Last week we have witnessed the death of the once highly anticipated HP TouchPad since it was announced just before Mobile World Congress (MWC) back in February. A lot of people really wanted to see how great the innovative webOS user interface unveiled two years ago with the Palm Pre could take advantage of a 9.7 inch tablet form factor. Sadly, we were all disappointed, HP included.
The device was available since July 1st and its price has been recently slashed by $100, putting the 16GB model at $399.99 and the 32GB at $499.99, and then, suddenly, last week, HP announced that it would discontinue the TouchPad and even spin off its Personal System Group which carries all its consumer computing devices, including laptops and desktop PCs!
It may look strange to post a review of a dead product, but, hell, it was almost finished when the news broke, and it might make a great digital obituary.
Anyway, it is also an homage to all the designers and engineers at Palm (photo below) and HP who put their guts in this project and came up with brilliant innovations, even if some more work needed to be done on the TouchPad to make it a good $500 tablet.
Now the price of the remaining stock has been slashed to $100. At this price, the TouchPad is a brilliant device, and many people seem to agree, since it is sold out!
Additionally, webOS might be licensed or its intellectual property (IP) sold, in that extent, sharing our opinion on the topic might give you some insight on potential future products using it.
Out of the box, you will immediately note that the HP TouchPad is chubbier (0.54 in -13.7 mm thick / lbs) than the top 10-inch tablets on the market, namely the iPad 2 (8.8 mm thick/1.3 lbs) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (8.6 mm thick/ 595 g – 1.31 lbs). However, its design is elegant and it feels great in the hands, thanks to it curvy backside and the soft sensation that the piano-finish provides.
The HP TouchPad is powered by a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core APQ8060 that sports a brand new Adreno 220 GPU, so we could expect better performance than the iPad 2 and its relatively old SGX543 PowerVR GPU.
Processor: 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core APQ8060 with Adreno 220 GPU
Display: 9.7” XGA 1024×768, IPS (wide angle viewing), LED Backlit capacitive multi-touch display, pinch to zoom – Multi-touch glass display with a special coating for easier cleaning and abrasion resistance
Connectivity: 3.5mm jack, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR with A2DP Stereo Bluetooth support
Audio: Internal stereo speakers and Beats Audio, integrated microphone
Camera: frontside 1.3 MP camera (webcam)
Video formats for playback: MPEG-4
Flash support: Adobe Flash Player 10.2 in web browser
Memory: 16 / 32 GB built-in, 1GB RAM,
Sensors: Light sensor, accelerometer, compass (magnetometer), and gyroscope
Battery: 6300mAh lithium-polymer
Weight: 750 g – 1.65 lbs
Size: 9.45 x 7.48 x 0.54 in – 240 x 190 x 13.7 mm
Thinness comparison: Xoom: 12.9 mm – iPad 2: 8.8 mm – Galaxy Tab 10.1: 8.6 mm
Weight comparison: Xoom 730g – 1.6 lbs – iPad 2: 600 g – 1.3 lbs
Different people use electronic devices in drastically different ways depending on their needs and lifestyle, so it always hard to ensure objectivity for all in our reviews. I am going to tell you how I use a tablet, this way it will be easier for you to decide which aspects of this review will be useful for yourself.
I have used the HP TouchPad for a few days as an additional device to my desktop computer, my MacBook Pro (running Windows), my Macbook Air (running Windows) and my smartphone. Since I have the Macbook Air, I rarely bring a tablet to meetings, it has become more of an entertainment device from which I read news and books, play with apps (ie Angry Birds, Music apps), watch movies in my bed or in the plane, Skype/chat with friends, check Facebook updates.
External design (good except the thickness/weight)
As I wrote in the introduction, the HP TouchPad is thicker and heavier than the iPad 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, however the form factor is comfortable to hold in the hands thanks to its curvy backside that features a glossy and soft to touch black piano finish. One could argue that the texture is prone to fingerprint marks, true – but I rarely look at the back of a tablet anyway.
The TouchPad offers a home button that acts pretty similarly as the iPad one, except that its shape is oval and not round. Additionally it is almost invisible, making the front of the device very minimalistic looking.
From the specifications, you may have noticed the absence of a back side camera, which, from a manufacturer point of view, is a good choice for cutting the costs: I have not seen a lot of people using their tablet to shoot pictures or videos, they all have a Smartphone or a compact camera for that matter.
