A 27-in Table PC

All-in-one PCs are picking up steam but what about one that can fold all the way down and be used as a table PC?

While foraging through the land that is Las Vegas during the 2013 Consumer Electronic Show, we ran into Lenovo and they showed us a unique PC design they were calling the "Table PC".  The Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon is a 27-in All-in-One design that is finally available in the market and brings some very interesting design decisions and use cases.

At its heart, the IdeaCentre Horizon is a 27-in 1920×1080 display with an AIO PC design that includes some pretty standard Intel-based Ultrabook-style hardware.  That includes an Intel Core i5-3337U dual-core processor, a discrete NVIDIA GeForce GTX GT620M graphics processor, a 1TB 5400 RPM HDD and 8GB of DDR3-1600 memory. 

But this computer is much more important than simply the hardware it is built around.  Built to switch between a standard AIO configuration but allows for a fold-down, multi-user interface with custom software for interaction, the Horizon attempts to bring life to low-cost computers built for more than one user at a time. 

From a physical perspective, the IdeaCentre Horizon has the normal and expected design cues.  There is an HD webcam up top for Skype calls, touch-based buttons for volume and brightness, indicator lights for drive usage, power states, etc. 

The 1920×1080 10-point touch screen on the Horizon was nice, but not great.  For a 27-in display that you are going to be interfacing with very closely, the pixel density is definitely lower than our 1080p 21-in touch screen AIO floating around the office.  There were some minor glare issues as well, even with the Lenovo "anti-glare coating" while using the Horizon in the fully laid down, flat position.

On the left hand side of the Horizon is the entirety of the IO for the computer: audio in and out via headphone jacks, memory card reader, two USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI input – not an output.

The HDMI input allows the machine to capture camera input or DVD/Blu-Ray player input so that the Horizon could act like a multi-function display as well as a PC.  While that feature is nice, the fact that there is no secondary display output means that hooking up another monitor will require a USB 3.0 adapter from someone like DisplayLink.

On the back of the unit is the Lenovo Smart Hinge that allows the user to setup the Horizon at essentially any angle between 0-60 degrees and also allow for perfectly flat 90 degree angle as well.  The hinge was very smooth in our testing and reliable after more than a month of usage, so even with kids that frequently move the Horizon around, it should handle the wear.

Also inside that back panel is a battery – about 7000 mAh worth.  This gives the Horizon a unique feature – portability.  To a small degree at least.  Without being plugged into the wall I was able to get about 2 hours of web surfing time in before the machine shut down on me.  That doesn't mean you take this on your next flight from coast to coast (though that is a funny mental image) but your kids can take it to the couch or their rooms for a little bit of game time without worrying about lugging the charger.

The components inside do require active cooling and the fan was somewhat noticeable in our working environment during heavier usage.  Vents along top allow for warm air to be expelled. 

Here is a shot of the Horizon at a very shallow angle – the unit remained sturdy to the touch the entire time though.

Though the primary input mechanism for the Horizon is touch, Lenovo does ship a wireless keyboard and mouse with it.  The mouse is odd…but functional.

The real magic of the Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon starts when you fold it down flat and it automatically changes from the standard Windows 8 desktop to the custom built Aura interface.  This interface allows for interaction from multiple people (up to 10 inputs) to share and browse pictures, video and music.  There are included games that can utilize some very unique accessories (see below) but most of them were pretty bland.  Only a multi-touch, table PC version of Monopoly really stood out to me as a killer feature for this product.

Our video review above has a lot more to showcase in terms of the Aura interface; how it works, what it is good at and what it is not good at.  I would definitely ask you to read that for an understanding of what Lenovo was attempting to do with it.

The included gaming accessories are the Striker (slide on the screen for games like air hockey), the Joystick (support directional control for dual-joystick games) and the E-Dice (includes a sensor and wireless transmits the result of the roll to the PC).  There are fun little add-ons to the Aura interface and will likely keep kids entertained but they are still not match for an actual, physical controller. 


Quick Performance Tests

Though I did mention that this system is about much more than hardware, we of course ran it through some basic performance tests.  With a dual-core Ivy Bridge processor and low-end NVIDIA GT 620M discrete graphics, it performs about on par with other mobile machines.

Our 3DMark Cloud Gate results show performance right where I expected it – just behind the results of the dual-core Haswell based MacBook Air system.  It isn't going to win any awards and gaming with titles like BF3 and Bioshock is likely out of the question.  More mainstream titles and some the great indie games from Steam (Hotline Miami anyone?) should run without a problem.

The CPU performance results from CineBench 11.5 and from our x264 v5.0 benchmark pin the Horizon hardware just a hair behind the latest Haswell-based MBA.  AMD's Trinity quad-core desktop platform is a bit faster in both graphics and x86 performance and to be honest I would love to have seen the Horizon ship with a Haswell-based platform rather than the somewhat dated Ivy Bridge processor.  Design cycles are king it appears.


Closing Thoughts

The Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon All-in-One machine is truly a unique beast.  Coupling Ultrabook hardware with a 27-in 1080p 10-point touch screen display is common practice but enabling a tabletop mode with custom software to promote a multi-user environment is not.  In my experience the Aura environment worked well and basic consumers will find it inviting and innovative.  More experienced users will likely question the lack of integration with other key services like Facebook or Dropbox and the lack of access to a simple web browser in this mode is a sore spot. 

By far the most fun I had with the Horizon was playing Monopoly with friends – I just wish there were some other games that peak my interest half as much.  Games like Air Hockey, DrawRace and Raiding Company will likely appeal to the younger crowd strongly but the biggest let down for me was the Texas Hold 'Em game that traded usability for glossy, flashy design and insane rule changes (changing opponents hold cards based on reputation??) making it basically unplayable for anyone over the age of nine.  And while you might say that other software can be written for this form factor I just don't have faith it will happen – so depending on Lenovo here is all you can do.

With a price tag of $1600, the IdeaCentre Horizon is also a bit more expensive than I would like to see.  Other AIO computers can be found for under $800 with Ivy Bridge hardware in them though that is with a 20-in display, no internal battery and no lay-flat software to take advantage of the table PC form factor.  If Lenovo could prove to me that the software ecosystem for this kind of design was going to remain strong I would feel more comfortable recommending the Horizon to readers looking for a family-friendly all-in-one, but for now I think it is a bit more risk than I would take on without knowing 100% that this is what you want.