HP TouchPad Review

Roughly a year after HP purchased Palm, they have descended upon the tablet wars with the release of the HP TouchPad. Offered in both 16GB and 32GB configurations, the HP Touch in its current iteration is WiFi only. HP has just recently announced a 4G TouchPad that will also come with 32GB of storage and will also see its processor bumped to 1.5Ghz. At the core of this product is HP webOS, software that relies heavily on gestures and swipes, which makes it a natural fit as a tablet operating system. Read on for our HP TouchPad review.

HP TouchPad Review

Hardware

The HP TouchPad is constructed of shiny black plastic throughout with the 9.7 inch multitouch capacitive display constructed from gorilla glass. From a size perspective, it’s almost identical to the first generation iPad, but has design characteristics of the iPhone 3GS. Front to back, the TouchPad is a fingerprint magnet.

From top to bottom: HP TouchPad, iPad 2, iPad, Fancy Pink sleeve

While a case would easily resolve any issues with fingerprints on the back, it doesn’t help the situation with the display, which was not as bright or vivid as I would have hoped.

HP TouchPad

For a device that had less than two weeks of usage, fingerprints were noticeable during use. For some it might not be an issue, but I found the TouchPad at 1.6lbs to be bulky. Combined with the copious amounts of plastic and the exterior is a disappointment.

HP TouchPad fingerprints

HP’s TouchPad was more prone to fingerprints than other tablets tested

Powering the TouchPad is a very capable 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core APQ8060 processor. Browsing around the sides of the tablet, you’ll notice a 3.5mm headset jack, volume up/down and a sleep/wake button. All the buttons are very accessible and easy to press. Two large, but barely noticeable cutouts reveal Beats Audio, which offered great stereo sound and the best I’ve experienced with a tablet.

HP TouchPad Buttons

Buttons were very accessible and stereo Beats Audio was impressive

To power the device, you can either use the microUSB coupled with included charger or connect to your Mac or PC. HP indicates that the TouchPad will offer 8 hours of battery life based on web browsing. In mixed use, the battery life was on par with competing tablets. With the separately sold TouchStone Charging Dock, you can ditch the wires and simply lean the TouchPad on the dock for inductive charging.

Facebook TouchPad Exhibition mode

Facebook shown here in Exhibition mode

HP’s webOS 3.0 also has Exhibition mode, which allows for the TouchPad to transform into an attractive desktop clock or view a slideshow of your Photos or even your Facebook friends. Other applications have the ability to support Exhibition mode  and those can be found in the App Catalog.

At the top of the TouchPad is a VGA camera. Missing is any sort of application to take photos, but there is a very well done Skype integration. Calls via Skype worked very well, in addition to being easy.

On the front bottom is a home button. If you are within an app, it will put you into “card view”, offering an easy way to switch between apps. Pressing the home button when not in an active app will reveal the drawer of apps. Response is super fast and makes moving between apps or accessing apps very easy. This is clearly where webOS shines.

Software

What differentiates the HP TouchPad from the pack is webOS. Version 3.0 graces the TouchPad and brings with it many of the features that to this day are industry leading.

Multitasking

Simply the best implementation of multitasking on any platform

Multitasking

Apps and new browser windows populate in “cards”. Other operating systems silo applications and thus your productivity. In webOS, swipe up and then move with ease between apps by swiping left or right. This version of webOS also boasts of stacks, whereby users can “stack” cards. Users can move effortlessly between apps, making it highly useful for productivity users. Those familiar with webOS should note that “mini-view” is gone in version 3.0. There is simply no better implementation of multitasking on any platform.

Notifications
Yet another standout features of webOS is how it handles notifications. When you first power on the TouchPad, you’ll immediately be greeted by all of your various notifications. Email, Facebook and third party apps build into support for notifications. Notifications neatly stack at the top right of window. Tapping in this area will allow you to review, remove or act up a notification. webOS notifications allows you to deal with notifications on your time, but the subtle reminder icons are not a distraction.

Non-intrusive notifications

Just type…
This feature is search on steroids and should be called “Just search”. webOS will find content within emails, Facebook, browsing history and more. If you are not pleased with the results, there are multiple options that allow for searching the web including Maps, Wikipedia, Twitter and even the HP App Catalog. There are also “Quick Actions”, allowing you to easily create new event, new message, email, memo or Facebook status. Just type is at the top of your display, but the transparent design does not get it the way.

Just Type

Just Type also supports search plug-ins

Synergy
Yet another noteworthy highlight of webOS is Synergy, instantly brings all of your contacts, calendars, photos and more from a host of accounts. In our testing, we used an existing Palm Profile and it brought all the accounts that were previously setup. For new users, the TouchPad makes it easy to get up and running. Enter a few account credentials and you’re off and running. Additionally, all you need is an Internet connection to get setup.

Flash and the full web
With support for Flash, the TouchPad offers the full web, something that will never be available on the iPad. I tested streaming a game on MLB.TV. While it was a bit pesky at initial startup, Flash on the TouchPad was quite good. I should caution that it’s easy to run up the number of cards on the TouchPad, which will have an adverse affect on performance. Swiping up removes cards, frees up memory and I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was fun.

