HP TouchPad WiFi 32GBRating:
When HP announced the TouchPad back in February, it immediately stood out as one to watch, thanks to the uncluttered design and innovative webOS software. Now I’ve finally had a chance to play with one I’d say it’s close to greatness, but not quite there.
The design of the hardware borrows heavily from the original iPad but doesn’t quite have the understated style it takes to pull off such a minimalist look. The end result looks a bit plain, and isn’t helped by the TouchPad feeling both heavier and thicker than the iPad. The TouchPad is crammed full of clever technology, but these first impressions count in devices that spend this much time in your hand.
Dr Dre Beats Audio Built In
It’s certainly not all bad news on the hardware front. The screen is clear and bright, with a wide viewing angle; battery life is rather good for a device capable of true multitasking; and sound quality through the built-in speakers is excellent. I’m surprised HP isn’t making a bigger deal of its tie-in with the Dr Dre Beats Audio brand, as the sound quality from the TouchPad is rich, clear and surprisingly bassy.
The TouchPad is designed to work with a wireless charging station called
Touchstone, which is sold separately. This allows you to simply lay the
TouchPad in its cradle to begin charging without any fiddling about.
laying the TouchPad in the cradle also switched it in to “exhibition
mode”, displaying either your photos, appointments or a clock. You can
even assign different actions to individual Touchstones so you could,
for example, show photos when docked at home and appointments when in
The most important aspect of any tablet computer is the software, and this is where the TouchPad could really shine. Rather than using the Android operating system favoured by rivals such as the ASUS Eee Pad, Motorola Xoom or Samsung Galaxy Tab, HP have their own operating system called webOS. Introduced in 2009 for Palm and HP smartphones and currently in its third version, webOS has made the transition to a larger screen impressively well. It’s a stable and reliable alternative to iOS (used in the Apple iPad 2), and many people will prefer it.
A feature of webOS called Synergy integrates your online accounts, seamlessly accessing services including Gmail, Skype, Facebook, Dropbox, Microsoft Exchange and LinkedIn across the system. This allows you to do things like use the built-in chat client for both Skype calls and Google chats, see your Facebook photos in the photo app, or see all of the contacts from the different services in your contact app.
Show Me the TouchPad Apps
For many people, mobile devices
live or die by their Apps – those small programs downloaded to add
features, tools or games. The TouchPad App Catalog is looking quite
empty at launch, but HP reps tell me they’ve focussed on quality over
quantity, cherry picking the best apps from other platforms. Highlights
to expect at or shortly after launch include Facebook and Twitter apps,
Angry Birds, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, and an Amazon Kindle app. I
wasn’t able to test any of these for this review, but it certainly HP
will have pretty good coverage of the main apps people are looking for.
If they can get more developers on board in the next few months they may
be able to compete with Apple and Android on their own terms.
Multitasking and Flash-Enabled Web Browser
Two real highlights of webOS on the TouchPad are its true multitasking, and its extremely capable web browser. On the TouchPad you can start one task, such as loading a web page, and happily switch to another task while it loads, the page will continue downloading in the background with no interruption. This is something Apple has always shied away from with its iPad and iPhone, saying it would harm battery life and slow down the device, but HP have shown with the TouchPad that it can be done well.
The TouchPad comes equipped with a very capable and fast web browser, designed to work with the full versions of websites rather than cut-down mobile interfaces. Backing this up is the fact that the Flash video and multimedia player is installed by default. Many people cite the lack of flash video and multimedia as the reason they won’t buy an iPad 2, and the TouchPad might just be the device they’ve been waiting for.
Overall, the browser does an excellent job with some very demanding websites – I was particularly impressed by its handling of high-quality Flash video on the BBC iPlayer site. The experience wasn’t perfect however, and I experienced problems with sites that clearly weren’t designed with a tablet interface in mind. I’d often have a really hard time hitting a particular link or button, or just having to wait while the browser figured out what I’d done. Ultimately mobile web browsing is about making compromises, and you just need to decide whether you prefer choices HPs approach or Apple’s.
- Runs Flash
- Charging dock a great idea
- WebOS is a good operating system
- Runs Flash as standard
- Wireless charging dock
- True Multitasking
- Good sound quality
- Quite Heavy
- Unimpressive hardware design
- Quite bulky and heavy
- Limited number of apps at launch
- Touch response sometimes delayed
The HP TouchPad is by far my favourite of the current iPad competitors, although the hardware feels a few steps behind the iPad 2. It benefits from great software and some unique ideas. If you’re looking for an Apple alternative, particularly if you want to run Flash, this could be the tablet for you. Take a look at our tablet buying guide for everything you need to know before you buy.
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