A touchscreen PC with overhead 2D and 3D scanner and impressively innovative and versatile projected touchscreen, the HP Sprout is perhaps the ultimate tool for creatives and "makers".
Shown off at HP's event space in fashionable and creative Shoreditch, London, the Sprout is £1,800, aimed at makers, and combines the power of a Windows 8 desktop with the flexibility and ease of a tablet.
We got a demo from creator Brad Short but Sprout is so simple to use, we could have probably just turned up and started using it.
This is a full, 10-point multi-touch screen projected from above onto a super-tactile, smooth pad. At once, this makes sense of a lot of Windows 8 apps that currently languish unused on vertical touchscreens - keyboard-based music apps and DJ apps being obvious examples.
More particularly for the purposes of Sprout, it allows pinch-to-zoom manipulation of images, drawing/painting with your finger or a stylus, text input via a pop-up keyboard (or an actual one) and so on, letting you build up collages in no time. The standard work space is A4 sized.
Seriously, if you have a creative bone in your body, you'll be able to see applications for Sprout within seconds of picking it up.
Arguably even more innovative than the touchpad, this overhead, 200dpi scanner (also from whence the touchscreen is projected) lets you rapidly scan anything and add it into your compositions. As soon as they're scanned, images are cut out and ready to be manipulated the same as any other object in Sprout.
Sprout can also handle limited 3D scanning. For obvious reasons, it's not 360 degrees, but it can scan the contours of the parts of objects visible from above. These 3D scans can then be manipulated, stitched to other 3D images - you could scan the top and bottom of an item to make a whole virtual object - and, of course, 3D printed. Again, this is simple quick and the results are highly impressive.
Obejcts can also be worked on in PhotoShop and the like, imported from the web and so on.
The sheer speed and ease of the scanner, its versatility and the fact it's just always there make it far more useful than a traditional flatbed. Again, it'll put creatives in hog heaven.
As we mentioned, this is aimed at comsumers not professionals. And clearly most pros won't be satisfied with 200dpi at A4 max size. However, Brad reckons they could easily scale up the spec if there's demand, and while pros wouldn't use Sprout for an end product, it could be a game-changer as a way of roughing out and sharing concepts with clients.
The cleverness doesn't end there. You can then export your work to the cloud for others to view and even co-work on in real time, anywhere in the world. Okay, now arguably this is more clever than it is useful - what illustrator wants a designer mucking about with their work before their very eyes? - but some may find it very useful.
The hardware and apps
For your 1,900 quids you get a 23-inch, full-HD screen, 14.6-meg camera/scanner plus a 3D camera, 8GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, and it's all helped along by an Intel i7-4790S processor. The hardware looks and feels great, being smart, cleverly designed and decidedly Apple-like in terms of quality and aesthetic, but without notably aping Apple's design tropes. The full spec is here.
There's also a small range of Sprout-specific apps. These are somewhat less than stellar, but give a hint of what the system could be capable of.
In summary, then: terrific
It's rare that we see a product as self-explanatory and easy to use, yet with such obviously massive potential as the Sprout. Take away the scanner and you'd have one of the best Windows touch experiences ever built. Take away the touchpad and you'd still have a cracking creative tool.
With the two together, though, Sprout is something truly special. It's aimed at a niche (but growing) market, so it may not become mainstream, but we love what we've seen so far, and fully expect to see its innovations in other devices in the future.
And finally, here's a not-at-all-self-conscious creative with the fruits of his Sprout-based labours. See how happy he looks?