Telikin Elite review: A touch-screen PC for tech novices

Consumer Reports News: April 15, 2013 03:38 PM

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It's not often easy for an older person with little technical experience—or anyone else who's frustrated by current technology—to jump into the world of computing. The Telikin Elite PC ($1,000) wants to help: It's a 20-inch all-in-one touch-screen desktop computer the manufacturer says is designed for the "technology novice." But is that touted ease of use worth the rather steep price?

We tested the Telikin Elite in our lab and also had two tech novices try it out. Here's what we found.

First, what's inside. The Telikin Elite uses a custom Linux-based operating system called Telikin OS. It's designed to keep the most frequently used PC tasks and programs easily accessible: An onscreen menu of large buttons, including Home, Video Chat, Email, Photos, and Calendar, is always present on the left of the touch screen, and the right section of the screen changes according to the program you're viewing. The home screen shows live feeds of national news, local weather, and alerts such as e-mail updates, but you can't customize it.

Because the Telikin OS is based on Linux, it's resistant to viruses, most of which are aimed at Microsoft Windows. And a built-in, customizable Web filter blocks websites based on categories such as identity protection and graphic content.

The included Video Chat program connects to Skype, the photo gallery connects to Facebook, and the e-mail browser connects to any POP3 or IMAP e-mail service. Among other pre-installed applications are a productivity suite that's compatible with Microsoft Office, a collection of games, and media players for DVDs and CDs.

It's a good thing you get all these programs, because you can't install new ones on the Telikin—although automatic software updates may include new apps in the future, according to the company. Also, upgrading memory or other hardware on the Telikin Elite is restricted and voids its warranty.

Telikin_2_electronics.jpgAs for hardware specs, the Telikin Elite comes equipped with a 1.65-GHz AMD E-450 processor with Radeon graphics, 2GB of memory, a keyboard, a two-button mouse, and a 500GB hard drive. A memory card reader allows expansion of storage, an 802.11n Wi-Fi 2.4-GHz connection is built in, and a stylus is included for finer touch control. The display has a fixed resolution of 1,600x900.

Telikin supplies just one free month of tech support via its VIP Support service; after that, it's $10 a month. VIP Support also provides automatic and unlimited online backups and remote desktop assistance. But tech-savvy family or friends can provide free remote help, using an included service called Tech Buddy.

How we tested. Because of the Telikin Elite's unique OS, we couldn't test it the way we normally would an all-in-one PC. Instead, we used a combination of desktop and tablet tests and focused on the manufacturer's claim of usability for beginners.

We also looked at the ecosystem of the computer, which includes its operating system and available programs. To evaluate the system's ergonomics, we assessed the user-friendliness of hardware components. We also compared display color, viewing angle, and speaker quality.

And to verify the computer's ease of use, we invited two tech novices to use the Telikin and report their experiences. These panelists set up the computer by themselves and performed a set of everyday tasks, such as viewing photos and sending e-mail.

What we found. For those who have trouble with reading small print, the Telikin Elite uses large type in onscreen text, in the detailed photo-accompanied manual, and on the high-contrast buttons of the keyboard. But the power button and indicator lights on the display were hard to find and had low-contrast labels.

TelikinElite_keys_electronics.jpgUser interaction is kept simple. The right-click on the mouse is rarely needed, there are no double-clicks, and the screen has no multi-touch controls; you can't pinch-to-zoom on a photo, for example. The touch capability is sometimes overly sensitive, though, causing accidental clicks where you didn't expect.

The single-view panel of the desktop prevents multi-tasking; say, browsing the Web while reading e-mail.

Choose the best PC for you: Check our computer buying guide and Ratings.

We encountered a few glitches in the software, including occasional error messages in the Web browser before we visited any pages, and a magnification box that sometimes showed only black instead of zoomed-in content. Also, the lack of supporting Linux drivers restricts the list of compatible printers to a limited set of HP models, and prevents the ability to connect and view files from other devices, such as tablets and digital cameras.

The Telikin's display provides very good color, but these colors fade when viewed from the side, and invert slightly from above. And glare was a problem in a brightly lit room.

Is it really easier to use? Despite being designed for novices, the Telikin will still require coaching for those unfamiliar with computing. Our two novice users felt that the manuals did not provide enough help for all their questions.

Each of the panelists found the photo instructions in the manual very helpful for setting up the computer, though. They also liked the readability of the screen, and thought it was easy to view slideshows. But both found it hard to find programs or commands that were buried within submenus. And setting up accounts—the e-mail program, for example—took a while and caused confusion.

In the end, one of our novices preferred the multi-touch functionality of her personal Apple iPad. The other, who had a bit more experience with computers, thought he could get used to using the Telikin over time.

Bottom line. If you're looking for just the computing basics, such as Web access and photo viewing, the Telikin Elite can provide them. The operating system is beginner-friendly, with a basic interface of big touch buttons and easy-to-read large type. And the inability to install programs means the Telikin won't get bogged down with unnecessary software.

But because of its lack of expandability, the Telikin doesn't offer much more than the basics. If you do find a new, useful program, you won't be able to install it on the Telikin. If you want to print coupons or directions and don't already own a printer from the small list of compatible models, you'll have to buy a new printer. (See our printer Ratings and buying guide for advice.) And although the operating system is basic, it was not fully intuitive: For example, submenus might hide items you are looking for, and the lack of multi-touch controls is limiting.

Also note that you can find basic, low-end Windows 8 all-in-one PCs at much lower prices, such as the Lenovo Essential C540-57312695 ($550, coming soon to our Ratings) and HP Envy TouchSmart 20-d094 ($540). These offer the expandability that the Telikin Elite lacks. They also have a similarly large viewing area and simple assembly, and the Windows 8 Start screen offers large, touch-capable tiles. The company also offers a smaller all-in-one, the Telikin Touch, which has an 18.6-inch touch screen and sells for $700.

For those, like our panelist, who might prefer a tablet, bear in mind that it won't have the screen space or readability of the Telikin. Nor will it provide the same level of automation and range of pre-installed apps. A Windows RT tablet, like the Asus VivoTab RT TF600T ($700), might come closest: It offers touch-enhanced Office pre-installed. If you opt for the Apple iPad ($630), which our panelist liked, you'll need to choose and download the apps you want to use.

—Antonette Asedillo and Carol Mangis

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