HP TouchSmart tm2t
I know, as reviews go this review of the HP TouchSmart tm2t is pretty far behind the times. (I don’t even think Hewlett-Packard actually sells the TouchSmart tm2t anymore.) But I’ve been using one of these little buggers at work now for 6 months (actually, two of them by this point), and I’ve definitely formed some opinions.
First off, the concept: The HP TouchSmart is a laptop, notebook, whatever you want to call it. Except it has one very important twist, the monitor can be rotated to switch it into a tablet form factor. Sort of. As obviously the little multitasking gizmo is going to be thicker than an actual tablet-by-design because it puts casing fully around the display and around the laptop case, and because it has a keyboard and touchpad-mouse. These things take up space and add weight that a real tablet doesn’t have to bother with. And let me just say that in practice, it matters.
Not only is the HP TouchSmart tm2t thicker than a tablet because of its extra bits, but there’s a weird hump for the battery on the far edge of the case that extends the bottom out by quite a bit. This makes it rather awkward to hold, and to balance on anything that isn’t a very flat hard surface. So while it sits quite well on a desk or a table, it is definitely not a pleasure to hold, and it tends to topple over on your lap. Especially if you want to actually touch the touchscreen, which rather is half the point of the HP TouchSmart tm2t. Hence the name and all.
And here’s where my usage of it comes in. At work I’m developing some touchscreen-based software. So a laptop to bring to meetings, that can be converted into a tablet form factor for doing testing on, is a very handy concept. That’s why the company ordered the first one, for me to prototype the software with.
Let me just say that the second one the company ordered was against my recommendation.
It’s a twitchy flaky little son of a laptop.
While the touchscreen does indeed perform multitouch, and in its own right do so fairly well, that’s only when the touchscreen actually works. Which is most of the time … but not all of the time. No, every so often the touchscreen goes into La La Land and ignores you completely for a handful of seconds. During which time you could beat on it and it’d do absolutely nothing. Frankly, I don’t know if this is a hardware issue or some kind of sleep state built into the drivers or what, but whatever the culprit is, it’s annoying.
That aside, how is the touchscreen itself? Meh. It’s okay. No more, no less. Certainly I’ve used worse. But frankly, I’ve also used much much better. The accuracy is only so-so, as is the responsiveness. It’s enough to generally work, but if you’ve ever had the pleasure of a well-designed touchscreen you’ll find using it quite … frustrating.
Now, the touchscreen also has a pen input, and the HP TouchSmart tm2t does come with a stylus. Actually, here’s one of the really annoying things about the HP TouchSmart tm2t – the lanyard holding the stylus. This thin but stiff string just sticks out of the side. It catches on everything. It gets in the way all the time. It’s a real pain in the asterisk and obviously an afterthought at best. You’ll be very tempted to just remove it. (Which I’ve done.) But the stylus pen bay does not hold that pen in very solidly. In fact, even though it has a click-lock-eject type mechanism to keep the stylus docked when you don’t need it, and to make it easy to grab when you do, the stylus in fact is exposed on the bottom and can easily catch on things. And presumably by design, while it kind-of locks in place, it’s not a very firm hold and will let you yank it right out. Meaning that should you remove the lanyard from your HP TouchSmart tm2t, you’re probably going to lose that stylus at some point.
Which, frankly, is no loss.
Okay, so yes, the HP TouchSmart tm2t does become much more responsive and accurate when you use a stylus instead of a finger. In fact it’s practically psychic in that you can hold the stylus a good distance from the touchscreen. You really don’t need to “touch” the screen with the stylus at all. And the right-click feature of the stylus is a lot faster than holding your finger in place for a few seconds while Windows decides that you’re right-clicking instead of left-clicking. So you’d think the stylus would be all sunshine and lollipops compared to actual touching with a finger.
Except the stylus is utter crap. It’s cheap. It feels flimsy. And honestly, who wants to whip out a pen every time they try to use the touchscreen? Maybe on a little phone or PDA with a tiny screen size and ham-hands, but not on this 12.1 inch screen. HP really flubbed on this one. With such a nice artistic case with an etched design on the HP TouchSmart tm2t, you’d think that HP had paid attention to detail. But once you pull out the stylus you’ll be convinced that in fact they cut some serious corners.