Flash works well on TouchPad, but expect a hit on memory resources.

Touch To Share

A unique feature that allows owners of an HP Veer or newer smartphone to simply touch their phone to a TouchPad to either send or receive web pages. We were not able to test this feature, but it should be noted as an added benefit for those who might might be considering the dynamic duo of webOS devices.

HP Play

Shortly after the tablet release, HP released a beta version of HP Play. The application supports both PC and Macs. On my Mac, the software immediately began scanning and importing my iTunes library. It offered support for playlists and allows for easy syncing of your music.

HP Play

HP Play made it easy to import music from iTunes and sync to the TouchPad.

As I’ve noted, several of these features are by far the best implementation on any platform. During my testing, I experienced issues with the display becoming non-responsive, laggy and had more than one reboot. While the features I’ve noted are great, the implementation is far from it. In many ways, it mirrors the history of webOS. Great in theory, but something continues to lack in the execution.

HP offers a handful of useful apps that you’d expect including Calendar, Adobe Reader, along with Photos and Video. The Maps app is powered by Bing. It was fast and very well done. If you are wondering, there are no Google apps made for webOS, either on the device in the HP App Catalog. Included with the TouchPad is QuickOffice for webOS, which offers read-only access to documents. I attempted to use Google Docs, which I thought would be a viable alternative, but was unable to gain access to the TouchPad’s keyboard. An update this month will round out the included apps by adding a calculator and clock.

Apps for the HP TouchPad

Understanding the importance of Facebook, the developers at HP have put together a stunning new Facebook app for webOS. By using panes, the application optimizing your experience and provides quick access to your news feed, likes, commenting and all the features you’d use on the web version.

Facebook for TouchPad

The application situation for the TouchPad is similar to that of Android’s Honeycomb when the Motorola Xoom launched earlier this year. There are hundreds of apps, with many premier apps missing. (CNN, eBay, Official Twitter, Netflix, MLB At Bat, Official Twitter app) HP says they are coming, but that’s an issue that has plagued webOS for years. There aren’t a great number of apps when compared to the competition and even less quality apps.Lack of a TouchPad category makes it even more difficult to discover apps. For an idea of popular apps, the top paid apps right now are Flickr Mundo HD, Periodic Table, AuctionMate Pro, Loan Analyzer, Quell HD, Glow Hockey HD and Angry Birds Rio HD.

HP App Catalog

HP’s Pivot publication helps with app discovery.

HP attempts to address app discovery with their monthly App Catalog Magazine “Pivot”. By itself, it’s a great idea, but users should be able to find apps specific to the TouchPad. Searching for TouchPad resulted in 180 apps, so that’s a workaround for those hunting down tablet-friendly apps. Shopping for apps is further complicated by the inability to expand the size of the image previews. A good portion of webOS phone apps will work on the TouchPad, but the implementation is not very good. The TouchPad will display a phone-sized window for the app, with no way to resize to fit the entire display.

Given the preparation prior to launch, I had high hopes that HP would do everything in their power to bring major developers to the platform. Angry Birds, while nice, is on every single platform. Kindle, which is on the TouchPad, is nothing more than a placeholder with a message to advise that the app is coming soon.

Pros

  • webOS still offers the absolute best implementation of multitasking, notifications and some great features such as Just Type , Synergy amd Exhibition
  • Flash provides the full Internet
  • Native Facebook app is prime example of a quality app designed for tablet
  • Native integration with Skype

Cons

  • Excellent hardware specs still cannot make up for lack of optimization in webOS that results in lag. Several times during my testing, the screen would become non-responsive for seconds at a time.
  • Lacks of premier apps, no document editing
  • Hardware is heavy, bulky and prone to fingerprints
  • Display is dark

Conclusion
The very thing that drives people to Palm|HP devices could very well be the reason why the TouchPad fails to live up to it’s potential. On the surface, multitasking, notifications and just type are industry-leading features that make webOS such a joy to use. The more you use the TouchPad, the more it becomes an exercise in frustration. Consumers care less about Tegra 2 or Snapdragon processors and more about the experience. The success of any tablet is its ability to be more appliance and less computer. Instant on, easy to use and certainly no restarts or crashes. I can see past the build quality and even the apps situation, if the promise of a bug-free computing experience was fulfilled, as many of the included features of webOS are industry-leading.

The hardware is powered by a dual-core 1.2 Ghz processor, which should be plenty of processing power, but maybe it’s not so much a hardware issue. Will  rewriting all the CSS3 to be GPU accelerated fix the problem?  Running version 3.0, webOS is no longer in its infancy. HP has promised an OTA software update this month, but it’s not clear what’s included in the update and if it will include GPU acceleration throughout. The elegance and beauty of webOS continues, but subpar build quality and an inconsistent user experience has hampered our enthusiasm for HP’s TouchPad.

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