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By Mike Joubert 29 January 2010

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We love all-in-one (AIO) PCs, and we know of a few PC manufacturers, including Lenovo and Acer, that do too. So when Acer sent us the Aspire Z5600 with a gorgeous 23" touch-screen, we knew we were in for a treat.

To be honest, the Z5600 is pretty much how we envision the future of home PCs. In fact the term personal computer could do with a slight adjustment, since this touch-panel PC isn’t so much about the personal experience as it is about the shared one. What happened when we set the Z5600 up in our meeting room is a good example. Within a few minutes our crew started gathering round the monitor to play around with the touch focused software found in the Acer TouchPortal.

TouchPortal

Built almost as a skin to your regular desktop, the TouchPortal is the life of the touch-screen party. It’s here that you want to call your friends together and say “hey, look at this”. Microsoft’s Surface Globe is a case in point. It’s like having the earth at your finger’s disposal, turning the globe, searching for places and zooming in using the pinch and expand movement made famous by the iPhone. If you’re connected to the net you zoom into street level, pretty much like Google Maps.

On the gaming side, Blackboard, a problem solving game close to that classic The Incredible Machine, was the root cause of many of the fingerprints left on screen. Unfortunately there is only other full game on there, plus about six demo versions.

Integration

What smartphones are doing really well these days is integrating social networking, and on the PC side Acer is on the right track with their TouchFriends concept. Here you can hook-up to your Facebook, Flickr or Gmail accounts to monitor your contacts’ updates, or pull in your pics from these sites to use in Microsoft Surface Collage or share in Acer’s TouchMediaShare. TouchFriends still felt a bit rough round the edges though, and it should be interesting to see how Acer develops it in future.

On the TouchPortal side a final mention should go the YouCam 3 software integrated with the PC’s webcam. It’s a blast since the face tracking capabilities allow, for example, for a gas mask to be placed on your face, or for Abraham Lincoln’s face to substitute yours, complete with mouth-, eyes- and eyebrow movements.

Although TouchPortal is where the primary action is, everything that you can click with a mouse can be controlled by touch as well. Since the screen can handle two touch points, when browsing the internet or working with documents you can pinch and expand to zoom just as with Surface Globe. Windows 7 Professional Home Premium integrated touch really well. 

Hardware

The previous Acer AIO we tested, the eMachines EZ1601, ran on Intel’s small Atom processor. The Z5600 doesn’t play those games anymore, since being touch enabled it needs something more powerful. As such it runs on Intel’s Dual-Core E5300 going at a very good 2.6 GHz, with a solid 4 GB of RAM at your disposal. 750 GB is a lot of hard disk space to do business on, while Acer provides a very decent wireless keyboard and mouse with the package.

You have six USB ports available, with two of these easily accessible on the side of the PC, an SD card reader as well as an eSATA connection. With a resolution of 1920 x 1080 the screen is absolutely stunning and that is why we found it strange that Acer didn’t opt to include an HDMI port for HD content too.

The monitor also didn’t feature any on-panel adjustment buttons, so it’s a struggle to adjust contrast or brightness easily. The keyboard includes a volume dial for easy adjustment of sound, speaking of which, there is no need to hook it up to external speakers since Acer’s Dolby Home Theater speakers, that line the bottom of the screen, do the job remarkably well. As one would wish Wi-Fi is included in the device. We did have problems with our DVD drive not working, although it might just be the test unit we were given.

Conclusion

With 23" of touch-screen goodness at your disposal and a very decent hardware line-up, we can recommend it wholeheartedly. It costs a reasonable R10 999 from Incredible Connection.

PROS
Excellent screen, wireless keyboard and mouse, good sound.
CONS
No screen adjustments on the panel. no HDMI, could have done with more games, some of the programmes still needs some attention,.
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