If you’ve already used a Palm smartphone such as the Pre or the Veer, you’ll feel very comfortable with the TouchPad. Though there are a few changes and differences, almost everything is basically the same. A card paradigm is used, so each app is on its own “card” and you switch between them by swiping left and right. You’ll also need to know (or learn) a few gestures for closing and stacking apps, such as flinging a card “up” toward the top of the screen to close it.
If you have previous experience, you’ll be glad to know that everything from your Palm Profile (now renamed your HP webOS Account”) is automatically transferred over to the TouchPad as soon as you sign in. You’ll still have to enter the passwords for your Facebook, Google, and Microsoft Exchange accounts, but that takes just a few moments and is much easier than starting the whole process from scratch. All of your previously downloaded apps will carry over as well, so you’re ready to go with all of your favorite games.
The best part of webOS is HP Synergy, which intelligently and seamlessly combines all of your online accounts into one. Multiple calendars are displayed, color coded of course, just as they would be if you were looking at your Google calendar on the web. You can view all of your email in one ginormous pile if you like, or you can view each inbox separately. You don’t have to worry about which information came from which account; just reply and the TouchPad is smart enough to send it from the correct address. It is a little awkward to switch from panel to panel in the email app, however, trying to swipe from one to the other without the special gesture area below the screen (as on a webOS smartphone) means you have to use a tiny little control at the edge of the panel at the bottom of the display. If you’re not careful and miss your mark, you can delete a message without meaning to do so, since messages are deleted by swiping to the right on the subject line.
Opening and closing apps is smooth, and switching between them is fast. I didn’t experience any crashes while multi-tasking, even when running a game and my email and the App Catalog all at once. There were a few slowdowns at times, but nothing awful. One strange thing happened when I set up a Skype account; the TouchPad seemed to hang for about five minutes after I hit submit. I got a “welcome to Skype” email after a couple of minutes, but it took a bit longer for the TouchPad to catch up.
All of my standard Flash test sites worked, including the resource-hungry Moodstream.gettyimages.com. That site took a couple of tries to load, but that isn’t uncommon so I didn’t think it was a major problem. It was also interesting to hear the audio from moodstream still playing in the background when I opened additional pages; that’s multitasking at work for you. Pinch to zoom works great, and you aren’t limited so you can make the text and photos on any page extremely large, if you’re so inclined. Even at large magnification, text and images are sharp, highlighting the very good quality of the TouchPad’s display.
The virtual keyboard works fine; I had some trouble at first, but that’s mainly because I’m so used to the iPad keyboard, that it was hard for me to find the right keys at times. I appreciate having quick access to the hyphen, quotation mark, and slash, since I use them all the time. I also found the number row (with lots more punctuation easily accessible with the shift key) to be a welcome change. The keys are a little smaller than on other tablets, because the overall virtual keyboard is roughly the standard size, but with more keys.
The battery life is excellent–it never seems to run out, and the battery meter at the top right corner of the display goes down so slowly you hardly notice it. I was able to use the TouchPad rather heavily for several days without having to worry about charging it up, and while I wouldn’t travel without a charger, I don’t feel constantly chained to it either.
It’s also nice to have a choice–the TouchPad comes with a standard USB cable and a small travel charger with folding prongs. You can stick with that, or you can upgrade to the Touchstone charging dock for $80. It’s pricey, but wireless charging is so much more convenient. Instead of plugging a cable directly into the tablet, you just set it down on the dock. It’s fast and convenient, and turns the TouchPad into a desktop clock and photo frame as well.
The dock will hold the TouchPad in both portrait and landscape mode, but it will only charge the device in portrait mode. It doesn’t matter whether you orient the power button at the top or the bottom, it will still charge. It even folds, so even though it’s obviously larger than just the standard cable and charger, it’s still very packable and won’t take up much space in your suitcase. That way, you can have an easily readable clock even in your hotel room, and you can enjoy photos from home. It can even be a musical slideshow, if you happen to have a music app playing in the background.
As mentioned previously, connectivity via Wi-Fi is good, though as I mentioned previously it can sometimes seem to be a bit slower than it should be. That could also be due to the fact that web pages aren’t shown at all until they fully load, making it seem to take longer than it should.
The TouchPad has only one camera, the front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera that is used for video calling with Skype. It works well, as does Skype to phone calling, though the latter suffered from really poor voice quality during my testing. It was hard to carry on a conversation due to the weird echoes, though in a pinch it could work if there was no other option.
The TouchPad includes all of the standard webOS apps. On the homescreen there’s a quick access bar for the web browser, email, calendar, messaging, and photos. Everything else is accessed by tapping the small arrow on the bottom right side, or by using the search function at the top of the screen. The launcher has four categories; apps, downloads (for apps downloaded from the App Catalog), favorites (drag your most-used apps here for quicker launching), and settings (a control panel-style collection of icons for the various TouchPad settings, from accounts, backup and Bluetooth to print manager and sounds). Apps includes the homescreen apps as well as memos, Adobe Reader for PDF files, Quickoffice for word processing and spreadsheets, and maps for navigation. There’s a music app for listening to your favorite tunes, plus YouTube and Facebook. There’s an icon for the Amazon Kindle app, but it is not yet working so it’s just a frustrating placeholder at this point.
The HP App Catalog is extremely well organized, and though it’s a little thin right now there are still some great apps to choose from, including the ever-popular Angry Birds. It starts with Pivot, an electronic magazine of sorts that is devoted to helping you find the best apps. It’s a great idea, and really useful, with articles, photos, and really great suggestions on 32 pages.
You can also browse by category, with a handy listing on the left side and tabs at the top for featured, paid, free, and new apps. If you’ve already got a particular app, you can launch it from within the App Catalog instead of having to go back to the launcher. There are user reviews and screenshots for every app I looked at, and video links for many of them that take you to YouTube for a quick taste of what the app can do for you.
Obviously the HP App Catalog isn’t going to have the thousands and thousands of apps that you’ll find in the Apple App Store, but there’s a good selection here and a lot of the big ones are already here. There’s not a lot of junk at this point either, so you won’t have to wade through page after page of junk apps when you’re looking for something specific.