The power and volume buttons are well integrated to the edges and easy to operate.
Display (very good)
The HP Touch Pad features an IPS display similar to the one in the iPad 2, with the same 1024×768 resolution. The display quality is great, and HP went the extra mile to protect it, adding a special coating on the glass, for easier cleaning and abrasion resistance.
When I compared both displays side by side (at the same brightness level) playing the same HD video, the Touchpad screen was slightly more reflective especially in direct sunlight, and the two black horizontal bands looked less black than the ones in the iPad 2 (that means less contrast). It looks like the different glass and coating may have modified the viewing experience a bit when compared to the iPad.
Nonetheless, the image quality is overall very good and watching videos and photos on the TouchPad is a treat . I wish Netflix and Hulu would be available on webOS!
Virtual Keyboard – (very good)
The virtual keyboard is great to use except for the auto-correction that does not give me the choice of using its suggestions or not. The iPad is comparably even worse for that matter, since I often type alternatively in two languages, I had to disable the iOS auto-correction.
Android offers by default the best word prediction as it does not interfere with the user’s choices. If you need an enhanced predictive typing application for Android, I recommend to download Swiftkey, as it handles up to 3 languages simultaneously, I wish that webOS would have had it, but unfortunately, a search in the webOS App Catalog returned no results.
I personally love the integration of the numbers and the most popular special characters on the main webOS keyboard layout as it is quite annoying to have to go to a secondary screen on Android and iOS to access the numbers or the @ sign (may vary depending on the app/context).
Last but not least, the symbol key gives access to special characters and to six smiley faces, neat!
There are not many music applications available for the HP Touchpad, TuneIn is preloaded, and I downloaded Pandora since I have an account. I tested the Touchpad built-in speakers quality with Pandora, and I tried the iPad 2 and the Galaxy tab with similar soundtracks. The HP Touchpad delivers a good integrated audio quality, additionally, it was easy to pair it with my compact portable Bluetooth speaker: the Jambox. Unlike the iPad 2, the HP Touchpad has two speakers instead of just one and they are larger than the ones found in the Galaxy Tab 10.1.
Performance and hardware (very good)
Perceived performance (very good)
The HP TouchPad runs the 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core APQ8060 SoC (System on Chip) with the top of the line Adreno 220 graphics processor (GPU). It is one of the most powerful Qualcomm system on a chip (SoC) for mobile devices out there that delivers 1080p video playback, snappy multitasking and powerful graphic performance.
The powerful GPU enables a smooth interface, fast scrolling of graphic-rich web pages and a fluid full HD video playback experience.
Tested against the iPad2, Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Playbook, the overall system’s perceived performance was quite similar on all tablets.
Measured Performance (below average)
Overall, the results speak for themselves: the touchpad is the slowest tablet that we have tried in 2011. One of the explanation maybe that the other tablets central processing units are based on an ARM A9 architecture, while the Touchpad is based on a Qualcomm Scorpion, which seems to be like a beefed up ARM A8. It is also possible that HP has chosen to run the processor in a slower mode to save battery or avoid heat.
In any case these are synthetic tests that reveal certain aspects of the Touchpad, but they should not be used as a general metric of performance.
webOS 3.0 User interface (good)
webOS 3.0 is the tablet version of the operating system (OS) that runs on the Palm Pre and the Palm Veer. When I saw webOS for the first time at CES09 as it was unveiled by Matias Duarte, the head of the Palm design team, I loved it!
Design – look and feel (could be better – not very “sexy”)
The user interface is efficient, but not very sexy overall. The applications icon design is too “physical” (more info about this design concept) for my taste and not consistent enough. Icons have variable sizes, which gives a sense of disharmony to the apps section. The calendar and email apps offer a logical navigation with multiple views accessible in one tap, however, I wish that their look and feel would be a bit more attractive.
Card View (good)
One of the most noticeable innovation was the cards: basically, applications can be slid or thrown away like virtual cards (picture of Pre). We loved the new concept, and RIM liked it so much that they used the idea for the Playbook user interface with some differences.
webOS piles up all the screens you open in one app as cards, for example if you opened several messages in the email application you will be able to get back directly to the one you want by clicking on its card; the Playbook offers only one regular thumbnail view.
