With a touch-friendly new OS, now is the all-in-one's time to shine
It's an interesting time to buy an all-in-one PC, that's for sure. The iMac is thinner and more powerful than ever, and Windows machines finally have touchscreens that appeal to an average user. Now that Windows 8 is on the market, all-in-one computers aren't just a way to save space: now, you can theoretically have a giant touchscreen tablet in your office, kitchen, bedroom or dorm that doubles as a desktop computer... and with high-definition screens, HDMI inputs and optical drives, many of them can triple as a small TV.
Are any of these new Windows 8 touchscreen all-on-ones any good, though? We decided to find out by trying them for ourselves. Today, you'll find reviews of the HP Envy 23 TouchSmart, the Dell XPS 27, the Sony VAIO L, the Lenovo IdeaCentre A720, the Toshiba LX835, and the Asus ET2300.
Update, 1/4: We've added the Acer Aspire A7600U, the Vizio All-In-One PC, and the HP Spectre One as well!
So, which is the best all-in-one Windows 8 computer? Find the answer below.
This computer shipped nearly seven months ago with Windows 7 and a $1,849 price point, both of which very nearly sealed its fate, but the most flexible all-in-one PC in our lineup has been given a second chance with Windows 8. Now, $1,499 gets you a 2.5GHz Core i5 processor, 6GB of memory, 1TB of storage, and GeForce GT 630M graphics in a rock-solid aluminum base underneath the 27-inch, 1080p touchscreen display... which can be moved up, down, or folded completely flat into a touchscreen table thanks to an equally solid aluminum arm with a twin-hinge design that supports all of the weight.
It's a striking design, and easily boasts the best construction of any of the all-in-one PCs in our lineup. There's a decent array of ports, too, with four USB 3.0 sockets, HDMI-in to connect a game console or set-top box, HDMI-out to add a second screen, an SD (and Memory Stick) card reader, and Gigabit Ethernet, as well as 3.5mm jacks for headphone and microphone. The screen acts like an independent monitor, so you can fire up a connected HDMI source even when the computer is off, and Lenovo's got a handy set of capacitive buttons at the lower-right hand corner of the screen to change brightness, volume, switch inputs and turn the screen off.
All that said, the A720 is a long way from perfect even with Windows 8 on board, and it starts with ergonomics. As robust as the hinge can be, it can still take quite a bit of effort to put that huge screen where you want it, enough that you can sometimes see the LCD panel ripple when you push down. When trying to tilt the screen forward, I sometimes tilted the entire base of the computer. Most of the ports you'd want easy access to are in the back, including all but one USB 3.0 socket.
Though the touchscreen generally does the job, I had some issues here and there with responsiveness: sometimes I had to swipe two or three times to get a Windows 8 edge gesture to work. Also, sometimes the touchscreen would move when I pressed it. The bundled keyboard and mouse aren't bad, and Lenovo's chiclet keys type well and accurately, but I'm not a fan of the Fn button placed on the lower-left hand corner where I expect to hit Ctrl.
For multimedia, the A720 is a mixed bag. The 27-inch 1080p touchscreen is surprisingly crisp, particularly when watching Blu-ray movies, and blacks are relatively deep, but the colors are completely off. The color temperature of the entire panel is far too cool, and everything looks dull and slightly blue as a result. The screen's also exceptionally glossy, making viewing a little difficult. Audio quality has some issues too. With the included Dolby Home Theater software, the speakers actually don't sound bad for movies and games — just a little bit harsh — but that software only works on audio piped through the computer, not the HDMI port. Watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Blu-ray on the A720 itself and then again on a connected PlayStation 3, the latter sounded positively awful. The same goes for console games.
Just because it has Nvidia's dedicated GeForce graphics doesn't make it a gaming machine, but you should be able to play some titles on the included GeForce GT 630M. I was able to run Borderlands 2 playably at 1440 x 900 resolution, but I had to stoop to 1024 x 768 and medium settings with the demanding Battlefield 3. It's worth noting that the A720 doesn't support very many monitor resolutions, which makes things difficult when it can't keep up. Between the 1080p native resolution and the pitiful 1024 x 768, there's only 1440 x 900 and 1280 x 1024. Otherwise, it's not the fastest computer out there, but it's cool, relatively quiet, and mostly holds its own. The Core i5 processor and 6GB of RAM gave me plenty of power for most programs, and the system boots in about 17 seconds and wakes from sleep in just under three. It also doesn't eat up a lot of power when not under load, drawing about 43.5 watts at idle, 2.1 watts asleep, and about 27 watts in TV mode. Without a solid state drive, though, it's not quite as responsive as I'd hope.
