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Friday, October 23, 2009

The Touch-Screen Top 10

With Windows 7 right around the corner, there's lots of talk of touch-screen tech in PCs, but plenty of devices have mastered the touch-screen interface. Here are ten of our favorites.

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It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes touch screens so cool. Maybe it's that swiping your finger across a display is just a lot more fun than hitting an actual button to get where you're going. Or it could be that the constantly shifting image on an LCD can display any type of button, and that it can change from screen to screen, creating limitless possibilities in a cleanly designed product with few, if any, physical controls.

Whatever it is, touch-screen technology has finally hit the mainstream. These days, in the PCMag Labs, we see scores of cell phones, portable media players, digital cameras, and other devices that eschew traditional buttons and replace them with on-screen controls. Many of them do so successfully, but that's not to say that we don't still see the occasional clunker. Some interfaces just aren't finger-friendly and include icons that are way too small to maneuver with your average fingertip. And there are those touch-screen UIs that are just unresponsive, leaving you pressing over and over, wishing for the instant gratification of an actual button. The best touch screens make you forget that physical buttons ever existed.

Now, if you don't mind all the greasy fingerprints, behold, the top touch-screen devices we've tested:

Desktops and Laptops:
HP TouchSmart 600-1055 PC : Full SetHP TouchSmart 600-0155 PC

$1,599 list
This top-of-the-line, all-in-one Windows 7 PC from HP will appeal to both the touch aficionado and the average home user, and it just shows how touch-screen interfaces are finally hitting the mainstream.

Lenovo ThinkPad T400S (Multitouch) : Angle Lenovo ThinkPad T400s (Multitouch)

$2,395 direct
A big-screen version of the ThinkPad X300, the T400S commands the same kind of awe, and it features the best implementation of a multitouch panel on a laptop.

Apple iPhone 3G S (AT&T) : AngleApple iPhone 3GS

$199 (16GB), $299 (32GB) with AT&T contract
With its latest iPhone iteration, Apple has further perfected the touch-screen user interface that spawned an army of imitators.

HTC Imagio HTC Imagio

$199 with Verizon contract
The first truly top-notch touch-screen Windows Mobile device we've seen (and there have been a lot of them), the HTC Imagio could signal a comeback for Microsoft smartphones given its refreshed OS, beautiful TouchFLO 3D interface, and genuine broadcast mobile television.

Portable Media Players:
Apple iPod touch 3rd genApple iPod touch (3rd Generation)

$199 (8GB), $299 (32GB), $399 (64GB) direct
This time around, the best iPod around gets a speed boost, a capacity increase, a lower price tag, and some modest Genius feature improvements. One thing remains the same: It's the best touch-screen PMP available.

Microsoft Zune HD : Angle Microsoft Zune HD

$219.99 (16GB), $289.99 (32GB) direct
With a fantastic OLED touch screen, a top-notch Web browser, and a wireless music store, the Zune HD is tops—that is, if you live outside the iTunes universe.

Digital Cameras:
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS : BackCanon PowerShot SD980 IS

$329.99 list
Canon's first touch-enabled point-and-shoot camera, the PowerShot SD980 IS masters the touch-screen shooting experience with an intuitive, easy-to-follow UI, but some wide-angle image-quality issues hold it back from true greatness.

Samsung DualView TL225 : BackSamsung DualView TL225

$349.99 list
Sure the front-facing, self-portrait LCD on Samsung's DualView TL225 is cool, but the beautiful, ultra-high-resolution 3.5-inch touch screen, with its well-executed interface make this camera a true winner.

Media Extender:
Sonos Bundle 250 : AngleSonos Bundle 250

$999 direct
Hmmm. This one might seem a bit puzzling, but it's the remote control that's bundled with this multi-room music system that's the star of the show. Its very responsive 640-by-480, 3.5-inch touch screen is a pleasure to use, letting you zip around the system's well-designed UI quickly and easily.

Remote Control:
Logitech Harmony 1100 : AngleLogitech Harmony 1100

$399.99 direct
If you're willing to peel your eyes from your HDTV to look down at the Harmony 1100 to find its on-screen buttons, this slick-looking, tablet-style universal remote provides a very solid touch-screen experience. Plus, it's a snap to set up, and a recent $100 drop makes it still-expensive price a bit more palatable.