The HP TouchPad is a beautiful device--part of a second generation of tablets with dual-core processors, a camera, external ports, and modern-day mobile operating systems. Compared to today's tablet to beat, Apple's iPad 2, the TouchPad's case stacks up as a little bulky and heavy, and it's missing an HDMI port and a rear-facing camera. But otherwise, this tablet is a nice piece of machinery. The underlying operating system, however, (a souped up WebOS) is exactly what a tablet OS should be; it's extremely easy to use, and packed with some special features--primarily its Synergy software, which brings all sorts of external services together for contacts, photos, and more. You'll find all kinds of other nifty software surprises inside as well.
However, we were challenged with some performance issues during our testing. The device often slowed down throughout the day, or when we loaded up too many applications. We suspect HP will be working out some of the bugs, and optimizing WebOS for performance before and after the TouchPad launches on Friday.
The device will cost $499 for a 16 GB WiFi version; $599 for the 32 GB version. No carrier versions are available, but HP has said it will work with AT&T; it hasn't announced any others yet.
Another big tablet challenge--faced by everyone but Apple at this point--is a lack of applications, and a wary developer base that doesn't have the capital to develop for every platform. HP says development proves extremely easy for WebOS, and that it supports normal HTML5 apps, among other approaches. HP is also targeting WebOS for PCs running Windows, and for printers, providing a broader ecosystem for developers.
The HP TouchPad has a 9.7-inch XGA multitouch capacitive screen, with 1024 x 768 resolution. It measures 9.45 inches wide, 7.48 inches high, and 0.54 inches thick and weighs in at 1.6 pounds--a bit heftier than the iPad 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. It has a micro-USB port, but no HDMI out; it has a single camera (front facing) of 1.3 megapixels. The battery life was stellar in our testing.
Putting thickness aside, the TouchPad (center) is roughly the same size as two stalwarts in the tablet space--the iPad 2 (left) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (right). It has more curves and a sleek, black finish.
Compared to the iPad 2 (right), HP's TouchPad (left) is significantly thicker--at least as tablets go. Nearly everyone who held it noted its size and bulk. Even though it's only slightly heavier than the iPad 2, it feels demonstrably so.
When you place the Touchpad onto the Touchstone stand, it charges the device. The tablet also goes into what HP calls Exhibition mode, meaning that it can display an app that takes advantage of the Exhibition hooks HP provides. For instance, you can simply default to a clock, or see an agenda on screen, or even get a Facebook feed.
You use the Launcher screen to start an application. The Apps tab includes all of the native applications built into the TouchPad experience. Down along the bottom of the screen is a quick launch bar, where you can put some of your most used applications.
The Downloads tab of the Launcher screen shows all of the apps downloaded from the HP App Catalog (included in this view). You can re-arrange the order of the apps, but you can't combine them into folders of apps as you can on the iPad. Nor will you find widgets, as offered by Android Honeycomb.
The user interface for the TouchPad is the familiar WebOS interface--all applications (or even parts of applications, such as an email message or a web page) are "cards." Selecting a card opens the app for interaction, although WebOS is a multitasking operating system. Apps that are meant to run in the background, like music, continue to run, while others may be suspended when you switch to another app. Gesturing left or right moves through these cards; when you're in an app (or a card), gesturing up minimizes or suspends the card. Flipping a card upward off the tablet quits the app.
One of the nifty organizing mechanisms for WebOS cards involves stacking them together. Simply select and hold the card, and you can pin it to another card--say an email to a web page to a calendar, all around something related, or that makes sense organizationally. Sometimes, WebOS does this for you--for instance, if you launch a web page from a link in an email (the message and the page get stacked together).
Notifications appear in the upper right of the screen. You can see them as they come in--the details of the message jut out to the left, then collapse, and the notification icons remain (email, instant messaging, Facebook, even Pandora). If you tap the notification bar, you get a drop-down box that shows the details, and you can open an app by typing on the appropriate message.
The TouchPad's Touch-to-share feature lets Palm Pre phone users (Pre 3) pair the phone to the TouchPad. Then by tapping the phone on the tablet on a browser page, with an SMS message, or a phone call, each can be mirrored on the phone. Like magic.
Synergy, a WebOS feature, brings together your contacts from a variety of services, like your contacts in Exchange, from Facebook, or a variety of online services. HP has extended this to other apps, like Photos, where you can pull in your photos across many accounts.
The WebOS email client, a universal email service, pulls in from Exchange, Yahoo, Gmail, and others. The email interface breaks out into panes, which can be pulled and pushed to expand or collapse message views. This "lever" is also used in various applications for the same purpose. The email client does not thread conversations, a weakness compared to other tablet clients.
Messaging--from SMS to IM to video--all occurs in the Messaging client. That client pulls in contact information from a variety of services (Yahoo, Google, Skype, Exchange) and from this client, users can make Skype calls and Skype video calls, for example.
The WebOS app catalog for the TouchPad showcases all sorts of applications, all of them categorized neatly. Any TouchPad specific app is clearly labeled as such, and you'll also see WebOS phone apps that have been ported to work on the TouchPad. Naturally, there aren't as many WebOS apps for the TouchPad just yet.
USA Today has created its own TouchPad app. It works similarly to the USA Today app on the iPad and on Android, but its information panes are scrollable. HP said that Sports Illustrated, Time, Fortune and People will all be in the App Catalog when the TouchPad launches on July 1.
QuickOffice is one of the few productivity apps that run across mobile OS platforms, and it has become one of our favorite tools, because you can access Box.net, Dropbox, Google Docs, SugarSync docs, and any native or local documents on the device, all from one interface. You can move those documents around, from one cloud service to the other. The TouchPad version is a bit quirky; it gave us some memory problems, and it's definitely not as smooth or intuitive as its cousins written for other platforms.
HP has worked with some apps to make them run on the TouchPad, even if they haven't been specifically written with the Enyo toolkit (this is the development kit for the TouchPad WebOS). In this case, we have a Mojo (the previous WebOS toolkit) app. It looks very similar to the way iPhone apps appear on an iPad: small.