7.0 / 10
If you like the articulating design of the Lenovo A720, chances are you're considering the Asus ET2300 as well. It's practically a clone, except it replaces the 27-inch screen with a far smaller, denser 23-inch one, and has a wedge-shaped base that fits a few more components and an incredible array of ports. Our $1,299 configuration came with a desktop-class 3GHz Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, GeForce GT 630M graphics, a DVD drive, and a 1080p IPS display.
Like with the A720, you can fold the display completely flat, but propping it up again is a real chore. It takes enough raw muscle that you'll wonder if you're breaking the screen in the process, and it's one of several ways the build quality pales in comparison to the original. What doesn't pale is the array of ports: there are two USB 3.0 sockets on the left (as well as 3.5mm audio jacks) and two on the right, as well as a combo eSATA / USB port, an SD card reader, and even a pair of Thunderbolt ports. In back, there's HDMI-in, HDMI-out, Gigabit Ethernet, and a subwoofer jack. Like the Lenovo, you can turn on the screen and pipe in an HDMI source even when the computer is off... but here, inexplicably, there's no way to control the TV volume when you do so.
However, that's only a problem if you plan to use the ET2300's speakers, which is something you should never do. They're so bad they make me cringe. Pets shy away from them. My wife asked me politely to turn them off while I was performing an audio test. They're harsh and staticy and distorted and all the bad things you never expected speakers could be. The 23-inch 1080p IPS display Asus has here is actually quite gorgeous, crisp and clear and with all the vibrant color (and color temperature controls) that the Lenovo A720 lacked, but I'd never again watch a movie on the ET2300 without some dedicated external speakers or headphones.
Brightness is also difficult to adjust. Though Windows 8 has a handy touchscreen settings menu, you can't change it there. Instead, you need to press a button on the side of the machine, then navigate through the monitor's on-screen display menu using three capacitive buttons. The bundled keyboard and mouse are about average. The chiclet keyboard feels a bit squishy, bubbly and imprecise, and the mouse hollow and plastic, but both do the job. They use a tiny wireless USB dongle, and you'll need to sacrifice one of those USB ports to it.
Questionable decisions aside, the ET2300's performance isn't bad. The touchscreen is one of the better ones I tested, responding quickly to Windows 8 edge gestures and in a two-player, ten-finger game of Fruit Ninja. As with most other Windows 8 AIOs I've tested, there's no solid state drive here and the computer can thus be slow to respond to some of your prompts, and boots are relatively slow at around 25 seconds on average (it wakes from sleep in five), but generally programs run fairly fast.
One notable exception is gaming, which is actually a bit slower on the Asus despite an identical GPU and faster processor here. I only managed 720p resolution in Borderlands 2, and Battlefield 3 at 1024 x 768 and low settings. If I were to guess, I'd say Asus isn't cooling the system very well. Any time I play a game, I can hear the system fan loudly working overtime. It makes a loud, choppy sound, and it's really quite annoying. Another minor annoyance is the way Asus allocated the hard drive here. The lion's share of space (764GB) is assigned to a separate data partition, which means you'll probably run out of space on the C: partition extremely quickly if you don't tell programs to install to D: instead. The machine idles at around 56 watts, draws about 5 watts when asleep, and unfortunately, also draws between 2 watts and 5 watts when the system is completely off.
Asus also offers a $999.99 configuration of the ET2300 with a dual-core 3.3GHz Core i3 processor, 6GB of RAM and integrated graphics, which might be a better deal if you don't plan to do PC games. It would be one of the fuller featured all-in-ones at that price point.
6.1 / 10
Lenovo and Asus gave us some big, heavy computers with fancy hinges. The 23-inch Toshiba LX835 is nothing like that. It's a traditional three-foot AIO design, with a pair of stubby immobile peg legs up front, and a simple spring-loaded support around back. That means you can't raise the screen up high or tilt it very far back, so it's not much good for prolonged touchscreen use, but it is the lightest and easiest to carry of all the all-in-ones I've tested.
