HP TouchPad Review
There is a lot riding on the HP TouchPad. WebOS was a multi-tasking operating system, which was acquired by HP, due to its great performance on the Palm, Pre and Pixi phones. With expectations running high for WebOS on other computing forms, HP took the plunge in Feb to offer this powerful OS on a tablet. Adding other capabilities like touch screen interface HP called it the HP Touchpad and priced it on par with the already established iPad. Here is a review of this tablet with a distinctly enabled OS.
Pros – The TouchPad is much talked for its new and mature Web OS. Multi-tasking is its core capability as well as email support.
Cons- Distinct lack of 3G facilities and priced expensively.
The first thing being said about the TouchPad is that it looks almost entirely like the original iPad. What is missing is only the aluminium back cover. It not only retains the shape along with single button but even the dimension and aspects of the iPad.
The expectation from HP was very high and to see a straightforward iPad is rather disappointing.
Where the Touchpad differs seems to be, is in the thickness. At 0.54 inches thick, it is one of the fattest of tablets around. It weighs a good 1.6 pounds and it seems to create visual neutrality. It is thicker than the original iPad as well as the iPad 2 and even the Galaxy Tab 10.1, which are way less thick at 0.34 inches. Even though the numbers seem insignificant, it makes a major difference in the overall user experience. Despite the rubber bumpers, it does feel a tad delicate to handle ruggedly.
Additionally, the plastic black cover takes away the classic look and gives the HP TouchPad a rather tacky look. The plastic is high-gloss and the back is a single panel that picks up hand prints and grime and would definitely please a crime investigation team looking for fingerprints.
The LCD display is coated with glass (Gorilla make) and has a single webcam with the thinnest home button below. The volume control rocker is on the right side while two speakers are on the left side, giving it a rather stereo phonic effect. The Micro USB port is placed right at the bottom, with the power and sleep button on the top right edge of the tablet.
Therefore, as far as hardware goes, the HP TouchPad is truly found wanting. In fact, there are traces of squeakiness around the speaker grill at the bottom left side that truly does nothing for the overall physical structure of the tablet. The housing for the TouchPad fails miserably.
It has Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-CPU APQ8060 1.2GHz processor paired with 16GB/32GB of RAM. Therefore, by normal standards the processor is not that hot. It comes with 1GB RAM, and two options for flash storage-16GB and 32 GB. Supporting it is the Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n radio.
There is the Bluetooth 2.1+ EDR compatibility, with a light sensor, compass, gyro as well as an accelerometer. Additionally there is a 1.3 megapixel front-facing webcam.
The 3G version for the TouchPad is expected soon and is expected to provide greater capabilities.
It does not support memory card expansion. The speed of the device is steady and is definitely capable of delivering the best gaming experience. The Qualcomm chip is fast but will require some dexterous plugging of bugs and other inconsistent features as they tend to slow it down currently.
It has a 9.7-inch running 1024 X 768 IPS panel with full viewing features. Contrast, wide-viewing angles are impressive. Has multi-touch and graphics chip that supports 3D graphics. These are the same as in Galaxy Tab and iPad 2. However, in comparison to the iPad 2, the TouchPad’s clarity and color tone are definitely less bright allowing greater user-friendliness.
It has a Wi-Fi 802.11n and lacks a GPS presently but could be provided for cellular data. With a stereo speakers, micro-USB connection, 3.5-mm headphone jack options. However, the lack of HDMI is an omission.
The stereo speakers offer complete effect only in the landscape mode and the home button is positioned to the right. The Beats-audio system delivered by its standards, especially in its native orientation. Audio quality is proved with Skype calls.
However, in portrait mode, the sound quality is muffled as it is an easy position to place for palms.
Officially, the battery life of TouchPad is 9 hours, ahead of Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab and iPad 2 and probably 5 hours with Flash videos. The hibernating process could probably see a one to two percent loss almost on par with the iPad.
What these statistics mean is that with light usage, it could last well into 3 days. However, normal to heavy use with app downloads, 3D gaming constant emails, Skype calls etc, it could last well over a day and a half.