And while we’re on bad designs of the touchscreen, let’s talk about the rotate-to-tablet feature itself. This is essentially the lynchpin of the hardware design, that with a twist you can convert the HP TouchSmart tm2t from a notebook into a tablet. And ignoring the not-very-solid feel of this mechanic itself (because even though it doesn’t feel very secure, it has yet to actually break, so maybe it is engineer more solidly than it gives the impression of), the software lets you down here. Because when you rotate your screen 180 degrees, you’d expect that it automatically detects this and rotates it in Windows so that you’re not suddenly using an upside-down screen. It fails badly here. Maybe half of the time (at best) it actually does detect this and do it for you. The rest of the time, it does detect it, goes into thinking-about-rotate-mode, but then fails to rotate the screen. And if you ever update the drivers, this failure rate goes into 100% failure, where it never rotates the screen for you. So make sure to put your graphics driver controls in a handy place, because you’re going to have to rotate the screen manually a lot.
Of course using the touchscreen isn’t the HP TouchSmart tm2t’s only source of flaky performance. The touchpad (that little mouse replacement device) is just as bad. It quite often just completely ignores your attempts to left-click by tapping the pad component itself. So if you don’t want to drive yourself crazy, you’ll have to go back in time to when you actually had to use the left and right buttons. Which means stretching your thumb down while you navigate with your finger. Which might be fine for some folks, but honestly induced cramps in my less-than-stretchy hand. And let’s face it, is a huge step backwards in notebook usability.
So basically, if you have an HP TouchSmart tm2t, in spite of it having a touchpad and being designed around a rotatable touch screen, if you use it regularly you might as well get yourself a freaking mouse for all of the flubs in HP’s hardware. It’s that bad. And it completely defeats the purpose of the device, which is to be finger-friendly. What is the point of a TouchSmart that you don’t want to touch?
Of course it has other nuisances as well. The HP-installed software meant to enhance your computing experience I found to be rather annoying, gimmicky, and quickly went to remove. And I do mean all of it. From their TouchSmart software, to their support assistant nagware (Is HP not aware that Windows 7 already nags you enough about these things?), there wasn’t a thing that HP added that I found actually helped me in any way. Maybe some computing novices or young artistic types might find some of it useful or entertaining, but as a professional user, I found it all cumbersome and anti-productive. What’s even worse, even after trying to disable it, I found some of it would still revive itself at inconvenient times. Which necessitated complete removal.
Which was a Bad Thing.
For example, the webcam seemed to only be usable through the TouchSmart interface. No standard Windows drivers? Say what? Yeah. HP’s software development is just that bad.
Which should come as no surprise really, as what company could possibly buy WebOS from Palm and then completely fail to make it marketable in the phone/tablet market by keeping it so out of date / out of touch with reality?
HP + software development = Bad Things.
And honestly, I’ve yet to own and/or use an HP laptop of any kind from any era that has ever won me over. They seem to always be cutting corners somewhere, or just flat out failing to impress. At least with Dell you have a 50/50 shot of it being a good device. But HP is a 0% win in my experience. Maybe I’ve just had bad luck, but I doubt it. One such laptop years back had the hard drive fail so many times that I was getting to a first-name basis with the folks they hired in India to do support. And amazingly, once I swapped that HD out for one of my own purchasing, miraculously the crashes and failures stopped. HP has always cut corners, and likely will always cut corners, in my opinion. I don’t trust their hardware as far as I can throw it and almost never recommend it in any professional setting unless I’m really up against a wall.
And frankly, in this, the HP TouchSmart tm2t is very much a Hewlett-Packard product. It fails in everything it was meant to be good at. Because of its flaky touchpad and poor ergonomics It fails as a notebook. Because of its flaky touch screen and poor ergonomics it fails as a tablet. It feels cheap. The stylus is shoddy and a pleasure to loose once you remove the annoying lanyard tethering it in place. The software components let you down. The drivers/firmware are lacking. The speakers produce weak sound of poor quality. The cooling fans spin up to annoying sound levels at minimal provocation. And basically, the HP TouchSmart tm2t is a product to avoid when at all possible.
And if you think maybe I just got a faulty product, let me remind you again that I’ve been using two of them now, the second definitely of a later production than the first, and in their faults they are really quite consistent. So these failures are not accidental things in manufacturing, but by design and across the product line.
HP could have done better.
A blind chipmunk could have done better.
The only really positive things to say about the HP TouchSmart tm2t are that the keyboard felt nice, and that the cover design was artistic.
In that the HP TouchSmart tm2t at least generally worked, I give it a score of 2 flaky touch devices out of five. If you can find any other hybrid notebook/tablet PC to meet your needs, by all means go with that instead.