The computer definitely screams "cheap" in a number of ways, from the boring plastic design to the relative dearth of ports (two USB 3.0 on the left, four USB 2.0 in back, one HDMI-in, Gigabit Ethernet and an SD card slot), to the fact that neither the keyboard or mouse come with batteries and you have to install the hidden wireless dongle yourself... but it's a tried and true design, and it can fit a reasonable amount of power under the hood. The entry-level $999 LX835-D3300 model comes with a 2.4GHz Core i3 processor, 6GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, and a 1080p touchscreen display. For $1,399.99, we upgraded to a quad-core 2.4GHz Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, 2TB of storage and GeForce GT 630M graphics with the LX835-D3380, but the best bang for the buck is the $1,149 LX835-D3360, which seems to have everything you get in the pricier model except the extra terabyte of storage.
Like the previous two all-in-ones, the Toshiba also lets you play a game console or other HDMI source with the computer off, and here it actually doesn't sound so bad. The Toshiba's speakers are a little flat, without any real bass, but they do produce a fairly full sound that doesn't grate on the ears. With the Toshiba, the screen is the biggest issue. While it's technically a fairly high resolution, the 23-inch LCD panel isn't particularly crisp compared to other all-in-ones, and contrast is sorely lacking. Most of the time, the blacks are so bright they're practically grey, which makes for poor viewing.
The touchscreen isn't bad overall, but it's not as consistent as I'd like. Sometimes, the computer wouldn't register a swipe, and other times it wouldn't complete the motion. I'd pull out the Windows 8 Charms menu (the one with the Start button) partway, only to watch it retreat all by its lonesome. The rest of the AIO's physical controls also aren't particularly well thought out. A series of tiny round buttons hidden behind the edge of the machine control brightness, volume, channels (if the machine had a TV tuner, which it doesn't) and the HDMI input, and I found myself having to stab at them blindly for a while until I could memorize the order. The included keyboard and mouse also aren't particularly great. They're decent, but the keyboard feels overly squishy and the mouse rather cheap. To add insult to injury, the LX835 has quite a few preinstalled apps you'll probably want to remove, including a trial of Norton Antivirus and the pay-to-play WildTangent game suite.
Like most modern computers with a decent processor, the Toshiba has enough power to handle most any individual application... but like most modern computers without a solid state drive, it's not as responsive as could be. This particular model, with a slow 5900RPM hard drive and laptop-class processor, took about 30 seconds to fully boot into Windows 8 and start responding to touch inputs, and about 3.5 seconds to wake up.
Hardcore PC gaming is still a risky proposition, but here performance falls somewhere between the similarly-equipped Lenovo and Asus: Battlefield 3 was still locked to a ugly 1024 x 768 and low settings, but I managed to bump up Borderlands 2 to 1366 x 768 resolution with the eye candy turned off. You'd have better luck with older or less demanding titles. On the plus side, power consumption is fairly low: the LX835 drew about 41 watts at idle, about one watt when asleep, and short bursts of 0.6 watts when completely turned off.
6.0 / 10
So far, I've been describing all-in-one computers that have HDMI inputs, in an attempt to be more like a TV. The Sony VAIO L goes a little further: it is a TV, quite literally. It has a TV tuner, a TV remote control, and a dedicated TV button on top of the machine. There's not only an HDMI input and a coaxial jack, but also analog RCA video inputs and dedicated Ethernet and USB ports to update the television's firmware and display photos from a connected camera. You can adjust all the same picture settings you'd find on a Sony television. The difference, of course, is that the VAIO L has a Windows 8 computer inside that same shell.
For $1,199.99, the entry-level model comes with a dual-core 2.5GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, and a 24-inch, 1080p touchscreen display, but we primarily tried the $1,499.99 model with a quad-core 2.4GHz Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, 2TB of storage, GeForce GT 620M graphics and a Blu-ray drive. You can also add a stereoscopic 3D screen and a far more powerful GeForce GT 640M GPU, but Sony makes you add both if you want either (and requires that quad-core CPU and Blu-ray drive as well), so you'd have to spend a minimum of $1,724.99 to get either of those premium components.
The first thing that will probably strike you about the VAIO L is the stand: a single curved bar of metal attached to a metal frame. Then, how heavy and solid the rest of the machine is. You can pick up the computer by that metal yoke and lift it like the 24-pound weight it is to get a little exercise. It's pretty chunky, and that bezel is quite thick too. After you've set it up, though, the picture and audio quality will probably command your undivided attention. The VAIO L doesn't quite have the best screen in this roundup, but it comes reasonably close, and combined with some surprisingly good speakers (with real oomph) it's easily the best Windows 8 all-in-one if you're planning on actually watching movies. No other computer came close to engrossing me in The Dark Knight's bank robbery as much as the VAIO L, to the point where I momentarily forgot that I was testing a computer and kept on watching the film.
