I was lucky enough to be able to purchase a HP Touchpad during their recent fire sale. I’m sure you’re all aware of how 42 days into the launch of their new ex-Palm webOS powered tablet HP pulled the plug and slashed the retail price for remaining stock.
I haven’t had a lot of time using the device but here are my first impressions:
HP have clearly sought inspiration from the iPad. This is inevitable and expected. The packaging is very Apple like with a very high level of detail in the box and pull outs. The inner carton slides out to reveal the Touchpad. Underneath the Touchpad is a small box that pulls out of the tray.
The supplied cable and power point is manufactured to a high quality and has been designed to look attractive which is another detail that Apple are famous for. The Touchpad uses a standard mini-USB which is welcome for those who have a box full of proprietary cables. We’re looking at you, Apple.
After powering up the device, you’re encouraged to register a webOS account and then you’re free to explore the device.
Unlike iOS, webOS takes a top down approach much like Blackberry. You register services such as Facebook, Skype, etc in the individual apps (Photos, Messenger, etc) and choose how deep you want the integration. For example, the front facing camera is used for video calling. Instead of having a native app to handle this, it asks you to register or sign into your Skype account. Once done, you can share your contacts in the phone book. This means that when you choose to video call a contact, you’re doing so transparently via Skype. The same is true of the Photo app. It allows you to link your Facebook account to import all your Facebook photos onto your device as if they were stored locally. This has its pros and cons for those used to iOS. The benefit is that you get a centralised experience from various different APIs as if they were native. On the downside, if you didn’t have a Facebook account or a Skype account, then you’d have to register each service manually. Similarly, you can download the webOS Facebook application and have it import your contacts and calendars into your Touchpad.
In use, the Touchpad is pretty slick. It can be unresponsive at times, though. You jab at an icon and nothing happens; there is no feedback your jab activated the icon or any loading icon which results in a few more jabs. A short while later, three new panes will open up. You quickly learn to jab and pause but it doesn’t inspire a huge amount of confidence. The animations are slick but are a little jerky at times. It seems petty to mention these things but it shows just how polished the iOS is.
The keyboard is quite spacious even in portrait mode. Everything is where you expect it to be. It has the numerals above the alphabet which was quite useful with the shift key accessing the special characters.
The notifications system shares an icon at the top right which is pretty neat. It allows access to all notifications that have been sent by the apps. This is much better than how iOS currently handles them and Apple are set to improve this in iOS 5.
When you press the home button on the front of the device, you’re shown all open apps as “panes” you can swipe left and right to select a different pane (and often a different app) and if you drag the pane up, it closes it. This is really great and intuitive in use.
webOS has true multitasking. You can start a video chat, open a URL, and go back to the video chat which still listening to the conversation. This again beats iOS’s current “pause and resume” style multitasking. As expected, though, if you have too many apps open then performance begins to suffer.
You might label me an iOS fan boy but you cannot deny that the iPad is the benchmark in this market. The iPad is a little slicker in use and has all the advantages of the iOS app, music and video stores. The HP hardware stands up nicely and the OS is smooth and intuitive. It’s all moot because HP have pulled the plug and it’ll be developed no further. I think this is a shame but ultimately the Touchpad was too late to take any market share because it looks a bit like an iPad, it smells a bit like an iPad, it costs as much as an iPad. But it suffers from not being an iPad.
I’ve been asked to take some pictures of the iPad alongside the Touchpad. I apologise for the poor photography. My dimly lit office, cheap lamp and iPhone 4 don’t make for a great photo studio when dealing with back-lit images. Anyway, here goes: