I won an HP TouchSmart 600 giveaway by Chip Chick!

If you don’t know, Twitter‘s a great way to get involved with various communities (photography, technology, etc). Another good use of Twitter has been giveaways. Just make sure that’s NOT all you do on Twitter or if you must, set up a separate twitter account for participating in giveaways. In several giveaways based on Twitter, all you need to do is retweet a couple of sentences with a hashtag included. I’ve participated in non-twitterbased giveaways before and those are always more involved than just retweeting something. Here are the most common ways to enter giveaways that I’ve seen on the web.

  1. Leave a comment about “why you want X device/what X device will do for you/ETC” and be randomly selected. Usually done by big blogs and expectedly reduces your chances for winning due to the low barrier for entry.
  2. Post a video/picture and most creative will be selected by contest editors.
  3. Write a blog post about topic X and link back to a predetermined page.
  4. Create a video/picture/blogpost and the one with most votes win.
  5. Enter your personal details (name, email address and/or home address) for a random drawing.
  6. or Do all of the above and be selected by contest editors.
  7. or do all of the above and be randomly selected.

This particular contest I participated in was run by Chip Chick and the methods of entry were:

  1. Tweet @chip_chick saying β€œEnter me in the HP TouchSmart 600 Giveaway http://bit.ly/9FIls1”
  2. Make a comment on this post which explains what you would do with the HP TouchSmart 600 if you won it.
  3. Or send us an email detailing what you would do with the TouchSmart 600 if it was all yours.

I found out about this giveaway through Twitter and my initial instinct was to enter the contest through retweeting. This method would be great if entries were randomly selected b/c least amount of work on your part. However, I wasn’t too sure on how this contest would be judged and I decided writing an email would be my best option. I’ve done several of these that I was not under any illusions that this giveaway would be different. Giveaway contests are completely subject to the editors/sponsors rules so always read the rules. The rest, as they say, is history. πŸ™‚ Yadda yadda yadda, I got an email saying I had won the TouchSmart 600 last week.

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To say I was excited would be an understatement. πŸ˜› I have had some good luck online. Cases in point:

  1. Winning a license for Camtasia 6.0 (worth $299) via Gottabemobile.com’s contest in 2008 which involved making a video about why I needed/wanted Camtasia 6 and leaving a comment that pointed to the video I had created. The odds were in my favor because there were 4 video entries and whether you like it or not, if contests are decided by editors, they like to see some effort put into your entries! Did my video blow you away? Probably not, but compared to the other entries, I looked pretty good. I did make a follow-up video that was not so painful. πŸ˜€
  2. Last year, I participated in Swoopo.com for the first time and won an auction for my current laptop (HP dv7-3080us) for ~ $250. The retail price of this quadcore laptop is around ~$1400. To put things into perspective, my former (now hubby’s) laptop cost that much, but it’s specs are laughable compared to this current notebook. I digress, but I clearly scored a scoop with Swoopo that, much to my chagrin, I haven’t been able to recreate. This is why gambling is bad, kids. Don’t do it. πŸ˜›

So winning the HP TouchSmart 600 has been my biggest coup so far. I would peg its true worth at ~ $1200 versus the stated $1500. Who’s cares? I’m just thrilled to have won it and all that matters is this: HP makes good products. They’re well known in the blogosphere for their phenomenal giveaways and I’m glad they selected Chip Chick for hosting this giveaway. Now, I have possession of an entertainment PC that I didn’t have before. πŸ™‚ My hubby & I have already chunked our bulky entertainment center (made of wood), the 40lb TV, the old 100lb speakers, the VCR player (don’t ask. lol), the DVD player and temporarily shelved the PS2. Our living room looks great with the extra stuff moved out of the way as the HP TouchSmart is poised to become the defacto TV & entertainment spot. I do have an interesting sidenote.

