HP recently announced that they were going to cease all development on WebOS hardware while the software, in some way, shape, or form, was supposed to live on. As a result of this announcement, they decided to drastically drop the price on their WebOS tablets here in the states. On top of this, they dropped prices on their handsets in other countries, from what I have read, including the UK. How drastic was the price drop? From 500 dollars to 100 dollars for their 16GB model Touchpad and 600 dollars to 150 dollars for the 32GB model. This fire sale sent the United States in a frenzy for these tablets. Stores like Staples added fuel to the fire by supplying discounts over the deal dropping the prices on the 16GB and 32GB touchpad to 5o dollars and 100 dollars respectively. I luckily managed to grab one of these amidst the chaos and received it just yesterday. After about two full days with the device I feel it's safe to write up my thoughts and impressions. If anything does change I will be sure to edit my review accordingly.
Before I delve into the separate aspects of the Touchpad, allow me to talk my way around the build of this device. The screen end of the device only has one hardware button, being the home button. The button has a nice response, something I am often very picky about in electronics. Above the screen the front facing camera is spotted. Right below the home button, on the bottom side of the device, is the micro USB/charging port. On the right end of the device lies the volume rocker. The rocker is slightly pronounced out of the end of the device; just slightly visible when looking towards the screen. They are easily accessible and have a nice feel to them. On the top of the Touchpad you find the power/sleep button, similar in hardware to the volume rocker, and your headphone jack. On the left end of the device are the two grills for the speakers. An odd placement, especially when listening to audio in portrait mode, but the placement becomes clear when watching videos in landscape mode.
One thing that I noticed immediately about the Touchpad was the cheap feeling of the back. HP decided to build the entire device (Sans screen) with a glossy plastic that does not feel very sturdy or high end in hand. While i don't believe the device will be breaking any time soon, it isn't a very comfortable feeling to have on a tablet that had originally cost 500 dollars. After some extended use with the device I realized how easy it scratches. The back of my touchpad has already acquired some nast looking scratches on the back and I haven't put it in any situation where it should have gotten those scratches. That's a pretty big problem in my opinion. To add to the problem, the glossy plastic causes the back of the touchpad to be a fingerprint magnet, to say the least.
On the flip side, the screen is great. In terms of the physical aspect of the screen, it feels great. The screen is made of Gorilla Glass so while it isn't scratch proof, it is slightly harder to scratch than other screens. One thing I did notice was that the screen was very smooth to the touch. On most of my electronics I often find that I need a screen protector to enhance my experience as it allows the surface to feel a bit slicker, allowing me to slide my finger across without a problem. On the Touchpad I do not have that issue. The screen has a natural slick feel that makes the entire device feel a lot more enjoyable. This will, perhaps, be the first device that I will not buy a screen protector for. The screen just feels that good to me. Of course, this is all my opinion.
The actually screen is another positive for the Touchpad. For those unaware, the Touchpad sports a 9.7 inch, 1024x768, multitouch screen. The screen looks fantastic and works well for movies/video as well as web browsing. The screen is responsive and surprisingly accurate. Whether this be the actual hardware or WebOS, I am not exactly sure but it works well. Colors are vivid and bright and the screen supports a great range in terms of backlighting. There isn't much to say about the screen besides the fact that it's great.
While many people like to talk down the Touchpad because of its thickness and weight, I personally favored the feeling. While it may be a personal preference, I feel that the extra weight feels good in hand. The device doesn't feel like a brick but it doesn't feel like a cheap toy either. The touchpad is 13.7 mm thick, not making it a very slim tablet but I find no problem with the thickness. It's another quality that I prefer in my electronics but I understand how some may disagree with me.
While some may expect me to cover processor speed and RAM in the hardware section, I am leaving it out as I feel raw power specifications mean nothing once it is matched up with software.
To start off, I have to make it clear that I have always had a soft spot for WebOS in my heart. WebOS is minimal and clean, two of my favorite qualities in operating systems. WebOS has a simple layout leaving your running apps on display on your home screen and allowing you to scroll through these cards and throwing away apps that you want to close and grouping together apps that you feel should be grouped together. The home screen is easily accessed by pressing the home key or by sliding your finger from the bottom bezel up across the screen. These gestures begin to feel very natural after even a bit of usage and I often find myself wishing these gestures were available on other OSs. The notification system is similar to Android in which it does not interrupt what you are doing. Notifications are removed by simply sliding them off and, again, it is all intuitive and smooth. The app drawer is simple and offers tabs for applications, downloaded apps, favorites, and settings. You can either tap each tab or slide left and right when in the drawer to access the different shortcut locations. Meanwhile, animations are very smooth for the most part and make the whole feeling more enjoyable.
Now before I discuss the rest of the OS, let me go over some gripes I have with WebOS in general.
WebOS seems to have, for all its life, been in this perpetual infancy. It's hard to find who to blame for this. Some say that Palm did a bad job advertising for WebOS and the Palm line in general but I clearly remember the Palm pre commercials and the buzz around the Pre when it was released. Certainly HP did begin advertising for their WebOS line but in respect to the time of the cancellation announcement, it seems they advertised too late. While I certainly don't want to blame developers, WebOS didn't gain much support from them. Since developers didn't jump on, the app catalog stayed small, users didn't want to jump on because of the app catalog, and developers saw no interest in developing for an OS that had such a small user base. Now, at the end of WebOS, the Touchpad doesn't even have a native YouTube app. Couple this with the occasional hiccups found in WebOS and you can see why it didn't take off. Anyways enough with the rant and back on to the review.