Unfortunately, the VAIO L isn't as good a touchscreen computer as it is a TV. Not only does the computer's stand not let it tilt very far backwards to accommodate input, but it's also pretty finnicky about actually being touched. I found that if I didn't carefully pull nearly completely perpendicularly from the edges of the screen, the computer had a really difficult time recognizing my gestures. With the Core i7 processor, the machine was actually surprisingly responsive despite lacking any solid state drive, and also booted into Windows in about 20 seconds and woke from sleep in three. There's a bit of software bloat, including a particularly annoying trial copy of Kaspersky security software that expired as soon as I started the machine and incessantly warned me to upgrade, but overall it's a solid PC. It's got a pretty decent array of ports, including three well-spaced USB 3.0 sockets on the left, three USB 2.0 ports in back, HDMI-in, HDMI-out, Gigabit Ethernet, a card reader, 3.5mm audio jacks, and even a FireWire 400 port for some reason.
The GeForce GT 620M even punched above its weight class, delivering Borderlands 2 at 1366 x 768 and Battlefield 3 at 1024 x 768 and low settings, the same as the supposedly more powerful 630M GPUs in other computers. I just didn't find myself using the touchscreen very often, because the keyboard and mouse were far less hassle. Speaking of peripherals, the Sony keyboard is well above average for a pack-in, with a nice, firm set of precise chiclet keys and dedicated volume buttons too. The narrow mouse is a bit cheaper, though, and you might want to replace it before long. Even while gaming, the Vaio L stayed fairly cool and quiet, and idle power consumption is pretty low. The system drew about 53 watts at idle, about 8 watts while sleeping, and between 0.3 and 1.2 watts with the system completely off.
7.7 / 10
When I started playing with the HP Envy 23 TouchSmart, I hoped it was basically a cheaper, more touch-friendly Vaio L. HP's been building premium touchscreen AIOs for some time now, and yet the Envy series looked like it wasn't going to break the bank, starting at just $749 for a 20-inch model. It turns out only part of my assumption was true. The Envy 23 TouchSmart is indeed a better touchscreen experience and fits some beefier hardware, but it's not necessarily a better (or even cheaper) computer.
For $999, the entry-level Envy 23 model comes with a desktop-class dual-core 3.3GHz Core i3 chip, 4GB of RAM, 1TB of storage and a DVD burner inside a 23-inch, 1080p touchscreen display, but you'll probably want to spend at least $100 more for a quad-core Core i5 with 6GB of RAM. We tested the $1,720 configuration with a 3.1GHz Core i7 CPU, 12GB of RAM, 3TB of storage, a slot-loading Blu-ray drive, and yes, another GeForce GT 630M. It's a handsome machine, blending the old with the new: like the old three-foot designs, the Envy 23 pretty much crams everything into the screen assembly, but in this case it's propped up by a metal bar that wraps around the base of the computer and holds it floating up in the air. It's one of the most stable designs in the roundup, and I found the touchscreen didn't even budge during use, yet whenever I intentionally pushed on the screen to lean it back a little further, it moved just as I expected.
That doesn't mean using the touchscreen isn't somewhat awkward, though. For one thing, it's weird to feel hard drive vibrations through the touchscreen every time I use it. For another, when you get that close to the screen, the the LCD's flaws become far more apparent. The Envy 23's display is fairly colorful and vibrant head-on, but it washes out at angles and from a touchscreen distance I can clearly see dark lines between rows of pixels. There's not nearly as much contrast as some of the other AIOs I've tested, leaving some blacks a dingy gray, and the screen is actually a good bit dimmer than the competition.
As usual, HP's touting the proprietary Beats Audio processing on this computer, but that's not enough to save the speakers here. While they definitely have more bass punch than all the other all-in-ones — you can really feel the bank manager's shotgun blast in The Dark Knight — the audio seems distorted as a whole. The HDMI input also doesn't actually work independently of the computer at all, which is disappointing. When you press the "Game Mode" button on the right side of the machine, where the HDMI port is located, it looks like you're switching between monitor inputs, but it seems more like the computer is doing the work. You can't use it while the computer is off. Worse, audio over HDMI has some static. Even worse, my review unit crashed several times while trying to switch between PC and "game" modes, and had to be restarted. In short, this is definitely not the computer you should choose as a TV stand-in.