First impressions about its specifications: This is in NO way looking this $1200 gift horse in the mouth, but I thought it bears noting. Nearly all online contests state that the “Approximate value of prizes may vary.” In my case, there was probably ~ $300 difference from the reviewed model which I don’t care about, but in the interest of documentation, I wanted to write about. The HP Touchsmart model reviewed by Chip Chick had a BluRay player. The eventual model I received (HP Touchsmart 600-1000t) has player for CDs/DVDs only. Update: I also noticed that this model (TouchSmart 600-1000t) lacks HDMI input. Luckily enough, my laptop (dv7-3080us) *can* play BluRay discs so I definitely don’t miss this feature although I would definitely swap out players if I could. The side-effect of missing BluRay playback on this model of the TouchSmart 600 is that HP could skimp on the graphics card installed in the PC.

On the outside packaging, I read it had “integrated” graphics and I inwardly winced thinking of the Intel graphics from my 2005 HP desktop PC. Thankfully, I was happy to note that it had an Nvidia Graphics card (Gefore G200) with 256MB of video memory and an Nvidia chipset (hence the use of the “integrated graphics” term). Putting this into perspective, my laptop’s video card has 1GB of video memory with BluRay Playback. I’ll speculate that this lower-end graphics card was put in because it didn’t need BluRay playback. The WEI score supports my suspicion as it was the ‘weakest’ link with a WEI rating of 5.3. It will be interesting to chronicle the computer’s performance. So far, I’ve had 1 incident where the screen ‘froze’ and didn’t respond to my taps while playing one of the games (Garden Pond) from the Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7.

First impressions about using it as the TV replacement: I gravitated to using Windows Media Center over the HP’s custom Live TV tile in the TouchSmart software. The main reason: using the remote control while in the TouchSmart 3.0 software repeatedly brought up the Windows Media Center. This meant that to bring up things like the guide or info with the Live TV tile meant leaving the couch to do so. It’s just a small inconvenience, but enough to make me stick to Windows Media Center for now. I would actually recommend using Windows Media Center for TV watching because it’s much more mature than the Live TV tile and I prefer WMC’s method of navigating through Channels and upcoming shows. The 23″ screen is more than adequate for our TV watching needs and the sound emanating from this thing is actually better than my old TV’s! Now, I’m no audiophile, but I generally use my husband as the yardstick for audio stuff and his verdict: it sounds rich. Sold!

First impressions about using Netflix app on the TouchSmart software or Windows Media Center: Windows Media Center wins this hands-down. Main reason: Netflix software on the TouchSmart 3.0 interface is only set up to playback movies that are in your “instant queue”. This means you must already have a movie “playlist” and the Netflix app dutifully plays those movies. However, the Netflix plugin for Windows Media Center has more capabilities i.e. you can browse the Netflix library and add movies for watching. You aren’t limited to items in your instant queue and can search movies based on genre. Perhaps with time, there’ll be more improvements to the Netflix app on the TouchSmart 3.0 software.

First impressions as a desktop computer replacement: Doing a dollar-for-dollar comparison (and based on this model’s specifications), you’re better off getting a desktop/flatscreen LCD combo for less than what this TouchSmart costs. Of course, you’ll be trading space and convenience for more computing power. This TouchSmart will be great for places with lobbies i.e. nearly all establishments where users do casual browsing, document editing, etc. It’s great for eye-candy too. For me, the primary selling points would be: TV replacement, BluRay playback (which this model lacks), and Touch capabilities. Text entry with the onscreen keyboard is a fun experience. I discovered that hovering above the letters was enough to trigger the surface. For instance, hovering above the letter A with your fingertip would cause the letter A to get entered into your textbox. This is possibly by design because it should theoretically help with text entry. Windows 7 is so smart and I’m discovering little things like pinching a webpage in IE 8 will zoom out! The built-in speech recognition in Windows 7 (Home premium) is actually pretty good and I spent ~ 1 hr going through the training, but I don’t forsee using my voice to command the PC because the error rate (at this point) is 50%. Error rate = issuing a voice command / recognizing the voice command . I’m Nigerian by birth so it probably detects my accent. Still, it’s nice to be lazy and yell “close that” to close the current/active window. πŸ˜› I have the speech recognition set to listen for the phrase “start listening” in order to start issuing commands versus having it on all the time or manually activating speech recognition.

