For all those teachers, IT staffers and administrators who are tired of fussing with projectors and interactive white boards to make sure they are focused, properly aligned and calibrated, HP has a different way to look at integrating digital curriculum into the classroom. Its TouchSmart IQ816 all-in-one PC can turn a finger into a powerful teaching tool.
Powered by a 2.1GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB of system memory, 750GB hard drive and a Blu-Ray optical drive, the IQ816 is a powerful computer that masquerades as a touch-screen monitor. It’s less than 4 inches thick, sleek and well-designed. On the downside, it requires a huge power supply that uses a three-prong plug.
There’s a beautiful fold-out stand that looks like a piece of modern sculpture but the system can get no closer than 7-inches away from a wall, and at 35-pounds, it needs to sit on a sturdy desk or shelf. Using the $50 wall mounting hardware is more practical for schools, particularly for small rooms where every inch counts.
Its 25.5-inch LCD screen is the center of attention and can show 1,920 by 1,200 resolution. Capable of displaying all HD programming, the TouchSmart uses an nVidia GeForce 9600 graphics engine with 512MB of its own memory and can augment this with 1.8GB more borrowed from system memory for detailed video.
Finger work is to with the TouchSmart’s success. Imagine diagramming a sentence, filling in an interactive math worksheet or highlighting a digital copy of the Constitution and you get an idea of the TouchSmart’s potential in the classroom. If you get tired of using a finger, a stylus or even unsharpened pencil does fine. Whether it’s with school software, an online video of World War I or TV programming, its video is smooth, colors are sharp.
Its biggest problem is size. At 25.5-inches, it’s the perfect size for groups of up to about a dozen in a semicircle, although it can be used in a small classroom. I hope that HP will engineer larger model sometime soon so it can help out for larger room.
On the downside, like any sheet of glass that gets touched by students and teachers several times a day, the IQ816’s screen quickly gets covered with fingerprints. Luckily, it comes with a synthetic cleaning cloth.
The system is meant to always be on and set to go into power-saving sleep mode after a period of inactivity. To wake the system up, just tap it anywhere on the screen. It responds in a couple seconds. At the bottom of the screen, there is a row of large application icons in what HP calls the TouchSmart bar. This shows a preview of three apps as well as the ability to shuffle among the items by dragging a finger across the group. Tap to open anything.
Unlike most touch-screens, it’s a very bright screen and it outdoes most interactive white boards by always being calibrated, in focus and ready to start in a couple of seconds. It also allows teachers to control items with two-finger gestures, like pulling or pushing windows to resize them.
In the back are a multitude of connection ports that can be covered with a panel if neatness counts. Surprisingly, it lacks a VGA input port. This limits the IQ816’s ability to be used as a computer’s external monitor, such as with a student’s or guest’s notebook computer. There is an S-Video input, however.
The system comes with a wireless TV remote control, keyboard, mouse but the later two are separate items. If the keyboard and mouse were integrated into a single unit the teacher could more easily roam about the room while still having control over the lesson. I really like the LED lights under the screen that can be adjusted to any color, allowing a teacher to read material or notes in a darkened room while working the screen.
There’s a great set up guide for the system, but plan on spending close to an hour to get it fully working and configured. Chances are that you’ll still be surprised by new features that you missed. The system comes with a slew of software, including Norton Internet Security, Muvee video editing, TouchSmart Notes and the latest version of Microsoft Works.
It has power to spare with a Passmark Performance 6.1 score of 540, or roughly twice the level of most school notebooks. It’s also Energy Star certified for low-power use, but its power bill for a year of class work can be $320.
All told, the TouchSmart IQ816 has the power to change the way classrooms are set up and used. At first glance, the $2,100 price tag, which includes a one-year warranty, appears to be too expensive for most schools, particularly in the current tough times, but if you consider that it replaces a PC, projector and white board, it becomes a bargain.
+ All-in-one touch-screen PC
+ Built-in stand or wall-mount
+ Wireless mouse and keyboard
+ All Connectors are hidden
+ Excellent performance and video
- High price
- Screen too small for full-size classroom
- No VGA port