As a dedicated computer, though, it's not bad at all. The machine's fairly responsive for a system without solid state storage, and boots the fastest of any AIO I've tested so far at 16 seconds on average... although it can take up to ten seconds to fully wake from sleep for some inexplicable reason. I would have liked to see a few more accessible ports, as there's just a couple of USB 3.0 sockets on the left alongside the 3.5mm audio jacks and SD card reader, and four plain ol' USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and more audio jacks around back, but the PC is quick and relatively bloat-free save the usual antivirus trial antics. The wireless keyboard and mouse are above average quality for pack-ins, and use an additional hidden USB port so the dongle doesn't get in the way. The system uses about 50 watts when idle, and a relatively low 2 watts asleep and practically zero watts when off. I saw slightly weaker gaming performance out of the Envy 23, though, whose GeForce GT 630M was still struggling with Battlefield 3 at 1024 x 768 at low settings, and managed Borderlands 2 only at 720p.
6.6 / 10
If you have $1,599 to spend on Windows 8, let's stop beating around the bush. The XPS One 27 is what you want. Out of all the all-in-ones I've tested so far, it's the only one that feels like it was actually designed to help a user enjoy what Windows 8 has to offer rather than spend time wrestling with the interface. The chassis looks great. The screen is superb. The speakers actually sound good. The interface makes sense. The touchscreen just works. There's a practically spotless software load. The hardware is powerful enough to actually play demanding games at acceptable levels of detail. Even the peripherals are high quality. And if you're willing to shell out the ridiculous $2,599 that Dell is asking for the configuration I tested, you can have a tiny amount of the elusive solid state storage (and double the memory, and a Blu-ray drive, and dual-band Wi-Fi) as well.
You can't quite fold the huge 27-inch screen flat like the Lenovo A720 and Asus ET2300, but it's a lot easier to use. This one feels more like it's working with you, instead of against you, to pull the screen up high or push it down low depending on whether you favor mouse and keyboard or the touch surface at any given moment. Once you've got it in position (at least on this unit with the solid state cache), tapping and swiping through Windows 8 works like a charm. You can even change the screen brightness in the settings menu, unlike with any other Windows 8 AIO I've tested thus far. You don't have to, though, because there's also a set of capacitive buttons on the front of the machine that light up when your hand gets near, and you can quickly tap on them to control brightness, or — when using the HDMI input — to control volume or change inputs. Not only are they faster and more intuitive than those on the Lenovo and Asus, but Dell pops up a special contextual menu right next to the buttons to help you use them, too.
The screen doesn't actually work when the computer is off, sadly, but it doesn't rely on the computer to the same degree as the problematic HP Envy 23, either. As soon as the computer gets power, you can switch to the HDMI input smoothly and reliably. The included keyboard and mouse are high enough quality that I could imagine buying them separately in a store. The chiclet keyboard a little bit shallow, like a laptop, but fast and precise. The optical mouse is comfortable, with a nice clicky rubber scroll wheel, and the cursor zips across the screen with ease. The whole plastic top of the mouse just lifts right off its magnetic clasps when you need to change the two AA batteries, and there's an LED indicator on each peripheral to let you know when to do so.
The are some nice little details in the XPS One 27's craftmanship, like the flush ports on the left edge of the machine, the webcam privacy shutter up top, and the tactile power button, but the main attraction is the screen. The 27-inch, 2560 x 1440 panel blows away anything other than Apple's finest screens. I didn't have a recent iMac to put side by side, but I intend to. There's definitely a bit of an air gap between the outer glass and the liquid-crystal matrix, but the picture is still exceptionally clear, crisp, vibrant, and quite bright at maximum, and while the blacks won't compete with the best televisions they're deep enough to watch movies in a completely dark room without much difficulty.
Though I'd still give the Sony VAIO L's speakers the edge, the audio here is good enough to watch movies and even listen to some music without aural distress, and there's an optical S/PDIF output if you want to connect the computer to a more compelling audio setup. While we're on the subject, the hinge design does make rear connectivity a little difficult, and most of the ports (four USB 3.0, HDMI-in, HDMI-out, Gigabit Ethernet, S/PDIF) are around back, but the twin USB 3.0 sockets, card reader and 3.5mm audio jacks are more accessible than on many of these all-in-one PCs.
