Hands on: HP Beats Special Edition All-in-One PC
Beats has been recognised as a premium brand in headphones for a couple of years but despite being omnipresent in the fashion headphone space its breakout presence in mobile phones or streaming audio haven’t proved as successful. One brand that has kept the faith is HP, which has included beats as standard in its line of Chromebooks and, now as a central feature in an all-in-one PC. Unlike HP’s Chromebooks, HP’s Beats Special Edition 23-n000 (let’s just shorten it to 23-n for convenience) puts the fashionable audio brand full centre, even using the company’s bright red colouring on the casing.
So is this a case of two brands working in tandem to produce a great multi-media PC or one brand jacking up the price on a mid-range model for the benefit of an extra label?
Starting with the basic measurements, the unit has a 23″ full HD (1920×1080) touch screen display, measures 41.3×56.31×14.27cm and weighs 8.38kg. It has a red facade on which are mounted the power (top right) and volume (bottom left) switches and a black rear on which is mounted the traditional ports and drives.
As with most HP all-in-ones it uses a kickstand to stay in place, elevated by a bracket to show off a glowing Beats logo and the four integrated 12W quad speakers and two quad subwoofers.
The HP logo makes no appearance on the front as it usually does but there is a tasteful ‘Hewlett-Packard’ printed on the top left above the screen. The colour scheme is also different, with the familiar grey and black colour scheme replaced with bright red and black.
Under the hood
Behind the screen on the left is a DVD drive/burner. To the left is a series of connections consisting of two USB 3.0 ports, audio in/out jack, 3-in-1 SD card reader, a HDD activity indicator and a HDMI-in button. On the top right there’s an extendable handle for resting your headphones on – again, a nod to the target market. The volume switch is located here on the facade. Around the back we have a further four USB 2.0 ports, a HDMI port, Ethernet and power connection.
Front and centre over the display is a 720p HD camera with dual microphones. Also in the box were a wireless keyboard and mouse. As a big believer in peripherals as a sign of overall build quality than a cost-saving afterthought I was let down by the plasticy keyboard and mouse. Both worked fine but the keyboard felt too lightweight. The sleek mouse also suffered from a slippery design with only three buttons, so no forward/back options to surf the Web with. Given the choice I’d prefer to buy a decent set of peripherals separately than put up with stopgaps.
Under the hood the PC runs Windows 8.1 64-bit on an Intel Core i7-4785T processor at 2.2GHz with Intel 4600 GPU and 8Gb RAM (expandable to 16Gb) and 1Tb hard disk. In terms of connectivity, it boasts Ethernet, Bluetooth and 802.11a/b/g/n wireless options.
In terms of software, there are a number of pre-loaded apps on the Windows 8.1 install with the usual anti-virus and media bloatware on the desktop. The 23-n includes some of HP’s own media software for you to ignore at your leisure while you fire up Spotify.
The modern user interface also comes with its own set of apps, including Netflix, Vevo, a dictionary and the usual suite of Microsoft products such as Skype, Office 365, Maps, Contacts and Mail. Again, there is a bit of bloat to be removed but no worse than any other PC on the market.
Setting up was about as easy as it gets, with only an MSN account being a barrier to entry (tip, always use two-factor authentication – even if you plan on never using it as more than a login). It took a few minutes to bring down my desktop from the cloud but, again, was no worse than my most recent acquisition: the Surface Pro 3. As an aside, owing to some battery trouble with the keyboard I had to use the touch screen to log in. Despite not being a fan of touch screens on PCs of any form factor, I found the on-screen keyboard worked with the slightest touch – no need to leave any smudge marks.
It was in running some standard benchmarks that I began to find the 23-n lacking. A Novabench score of 1008 put it in the range of a late 2012 PC – mostly down to its underpowered 2.2GHz processor. Going through the alternatives from HP itself and competitors like Dell and Apple in the 23″ and over form factor, it’s not unusual to see 2.7GHz or 3GHz+ model on the market.
The decision to go with a 1Tb HDD over an SSD or hybrid drive was perplexing, as was the lack of a Blu-ray drive. For a multi-media PC surely it’s important that it be able to play the current HD standard format? Granted many PCs don’t even bother with optical drives these days, but if quality audio is a selling point then there should be as many ways to deliver it as possible.
Getting to the 23-n’s main selling point: the sound. Using a fairly bog standard set of Sennheiser headphones I got a clear, bassy sound that was noticeably more robust through the Beats app than the regular ‘untweaked’ settings. The Beats app gives a choice of headphone input, presets for movies, speech and music and a series of sliders to emphasise bass, surround sound or finer details. The effect is preserved from headphones through the main speakers so I’d consider the improved sound a case of ‘job done’.
With the Beats all-in-one HP has cemented the relationship between the two brands. As an add-on to a more fully specced machine I can see a future for Beats in PCs but not as a must-have feature. Owing to its hardware limitations, the 23-n isn’t enough of a draw to be much more than an exercise in conspicuous branding, a point copperfastened by a price tag of €1,049