The web browser works very well. Scrolling is for the most part smooth and flash plays well on sites like youtube. It has the obvious pinch gestures found in most multitouch web browsers and performs well over all. Occasionally some pages would require a refresh to load properly but it that was the only problem.
I really enjoy the email client for the Touchpad. It easily handles multiple accounts and allows you to browse through separate email inboxes or simply one unified inbox. It follows a three tab setup having a dedicated tab for accounts, Inbox, and the email being viewed. Tabs can slide away to expand space for the email. From the email being viewed there are easy links to delete it, print it, or move it to another folder. This client is perhaps one of my favorite things about the Touchpad. It feels good and it's easy to use
The calendar is simple and straight forward with three viewing modes. It integrates your various accounts ranging from facebook to your palm account and includes Google supplied holidays. Nothing super fancy here but not bad either.
Again, a simple application the will integrate various accounts. Online 'buddy' lists are unified by default. I would prefer a way to separate contacts based on accounts but there doesn't seem to be a way to do that. Weird considering everything else that unifies accounts tends to have the option. I may be over looking something but I doubt it.
Straightforward app with your contact list on the left and detailed info on the selected contact on the right. Strictly unified but I don't have a problem with it here. Not much to say about this. Does what it needs to.
The preinstalled picture app is perhaps one of the slower ones that are pre bundled. It syncs with you included accounts offering the ability to view FaceBook photos in the app as opposed to opening up the Facebook app. You can shoose to vew pictures from certain accounts or just local pictures. A unified library is also included giving access to all photos in one view. As mentioned, it is a tad slow and doesn't feel as smooth as most of the other apps. Still usable though. The option to set photos as a wallpaper is present but poorly implemented. There is no option to crop a certain section or zoom in like on Android or iOS so you just have to take a chance with a picture and see if it crops it well enough. If the picture is too smal it will simply center it with a grey background. A bit of a turn off.
The memos app is nice. Another simple tool that is just nice to have bundled with the software. i often miss something like this on Android. The memos are displayed as sort of post it notes and the color of these notes can be changed. When viewing a memo you can delete it or email it, which is a nice touch.
Not much to say here. A simple clock face and alarm function. The Alarm only has options for every day, every week day, weekends, and once. It's lacking a bit there but most of us already use our phones as alarms anyway.
Simple non-scientific calculator (Regardless of orientation) that does what it needs to. Better calculators are available in the marketplace.
The music app is nice but lacks the ability to play FLAC as well as other audio formats. It follows the similar sliding tab set up as other apps with options to view albums, songs, artists, and playlists on the left with a list of your selection on the right. Works well enough but the lack of FLAC support is disappointing.
The maps app i pretty smooth. The touchpad was able to pinpoint my location to about a block away and the app offers directions on how to reach locations via car, train, or walk. Everything operates well and it seems accurate through my limited testing. I don't have much to say about this.
Voice and Video Calls
This is organized well and will simply run as a front end to whatever accounts you use. It works great with Skype and performs well enough. The FFC has shotty quality but not worse than most mobile device FFCs.
While the app is organized well enough it is simply one of the slowest and worst performing apps on the device. I received plenty of errors within the app forcing me to restart the App Catalog just to try to grab whatever app i was looking for. Even worse is how fast it slows down. While installing an app or two the App Catalog will occasionally stop responding to touch completely. This is a terribly unpleasant surprise for a dual core device. The 'Featured' tab is nice as they attempt to give a magazine style view into what apps are good but the whole app is so clunky and a pain to use that I dread searching for new apps.
Additional Thoughts On Software
The fact that some apps take a good while to load disappoints me and surprises me. In this day in age where most people are impatient and iOS and Android are the two top players in mobiles, it surprises me that app loading isn't instantaneous or even close with this device. I don't have a huge problem with it but I can see why the platform wasn't as embraced as iOS and Android.
Homebrew is ridiculously easy to access on this device. The entire process took just a couple of minutes and it can make the experience a whole lot more enjoyable. Overclocking options are available as well as tweaks to disable certain aspects of the OS. Performance can be increased greatly and really makes the tablet more usable.
Android support seems to be coming soon as well with two dev teams working on Android ports and both of them have touchscreens already functioning.
The HP Touchpad is a great device for general tasks. Web browsing and videos are great on the device but the lack of an extensive app catalog might be a killer for most people. The OS is well designed and feels great to use. Hardware wise it has it's good and bad sides but a case can help solve some of that. Slow app loading may be a big problem with some users but this can be improved with homebrew and overclocking.
After looking at all of these points, it is possible you are deciding on whether to buy one second hand. I will simply put it this way:
- For 99 dollars this was an amazing deal. If you had a chance to purchase one at 99 and skipped, you should definitely be kicking yourself.
- For 500 dollars it was definitely lacking. Some hardware didn't justify the 500 dollar price tag and the device lacks many apps that I use on a daily basis. For example, Youtube and Pandora radio
- The MOST I can see myself paying for one is somewhere around the 200 to 250 range. Even this is easier said than done when I was lucky enough to find one for 99 plus shipping.