With a desktop-class quad-core 3.1GHz Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, 2TB of 7200RPM storage, and a 30GB solid state cache, the XPS One 27 never skipped a beat in my tests. With optional GeForce GT 640M graphics, it still can't playably run the latest titles at native resolution — a shame, given the better graphics chips on the market — but it comes close. I could play Borderlands 2 at 1080p as long as I turned down a few settings, and Battlefield 3 ran comfortably at low settings and 1680 x 1050. If you're still feeling thrifty after such a purchase, you'll want to watch the power consumption: while it draws only about 5.5 watts when asleep, I clocked the system monopolizing 81 watts while idle at maximum brightness. Given how easy it is to turn it down (a more reasonable 53 watts at minimum brightness) or put it to sleep, it probably won't be much of an issue, but it's food for thought.
The question is, if you're willing to spend that much on an all-in-one computer, would you be better off spending that money on a higher-specced iMac and forgoing the touchscreen for now?
8.6 / 10
Like Lenovo's machine, the Vizio All-In-One was an idea ahead of its time — so much so that Vizio didn't even bother to put a touchscreen on the original 24- and 27-inch Windows 7 varieties. Now, though, the computer's getting a second wind with Windows 8 and a touchscreen display, and it's actually not a bad pick... but once again, the company's shown it has little idea how to build a computer you'd actually want to interact with.
Vizio's design is actually quite stunning, as far as that goes. When I had visitors during my extensive all-in-one PC test, it was inevitably the first computer that would catch their attention. While most all-in-one PCs house their components in a giant bulge behind the monitor or a thick, sturdy base, the Vizio's flat-panel monitor, graceful neck, and silver base are so thin you could easily confuse it for a television. We did.
It's some clever work Vizio performed to fit a full set of low-voltage laptop components in those dimensions, and one of the biggest tricks is the sub: the included subwoofer isn't optional, because it also houses the machine's entire power supply plus a fan to cool it down. The display is well above average, with both the 24-inch and 27-inch models sporting a nice crisp, colorful 1080p panel — particularly the 24-incher — with okay blacks and decent viewing angles. The construction feels relatively sturdy, too: you can pick up the whole computer by that metal neck and carry it around.
Unfortunately, as I alluded to earlier, Vizio's keyboard, touchpad, and touchscreen leave something to be desired. The wireless keyboard is practically identical to the one we panned on the company's laptops in 2012: large, but thin, stiff, shallow, mildly unresponsive keys that made me wish for something different to type on. The keyboard fits neatly on the computer's base and stays there when you type — which could make the Vizio a good choice if you plan to put a computer in a cramped alcove — but on the flip side, it's one of the few wireless keyboards in this roundup that doesn't have a numpad.
Meanwhile, the wireless touchpad is an absolute mess to use. Windows 8 edge gestures to bring up charms or switch apps don't activate reliably, pinch-to-zoom stutters, two-finger scrolling is often confused with pinch-to-zoom, and often when I simply moused across an object the touchpad mistakenly thought I was trying to drag and drop it someplace else. Thankfully, unlike Vizio's laptops, you can permanently replace both peripherals with ones you buy yourself. The touchscreen actually isn't bad, but the flat-panel monitor's hinge keeps it from working well. The screen doesn't angle high enough to let you comfortably use it for long durations, and it wobbles constantly during use.
Other than Sony's Vaio L, the Vizio is the only AIO in this roundup to come with a TV remote, but it wouldn't be my first choice for a secondary television at all. While you can use both HDMI inputs without turning the computer on, and adjust both volume and brightness from the remote, there's no TV tuner and a very limited selection of options for adjusting the picture quality. More importantly, mini subwoofer notwithstanding, the audio quality is fairly terrible. While there's definitely a bit more punch on the low end and you can crank up the volume a good bit, the mids are very muddy and the computer made a light buzzing sound whenever I plugged an HDMI source in. It's okay for occasionally plugging in your game consoles.
If you want to game on the Vizio itself, though, or simply have a responsive computer, you'll need to pay extra to do so. The 24-inch Vizio All-in-One Touch PC (CA24T-A3) starts at just $999, but it only comes with a dual-core 2.4GHz Core i3 processor, 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive, with no speedy solid state storage or discrete graphics. The only configuration that comes with those things is the fully-loaded 27-inch model (CA27T-A5), with a quad-core 2.4GHz Core i7-3630QM CPU, 8GB of memory, 1TB of storage, a 32GB solid state cache, and Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE graphics for $1,539. Although they're a little hard to get at, both have a decent array of ports, with four USB 3.0 sockets, two HDMI inputs, a combo eSATA port, an SD card reader, a 3.5mm headset socket and a Gigabit Ethernet jack. There's no optical drive.
