HP TouchPad First Look Review

by Reads (7,584)

The HP TouchPad is now available, and with it, HP kicks off its hopeful future of webOS-enabled products. Soon, HP hopes to have an entire webOS fleet of devices, which includes smartphones, printers, laptops and desktops (not to mention tablets), all communicating, sharing, and humming along in a singular ecosystem. Heck, there is even talk of HP opening its gates to competitors by licensing webOS for rival devices.

HP TouchPadDespite the fact that HP just released a couple new webOS smartphones (the tiny Veer 4G and Palm Pre 2), it all starts with the TouchPad. HP has relentlessly hyped the TouchPad as a big-time tablet competitor, with on exec claiming it will be the “number one plus” tablet on the market. It’s also the first device to ship with webOS 3.0, a major update to the old Palm operating system designed for large screens with multi-tasking, wireless sharing, and app management in mind.

TabletPCReview has a TouchPad in hand, and while we are not ready to fully review the device, we are brimming with initial thoughts and plenty of comments.

But first, the HP TouchPad specs:

  • webOS (3.0)
  • 9.7-inch diagonal XGA (1024 x 768) IPS capactive touchscreen
  • 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core APQ8060 processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 16GB or 32GB internal memory
  • Front-facing 1.3-megapixel webcam
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • 3.5mm audio jack, microUSB
  • 6,300 mAh battery
  • 9.45 x 7.48 x 0.5 inches
  • Ships with AC charger, microUSB cable, cleaning cloth
  • Price at Launch: $499.99 (16GB), $599.99 (32GB)

Build & Design
Black glossy plastic, no three words better describe the HP TouchPad, or at least the back panel. It’s apparent that HP opted for a rounded look as the back panel bulge and corners are much curvier than some rival devices. And while it’s wrong to call it a large tablet, the curves and general thickness combine to make the TouchPad a chubbier tablet than the ultrathin Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and iPad 2.

HP TouchPadIn general, I don’t mind extra girth if it means added ports and functionality. That’s why I’m looking forward to the Toshiba Thrive Honeycomb tablet and it’s full-sized USB. Honeycomb 3.1 supports USB peripherals like an external keyboard or mouse, and the Thrive tablet, though much thicker than the Tab 10.1, is uniquely suited to take advantage of that feature.

In the case of the TouchPad, the extra girth doesn’t add much beyond thickness. Outside of the microUSB input, power button, and volume rocker, there is no SD card slot or an additional port. To be fair, this was probably a conscious exclusion by HP, as the “Touch to Share” feature will presumably bring wireless file sharing between webOS devices. Of course, that leaves the webOS-less out of luck for now.

Looking back at the display, Apple iPad size comparisons are apt, as the TouchPad shares the same screen size, resolution, and boxy ratio (4:3) as the market leader. Most Honeycomb tablets to date feature a 10.1-inch screen (8.9-inch LG G-Slate excluded) with a 16:10 screen ratio, making it more like a modern HDTV. The iPad 2 display is a bit brighter than the TouchPad’s however, and sharper too, with better viewing angles. But the HP TouchPad display is no slouch. The colors tend toward cooler tones, and sun glare will affect the TouchPad negatively just as it does every other mobile tablet in its class.

Software
Speaking of webOS, it’s yet another tablet operating system with aspirations of taking down the iOS juggernaut, and it’s remarkably similar to another system, the BlackBerry Tablet OS. Actually, webOS came first and RIM adopted many of the same elements in developing its QNX-based operating system. That includes the use of large icon “cards” for multi-tasking and swipe based controls.

HP TouchPadSwipe controls are great. Simply swiping up and down is a fun and effective means of minimizing and closing apps. In fact, more than one member of the TabletPCReview team has been seen fruitlessly swiping at the iPad thinking it will close out whichever program its running.

HP webOS 3.0 adds “stacking” to the mix, with a feature that places like apps in a bundled stack on the home screen. For example, instead of tabs, web pages would open as new windows that stack on one another when minimized. Cards in the stack can also be moved around and grouped in other stacks, regardless of the application type. It’s very effective, particularly with images and Quickoffice documents.

In our BlackBerry PlayBook review, we remarked how the swipe and card system was great for a seven-inch screen, but might not hold up if scaled onto a 10-inch device. The HP TouchPad confirms this, but only when compared with the widget-laden busyness of Honeycomb. It feels like much of the TouchPad’s 9.7-inch screen is wasted with the large card icons and blank space. The cards could be shrunk, and we’d love to see widgets added. We suppose an argument could be made that the cards could act as email and twitter widgets, but the beauty of widgets is that they are live and constant, ready to give the user a quick update with only a glance.  Having to launch and mange them defeats the purpose.

Preliminary Thoughts
There is certainly no fair conclusion to be drawn after one full day with the TouchPad. This is a feature-rich device and we didn’t get a chance to dive into many elements, including its notification feature, app store, wireless printing, and wireless charging, to name a few. 

We will also take a close look at performance. Can this Snapdragon-powered tablet match the speed of the dual-core Tegra tablets? A couple quick runs of the Sunspider Javascript benchmark that measures browser performance reveals an average score of 3925ms, which is worse than our lowest performing mobile tablet for 2011, the HTC Flyer. That scored just under 2500ms, while the best performer to date, the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer scored approximate 1900ms (lower score is better).

We will have a full review of the TouchPad in the coming days. HP has also promised to send over a Pre3 so we can fully explore the Touch to Share feature that seems to be a big selling point for the tablet. In the meantime, check out our earlier look at webOS 3.0, including the new email app other full tablet reviews.

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