HP acquired Palm sometime in 2010. No sooner had the ink on this deal dried, HP’s execs issued a statement saying that the company was staying well away from the smartphone and tablet market. In other words: HP didn’t fancy its chances in the highly competitive world of mobile technology.
At least that was the case in 2010. Come 2011, HP was all about smartphones and tablets. The company’s been extremely busy for these last 12 months and the end result of all its tinkering is the HP TouchPad – a stunning tablet device that’s been the talk of the town since it first debuted at MWC 2011.
But is HP’s webOS-powered TouchPad any good? Does it live up to expectations and, most importantly, could it give Apple and Google’s respective offerings a run for their money? We investigate.
After we saw the TouchPad at MWC 2011 we were pretty smitten. HP has done a good job with the slate’s dimensions, weight and physical attributes. It’s smooth, extremely polished looking and exudes the type of class usually reserved for products by Apple. In short: the HP TouchPad is a contender – and a serious one at that.
Engadget says the HP TouchPad, which weighs in at 750g, is a ‘chunky tablet,’ which is a fair claim. It’s heavier than the iPad 2, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Motorola Xoom. Yet despite this, we’re still fans of the device. It’s a burden we’re willing to shoulder in the grand scheme of things.
However, neither CNET nor Engadget seem convinced by the TouchPad’s physical charms. The latter even went as far as saying the device actually looked a little ‘tubby [when] compared to the sleek iPad 2.’
Not so for Charles Arthur over at The Guardian, though. ‘The TouchPad, for me,’ says Arthur, ‘stood alongside the iPad in terms of quality – both user experience and build – and made the multitude of me-too Android tablets (and the PlayBook) look distinctly second-class.’ Jolly good.
So, quite a mixed bag in the looks-department then. But if we’re honest we think Engadget and CNET have been a little harsh here, so we have to side with The Guardian on this one. The TouchPad, in our opinion, is a very attractive device and despite its weight we still prefer it to the vast majority of Android Honeycomb tablets we’ve tested.
The HP TouchPad is powered by webOS – the operating system brought to life by Palm. It’s a big deal to many, as it presents a distinct alternative to iOS, Android and RIM’s QNX. But does HP’s webOS and its card-based UI safely make the transition to big screen?
Engadget seems to think so, saying ‘navigating apps like this is genuinely fun; there’s something very satisfying about literally throwing away a window that you no longer want cluttering up your screen or your RAM. And it’s all helped by everything in the OS being generally snappy and responsive.’
‘Compared to Android on a tablet like the Motorola Xoom,’ says CNET, ‘we think the TouchPad offers a slightly more intuitive way to swap between open apps.’
HP’s tablet also gets praise for its built-in Just Type application as well, which lets you search the device simply by typing. It’s essentially universal search, just done well, and HP’s webOS links up the typing queries with commands, such as email, so you can type in a contact’s name, select email and then, hey presto, you’re writing an email.
‘This strikes me as a great approach to the user interface,’ concludes Arthur in The Guardian’s review. ‘If Apple and Google are smart, they’ll be trying to think of ways to copy it for their respective tablet operating systems.’
But while there’s praise a plenty for webOS in terms of functionality and user experience. This just isn’t the case for applications. According to CNET, ‘Not only are there far fewer apps available for the TouchPad than for its tablet competitors, the app store also proves flaky at times.’
‘The HP app store (called the HP App Catalog),’ says Arthur, ‘is nearly as empty as the RIM PlayBook’s one. There’s nothing like the range of apps that you can find on Android – or, of course, in Apple’s store.’ So far so bad – but it does get worse: ‘apps appeared to download,’ laments Arthur, ‘but never appeared to finish.’
It’s a similar story over at Engadget as well, which conclude: ‘ultimately we didn’t really find anything here that made us want to hang up our iPad and shut down our Galaxy Tab.’
All in all, it’s a pretty poor show for HP’s App Store – but we were half expecting this. The device is a new paradigm in webOS’s history and it will take HP some time to develop any real developer support.
HP has crammed a 1.2GHz APQ8060 dual core Snapdragon CPU, 1GB of RAM and either 16 or 32GB of storage into its beloved TouchPad, which, we admit, looks and sounds pretty good.
‘It should be fast with its 1.2GHz Snapdragon processor paired with 1GB of RAM,’ says Engadget, ‘but too often left us waiting. Bootup, for example, takes 1:15, which is an eon compared to 30 seconds or so on both the Galaxy Tab and the iPad 2.’
In terms of applications, Engadget claims that most are quick to load and responsive enough. But there are problems. For one, certain apps (Weather Bug in this instance) are painfully slow, which is quite disconcerting.
This could very well be a software issue that HP will remedy with an update very soon. This is the first instance of webOS appearing on a tablet – there’s bound to be some kinks. Just as there were on the original Android Honeycomb tablets.
In closing, CNET says: ‘overall, the tablet didn’t feel lightning-fast, though. It wasn’t uncommon for us to face the spinning icon of thoughtfulness when we launched a new app like the email client.’
‘It wasn’t a horror show of delays, but it goes to show that a top-of-the-line processor doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll never have to wait around.’
The TouchPad’s 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 IPS panel, according to Engadget, ‘matches the iPad 2 pixel-for-pixel and doesn’t disappoint when it comes to other important aspects of viewing.’
The Guardian concurs, praising HP’s decision to go with a 4:3 aspect ratio display. Android, as you may well know, prefers a 16:9 variant, which is great for watching films and the like. But if you’re after something to actually work with, then, as Arthur says, you should go with the TouchPad – a 4:3 aspect ratio is better fit for professional users, just like the iPad.
We happen to agree. That’s not to say we don’t appreciate a nice 16:9 aspect ratio – they certainly have a place in the world of consumer electronics. But we predominantly use our tablet, which is an iPad, for work and the 4:3 aspect ratio is definitely more suited to this kind of usage.
Both The Guardian and Engadget’s review found that the TouchPad could last up to and around the eight-hour mark, which is pretty respectable.
CNET agreed, claiming that they got just over a day’s usage from the slate. But criticised the TouchPad’s longevity, as you can’t put the device in a draw, come back in a week or so, and still have some battery life to play with – only the iPad 2 can perform this feat at present.
Having said that, The Guardian doesn’t seem to agree. Apparently, ‘if you simply left it sleeping (with multiple apps suspended) the battery barely ran down at all. I’ve seen Android Honeycomb tablets that would die pretty much overnight – the TouchPad would lose 1% or 2% in that period.’
So, mixed views again. We’ll be sure to clear this issue up in our in-depth review that’s going up on Friday (July 29).
‘Unlike the RIM PlayBook browser,’ says The Guardian, ‘the HP TouchPad browser was snappy and faithful in rendering, in my experience. It’s recognised as a desktop rather than mobile browser (another plus; I’ve come across other tablets which have been detected as mobile phones).’
But what about video and Flash content? HP has been lauding the device’s browsing capabilities quite heavily since the tablet was first announced way back at MWC 2011.
‘Flash 10.3 is pre-installed and overall browsing performance is reasonably good,’ claims Engadget, ‘but we did notice some odd stops and starts and delays in loading some pages. Full-screen HD video plays, but not particularly smoothly. The same videos were far creamier on the Galaxy Tab 10.1.’
All in all, says CNET, the TouchPad’s browser ‘rendered pages entirely accurately’ thanks to its built-in Flash 10.3 support. And while the added Flash support is certainly a bonus, none of the reviewers seemed to be completely wowed by the browser.