First impressions on the bundled games: The standard games for Windows 7 are available for the TouchSmart 600. With the Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7, there are ~ 4 applications that are geared for being played through touch (Microsoft Surface Globe – like Google Earth, Microsoft Surface Lagoon – a screensaver, Microsoft Blackboard and Microsoft Garden Pond). The only missing item from the Touch Pack on the HP Touchsmart is Microsoft Surface Collage. The next set of games are HP games powered by WildTangent. I’m deeply mistrustful of WildTangent (see the “Wild Tangent” Wikipedia page) so I haven’t attempted playing any of the HP games. I haven’t heard of any companies making games that take advantage of computers like the TouchSmart. If you are out there, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. Surely, there is a market for this in the Windows world. I mean, the iPad just came out and now has thousands of apps yet the TouchSmart (the posterchild for the future of Windows 7 touch computing until the HP Slate makes its debut) doesn’t. It makes me wonder about Seriously, I’m not installing any applications on this computer that aren’t touch-aware. That would be stupid because I’ve got my laptop for that!

In a nutshell, this latest device in our household is a huge help & relief to have. I wasn’t kidding in my contest entry when I said the TouchSmart would become the centerpiece for entertainment at my home. My husband & I are huge Netflix fans and I like my TV stations. In 1 fell swoop, the HP TouchSmart has simplified my life. That’s the best thing about this computer. Look out for my next post (with pictures!) about my feelings about the HP TouchSmart after the giddiness of owning for a 1 day has worn off. πŸ™‚

my thoughts on the iPad

A lot of the articles I’ve read talk about the iPad as a ‘game changer’. I can’t list each individual article, but I like to visit Hacker News and Techmeme for quick snapshots. My dislike for AAPL aside, I have to agree. For me, the biggest deal about this device is that the iPad is the first popular tablet that is truly *all* about touch. What am I talking about? Take a look at most of the PC tablets out there. Most of them have those special pens that are used for writing on the screen. This has been an acceptable practice, but thanks to the iPad, the status quo is being challenged to evolve or die. πŸ˜› Many of the programs available on PC tablets are geared towards using the mouse/keyboard way of things. This is great if you don’t want to spend money all over again on getting apps with touch functionality, BUT with the advent of the iPad, the difference (lack of programs that use the touch tablet screen for interacting) is clear. In the PC world, there hasn’t been much developer effort into creating applications on PC tablets that use the monitor as the main means of interacting as the PC tablet ‘way’ has been: using special pens, Wacom tablets, etc. The iPad has revived the concept of using the monitor as the tool for communicating with your computer and instead of going halfway like PC tablets, the iPad shows that it *can* be done. Of course, AAPL had the devilishly good sense to create their market for touchscreen apps by unleashing the iPhone and knowing that it would not be a hard leap to make from developing for the iPhone to developing for the iPad. The ‘good’ news is now that there is a clear demand (even though the demand is being driven by people who are already Mac users as apparently 74% of iPad buyers already owned a Mac device), there’ll be more effort in the PC world to improve on the Tablet PC situation. I was initially bemused at the hordes of people so interested in this prettily caged device, but I’m even happier at the research & innovation it hopefully inspires in PC makers.

On the question of buying or not, simply put, Generation 1 devices pretty much use you as a guinea pig. Apple will implement most of the major gripes in the next version. If you don’t have a smartphone or laptop or netbook, definitely play with one. You will need to plonk down at least $200 (in addition to the $499 pricetag for the 16GB version) to get yourself truly ready to use the iPad as a laptop-replacement i.e. $40 for a case, a bluetooth keyboard, stands, other accessories etc so the price is potentially that of a relatively expensive laptop. So, the decision is up to you. πŸ™‚