The HP TouchPad is the first tablet from HP, based on the Palm operating system seen in the Pre 2 and more recently the Pre 3. With the Apple iPad in its second incarnation and a multitude of Honeycomb tablets available, is there space for the TouchPad? We’ll find out...
What we like:
The TouchPad isn’t a bad looking device, it feels solid and well built, although the back is easily covered in fingerprints. But turn it on and you’re confronted with one of the best operating systems on a tablet.
Based on what use to be Palm WebOS 3.0, the interface is excellent. Along the bottom are swappabe controls key features set to browser, mail, calendar, message photos and main menu by default. The latter is also accessible by a discreet menu button at the bottom (the TouchPad’s solitary front button). Choose from 8GB or 16GB capacities.
Open applications are displayed as panels running horizontally along the screen, to close them simply flick them off the screen. It’s very reminiscent of the Playbook, although we should probably say the RIM took inspiration from Palm. The TouchPad supports true multitasking, so open applications are live; leave a movie on BBC iPlayer running or a game playing and it will run in the background until you shut it. Anyone who likes hopping between Angry Birds, web browser and email will appreciate this, although it does impact on the battery.
With so many screens open it can get a little confusing (especially because there’s no screen overview), although multiple applications within a feature (such as a compose screen in Mail) appear on top of each other as stacks. In addition you can also drag applications on top of each other to create a stack.
The screen is a good size and uses IPS technology, leading to good off-angle viewing. No space is wasted on the screen either. Notifications appear at the top menu bar and quick swipe of the top right lets you quickly access WiFi, Bluetooth, Battery etc. HP’s used an Open API so app developers will be able to add notifications here.
One thing the TouchPad does really well is integrate your email, photo, social and storage accounts with HP Synergy. When you boot up the TouchPad, you can log into multiple accounts such as: Google and Exchange, LinkedIn, Facebook, Skype, Dropbox and Mobile Me, choosing which applications to associate them with. When you launch applications, they’re already integrated, for example: you’ll find your Facebook pictures in Photos&Videos; Skype an option in Phone&Video Calls and Dropbox and Google Docs when you launch QuickOffice. It’s a great time saver and saves having to log in repeatedly.
Spread over four lines with numbers at the top, the keyboard is excellent and four selectable key sizes means there is a keyboard to suit every finger size.
Just Type is one of the best search tools we’ve seen on a tablet. Type a word into the static search bar and it shows all the results on the tablet, with links to Google suggestions, Maps, Wikipedia, Twitter and the HP App Catalog. At the bottom are quick links for quickly sending a message, or updating Facebook.
Playing back a selection of music files, the Beats audio-equipped stereo speakers have punch and doesn’t distort at higher volumes (compared to some tablets) but it’s not class leading. Bing Maps include 3D views which look amazing.
Syncing up to 16 accounts, the email client is excellent too, with adjustable columns so you can customise your view, matched by the calendar, with each account in a different colour.
The HP App Catalog is well designed, we especially HP Pivot, which displays new apps in a user-friendly magazine style format.
Unique to HP devices Touchstone technology (which is Bluetooth based) for seamlessly swapping information between the TouchPad and the HP Pre 3 by touching the two devices. Once connected you can be using the tablet and get a notification when a message is on your phone.
Touchstone Technology only works on the HP Pre 3 (sorry Palm Pre 2 users), so we couldn’t try it able to try it, however HP did give us a demo and it certainly looks like a quick way to transfer data, although it would be nice if it was open to every handset. In the future HP plans to introduce. Touchstone technology to printers, so you’ll just be able to touch tablet to printer to print.
What we don’t like
Although the TouchPad feels solid, at 740g it’s too heavy and impossible to hold with one hand. The 9.7-inch screen isn’t as responsive as the Playbook or iPad 2 too, on occasion you’ll have to jab the screen several times before a command responds.
In addition the TouchPad doesn’t feel particularly quick, which is surprisingly considering it runs a dual-core 1.2Ghz processor. As well as taking well over a minute to launch you’re often confronted by a spinning circle as the page loads. Rotate the tablet and the screen doesn’t turn instantly either.
The TouchPad’s screen is adequate rather than amazing, don’t get us wrong, it’s a good size and with a respectable resolution of 1024x768, motion is smooth so you can happily watch a movie or browse the web. But there are better tablets screens, it suffers against like the Apple iPad 2 for contrast ratio. Blacks just aren’t that deep and whites look a bit yellow - but not as bad as the Motorola Xoom.
Although we like the interface, we’d like more customisation options too.
In terms of connectivity, there’s no 3G version (HP has refused to confirm if one is coming) and HDMI, which seems a glaring omission. There’s no rear camera, which isn’t a big loss, as for most peoplea camera is not the main reason to buy a tablet, but it’s something we’ve come to expect.
Instead of a dedicated app, when you launch YouTube it takes you straight to the browser, and although full Flash support it supports videos in their native format we’d prefer a dedicated app - like the one native to Android Honeycomb.
That leads us to our final gripe - apps, sure the store is growing and HP Pivot is a nice touch, but there are only 7500, which is still no match for the iPad.
The HP TouchPad has some great features, the OS is very intuitive, especially social networking and email integration is excellent. Flash support, multitasking and are welcome too and Pivot is a fantastic idea.
However, ultimately it’s big, heavy and a little slow. Although the price is respectable at £399 for the 16GB version. It costs the same the same as the more portable Blackberry Playbook and the Apple iPad 2 with its superior screen and vast quantity of apps, making it very hard to recommend.