Hanns G HT231HPB: an entry-level touchscreen monitor let down by Windows 8.1 and itself
I have no problems with touchscreens in general, no problem at all. I can't imagine using a non-touchscreen phone any more, and I have tablets of all shapes and sizes coming out of my ears. Touchscreens make sense, they are intuitive, they are fun to use. In the right situation, at least. I bang on about being a very happy Surface Pro owner (not as yet a Surface Pro 3), but how often do I take advantage of the fact that it has a touchscreen? Very rarely. I might jab the screen every now and then to switch apps, I may even mess about with handwriting recognition from time to time, but despite my love of the device, a keyboard/trackpad/mouse combo is my preferred choice.
I use my Surface Pro as a laptop, and perhaps this is where my issues stem from. To me it makes little sense to reach over the keyboard to interact with the screen when a far more energy and time efficient trackpad flick does the job just as well. Used as a tablet, it would be a different story, but to me the Surface Pro range is not about amalgamating the best of laptops and tablets, it's about having a fancy laptop. But I digress. My point is that I have yet to be convinced of the value of touchscreen laptops (when used as laptops), and the idea of touchscreen monitors for desktop computers just seems like a step too far.
Of course, touchscreen monitors for non-tablet computers are nothing new, not by a long shot -- they are to be found in restaurants and at countless POS in stores, for instance. But for everyday desktop computing do they make sense? At a POS touchscreens make the life of a cashier easier by reducing the necessary interaction to a series of taps. This works for a number of reasons. Firstly, cashdesks in stores are set up so the screen is correctly positioned, and there's no awkward keyboard getting in the way. There's also the fact that the software being displayed on the screen has been designed for use with a touchscreen monitor.
So, the Hanns G HT231HPB. Technically, it is pretty impressed, but it has a number of obstacles to overcome right from the start. Picture how you sit at your desk. You're in a chair, knees under a table top, keyboard in front of you, the monitor positioned 18 inches or more away from you. Is this an arrangement that lends itself to interacting with your monitor by touching it? I can only speak from personal experience, but I sit more than an arm's length away from the screen. To tap it I would not only have to lift my hand until it is level with the lower half of my face, but also lean forward. Every time I want to tap something or swipe something or drag something. Every. Single. Time. I'm here to use my computer, not get an arm workout.
Marx would have us fighting against the bondage of the machine, but here we find that we have to bend to the will of the screen. We have to adapt the way we work to reap any benefits. A touchscreen monitor used in conjunction with a desktop computer requires more work and effort on the part of the user. This is not what computing is about. With a 23 inch screen, there's a lot of arm movement -- interacting with Windows is akin to conducting an orchestra.
But the HT231HPB is intriguing. Rather than a regular foot stand, support comes from a fold out stand at the back. This can be used to position the monitor in a traditional near-vertical orientation, but it can also be folded back so the screen is at a much shallower angle -- think laptop with the lid opened almost all the way. But again this creates work and requires effort. Used in the laid-back mode, the monitor transforms almost into a tablet, but without any of the benefits of a tablet due to the need to be tethered to a base station.
It is possible to use Windows 8's onscreen keyboard in this mode, allowing you to dispense with your oil-based physical peripheral, but it's a strange and rather uncomfortable experience, resulting in back-, hand- or wrist-ache -- and, of course, Windows' built-in keyboard leaves a lot to be desired. I can see the monitor appealing to that strange breed of workers who have taken to conducting their toil in a standing position, but even then the monitor feels as though it should be an all-in-one rather than just a monitor. It's just awkward.
There appears to be little reason for the Hanns G HT231HPB to exist. It's one of those devices that seems like a great idea at the time, a fabulous impulse buy -- but it's a purchase that's likely to bring about a severe case of buyer's remorse. At £199.99 (or equivalent throughout Europe), it's not a hugely expensive 23-incher by any stretch of the imagination when you factor in the touchscreen side of things, but you're paying for a feature which I would argue is let down by not just the fact that a computer needs to be connected, but the fact that Windows 8's touchscreen experience on the desktop is a car crash. Keep in mind that this is not a tablet, but a monitor designed to use with a computer.
In all likelihood you're going to be using the monitor to interact with, apart from Windows itself, desktop apps -- unless you're one of the small number of people who can endure modern apps on the desktop. This does not a happy computing experience make. Traditional apps do not lend themselves to touchscreen use which means your touchscreen interactions are going to be limited to Windows-specific activities. How much time do you spend on such tasks? How much of your money is that worth?
For your money you get the 23 inch 10 point multi-touch screen, made up of 1920 by 1080 pixels. We're looking at a full HD display here, but the quality isn’t actually that high. There's a fuzzy look to things -- which could be due to the use of a TN rather than IPS panel -- but the response time of 5ms is reasonable as is the contrast ratio of 1000:1. There are built-in speakers which do the job but there are issues with the control buttons which being hidden around the back of the unit make configuration a nightmare task. The energy usage level of 26W is pleasing but, sadly, this is one of the few highlights.
Factor in the cheap feel of the unit, and this is one to miss -- it does at least serve to highlight the absurdity of desktop touchscreen monitors. It might appeal to a poor, struggling graphic designer, but regret will ultimately ensue.