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Reach Out And Touch Your Windows

I don’t recall what year it was, maybe 2003 or 2004, but I remember watching a video of Bill Gates giving a keynote address at some event. Without the aid of props or Power Point, he talked about the future of computing. Bill explained that while the PC of the day was primarily a tool to preform specific tasks; write a letter, create a spreadsheet, edit a photo, the PC of the future would be more a personal, interactive device that you could control with touch, command with voice and even have it respond to your requests. This was around the time that Microsoft introduced the first tablet/touch, 2 in 1 PC’s (and why I shelled out more than a thousand bucks for Acer’s first 2 in 1 in 2004). I hung on to ever sentence, fantasizing of how cool it would be to control your screen with touch, write on your screen like it was a piece of paper and interact via voice command. I watched the video twice that night to make sure I didn’t miss anything. While I was already embedded in the Microsoft ecosystem by that time, that speech solidified my resolve to be on the cutting edge of technology and not miss out on this new and exciting future.

The world of computing has changed a lot in more than a decade. Windows 8.x brought us much closer to touch with the Start screen and the introduction of PC apps (vs. Programs). And in a few days Windows 10 is going to take a giant leap towards Bill’s “future vision”. Cortana will be on hand to respond to questions, set reminders, open apps, and a bunch more. Action Center and Outlook Mail, along with other apps, will use swipe actions to move or delete entries. Edge, Microsoft’s new browser, will allow you to annotate right on the screen and save the screen as an attachment. And as Window 10 evolves, more apps will incorporate voice, touch and digital ink. The future of Windows is indeed bright.

I do most of my heavy computing on desktop PC’s. both at home and at the office. Although I was a road warrior back when Bill gave his keynote, these days I am fixed at a desk in front of a monitor most of the time. I have plenty of mobility and embrace touch with my; Yoga Pro 2, which can flip to a 13” tablet in an instant, Surface 3 with it’s excellent digital ink capabilities, and Yoga Tab 8, with AnyPen technology. But my desktops were lacking touch, and with Windows 10 right around the corner, that was  a problem.

Back in 2012, with the release of Windows 8, I predicted that by 2014, every large monitor on the store shelf’s would incorporate touch.  How wrong I was. Not sure if it was the business sector speaking out, or the poor response to Windows 8, but you can count the available models of large touch monitors (over 20”) on one hand. Or maybe two. And those touch monitors were introduced two or three years ago. Forget about seeing one on a store shelf, unless it’s an AIO (all in one) device. My goal was to have touch monitors connected to my desktops, both at home and at the office, before Windows 10 launched.

Two months ago I started researching, reading every spec, review and consumer comment I could find. I zeroed in on Planar (24” for home and 27” for office), a brand that is know for those ginormous monitors on Corporate America’s conference room walls. The Helium series featured built in; camera, microphone and speakers, along with of course, touch. What’s not to like about that. But the closer I got to placing an order, the more negative feedback I read about these monitors. The speakers were terrible, the camera was at an angle (the monitor has to sit at a minimum 15 degree tilt to be stable for touch) so as it would barely catch your chin and a good part of the ceiling. When I finally got to order day, I changed course and went for the more expensive Dell Touch Monitor. It didn’t have any of the Planar add-ons, but it did have glowing reviews from most everyone.

