Lauren Goode

Lenovo’s Horizon PC Turns Your Coffee Table Into a Touchscreen Game Center

What kind of computer comes with an explicit warning not to rest your coffee cup on it?

A computer like Lenovo’s new IdeaCentre Horizon PC does -– and with good reason. This 27-inch computer transforms from a standard all-in-one into a giant touchscreen tabletop display.

When the Horizon is upright, it’s running Microsoft’s Windows 8. Slide down the kickstand in the back and lay the thing flat on your coffee table, and it automatically jumps to “Aura” mode, a Lenovo-created interface for playing games with friends and family.

I’ll admit that I was quick to poke fun at the Horizon when I first saw it at the International CES trade show earlier this year. I enjoyed giving the games a test drive at the time, but I was wondering if a computer this size could really have a place in my small Manhattan apartment. I don’t even have a coffee table.

After using the Horizon on a dining table for the past week and a half, I’ve been able to fully assess it. I like it, mostly because having a second large display at home is great for media consumption. But I still wouldn’t buy it. At the end of the day, it’s a niche product.

And, it’s pricey: Lenovo is currently selling its top model, which has a third-generation Intel Core i7 processor and eight gigabytes of memory, for $1,849. A slightly less powerful model, with a Core i5 chip, costs $1,699.

On June 23, Best Buy will begin offering the Horizon for slightly less: $1,599 for the Core i7 configuration, and $1,499 for the i5 model with only 6GB of RAM.

That’s still more expensive than the Sony Vaio Tap 20, a hybrid PC/tablet that starts at $880. And Asus’s 18-inch Transformer AiO, a similarly-designed computer that runs both Windows 8 and Google Android operating systems, costs $1,300. So if you’re looking for a PC that can also be used like a large tablet, there are more reasonable options. 

And if you just want a tablet for game playing and watching videos, well, you can spend $400 and get a pretty good one.

Lenovo says there are a few reasons why the Horizon is so expensive. First, and most obvious, is the size of the display. Then, there’s the preloaded game software — nine games total, including three from Ubisoft, one from EA and five developed by Lenovo. Some of those games require accessories, like e-dice, joysticks and strikers, which are thrown into the mix. Lastly, it comes with a one terabyte internal hard drive.

Let’s say you’re willing to splurge for all this, and the family-centric games are a big draw for you.

As I mentioned, it’s running on Windows 8, and if you’re not super familiar with Microsoft’s newest operating system, there will be a learning curve as you adjust to all of the new swipes and gestures, designed with touchscreens in mind.

I tested the Core i5 model. It measures 27.2 by 16.9 by 1.17 inches, and weighs 18 pounds. Lenovo envisions that users will want to move this computer around the house, but I lugged it from room to room just once, and “lug” is the appropriate description here. It’s definitely not portable. I am not, for example, going to bring it to a friend’s house, or travel with it on a plane to the D11 Conference next week, as I would a tablet.

On the left side of the Horizon is the power button. The right side is loaded with two USB ports, an HDMI port, a media card reader and jacks for headphones and the power cord.

The 27-inch diagonal display is a full-HD multitouch display. It’s nice but not particularly brilliant. Games looked fluid and bright, but when I watched a couple episodes of ABC’s “Scandal” on Netflix, colors were a little washed out.

On to gaming, the main event: The Horizon has a respectable Nvidia processor and 2GB of processing RAM, enough for all of your needs with this computer, but not the kind of power you’d expect with a hardcore gaming machine.

Preloaded game titles include Lenovo Air Hockey, Lenovo Tycoon (Lenovo’s version of Monopoly), Lenovo Fishing Joy, Lenovo Texas Hold ‘Em, and from other publishers, the original Monopoly and Ubisoft’s Raiding Company. It also comes with BlueStacks, an app interface that lets you play Google Android games.

I laid the PC flat on the table, prompting the Aura desktop overlay to appear, and “convinced” my boyfriend to geek out and play games with me. We played a few intense games of Air Hockey, sliding the strikers along the surface of the PC to score. He got hooked playing Lenovo Fishing Joy. Then we started games of both Lenovo Tycoon and the much-better Monopoly.

Rolling the e-dice was, at first, pretty cool. A set of virtual dice in the game would spin and stop moving when the physical dice did. As we took turns in Monopoly, the game zoomed in to show us different spots along the boardwalk, then zoomed back to the whole game board again when it was the next person’s turn to roll.

But I encountered a glitch with the e-dice: When I rolled the physical dice, the virtual dice on screen kept rolling … and rolling …

After a minute or two of excitable dice, we finally unplugged the Bluetooth dongle to disconnect the dice entirely, then started over again.

Overall, playing the games was fun, and I’m sure I could entertain my young niece and nephew for awhile with this. I’d like to see more brand-name games on the Horizon. On a few occasions I went back to the Windows 8 desktop — which appears when you stand the computer upright again — to load up Angry Birds. Lenovo says that more Horizon-optimized game titles are in the works.

When it comes to non-gaming activities on this machine, the touchscreen on a 27-inch display creates a unique dilemma: Sit close enough to touch it, and you’re really, really close to a giant screen. Sit further back to avoid eye strain, and you might not be close enough to comfortably use the touchscreen.

Fortunately, the Horizon also comes with a wireless mouse and keyboard, which I did end up using for email and productivity apps, allowing me to use tactile keys and sit further back from the screen.

Finally, battery life is less than that of the similar hybrids I mentioned earlier, but this is a bigger machine. In the first test I conducted, I bumped up the display to full brightness, played iTunes and had an email application running, and the battery lasted two hours and 22 minutes. During the second test, I streamed videos and played a couple games, and it lasted two hours and 10 minutes.

Now that I’ve tried the Horizon, I’d like a bigger display in my living room. But I wasn’t blown away by the game experience, and I wouldn’t want to pay $1,700 for it.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

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