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Multi-touch Computing with Windows 7

By Jim Fisher

Microsoft's shiny new Windows 7 operating system has delivered a wealth of new capabilities to the PC world. One of the most exciting is enhanced support for multi-touch devices. Touch input, while now fairly common in the cell phone market, has been available on a few PCs here and there for years -- at its best it's been a neat extra; at its worst, a gimmick.

This is no longer the case. While early handheld PCs and cell phones with touch screen capabilities required a stylus for input, the multi-touch technology that was popularized by Apple's iPhone and iPod touch does not. Anyone who has used one of those devices knows how intuitive it is to simply manipulate objects on a screen with your fingers, without any serious delay or lag in doing so.

For those readers who have yet to use a multi-touch device, it's important to point out how the technology differs from earlier stylus-based touch devices. As all multi-touch gestures are performed with your fingers, a stylus is not required. You can tap or double-tap items, the same way you would click a mouse. Touch an item and slide your finger across the screen to drag; simply move your finger away from the screen to drop.

You can scroll through windows with the flick of a finger -- the software can even detect how fast you are flicking through pages, and increase scrolling speed to match your movements. Zoom functionality allows you to pinch two fingers together or apart to zoom in or out of a document. Tapping two fingers on the screen simultaneously zooms in on an object, centering on the location of the tap; two-finger tap again to restore standard magnification.

Photographers -- happy snappers and pros alike -- will appreciate the multi-touch photo editing tools. You can touch two spots of a digital photo and twist your fingers to rotate clockwise or counterclockwise. Flick left or right to browse flip through photos in a digital album -- or to go backward and forward through pages in a web browser. You can right click in two ways: press-and-hold your finger to the screen or press-and-tap with a second finger.

It's clear that touch-screen computing has come a long way. The current generation of systems feature large HD screens, as well as the hardware and software that allow you to launch programs, edit photos, create drawings, drag-and-drop files, and much more-- all with your fingers. We're going to profile two series of multi-touch desktops in this space: the HP TouchSmart and the Sony VAIO L.

Hewlett Packard TouchSmart 300 and 600

Hewlett Packard TouchSmart 300 Hewlett Packard TouchSmart 600

HP offers its TouchSmart computer in two series: the 20" TouchSmart 300 and the 23" TouchSmart 600. Aside from screen size and the internals of the computer systems, functionality is identical between the two versions of the system. Each features an HD-capable screen with multi-touch input capabilities, a wireless keyboard and mouse, 802.11n Wi-Fi, a SuperMulti DVD burner, an integrated webcam, and the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium.

The included TouchSmart software bundle features applications that allow you to manipulate your photos, music, and videos via intuitive multi-touch gestures. A touch-aware calendar and browser allow you to organize your daily life, and you can hand-write virtual notes for quick reminders. You'll be able to keep track of your favorite websites with TouchSmart RSS, and you can even organize and access your favorite recipes using the TouchSmart Recipe Box application.

The 20" TouchSmart 300 models boast a 1600 x 900 screen, capable of displaying 720p video at full resolution, powered by ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics. The entry-level system, the TouchSmart 300-1020, is powered by a 2.7GHz AMD Athlon II 235e dual-core processor and boasts 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive.

The upper-level 20" system is the TouchSmart 300-1025. It is powered by a 2.8GHz AMD Athlon II X2 240e dual-core CPU and features 4GB of RAM, and a 640GB hard drive. This version of the system features an HD TV tuner, capable of tuning into the ATSC broadcast standard used in the United States. This allows you to use the computer as a DVR, recording your favorite TV shows so that you can watch them at your convenience.

The 23" TouchSmart 600 models feature a 1920 x 1080p screen, capable of displaying Full HD 1080p video. The higher resolution screen also gives you more screen real estate to work with, making it easier to work with documents, photos, and more. An integrated Bluetooth module allows you to communicate with wireless peripherals, including cell phones and headphones. The systems feature the same TV tuner and DVR software included with the TouchSmart 300-1025.

The TouchSmart 600-1050 is powered by a 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T6500 CPU and is loaded with 4GB of RAM, a 750GB hard drive, and nVIDIA GeForce G200 graphics. The TouchSmart 600-1055 features a Blu-ray drive, a slightly faster 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor P7450 and boasts 4GB of RAM, a 750GB hard drive, and nVIDIA GeForce GT230M graphics.


The Sony VAIO L, available in three configurations, is a large-screen 24" all-in-one desktop with multi-touch capability. The system features a stunning ultra-modern design, with clean lines and minimalistic aesthetics. A clean desktop look is created thanks to the integrated Bluetooth 2.1+EDR module, which communicates with the included wireless keyboard and mouse. The system also features 802.11n Wi-Fi for network connectivity. All configurations of the VAIO L feature the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Home Premium as the installed operating system.

Sony's touch software suite gives you touch access to social networking web sites, photos, and movies. All multi-touch gestures are supported, including scrolling, zooming, rotation, pinching, twisting, and tapping. The Full HD 1080p display gives you ample room to perform these gestures, and an integrated webcam will allow you to participate in online video chat.

The system features an HDMI input, uncommon on many computer systems. The input allows you to connect a game system, satellite receiver, DVR, or other home-theater device, allowing the computer system to double as an HDTV display. You can even uses picture-in-picture to watch TV from an HDMI source and work on your computer simultaneously. Every VAIO L ships with an integrated Blu-ray drive, which can play back high-definition movies that are available in the popular disc format.

The VAIO L VPCL111FX/B is the entry-level system. It is powered by a 2.7GHz Intel Pentium Processor E5400 CPU and boasts 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, and 512MB nVIDIA GeForce G210M graphics.

The mid-level VAIO L VPCL114FX/B features a faster 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor E7500 CPU. It is loaded with 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and 512MB GeForce G210M graphics. It also features an ATSC/NTSC TV tuner, which can be used to tune HD broadcast signals in the United States. And it is compatible with most North American cable TV systems.

Rounding out the VAIO L line is the top-end VPCL116FX/B. The system is powered by a quad-core 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Processor Q8400S CPU. The system boasts 6GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and 1GB nVIDIA GeForce GT 240M graphics. It features the same TV tuner found in the VPCL114FX/B.

Bringing Touch to Your Desk

There has never been a better time to bring the benefits of a touch-screen computer system to your desktop. Windows 7 greatly enhances the user experience, and modern multi-touch displays make earlier stylus-based interfaces appear as if they belong on the Flintstones rather than the Jetsons. Modern multi-touch technology has developed to the point where touch-screen computer systems are viable options for use at work and at play.

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