HP has churned out a number of multitouch-capable machines under the TouchSmart line, and the 20-inch TouchSmart 300 is its latest effort.
At $930 (as of 12/23/2009), it costs more than similarly-sized budget all-in-one PCs (20 inches or smaller), but also outperforms them all. It's score of 98 in our WorldBench 6 test suite edges out touch-enabled, budget-priced competitors like the 18.5-inch Dell Studio One 19 (93) and the 20-inch MSI Wind Top AE2010 (60). That performance is also tantalizingly close to pricier rivals like the 24-inch Sony Vaio L117FX/B (105); and actually faster than HP's own 23-inch TouchSmart 600xt (92).
The star of the show is HP's custom TouchSmart software. It offers full-screen, touch-friendly widgets for media playback, browsing, and manipulating photos, and for accessing popular Web applications like Hulu, Pandora, and Twitter. But while the software is typically quite responsive, we found its performance on the TouchSmart 300 to be a bit sluggish
Our test configuration came equipped with a 2.8GHz Athlon II X2 240e processor, 4GB of DDR3-1066 memory for Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit), and a 640GB hard drive. The display sports a maximum resolution of 1600 by 900, which is comfortable for using touch applications, and great for watching 720p HD content. Gaming fans, however, should look elsewhere: Its ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics delivers a paltry 18 frames per second in Unreal Tournament 3 (highest settings, 1024 by 768 resolution).
The TouchSmart 300 has analog and digital audio jacks, five USB ports, a multi-format card reader, a DVD burner, a remote control, and an HDTV tuner. A gigabit ethernet port allows for easy connectivity, but using the included 802.11n wireless means you'll need to deal with the power cord only when you're moving the unit about. The stubby metal feet are also removable, and the unit can be mounted on a wall. Unfortunately, features missing from this model include HDMI and composite inputs for consoles, and the funky ambient lighting found on some other TouchSmart models that offered a distinct glow.
HP also throws in a wireless keyboard and mouse. The mouse is a bit plain, but offers up excellent connectivity across a respectable distance. The full-size keyboard (with number pad!) is slim, and fairly attractive. It actually might be a bit too slim: Our thumbs occasionally hit the keyboard's frame while tapping the space bar, which can be annoying, but is not exactly a deal-breaker. The built-in stereo speakers perform well enough, provided you aren't expecting much in the way of bass.
The TouchSmart 300's strengths and weaknesses place it in a rather confusing position. An ideal spot might be inside a dorm room or a kitchen (one widget's sole function is to gather and display recipes). But buying a touch-enabled, Web-connected media center to play slideshows and music while you cook might not strike everyone as the best use of funds. And at this price range, students are likely to opt for something they could tote to class.
That being said, if you're in the market for a touch-friendly all-in-one and want something with a 20-inch screen size, you would do well to consider the HP TouchSmart 300. If you're up for spending a bit more, the $1400, 23-inch Gateway One ZX6810-01 also offers an HDTV tuner and multitouch, but beefs up gaming performance considerably. And at $1149, users less interested in touch might want to consider the capable and readily upgradable 21.5-inch Lenovo IdeaCentre A600.