I opted for the Dell 27” for the office, where my old tired eyes have be saying thank you for the past week, and the Dell 23” for home, where I spend much less time in front of the screen. The two monitors are identical in design (ports, stand, screen) and very similar with regard to specs. Dell gives you three options for connecting to a PC; VGA, HDMI (2) & Display Port. An HDMI cable is included in the box. The monitors also include MHL connectivity to allow for direct display of smartphone/tablet content. Can you say Continuum. All touch monitors require an upstream USB connection to activate touch. So make sure you have an available USB port on the back of your PC. The Dell also includes (4) downstream USB ports for connecting other devices. Two USB 2.0 ports are located on the bottom of the monitor (a little hard to get to for quick change out) and two additional USB 3.0 ports are located along the left edge of the monitor. I have only used these ports to connect USB sticks so far and they worked fine. There is also an audio out port on the monitor to connect a pair of speakers. Both monitors have a display resolution of 1920 x 1080. Before you say WTH!, consider my needs and use. I have been staring at monitor screens for 34 years, beginning with 80 character lines on a 5” Osborne screen. They have not been kind to my tired eyes. My 13” Yoga Pro 2 has a max resolution of 3200 x 1800 and I current have it set to 2048 x 1152, and set the display to 115%. I would set it a little higher, but some dialog boxes don’t display well. My 10.8” Surface 3 has a display resolution of 1920 x 1280, and by default the, “Change the size of all items”, was set to the max end of Larger, or 150%,  when it came out of the box. Everything on the Surface looks just right. So, having a higher resolution does not necessarily mean you are going to use it. The 23’ Dell Touch Monitor for home replaced an existing 23” non-touch monitor with the same resolution, so everything looks natural and normal. The 27” Dell at the office definitely makes things larger at max resolution. I may try reducing the scale to 90 or 80% next week, as some consumer reviewers have suggested.

All touch monitors have a few quirks, compared to non-touch. First, you have a solid glass screen that will pick up fingerprints as any touch screen will. If that’s troublesome, you may need to self medicate before using a large touch monitor. As a touch monitor has to resist any wobble from tapping and touching (like all touch laptops unfortunately do), they need a sturdy stand that tilts back at least a bit. In an office setting this will create glare on the screen from overhead lights. It’s noticeable for me, but not a deal breaker. At home with lamps, there is virtually no glare, except for the reflection of the TV screen when the monitor is turned off. The Dell stand goes from 10 degrees (nearly upright) to 70 degrees (close to flat). Other touch screen models have stands that minimally set the angle to 15 to 25 degrees, which increases glare and somewhat distorts the display. The Dell stand also props the display a bit off the desk surface, setting the bottom edge of the viewable display at 3” which is not much different than most non-touch displays. And with the 10 degree pitch, sets it at a comfortable viewing angle. Many commenters have complained that reaching for a large screen touch monitor is uncomfortable and fatiguing. I’ll admit they are partly right. In order to reach the touch monitor screen, it needs to be a bit closer than a conventional screen. Mine are about 20-22” from my eyes, which allows me to reach the screen without fully extending my arm (elbow still bent). On a large touch monitor, don’t expect that you are going to “replace” your mouse. That’s as silly as thinking that voice can 100% replace your keyboard. Ain’t gonna happen. Touch will allow you to do the occasional swipe with either hand, zoom in or out on maps (except Google Earth apparently), photos and other screens. But, at least from my first week experience, your mouse will continue to be you primary navigation device. And don’t forget the touch advantage of annotating and drawing in Edge or One Note. Try making circles with a mouse. Yeah, right. And watch what happens when that co-worker comes over and points something out on your screen, usually pressing their finger into the soft substrate, only to be surprised when something moves or a new screen launches. Gotchya.

In the week I have had these Dell touch monitors I can safely say I am happy with my choice. Setup was a breeze. Plug in two cable and power cord and boot up. They just work. Touch is very responsive and accurate. The screen can get brighter than I will ever need it to be. I am looking forward to installing Windows 10 on these desktops and taking full advantage of this new OS’s touch capabilities. One thing missing from the Dell monitors was a microphone. So I found the below capacitive microphone on Amazon for $14.95. The mic stands just at the right edge of each monitor and should allow me to converse with Cortana in another week or so. I won’t worry about a camera just yet. I have Skype, but I don’t Skype. I expect that by October/November a few OEM’s will be releasing webcams that incorporate the 3D and infrared cameras required to use Microsoft Hello facial recognition. I’ll make a selection then.

Large screen touch displays may not be for everyone, but they do add an additional layer of convenience to your desktop or laptop docking station. The 23” Dell Touch Monitor is an affordable $329 with Amazon Prime. About $100 more than a quality non-touch display. The Dell 27” Touch Display on the other hand is a whopping $699. Not sure why. If you want to try out a large screen touch monitor for yourself, your unlikely to find one on display at retail. But you will find 23-24” All In One PC’s with touch screens, where you can give your fingers a whirl. You can thank me later. Once I have Windows 10 running on both machines and fully immerse myself in the touch experience I’ll be back with an update.