Do You Really Need a Touchscreen on Your Windows PC?

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Thought swiping and screen smudges were a luxury that were exclusively limited to your smartphone or tablet? Think again, because these days it’s almost impossible to find a consumer laptop or all-in-one desktop that don’t come with the option to add a touchscreen onto your final build.

But is the extra cost worth it?

In this article, we’re going to break down the main benefits and drawbacks you can expect when debating if you should add a touchscreen to your laptop or desktop, and give you all the data you’ll need to make an informed decision about whether or not the technology is right for you.

A Big Hit to Battery Life

One of the first, and most notable drawbacks with touchscreen PCs and laptops is that, even if you’re not using the touch features 100% of the time, the device will still pull down a considerable amount of extra power from your battery to support the capacitive screen.

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In a gamut of tests run by amateurs and professionals alike, battery life on laptops suffers about a 25% loss if you add a touchscreen into the mix, whether the feature is active or not. Simply by design of what it takes to make a touchscreen work, extra juice has to be charged through the glass on top of the LCD display, which is less energy that’s available for your battery to hold out for other tasks.

This can be a deal breaker for road warrior business professionals who need their devices to last as long as humanly possible between charges, lest they be chained to a cramped corner while they’re waiting for a flight at the airport.

The Stark Landscape of Software and Applications

Whether it’s a laptop or an all-in-one, the number of applications on the Windows Store, or in the rest of the Windows catalog, that were designed from the ground up to natively take advantage of touch controls are pretty much slim to none.

Now, to be clear, this shouldn’t be confused with applications that can take advantage of a touchscreen. Because Windows PCs running anything from XP and above emulate touch commands as a mouse pointer, any software that you can use with a mouse can also technically be adapted to touch.

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What we’re referring to here are programs that were made specifically with touch controls in mind, and on that merit alone; the pickings are few and far between.

Sure, there’s a couple games in the Windows Store that play much easier with your index finger than they do a mouse, but those are easily more the exception, than they are the rule.

The one minor benefit to concede in this department is that for kids, educational games on an all-in-one are a slam dunk. If you’ve ever seen a toddler pick up an iPad, you know just how much easier it is for them to process a piece of information by touching, tapping, and actively interacting with it than anything a keyboard or mouse combo might be able to provide.

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If you’re interested in an all-in-one exclusively to take advantage of the dozen or so educational titles available on the Windows Store, a touchscreen might be a worthy investment. But what about for daily use?

General Utility

Overall, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find an application that is categorically easier or better to use with the help of a touchscreen.

If you do a lot of work in Adobe Photoshop, the precision of a Wacom tablet can’t be matched by even the most accurate touchscreens on the market. Windows 8 does still feature the Metro tile system, but it’s rare that you’ll see many users choosing that big, cartoony start screen over the classical desktop if given a choice between the two.

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Not only that, but Microsoft seems to have learned from the mistakes made with Metro, and will soon be shoving the tile system off to the side for the upcoming release of Windows 10. In this regard, touchscreens on PCs might make sense for a couple more months, but as soon as 10 drops, expect the company to go back to its mousey roots and leave the rest of touchscreen users in the dust.

Look, even I (a well-known cynic) can admit that browsing the web, swiping through photos, or playing “Cut the Rope” might be a bit easier with a touchscreen attached, but are these few select applications of the technology really worth the extra price?

It All Comes Down to Cost

Regrettably, the fact is is that no matter where you look, who you buy from, or who’s got the best deal in town; touchscreen PCs and laptops will always cost more than a version with a standard display, full stop.

Because the materials used to make capacitive touchscreen displays cost more than standard LCD building blocks, whether it’s a laptop, a desktop monitor, or an all-in-one, you can generally expect to pay anywhere between $50 to $150 extra than what you would normally shell out for the privilege of being able to smudge up your own screen.

If this is a price you’re willing to bear for the convenience of forgoing a mouse, then maybe a touchscreen is right for you. But otherwise, it’s hard to justify spending more cash on a screen you can touch when that money could instead be spent on added features like a better processor, more RAM, or twice the amount of internal storage.


In the end, it comes down to how much utility you think you might be able to glean out of a touchscreen device. On average, you should expect to spend more money on a computer that will lose a significant fraction of battery life over the course of a day, have a limited number of applications that are actually designed for touch, and interact with a screen that can’t replicate the same amount of precision you would get out of a Wacom/stylus peripheral.

Realistically, if you really want a touchscreen that travels with you wherever you go, tablets like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 can offer the perfect compromise between touch capabilities, portability, and a system that’s specifically made to last for more than six hours on a single charge.

As far as all-in-ones and touchscreen monitors are concerned, at least for the time being, there simply aren’t enough applications or software packages on the market to justify however much extra you might spend to set one up.

Image Credits: Flickr 1, 2, 3, Wikimedia 1, 2

 

Chris Stobing is a writer and blogger from the heart of Silicon Valley. Raised around tech from birth, he's had an interest in PC hardware and networking technology for years, and has come to How-To Geek to contribute his knowledge on both. You can follow him on Twitter here.

  • Published 05/31/15
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