HP DreamScreen: What it is and isn't

Courtesy of Hewlett-Packard
The HP DreamScreen: More "ambitious digital photo frame" than tablet PC.

For those of us not invited to an unveiling event Wednesday night in New York, the bummer moment for the HP DreamScreen comes at 1:38 of the following video:

"Karina" says, after explaining how to install the remote's battery, "this is not a touchscreen." Cue the "wha-wha-wha-whaaaaaah." Despite looking like a tablet with its slick 10- or 13-inch screen, and generally quacking like a tablet with its web access, media playing, and storage abilities – and being touted for scooping Apple's tablet, appearing months before its rumored release – this is no tablet PC. Rather, call it a digital picture frame with ambition.

For one, the DreamScreen lacks a battery. It must stay plugged in at all times. This is a huge dealbreaker for those envisioning surfing the Web on the couch, or taking a video or radio show into another room. It's as if the device was was created in the early days of at-home Web access, when Internet appliances like the ill-fated "Aubrey" were predicted to take over the kitchen and living room, and Wi-Fi was a novelty, not a necessity.

Another "huh?" moment comes when one realizes the DreamScreen doesn't have a keyboard. Though the marketing copy touts the screen's ability to access Facebook, Pandora, and a proprietary HP Internet radio service, interacting with these services (how do you update a Facebook status or set up a new Pandora channel?) – is made difficult if not impossible.

Innovation editor Chris Gaylord talked about the coming golden age of tablet PCs earlier this month: "The new approach? Stop trying to market [tablets] as inside-out laptops and instead make them feel like a smart phone’s big brother." The DreamScreen is anything but that.

Missed opportunities here include the obvious (a touch-screen and a battery) and the optimistic (a cellular modem, beefier internal storage, and an app store). All of those are available on today's smart phones, and, though we might be suffering from the same kind of "Apple tablet envy" PC Word's Tom Spring references, they seem like sensible additions to any 2009 tablet.

At $250 for the 10-inch flavor and $300 for the 13-incher, DreamScreen is "a nice, expensive clock radio," says Business Insider's Dan Frommer, and, though it lacks a good hardware snooze button, we have to agree.


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