With its IdeaCentre Horizon 27, Lenovo in one stroke not only reinvents the desktop computer but creates a new way to teach and learn at schools. While it runs the risk of busting a district’s technology budget, the Horizon 27 is worth taking a look at because of its potential to make education more mobile.
Think of the Horizon 27 as either the world’s largest tablet or the most portable desktop PC. Either way, it can be used in a variety of ways for work and play. With an innovative design, Horizon is a self-contained Windows 8 computer with a mid-sized screen that can be run plugged in or on battery power. In other words, it breaks the mold for PCs today.
Built around a 27-inch HD display, Horizon looks like an oversized iPad. The system measures 27.2- by 16.9-inches and is just 1.4-inches thick. It has protective soft rubber bumpers all the way around and comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse for desktop use.
While most all-in-ones and tablets don’t allow you to get inside to clean things out or change components, Horizon excels in this area. It takes a minute to open the back’s clips with a screwdriver and pull the entire back cover of the system off. At this point, you can change RAM chips, replace the hard drive, swap one of the system’s four cooling fans or just blow accumulated dust out of the system.
The key to its flexibility is the Horizon 27’s fold-out stand. Like the Sony VAIO Tap 20, the stand can hold the system at up to about 75-degrees, but not full vertical orientation, for desktop use. Spring-loaded, the stand can smoothly be set up for anything between that and flat on a tabletop. Unfortunately, the system lacks VESA mounting screws so there’s no way to mount it on a wall without installing a shelf for the system.
A word of warning, at nearly 19-pounds, the Horizon 27 is a lot to lug around and will likely prove to be too much for some. Despite its heft, the system is much more solid for touch-screen operations than other hybrids, like Dell’s XPS 18. On the other hand, it lacks something as simple as a carrying handle, so you have to grab the Horizon in two strategic spots to move it from place to place; along the way it can be securely held under the arm.
Still, it can travel from desk to work table or from room to room. Lenovo sells a $300 adjustable cart for it that includes a handy keyboard and mouse tray. On the other hand, you can use a standard AV cart to turn it into a movable horizontal work table.
Inside the $1,850 unit that I looked at is a 2GHz Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive, making it one of the most powerful school systems around. There’s also a $1,650 model that is a step down with a 1.8GHz Core i5. Neither has a DVD drive or Ethernet and – like a notebook – requires an external power supply for charging the system.
The 27-inch screen is touch-sensitive and works with up to 10 independent inputs. It can show 1,920 by 1,080 resolution and used as a monitor with an HDMI input. On the downside, it can’t transfer what’s on the screen to a projector or larger external monitor and can’t use Intel’s WiDi wireless display system.
One of the brightest and richest touch-displays around, it works just as well for drawing a map as showing the class an HD movie or online video, playing an educational game or creating a collage from individual art elements. It worked particularly well with the University of Colorado’s PHET science and math simulations because rather than making adjustments with a mouse, just touch the screen and pull the item to the place you want it. At any time you can enter data with the wireless keyboard or the on-screen keyboard.
Behind the scenes, the Horizon has a unique dual-mode graphics arrangement that uses NVidia’s Optimus technology. In addition to its base Intel Graphics HD 4000 system, the Horizon has a mid-range GeForce GT620M accelerator with 2GB of video RAM. You can go back and forth between them by selecting the one you want based on the task at hand or let the system choose which is more appropriate.
In keeping with its mission, the Horizon’s ports are minimalist. In addition to a pair of USB 3.0 connections, it has jacks for a microphone and headphones. There’s also a flash memory card reader that can work with MemoryStick and Secure Digital cards.
Contrary to most PCs, software is Horizon’s strong suit. In addition to using Windows 8 and giving the school the option of continuing to use its Windows-based software, the system comes with Blue Stacks Android emulation app that allows you to run many, but not all, Android programs as if it were a tablet.
The system also comes with Lenovo’s Aura on-screen circular control panel. The set up provides easy access to music, video and a variety of apps, including a dozen educational programs that include early Chinese language classes. You can set it up to have Aura start when the system is set up flat on a table or cart.
While other touch systems are content with responding to simple gestures like pinching to zoom, Horizon has added several to its repertoire. You can twirl the Aura circular control, copy and paste, share and categorize items with your fingers.
The system also comes with some cool accessories, including a single electronic dice cube, a pair of joy sticks and a pusher. None need a data or power cord when in use and work with on-screen board games, like digital versions of Monopoly and air hockey games. I can only hope that interested software developers will take this a step further to create interactive educational games, such as one that explores the probabilities of dice throws.
It all adds up to a top performer, and likely one of the fastest PCs at your institution. The Horizon scored a 1,694.2 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8 with the NVidia graphics in use. That drops to 1,594.9 using Intel graphics. Its video was always clear and sharp, regardless of whether it was displaying an educational game or showing an HD movie.
The system’s 5,700 milliamp-hour battery can power the system for just under 2 hours and 30 minutes while playing back YouTube videos continuously and no power management. While that’s well shy of a full-school day of use, it should be last for a day of on-and-off classroom. I figure that it’s good for a few hours of use making a photo collage in the morning, followed by a quickie lunchtime charge and then several hours in the afternoon of video editing or doing map work.
Horizon comes with a 1-year warranty, but Lenovo’s two year extension to a realistic three years of coverage costs only $69, making it one of the best bargains in school technology today. It can cost the equivalent of three lesser computers, but if you shop around you can get them at a discount at Best Buy.
Overall, the system not only has the power to change the classroom dynamic, but can revolutionize how and where computers are used in schools. Why settle for either a powerful desktop or a tablet that can go anywhere when you can have both.
+ Excellent design
+ Bright touchscreen
+ Bargain three-year warranty
+ Dual graphics
+ Access to components
- Can’t connect with projector