WebOS (Operating System)
The WebOS retains much of its original favour that made it so popular on the phones. The WebOS for the tablet remains intact with features such as Synergy, the launcher, Cards, notifications, Just Type as well as the Quick Actions. The swipe up gesture is retained but the back and forward gestures that most Palm users are familiar as well as the Quick Launcher gesture for the ‘wave’ app icons are largely missing. These are now available with back buttons in apps make them less intuitive.
The card-based interface is TouchPad’s USP. Ability to organize from stacks of cards gives an almost desktop-like feel. Navigation is easier and the multi-tasking feature of WebOS lends itself to keeping the apps running in the background like the music apps, email apps that do not suspend easily. It allows easy transfer of websites etc, from one WebOS to other like Pre or Palm with the unique ‘touch to share’ feature.
One other WebOS 3.0 is Synergy that comes with multiple accounts, applications from MobileMe, Skype to Dropbox. Notifications are placed on the right of the status bar and encourages easy manual swipe with stack of messages without having to jump from one application to the next.
Some of the other goodies include the ‘panels’ for mail app as well as other applications enables easier viewing of particular areas of content. Therefore, when working on complex programs, navigation through multiple levels is sliding from right to left columns to hide and to reveal apps.
If you were to start with three panel view on the mail the accounts/folders would be at the left, while the inbox listing would be at level two in the centre and the message itself at the right side of the screen.
All you need to do is to tug at the bottom handle on the left of the panel to read the email entirely as the handle pulls the two right most panels over the accounts list. This ensures greater user experience as it is available across the OS. Hence, photos, messaging as well as Native Facebook app is optimized with these features of the OS.
The TouchPad is trying to do too much all at the same time. Multitasking is a key feature of WebOS but generally most features seem to be restricting. Again, lack of Video-out port is a major aspect.
The core WebOS features remains speed, simplicity and fast-track organic steps to complete tasks. Navigating on the TouchPad is far more intuitive than found on iPad or the Honeycomb tablets.
Despite, these features, the OS lacks greatly in factors of sensitivity, fluidity with the interface. Additionally, there is inconsistency with button presses undetected, sudden pauses in applications and system freezes. Overall, the User Interface was unfinished and untested chunks were evident.
There is a new virtual keyboard, which sometimes misses presses or is sluggish leading to messy emails, messages. Autocorrect for spelling is not 100% and truly frustrating is when the correct word disappears when tapped.
But the development team at HP assures that buggies will soon be sorted with new fixes and OTA updates. The next big iffy thing about TouchPad is the lack of developer support.
The number of Apps available is rather disappointing with just 300 TouchPad Apps at the App Catalog. However, that is more than the 100 odd currently available for Android Honeycomb. But with Pivot, the digital magazine within the App Store, more apps are easy to be discovered. Apparently, a movie store is to be available soon.
The tablet with its larger real estate is presently adapting most of the WebOS phones apps and the calendar, notes, mails as well as others are expected to be tweaked to match larger screen space.
Mail on the WebOS, the legacy of lack of multiple message management/threaded conversations and 3.0 version it only allows deletion of the thread. The panels enable content to be revealed or hidden and messages are transmitted simply and elegantly. HP now comes with additional visual touches with stamp on flagged emails.
However, this does not make the Mail App perfect for the OS. It tends to freeze, slowdown and is consistent across the entire OS.
The Touchpad has a front-facing 1.3 MP camera that supports 1080 p stereoscopic display which attempts to be different with a rear-facing camera. This is largely seen as a not-so-cool feature as it does not lend itself easily to capturing photos.
The TouchPad browser is clean, capable to run the WebKit but fails to live up to expectation. While Gmail, bootup was slow paced running into thousands of milliseconds, Flash and graphics on websites are quick to boot. Apparently, OTA updates will overcome most of the performance concerns such as browsing and orientation.
WebOS 3.0 has major changes for browsing and includes Flash. This was most definitely not the best experience with stuttering and freezing but will allow playback of clips such as those from Hulu. As the browser is now for a larger screen, the gestures are tossed out for better visible controls that make the browser a more native experience.
