HP Sprout Review

Rating:

A large, daunting shape sits across from me at home, seeming to occupy my entire field of view. I slowly stand, examining it from top to bottom, before reaching out and poking it. A chime rings out and the screen flashes a brilliant blue and a familiar logo greets me as the HP Sprout comes to life.

This is what the future holds in store.

Theatrics aside, if you aren’t familiar with the HP Sprout, it’s the latest innovation in personal computing to come from HP, and it is quite a sight to behold. In short: the Sprout is a novel take on what could be next for home computing – a large touch screen coupled with a capacitive touch mat and has images projected onto its surface.

 

Sprout - Front - Tech Hub

What’s Included?

The HP Sprout is a behemoth of a machine. It sports a 23” touch screen monitor that is attached to a very heavy base that houses the core machine. At the top of the Sprout is an odd-looking apparatus that protrudes toward the user from the monitor, which contains a mirror and a set of cameras that allow the Sprout to project an image onto the touch mat, which lays flat in front of the monitor, as well as capture 2D and 3D images of objects on the mat. More on that later.

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The capacitive touch mat magnetically attaches to the base of the Sprout, with a satisfying click, becoming usable almost immediately. The touch mat is essentially a second screen for the Sprout, right out of the box, and apps can be moved between the monitor and the projected image quite easily. A heavy, metal stylus is included for use with the touch mat, and you can use either choice of input at will. A wireless keyboard and mouse are also included in the box, allowing the user to transition between a myriad of input choices seamlessly.

Altogether, you have a very large and capable all-in-one computer, with a novel second screen that introduces a new way of interaction.

The Software

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The HP Sprout used for the review included Windows 8, which works quite well with touch, and proprietary software from HP called the Sprout Dashboard. In practice, the Sprout Dashboard is essentially the home screen of the Sprout, giving users quick access to recent files and apps, as well as shortcuts to recently downloaded apps or personal favourites.

The capacitive touch mat in tandem with the overhead projector and camera apparatus allows for some interesting usage. For example, the Sprout is capable of performing a 2D scan of photos or objects or documents laying on the mat, using a combination of overhead lighting (from the projector) and a built-in camera that seems to emulate a very high quality scanner. In addition, the Sprout is also capable of performing a 3D scan of objects laying on the mat, creating a dazzling display of visuals that are really the Sprout’s way of measuring and sizing up the object in order to create and skin a 3D model.

The HP Sprout App Store is also present, which, at the time of review, was populated with example apps and proof-of-concept apps that showcased the possibilities and capabilities of the Sprout. For example, a virtual DJ app that allows you to load your music into the queue and scratch and mix using turntables projected onto the touch mat.

More on the 3D Scanner

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One of the bigger features that I was excited to try out with the Sprout was the 3D scanner. The HP website for the Sprout featured a video with drone makers where they took some of their prototype designs and scanned them with the Sprout to share with their team members. I was enamoured by that, and wanted to see what the Sprout was capable of, with respect to 3D scanning.

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Unfortunately, it seems like the 3D scanner is finicky and quite limited in its capabilities. Only the surfaces would be scanned, effectively creating a 3D model resembling more of a mask than a physical object, and I found no way of exporting the model that was immediately apparent. In addition, the scanner can’t seem to deal with the colour black, so any objects that contained black were effectively full of holes, in the camera’s eyes.

In theory, this feature would be incredible to distributed teams of makers. The ability to machine or print a part and then scan it back up to show team members would be amazing. The ability to scan another product for inspiration and examination would be super valuable to anyone working on products. Sadly, the execution of the idea is just not there yet, and effectively not a sellable feature of the Sprout. Call it personal disappointment, but when it’s one of the bigger features touted in the marketing, you’d expect it to work quite well.

Performance in General

To preface: the Sprout is an awe-inducing product upon unboxing and initial usage. You are literally interacting with a projected image onto a touch screen, and it feels like you are suddenly inside of a science-fiction story. It is novel, it is cool, and it seems to be incredibly innovative.

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As the novelty wears off, you’ll notice that the Sprout is still a very capable workhorse. The Intel Core i7 processor, 1TB hybrid SSD, and 8GB of RAM allows for a user to push the bounds of performance and receive back great results. Even better: the touch screen and touch mat are both very responsive, with very little noticeable latency or lag, which was my chief concern with the Sprout.

The only noticeable issue with the touch seems to be multiple simultaneous touches that are completely ignored by the system, posing only a problem for a few use cases. For a single user sitting in front of the Sprout, it will be as responsive and quick as you need it to be.

The Intangibles

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As mentioned in the hardware section, the Sprout is massive. Monitor and base unit aside, the touch mat takes up a considerable amount of space as well, so you’ll need a relatively wide and flat surface to put it on, as well as being able to support relatively heavy weight.

Personally, I believe that there is an inherent value in being able to interact with your devices via touch, and so the Sprout should have great value to users in theory. However, it’s hard to come up with use cases, with the current iteration, that would really provide value to personal or professional users of the Sprout.

The bright side is that the Sprout retails at $1,899.99 from Staples, giving you a great machine that is touch-capable right from the start. A similar device for illustrators, the Cintiq 24” Pen Display, is $2,749.99 for just a display alone. The Creator Gallery on the HP Sprout websites seems to support that the Sprout is aimed at small-scale makers, who need an easy way to create and design their pieces of art or products. If that’s the case, the Sprout is potentially a perfect all-in-one solution.

The Bottom Line

The product is perfect for: small-scale makers, who need an easy way to create, illustrate, design, or collaborate on products, art, and designs.

Key things to be aware of: the Sprout is very large in terms of space and weight, and will require an extra-large, and strong, table.

Final review score: 3.5 / 5, solid all-in-one solution that performs great, but may not appeal to most people.

The HP Sprout is an extremely bold step by HP to introduce something new to the world of technology, but they seem to have created something for a very niche audience. Expensive, enormous, and entertaining, the Sprout will find a home somewhere, but my guess is that most people will not want or need one.

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Jon Lim

Jon Lim is a professional developer, writer, and an avid technologist. He has written creatively for the past 16 years, and professionally for 4 years.

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