Several months ago I purchased an HP Compaq L2105 touch screen (PDF) display in anticipation of touch-oriented interfaces for Windows and Linux platforms. This 21.5″ Active Matrix display has a 1000:1 contrast ration, a 5ms response time and a native resolution to 1920×1080. It accepts finger and stylus input and has “2-point plus” gesture capabilities. It supports DVI-D and VGA input, but has no HDMI input. At under $300 retail with a 3-year warranty, it is among the least expensive touch-display options for desktop PCs available.

More product information from HP is available.

Out of touch

When I received the display, I hooked it up to my Windows 7 workstation, installed the Touch Pack and played around with it for about a week – then promptly stopped using touch. In fact, my experience with Windows 7 convinced me that Windows 8 was probably destined to be a failure. When I installed the developer’s preview of Windows 8 I was so unimpressed that I completely abandoned the idea of pursuing Touch Screen solutions on the desktop until just before the commercial release of Windows 8.

Around that time I realized that I’ve spent so much of the last three years absorbed in ARM-based mobile devices, I hadn’t bought a new PC in five years. My fastest machines were running Core 2 Duos. I realized I should probably consider one of the Windows 8 Hybrid/Convertible ultrabooks. I spoke with Deb and Tom Shinder and realized how far out of touch with Microsoft I had become. I directed my lead system engineer to start testing his TechNet copy of Windows 8 Pro, and decided to do the same thing myself.

I dug up a Centrino laptop, installed Windows 8 and began to play with it. I quickly found that Windows 8 works awesome on a device that doesn’t have touch capabilities. I had the nagging feeling that if the device were touch-enabled, it would deliver an even higher level of enjoyment. I struggled with the idea of just going out and buying a new Yoga 13 ultrabook. I couldn’t bring myself to commit to a premium Intel based device in an emerging market. Instead, I slogged on with my beat-up old laptop.

And then I remembered the HP Compaq L2105tm.

Touch revisited

After a little disruption in my home office, I was able to connect the test laptop to the monitor. Windows 8 instantly detected and recognized it, transparently installing the correct drivers and enabling multi-touch capability.

I’m not sure why I waited so long to do it.

The L2105tm is a little bulkier than a typical LCD monitor. There is actually a space about 1/16th of an inch between the bezel and the surface of the display. I get the feeling the sensors are hidden in this space and that the surface of the display isn’t actually touch. I sometimes notice it registering input before my finger has actually touched the surface. I’m sure this is why it works with the included plastic stylus as well. Neither capacitive or resistive, this is an optical touch-screen device. The stylus stores in a slot on the lower right hand corner of the monitor, and reminds me quite a bit of an old HP/Compaq iPaq arrangement. As an LCD and not an LED display, the back is also bulkier than newer displays.

The L2105tm supports two-point touch. This might present problems in more advanced apps, but so far, it seems that two points of touch are plenty for every Windows 8 Modern app I’ve downloaded. Games like Cut The Rope and Angry Birds Star Wars are playable with the mouse, but they really shine in the touch-screen environment they were designed for.

The place where you really see the pay-off is in the multi-touch navigation gestures of Windows itself. Remembering awkward alt-key combinations or dragging the mouse to the edge of a screen are poor attempts to replicate real-world actions. The Windows gestures are not as intuitive as those on an iPad or Android device – but once you learn them they are remarkably natural, fluid, and logical.

Instead of switching between apps using alt-tab (which still works if you just can’t let go of your old ways), you simply swipe from the right edge with the same motion you would use to flip through a book. I find that when I alt-tab I inevitably go too far and have to complete another whole circuit to get back to where I want to be. The gesture is more natural. Scrolling through screens and using the advanced Modern-UI features, (like displaying two Modern apps in a split screen,) also becomes much easier, and therefore more likely to be used when using touch instead of a mouse.

Right track

Things are not perfect. Windows 8 is Microsoft’s first stab at a touch-enabled OS and you’ll find that depending on where you are in the OS, things may not work consistently. While frustrating, these are problems with the OS that will be discovered and improved over time. Regardless, the L2105tm is proof-of-concept that touch-enabled displays can be productivity enhancing, even for business desktop PCs and that Windows 8 is on the right track.

Also read:

Donovan created a YouTube video demonstrating how the HP Compaq L2105 touch screen works with Windows 8.