On the Sunspider test, the browser took 4040.6ms, it is therefore quite fast and definitely does not slow down usage.
Bing Map Apps
The Bing Maps on the TouchPad is definitely unexpected, especially the refresh, framerate, over view is ideal to get the topographic view. Since older versions of WebOS use Google Maps app, Bing Maps delivery is more professional.
Integrated video calling with Skype
The integration of Skype with native service means that a one-time entry into Synergy would ensure Skype contacts are available across the device. The TouchPad will therefore offer seamless connect. However, at the time of review, connecting itself stalled and video calling to Mac was known to be a non-issue. Video and audio call for TouchPad –to-TouchPad was of good quality, but not nearly as powerful as with laptop or desktop. OTA is again supposed to provide the necessary patches.
When you are talking of TouchPad it is simply not possible to stop a conversation about it without mentioning the Touch to Share technology. With the WebOS running on all the HPDevice family, all you need to do is to hold up one device to another to swap, webpages from one to another.
Perhaps the applications of this feature need to be further explored as sharing of documents, photos or audio from one device phone to next is not so prevalent.
Instead, the Bluetooth in sync with the Pre3 phone offers greater scope as it enables the Touchpad to send/receive SMSs, if the tablet is in range of the phone. This is a feature greatly appreciated by owners of both these devices. However, the service is largely for text messages and multimedia messages will be notified only. Nevertheless, this too is expected to be remedied in the near future.
This is where sophisticated design and engineering legacies of HP are showcased. The wireless Touchstorne dock for the TouchPad is unique, efficient and immensely useful. For starters, it allows both portrait as well as landscape docking. The lack of wires enables this ease of use. WebOS has something additional to offer. The Exhibition mode enables charging sessions to increase in value too.
This is WebOS feature, which allows the wireless keyboard and the dock together, giving that desktop-type feature. The keyboard comes with special purpose functions and keys that allow you to move from card view to open launcher, drop the notification window, control brightness, audio playback as well as pop up during search.
Where the keyboard failed was in when the keyboard key for card view was used or the launcher was open, navigation will continue on the screen only, control will not be moved to the keyboard. The lack of arrow key navigation on the keyboard is solely lacking and definitely needs to be evaluated by development team.
The combinations of these features are a potent mix of some old and familiar processes with innovative new features, which will perhaps lead to better usage, and optimization of the tablet form.
On a scale of one to ten, the HP TouchPad would definitely be poised around 7.5 as it’s intuitive and nativity, crisp display, Touch sharing will be lost in the sea of bugs, sluggishness that lends itself to being incomplete Operating Software. Besides, the hardware finish is lacking in quality and most importantly lacks in further development support for critical development such as Apps. HP’s retail infrastructure will not augment sales unless the bugs are patched and there is something truly distinct for users to move from established and well received tablets such as the iPad, iPad 2, Galaxy Samsung 10.1 and other players in the tablet market segment.
HP TouchPad has a good interface, better than what Android tablets have to offer. The core or the DNA, structures and the features are excellent and definitely some are far superior to the stock tablets available in the market. The WebOS is truly intuitive with excellent operational capabilities. Where it perhaps fails is in the fact of implementation of ideas.
A far less calibre tablet is able to stand up to the competition with simple stability and smoothness. The HP TouchPad has far too much good technology going but is poor on implementing with lack of proper apps, which is today the key-driver in the tablet domain. HP needs to develop and strengthen this aspect tremendously to even gain a foot-hold in this niche.
The pricing is another factor, which currently works against the TouchPad. At $499 to $599, the ten-inch tablet has very less to offer to what the iPad 2 or even the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 has to offer. Though, the retail capacity of HP is predominant and combined with WebOS’s capabilities the TouchPad could well develop into something that will match iPads performance.
For this, WebOS will definitely need to be handled better, bugs removed and essentially rework the end-user experience for it to achieve that runaway success everybody is hoping for.