The HP Touchpad Tablet Computer is something of a special device when it comes to E-Readers or Tablet PCs, as it doesn’t run Android or IOS, both of which are currently dominating the tablet market. Where Apple with it’s IPad has the market leading position when it comes to devices themselves, Android is by far the most used OS in the tablet arena, although it is of course spread over a huge number of devices. HP has decided to go a different way by using the former PALM OS called webOS, an operating system which aims to be the third big player in the market and match or even outperform the other two in terms of functionality and speed.
The TouchPad measures 9.45 x 7.48 x 0.45 inches and weighs 1.6lbs, making it slightly shorter and slightly wider than the iPad 2, as well as being noticeably thicker and heavier. The feeling is that there that HP designed the TouchPad to take on the first-gen iPad and then, unlike Samsung with the Galaxy Tab 10.1, refused to rework it when the iPad 2 appeared. The result is a thick slate without the premium feel of metal- or soft-touch plastic-bodied tablets from rivals.
Physical controls are minimal, with a volume rocker on the upper right edge, a power/sleep button on the top edge – across from the 3.5mm headphone jack – and a home button underneath the display. Unlike recent webOS phones, this home button is physical rather than touch-sensitive; it’s also not surrounded by a touch gesture area. A microUSB connector is used for charging and syncing, a welcome change from the proprietary connections on other tablets.
HP has opted for Qualcomm’s 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon APQ8060. That makes it – on paper at least – faster than the Apple A5 based iPad 2 and the various Tegra 2 powered Android Honeycomb tablets, with their 1GHz clock speeds. Qualcomm’s selling point for its chip is the asynchronous cores, which can be run at different speeds depending on the demands of the system. That means, so the engineers insist, that power consumption is reduced, since one core can be partially active rather than the all-or-nothing of rival processors.
The Snapdragon is paired with 1GB of memory and either 16GB or 32GB of flash storage. Wireless connectivity includes dual-band 2.4/5GHz as well as Bluetooth 2.1+EDR. At launch there are no WWAN-enabled models, however, so if you want to get online while on the move then you’ll need to find a WiFi hotspot or tether the TouchPad to your phone.
Rather than provide widgets or homescreen icons, webOS uses a launcher at the bottom of the screen – with space for five user-customizable apps – together with a full applications page. It works well, but the TouchPad does look somewhat barren when there are no apps open, with its empty expanse of desktop. There’s also the Just Type bar, which looks like a regular search field but in fact opens up a range of local and online search, together with shortcuts to posting new messages to Facebook or in emails or IM conversations.
Start typing, and you see search results from email headers, contacts, browser bookmarks and history, search history and local apps, along with Google results; however, you also get the option to use what text you’ve entered as the start of an email, appointment, memo or IM (webOS 3.0 supports Google Talk, Yahoo! IM, Skype IM, AIM and SMS, the latter requiring a webOS 3.0 phone like the Pre3 be paired via Bluetooth). Finally, if you’ve logged into your Facebook account, you can set the text as your latest status. Third-party developers will be able to hook their apps and services into this Just Type system, and hopefully among the first will be Twitter, since the short message service is conspicuous by its absence.
In contrast, HP’s Facebook implementation is perhaps the best we’ve seen on a tablet to-date. The company – not the social network – cooked up a new Facebook app specifically for the TouchPad, with a two/three pane design that supports your wall, friends walls, messages, Places – with support for checking in and finding nearby contacts, with mapping provided by Microsoft’s Bing Maps – and galleries, including the ability to upload shots directly to a new or existing album. The only key things missing are Facebook Chat support and the ability to log in as the admin of a group or fan page you manage. Otherwise, it’s an app Facebook itself could learn from.
When it comes to E-Reading functionality we are still sceptical when it comes to tablet, and the HP Touchpad is not exception. Very quickly you have a greasy screen and it’s glaring in sunlight makes it basically impossible to read on the beach or outside in a cafe. Therefore, while this device is decent, don’t buy one if you are looking for an E-Reader, as the Kindle is still the best one out there for that purpose.