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HP Touchpad Impressions

Yeah, I got one.

After HP announced that they were effectively killing off WebOS by all but ceasing development of the platform and halting production of the not even two month old Touchpad, they sparked a veritable firestorm of consumer interest by slashing the price of the then $399 and $499 Touchpad to a mere $99 for the 16GB model and $149 for double the storage. Me being the colossal bargain-loving tech nerd I am, I had to have one.

I showed up at Best Buy bright and early on the Saturday morning following the fire-sale price announcement before they opened and was second in line to grab myself a cheap Touchpad (or two, if I could get away with it). Imagine my disappointment when I walked into the store, went to the electronics department, saw several Touchpads under lock and key with my own two eyes and being told that they weren’t going to sell the units they had and they were all going to be shipped back to HP.

Heading home, defeated, I scoured the internet over the next few days trying to find one of the now elusive tablets and, after being infuriated by Best Buy flipping on their earlier position by basically saying “You know what? Screw it; we’ll sell the Touchpads we have in stock after all”, I managed to track down three from three separate online retailers. And thank goodness for my apparent foresight because, in the end, only one order ended up going through and being shipped to me and I received that shipment a couple of weeks ago.

Upon taking the Touchpad out of the box, I immediately appreciated its heft and bulkiness. This tablet is definitely on the chubby side, especially next to the almost anorexic iPad 2. But, because of the bulk and the rounded edges, the Touchpad feels very solid in your hands. Inevitably, there’s a bit of creakiness in some spots because of its glossy black plastic shell and this thing picks up fingerprints like you wouldn’t believe but on the whole, it felt solid enough that I don’t fear for its safety in daily operation and generally feels well-built but not as well-built as something that once retailed for $599 should.

See this? This is what your Touchpad will look like moments after taking it out of the box.

Turning the Touchpad on for the first time, I immediately updated to 3.0.2, which promised to fix some of the stock bugs and whatnot. After the patch was done, I already had some mods I was interested in performing to increase performance and stability of a tablet that was praised for its OS but derided for its sluggishness and bugs. After installing Preware, I overclocked my Touchpad to 1.5GHz (up from 1.2GHz), put a muzzle on system logging and installed some other homebrew patches to fix some minor issues and get everything running smoothly. Now, the Touchpad doesn’t exactly fly through every task I present it with but it’s sufficiently quick to satisfy me. If you have a Touchpad, do the research and perform these mods. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Using the Touchpad was my first encounter with WebOS but it didn’t take me long to assimilate to its’ quirks and unique qualities. This is an operating system that, in the right hands (read: ANYONE other than HP), could’ve been revolutionary. WebOS approaches the user interface in this post iPhone age from a different perspective. Rather than giving you traditional home screens and allowing you to cover them in apps and widgets, the Touchpad has a single screen which is treated like a desktop of sorts and apps are tucked away in their own little drawer which is split into four sections and there is a single taskbar or dock, whatever you want to call it, which can house up to five of your favorite apps.

Opening an app opens up a card. Each app is contained within these cards which lay on your desktop and can be scrolled through and thrown away when no longer needed or the Touchpad gets bogged down to the point where you can’t load any more apps. This is an extremely efficient way to manage your apps and multitask on a tablet that neither iOS nor Android can touch. Say you’re reading a book in the kindle app and you come across a term you don’t understand, well you can simply hit the home button to minimize the app, load up Wikipedia and search for the term and when you’re done, simply minimize the Wikipedia page and go back to reading in Kindle, all in a matter of seconds.

This is a very simple way to explain the multitasking experience on the Touchpad and that’s the point. Multitasking is simple on the Touchpad. It feels natural, it’s quick, it’s easy and it just works. I use the Touchpad occasionally for practical purposes such as editing documents on the included Quick Office HD app and jumping between e-mail, the web browser and the document I’m working on is far easier with the Touchpad than everything else I’ve used (PCs exempted because…duh) and it’s the closest I’ve come to feeling like I’m getting stuff done.

Without a doubt though, the Touchpad isn’t perfect. Even after the 3.0.2 update for WebOS, the OS as a whole doesn’t feel done yet. I’ve encountered issues with web pages refusing to load on the browser until I completely restarted the Touchpad and things aren’t quite as snappy as I would’ve hoped, given the processor inside this thing. The browser is slower to load webpages than those in iOS and Android and the stack of cards interface doesn’t really work well for it. Each website is its own individual card and is less intuitive than the simple tabbed browsing approach utilized by iOS and Android.

WebOS is probably the closest to the ideal tablet interface of them all. iOS’s minimalist aesthetic and Android’s hugely customizable home screens and interface are nice and they do a good job at approaching the tablet but on the basis of productivity, neither comes close to WebOS. Independent of Apps and developer support, the Touchpad is probably the best tablet on the market if you want to use it for getting work done or if you like to jump around between apps and whatnot like I do.

Unfortunately, you can’t judge a tablet independent of these things and these are two areas where the Touchpad clearly lacks. Browsing through the App Catalog, HP’s answer to the App Store and Android Market reveals a very sparse selection of Touchpad specific apps and apps in general compared to the smartphone and tablet heavyweights because WebOS didn’t and hasn’t performed in similar capacity to iOS and Android. Some apps are listed as Touchpad compatible but end up running in a tiny, Palm Pre-sized window in the middle of the screen and this is disappointing for an app I actually had plans to use, like Evernote. More Touchpad specific apps are coming though so Touchpad owners should be taken care of at least into the near future.

A tablet’s battery life is one of primary factors in deciding which one to buy and in that respect, the Touchpad isn’t that competitive in that regard. The iPad 2 is the unquestioned king of this category, sitting pretty with its 10+ hours of real world performance followed by some Android tablets and the Touchpad follows behind them. Its real world performance is somewhere in the realm of 7 hours or so, give or take an hour depending on how you’re using it but is still a far cry from the iPad 2. So if all day battery life is your concern, you’ll probably be wanting an iPad 2…but then again, you can’t get an iPad 2 for less than $200 either.

Whether or not HP will support its Touchpad with updates and hardware service/repairs for those who need it is up in the air but even if you missed out on the fire sale pricing, the Touchpad is still an amazing deal for whatever it’s going for on eBay and remember that HP is still going to produce one more batch of Touchpads to help satisfy demand for the tablet in the coming weeks so you’ll have another shot at getting one. For those of you who did get one, remember what you’re getting here. Even if you only use it for web browsing, $99 is worth it. If you bought it for the Kindle app, you’ve got a Kindle for less than the price of the cheapest Kindle and equipped with a great deal more functionality for the price. This is a very competitive tablet on its own merits and at the price it’s presently going for, you really couldn’t beat it if you tried.

About Justin McBride

My name is Justin McBride and I’m a guy who enjoys writing, playing games and writing about playing games. Sound lame enough yet? Well, I have other interests as well such as hanging out with friends, watching TV, going to the movies from time to time, surfing the internet, listen to good music, drive at speeds I shouldn’t be driving at and so on. The problem is, that’s all stuff everyone likes to do, so why write about it? Oh wait, seems I just did. Oops.

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