It seems like ages since HP announced the TouchPad alongside the Veer and Pre 3 in February. Over the past five months we’ve seen RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook, Apple’s iPad 2 and a full-scale Android Honeycomb assault. Faced with fierce competition can the HP TouchPad carve out a niche in the crowded tablet market?
Hardware: components and build quality
The HP TouchPad looks solid on paper. Highlights include a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, an iPad matching 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 pixel display, 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera and Beats Audio technology. Unfortunately a great spec sheet rarely translates into a perfect device. Such is the case for the HP TouchPad.
In the hand the TouchPad is noticeably heavier and thicker than the Galaxy Tab 10.1 or iPad 2. At 1.6 pounds, the slate is closer to the original iPad than the 1.33 pound iPad 2 or 1.24 pound Galaxy Tab 10.1. In terms of thickness the TouchPad is just over a half inch thick (0.539 in) versus the .34 inch thickness of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and iPad 2.
However, weight and thickness alone are far from deal breakers. The real complaint we have with the TouchPad is the plastic materials. Like the Galaxy Tab 10.1, the back casing is genuine plastic. The glossy black finish is a finger print magnet.
We love webOS. Cards is without question our favorite multi-tasking solution. Swiping your finger from the bottom to top of the screen turns an active application into a “card”. A second swipe closes out the app. Holding your finger down on the card allows you to arrange the application or “stack”. By stacking similar applications you are able to organize dozens of open apps much easier than on iOS, Android or BlackBerry Tablet OS.
Another area where webOS excels is its tight integration of services into the OS core. When setting up the TouchPad you can add more than a dozen accounts such as Facebook, AOL, Yahoo, Skype, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Dropbox. Once an account is added it becomes baked into the OS.
While webOS is both intuitive and polished, the TouchPad’s dual-core 1.2 GHz processor fell short of our expectations. The interface was sluggish, taking several seconds for applications to open. Once an app is clicked, a large version of the icon flashes in the center of the screen while it prepares to load. Having to wait for an app to load goes against everything we love about tablets.
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Apps and services
Apps have become the lifeblood of smartphones and tablets. In order to differentiate itself from a smartphone, a tablet must offer improved versions of apps tailored for the larger display. The HP TouchPad faces the same dilemma as Android Honeycomb tablets and the BlackBerry PlayBook — there’s not enough apps. As of writing this review there are just over 300 apps optimized for the slate.
Despite a small app library, the TouchPad comes preloaded with several standout apps. QuickOffice integrates seamlessly with your Google Docs account. The Facebook app is a dream and Skype is built into the “Phone & Video Calls” section. The Skype and Facebook apps are the best we’ve seen on any tablet — there’s no question iOS and Honeycomb users would be jealous.
Skype is more than just an app. The TouchPad treats Skype as a primary service, routing all voice and video calls as though the slate had a cellular connection. Voice calls are crystal clear over Skype, but video calls proved problematic. In testing we were able to initiate video calls with an iPhone 4, Nexus S, Mac and PC. The video quality was excellent, however the audio was delayed or in some cases downright unusable.
Palm Pre 3 integration
The TouchPad and Palm Pre 3 work in unison similar to the way BlackBerry Bridge carries over services from a BlackBerry smartphone to the PlayBook. HP adds a unique twist with the ability to touch the Pre 3 against the TouchPad (or vice versa) to share a website.
Both Android Honeycomb and iOS could benefit from similar integration. Having to pull out your smartphone while using your tablet has become increasingly frustrating. Apple has partially addressed the issue with iOS 5 Messaging on the iPad, but the software is still in beta.
Battery, display and accessories
Logic tells us that the faster the processor, the quicker it will eat up the battery. This couldn’t be further from the truth with the HP TouchPad. Upon receiving our review unit we used the slate without charging the battery. Using just the existing charge we were able to leave all of our messaging services active and browse over WiFi for several hours before turning off the display. After 24 hours of standby the TouchPad still had over 30 percent of its battery.
The 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 display offers great viewing angles and color accuracy. In terms of sharpness, we prefer the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and in brightness, the iPad 2. However, we’d place the TouchPad display ahead of the Motorola Xoom despite its lower resolution.
There’s three optional accessories being offered with the HP TouchPad: Touchstone charging dock, HP wireless keyboard and an official HP TouchPad case. The case, like the iPad’s smart cover, folds in a variety of ways to both protect the screen and transform into a stand. The keyboard is a black version of the Apple wireless keyboard. The real differentiator is the Touchstone charging dock.
For anyone familiar with Touchstone, you’ll be at home in the wirelessly charging capabilities. The TouchPad can be placed either vertically or horizontally on the Touchstone charging dock to receive its charge.
Verdict: wrapping it all up
The HP TouchPad is a mixed bag. The OS is gorgeous and the integration of services is unparalleled. If the hardware and performance were on par with the iPad 2 or Galaxy Tab 10.1 we’d have little hesitation owning the slate despite its modest app collection. However, there’s plenty of tablets on the market which offer better performance and build quality for the same price.
Value is crucial in deciding whether to take your basic computing services from a notebook to a tablet. In its current state, the HP TouchPad falls short of being considered a compelling alternative. Hopefully HP is able to iron out the performance issues.