Last week I was able to acquire an HP TouchPad at an excellent price. I’ve been using it the last few days. Herewith my thoughts on the technology.
The TouchPad runs WebOS, the mobile operating system developed by Palm and developed by HP after HP’s acquisition of Palm. The TouchPad’s hardware specs are quite delightful. From an Engadget review:
Other specifications include webOS 3.0, “true multitasking,” Touch-to-share, instant-on productivity, a 9.7-inch display (1024 x 768 screen resolution), a dual-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon CPU (!), inbuilt gyroscope, accelerometer, compass and 16GB / 32GB of internal storage space. There’s also a front-facing 1.3 megapixel webcam, support for video calling, 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, A-GPS (3G model only), “twice the memory of a Pre 2” and a set of stereo speakers.
The TouchPad is nothing short of a miracle. The OS is smooth and snappy, outclassing Android Honeycomb by a country mile and giving iOS a serious run for its money. The device’s instant-on capability works perfectly. The integrated speakers are the best I’ve seen on any sort of mobile device — loud and clear. I conducted a test call using the native calling app (Skype account) and found that the conversation was clearer using the external speaker a mic on the TouchPad on a cell call routed to Skype via Google Voice, than that same call would have been on a direct Sprint-to-Sprint cell connection in the same city. (Yeah.)
The native apps are generally well done. The integrated music player and email client do their jobs well, although power users may find a few features lacking. Battery life is very good. The WebOS notification system is efficient and unobtrusive. The various gestures used to navigate the OS are intuitive and the OS handles input well. The tablet syncs well with two Bluetooth devices — an HP external full-sized keyboard (with a wonderful assortment of shortcut keys) and a headset.
Multitasking is excellent. The TouchPad allows multiple apps to run simultaneously, with the user switching “cards” with a simple swipe. I was able to run the music player, a Web browser session, the app store, a task client, and the WordPress app (via Bluetooth keyboard) with no apparent impact on system responsiveness.
A few things do grate. The default UI for native and non-native apps alike is generally beautiful, but scrolling lists have no scroll bar. Technically, no scroll bar should be necessary — but its inclusion helps judge the overall length of a list. It’s an underappreciated visual cue. There is also no “go back” function in the system applications menu: If you want to modify more than one aspect of the TouchPad, you have to dismiss the current applet and start a new one instead of going back to the main menu. And the lack of a native tasks application is perplexing.
The OS has plenty of hooks into various Google products, but none to Microsoft (except Exchange, in the email client). The OS also falls closer to Apple than to Microsoft in terms of limiting the options and customizability of both the device and to most applications. If you like to tinker, you won’t find a lot to keep you busy with the TouchPad. This isn’t a bad thing, since the thing just works, but it’s mildly inconsistent with my usual preference.
The content of the App Store is still light, but core apps are available and it’s not exactly slim pickings. I don’t think there are any basic functions I can’t do, although there are more paid apps than free apps (it seems) than in the Android Market and the OS is new enough (in TouchPad format, anyway) that community commentary is still building. Some of the Flash is inconsistent; I can’t use Bank of America’s Web site because the SafePass system requires a particular Flash combo the TouchPad doesn’t support.
The TouchPad is a first-class device. The OS is beautiful and fluid. The hardware is beyond reproach. Having originally decided to look for an Android-based tablet — then being left wanting by Google’s inconsistent development practices — I am pleased I was able to snag a TouchPad. This is a worthy device, and I hope that the app ecosystem evolves enough to make WebOS-based tablets give Cupertino the night sweats.