitivity, but neither Photoshop nor Corel Painter support the N-trig digitizer. Art Rage 2 and Alias Sketchbook Pro do support pressure sensitivity.
The tx2z's display can rotate in all four directions-- something us lefties appreciate. There's a button on the front bezel to rotate the display. Also on the front bezel are HP MediaSmart buttons and a Windows Mobility Center button that's enhanced with HP-specific plugins for wireless. The fingerprint scanner is on the bezel, so you can use that when in tablet mode and the stereo speakers mounted just under the display aren't covered when in tablet mode.
In Windows Vista, multi-touch is minimally supported-- there are no useful gestures like pinch and swipe. HP's TouchSmart application that handles images, video and other multimedia does support multi-touch and you can pinch to zoom, swipe to move to the next picture and rotate images. Where the notebook really shines is Windows 7 which adds strong support for capacitive multi-touch displays-- it's like using an iPhone. The OS and MS programs support inertia scrolling (a long, strong finger swipe scrolls the page further, faster), pinch zooming with two fingers, rotation with two fingers, painting with up to 4 fingers in Paint (however useful that is...) and more. Even Windows Media Center handles touch well. We installed Windows 7 RC 64-bit on our tx2z to demonstrate these features and honestly, there's no way we'd go back to Vista. Touch works so well that it reminds us of Microsoft Surface, and there are other obvious improvements in Windows 7 (it's faster, leaner and easier to use).
Here's our video demoing multi-touch in Windows 7 and in a variety of programs:
For those who already own or are considering the purchase of a tx2z and want to install Windows 7 RC (a free download from Microsoft that expires June 2010)-- go for it! We recommend a clean install to avoid older drivers that might cause conflicts as well as bloatware that can bog things down. The standard installation installed all the drivers we needed except the N-trig Windows 7 driver (available here) and HP's control button software which you can download from HP's web site or you can hunt for it in the C:\SWSETUP folder on your tx2z.
The TouchSmart notebook is definitely ready for fun. The DVD drive can play movies and the usual HP remote that tucks into the ExpressCard slot controls playback of movies, music and Windows Media Center. The tablet had no trouble playing iTunes HD content (though the fan can get loud) and the Altec Lansing speakers sound simply awesome-- loud and full. If you don't want to share your tunes and video soundtrack with the immediate world, the tablet has a 3.5mm headphone jack on the front edge. For Skype and other types of video and audio conferencing/VoIP, the tx2z has stereo mics that do an excellent job of picking up voice while rejecting background noise and a VGA webcam that's dark (we wish it were a 1.3MP webcam).
Battery Life and Fan Noise
Yes, this is an AMD ultraportable, so it gets a section that's in part dedicated to fan noise. AMD mobile CPUs like the ZM series are excellent performers but they do run hotter than Intel's Core 2 Duo notebook CPUs. Likewise, that spiffy ATI graphics chipset that does a wonderful job with HD video, 3D gaming and more but it gets hot. And the smaller the notebook, the less heat dissipating surface that's available to cool the machine. The attractive part of the compromise is price: AMD-powered notebooks are considerably less expensive than Core 2 Duo machines and we'd never see a notebook with the tx2z's features at this price otherwise. When the notebook is unplugged and the power settings are at balanced or power-saver, the fan runs very quietly when doing web surfing, office document work, email and drawing in Sketchbook Pro. Plug it in and the fan comes on more often and louder. Play a 3D game or iTunes HD video and the fan is pretty loud, even unplugged. Note: there's a BIOS option for "fan always on" which is on by default. Leave it that way: we turned it off and the fan still ran and tended to race more often. This may be a deal breaker for students who tend to plug in their notebooks and require near-silence in libraries and lecture halls. If you can use it unplugged, the problem is minimal. Surprisingly, the bottom of the notebook doesn't get hotter than many small Core 2 Duo machines and it's not uncomfortable to touch as long as you haven't blocked the fan vents and allowed heat to build up.
The tx2z features HP's "Reaction Imprint finish". It's glossy, attractive and somehow doesn't get too mucked up with fingerprints.
The hard drive, RAM and wireless are easy to access.
And that leads to battery life. The HP tx2z 1020US manages 3 hours on a charge with the included 6 cell battery that sticks out about an inch from the back (it makes for a good handle in tablet mode). That's with WiFi and Bluetooth on, brightness set to 70% and low demand programs running (MS Office 2007, Firefox, Outlook and a sketch program). For an AMD machine, that's good battery life. HP sells an 8 cell battery for $120 that adds an hour or more of runtime vs. the 6 cell battery and that sticks out not only at the back but on the bottom, raising the rear edge of the notebook about 1/2 inch.
The HP TouchSmart tx2z is a great deal-- it's got serious processing power and most of the trimmings of a full sized notebook in a 12" tablet chassis. We love the multi-touch technology from N-trig and it really shines in Windows 7. Multi-touch is the way of the future in the Windows world, and the tx2z is ready now. HP's Reaction Imprint finish looks great and build quality is very good. If you're looking for a tablet that is powerful enough to be your primary notebook, the TouchSmart does the job and for much less money than other all-arounders like the Toshiba M750. Drawbacks for the budget sticker? The AMD platform requires more fan action and this bugger can get loud. The viewing angle is limited which means you'll need to angle it just right to get the best brightness and colors when in tablet mode.
Pro: Great value for the price. The TouchSmart tx2z has the power and features of a standard notebook packed into a 12" tablet PC. The dual purpose N-trig digitizer brings us the best of both worlds: an active pen and capacitive multi-touch. Ready for Windows 7 touch. Fast CPU, large hard drive, dual layer DVD burner, WiFi, Bluetooth and ATI graphics make this an all-around machine rather than a specialized secondary notebook for tablet use. Better than average speed and range on 802.11n WiFi.
Con: Fan is loud when the notebook is plugged in and working moderately hard. Limited display viewing angle and some graininess.
Display:12.1" LED backlit display with 1280 x 800 resolution. N-trig digitizer with capacitive touch (supporting multi-touch) and active digitizer for pen (supports pressure sensitivity). ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics with 64 megs dedicated memory (additional memory is shared).
Battery:6 cell Lithium
Ion rechargeable. 4 and 8 cell batteries also available. Ships with compact world charger.
Performance:AMD Turion X2 Ultra ZM-82 CPU running at 2.2GHz (other AMD CPUs are available). 4 gigs of DDR2 RAM (8 gigs max) with 2 SODIMM slots.
Size:12.05"(W) x 8.82"(D) x 1.23" (min H) / 1.52" (max H). Weight: 4.65 pounds with 6 cell battery. Weight saver for optical drive bay included to reduce weight a few ounces.
in Altec Lansing stereo speakers, stereo mics and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack and mic jack. Has dedicated volume and mute buttons above keyboard.
WiFi 802.11a/b/g/draft-n, gigabit Ethernet, modem and Bluetooth 2.0.
Drives:320 gig 5400 rpm drive (ours was a Seagate). Dual layer DVD burner with LightScribe.
Vista Home Premium 64-bit operating system with service pack 1. One Note 2007 full version, 60 day trial of MS Office Home and Student Edition, Symantec Norton Internet Security 2009 (60 day trial), Cyberlink DVD Suite, HP MediaSmart, various HP utilities.
SD (Secure Digital) slot and one ExpressCard/34 slot.