I tested both the high-end model and a cheaper Core i5 configuration, and that solid state cache seemed to make a huge difference. While the CA27T-A5 only booted a few seconds faster than the cheaper model, everything else — from program launches to file lookups to simple touchscreen input — felt far more responsive. Both models annoyed me with constantly clicky hard drive sounds, though, and if you play any games, those GeForce graphics really spin up a noisy little fan. The 640M LE won't play demanding games at native resolution, but I was able to run Borderlands 2 playably at 1680 x 1050, and Battlefield 3 ran at 1600 x 900 and low settings fairly smoothly. The 27-incher consumes about 49 watts when idle (38w for the 24-inch model), between 1.6 watts and 3.3 watts when asleep, and between 0 and 1.6 watts when the system is completely off.
6.5 / 10
HP's Spectre One is the only all-in-one in our roundup that doesn't have a touchscreen, but we thought it would be interesting to include: HP purposely chose to make it a non-touch device, relying instead on a large glass trackpad for Windows 8 gestures. Plus, it's got a fairly unique — albeit Mac-inspired — design, and a minimalist stature like the Vizio. Rather than cramming components into the base and subwoofer, HP's packaged them inside the neck of the machine itself, making for both a monitor and base that are deceptively thin and svelte. In fact, the 23.6-inch machine is easily the most compact, space-saving desktop we've tested, with a smaller footprint than most monitors. The curved neck allows the base to be an excellent shelf for the keyboard, too.
It might surprise you that it's also the lightest AIO I've tested, though — that's because despite its sparkling appearance and $1,299 price tag, not a single external surface of the Spectre One is made of metal. It's a bit of a letdown.
Other letdowns are to be found in just about every other part of the machine. Even with the upgraded quad-core Core i7-3770T processor and 10GB of memory (over $300 worth of upgrades) the Spectre One felt surprisingly unresponsive for many tasks. While apps performed fine once the machine got up to speed, many were slow to open at first. HP charges $50 for a 16GB solid state cache that could speed things up, but that should really be included in a computer that's supposed to be premium and pricy. The Beats Audio-branded speakers, all four of them, can't put out decent sound. With Beats processing enabled, they're okay for listening to compressed Top 40 tunes, perhaps, but they sound quite dull for most anything else.
The Beats Audio-branded speakers, all four of them, can't put out decent sound
There's no optical drive, and the HDMI input is an afterthought here, made nearly useless by those same Beats speakers and a total lack of any remote controls. You can't adjust the volume, the brightness, or anything else when you're viewing something over the HDMI input, and you can't use HDMI when the computer is off. Without the computer's Beats processing, the speakers are so dull that I couldn't hear the dialog in The Dark Knight on a connected PlayStation 3 unless I was standing right in front of the computer. Even then, I didn't want to. The one component that does show some quality is the screen — it's fairly crisp and quite colorful — but it's fairly dim compared to most of the others on the market, and there's no way to adjust the brightness.
And sure enough, Windows 8 doesn't make nearly as much sense without a touchscreen at the helm. HP includes both a touchpad and a mouse alongside its pretty decent wireless keyboard (again, no numpad here), but neither is particularly good for navigating Windows 8 via gestures. The glass touchpad feels great, and is quick and accurate at moving the pointer with a single finger. Gestures like pinch-to-zoom and two-finger scrolling aren't bad. Still, those gestures aren't nearly as smooth as any other touchscreen in our lineup, and it takes very deliberate motions on the touchpad to get Windows 8 edge gestures to activate reliably.
Meanwhile, the mouse feels like a joke: it's difficult to grip, with plastic edges that dug into my hand, and while it has a capacitive touch strip on the middle mouse button, you can't use it for Windows 8 gestures. It only acts as a virtual scroll wheel, and it's difficult to use, too, stuttering along as you drag your finger at a difficult angle. Amusingly, there's a little motor inside that makes it feel like it's an actual wheel, but it only serves to show how poorly the touch strip acts as a wheel replacement.
HP also includes near-field communication (NFC) technology in the Spectre One, which lets you tap any NFC-capable smartphone or tag to a reader in the base of the machine, and automatically do things like log into Windows or visit a particular URL. The reader definitely works, but I wasn't able to download and install the software that lets you configure it from the Windows Store, as it kept throwing errors. It worked just fine in our early hands-on, though, so that might be a desirable feature.
Don't be fooled by the Nvidia GeForce 610M GPU: serious games are pretty much out of the question on the Spectre One. Borderlands 2 was only vaguely playable at a pitiful 1024 x 768 resolution, while Battlefield 3 struggled at 640 x 480 at the lowest settings. HP does advertise that the machine is using an interchangeable MXM 3.0a graphics slot, so you could theoretically swap out the 610M for a better card, but they're often difficult to come by and rather expensive. On the plus side, the Spectre One does stay pretty quiet and cool, runs at about 38 watts when idle and about 1 watt when off. It boots in about 15 seconds (although it takes 21 seconds before desktop icons load), and wakes in roughly four.
6.0 / 10
I was prepared to fall head over heels for Acer's beautiful 27-inch all-in-one computer, but it was not to be. The sleek black machine is easily my favorite design, but it's also the only one in our roundup that feels like it's still a prototype.
Physically, it's quite sound. The screen and huge black bezel seem to float on air, resting on a transparent slice of glass up front and a large metal arm in the rear. It props up the machine at 80 degrees, nearly standing straight up, but you can also push the screen back to tilt it down to a 30-degree angle, perfect for manipulating things with your fingers while standing over the system. The spring-loaded metal arm supports the weight perfectly through the entire range of motion, such that you can move it up and down with a single hand.
It's easily the easiest Windows 8 AIO to reposition, although it does take up quite a bit of space on a table when you do so. There's also an included mounting kit if you'd rather attach it to a wall. The matching mouse and keyboard, each resting on their own transparent bases, work quite well, with no frills and no complications to worry about. The A7600U also has a hefty array of ports, with two USB 3.0 sockets, a card reader and 3.5mm audio jacks on the left, a slot-loading Blu-ray drive on the right, and four USB 2.0 slots in back joined by two HDMI inputs, one HDMI output, Gigabit Ethernet, and an optical S/PDIF output to hook up your surround sound setup.
The critical components seem well above average at first, but they've got some issues too: The 27-inch, 1080p display has bright colors, fairly deep blacks and excellent viewing angles, and the touchscreen works quite well, but it feels like there's something wrong with the screen's refresh rate. I noticed flickering while watching The Dark Knight on Blu-ray, and ghosting in games and while moving around the Windows 8 interface. While the twin top-mounted speakers are fairly decent for games and movies, not bad at all, they can't get very loud without introducing distortion.
The machine only takes about 19 seconds to boot up and 3 seconds to wake from sleep, but you could spend considerably longer figuring out how to turn it on. There's a touch strip in the upper-right-hand corner above the screen, lit up like an airplane runway with strobing lights. To turn on the computer, though, you don't land on the runway, you have to hold your thumb down on the power logo instead. If you swipe your finger carefully across the entire length of the runway, and all the way off the edge of the right bezel, the machine might decide to pull up the on-screen display that lets you the monitor's brightness and a few other options (which you cycle through by tapping on lit sections of the runway, not the screen) or it might do nothing.
The A7600U does actually intelligently accept HDMI input, even when the screen is off, automatically switching to a live HDMI source when you plug it into a port, but once again there's no volume control, so you'll have to hope it's loud enough (but not too loud) for your audience. The HDMI output on my system had horizontal tearing issues, which could make it a difficult choice for a multi-monitor system. Meanwhile, the system image comes with plenty of unwanted bloatware, including not only constant McAfee antivirus scare tactics but also Norton backup warnings, shortcuts on the desktop to Amazon and eBay, and the WildTangent pay-to-play game software. Acer's also included PointGrab software, which allows you to hold out your hand in front of the webcam and gesture to control the operating system. I tried it for about half an hour and gave up. It's pretty unreliable right now.
The real problem with the Acer Aspire 7600U, though, is how unstable the computer can be. I tested two different machines, and both of them crashed a number of times, felt extremely slow on startup, had difficulty waking up from sleep, and transfered files surprisingly slowly from disk. For $1,699, the A7600U's dual-core 2.5GHz Core i5-3210M processor, 8GB of RAM and GeForce GT 640M graphics also didn't quite seem to pull their weight. While the computer handled my standard workload with ease, it only managed a playable Borderlands 2 at 1680 x 1050, and Battlefield 3 at 1440 x 900 and low settings. The A7600U consumed about 40 watts at idle, burst between 1.2 watts and 2.7 watts asleep, and between 0.7 watts and 1.8 watts completely turned off.
While there's definitely some power under the hood, I never quite felt like I could trust the A7600U to do its job properly, and that's something you don't want in a computer.
Perhaps Acer can fix the system's issues in future revisions, or perhaps in the smaller, cheaper Aspire A5600 they won't be present at all, but for now you'd be safer picking most any other AIO.
5.5 / 10
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