When inside an application, you can either swipe the bottom of the screen or use the physical home button to get back to the home screen with all your “cards” (the running applications). Then, you can scroll through them. The user interface is fast and responsive.
The only downside of this system is the way new cards have to open, it looks like it takes slightly more time than just opening a regular screen. However you may regain that time by directly accessing the page or section you want in each application.
For some reasons, although Palm invented the cards, I do prefer the look and feel of the RIM/Blackberry implementation in the Playbook.
The second major innovation brought by the webOs and the first Pre was Synergy, as Palm describes it, it is “a key feature of webOS that brings your information from all the places it resides into one logical view. You don’t have to worry about tracking multiple calendars, contacts and messaging applications – Synergy brings it to you for a more comprehensive and truly representative view of your life”
Synergy is a great concept, it is a user-centric approach that aggregates relevant information in a single view, preventing constant switching from one app to the other. For example, all your email clients are accessible in a single view, unlike in Android or iOS – it is possible to get all your emails from various clients in one inbox, but you will have to set up a redirect – with webOS you really access your various inboxes separately from the same screen.
The concept applies to the calendar, for example, my Facebook events, my Google and my Exchange calendars appeared automatically as soon as I configured all three accounts in the device. Same thing for the photo gallery, my Facebook pictures were automatically organized in the photo gallery application in a beautifully designed screen. The integrated Facebook photo gallery was also implemented by Microsoft in Windows Phone 7, but it is not available in iOS or Android 3.x.
The first time I tried, the copy/paste was buggy, either it did not appear when I pressed (and held) on a word, or only “copy” no “select” and when I tried to paste, there was only “copy” again and no “paste”. But I tried again and it work perfectly, it may be a problem with the touch interface then, as I point out in the paragraph below.
Multitasking performance is pretty good, even with multiple applications running responsiveness was still good. The system froze (without crashing) and asked me to close applications when I had 14 cards and 10 applications simultaneously opened on the home screen, but it is normal for a tablet equipped with this type of processor. I have seen the Playbook closing apps faster than that.
Touch Interface (could be better – aka please debug)
From time to time I had trouble with the touch interface while using the keyboard, the cursor refused to appear and then suddenly displayed all the letters entered the second before. It seemed to freeze for a moment.
webOS 3.0 Applications
Browser with Flash Support (very good)
Browser performance (very good)
The browser with Flash support delivers good performance, page loading is fast, pinch and zoom is snappy and scrolling is fluid.
I like the easy access to the browsing history from the sliding tray that is triggered when tapping on the clock icon (top right), it makes navigation way faster than going back to bookmarked pages thumbnails like it is done in the iPad’s browser.
Browser (very good – except new web page transition)
The brilliant concept of cards allows to pile up all the opened web pages and make them accessible directly from the home screen, which is great.
The only downside is the animation that launches each time you hit the new web page button in the browser: the screen is minimized and transformed in a card that piles up on top of the other web pages/cards, then a new card slides from the bottom of the screen and is maximized to full screen.
The whole process takes roughly 5 seconds, which is quite fast, that said, the vast majority of users get instant access to the next web page on other devices, so this will probably get on the nerves of many people (like me).
The reason behind providing such an animation might be to show that each web page opened becomes a card in the browser pile, however, I am sure that just by seeing the card piles a few times on the start screen, anyone would understand how the user interface works pretty easily.
Following the tri-pane structure of the webOS applications, the browser offers a right side drop down menu that allows fast access to bookmarks, browsing history and downloads.
Email, Calendar and Contact (brilliant – thanks to Synergy)
The email application, relying on Synergy, displays an aggregated view of all your inboxes from all your email services including Outlook, Outlook Exchange, Gmail, Yahoo, … and that’s great!
The design allows a three panel views to access the various email services retractable to a two panel view to access the message list on the left and read the selected email on the right (picture). The tri-pane design is excellent in term of good user experience.
Similar to the email application, the calendar take great advantage of Synergy’s aggregated view, it even populates the main calendar with your Facebook events. It is very easy to remove one of your calendars from the main view if needed just by clicking on the corresponding on top left of the screen (photo).
As a designer, I was hoping that the look and feel of the calendar would match the innovative navigation features, one would argue, who needs an appealing design for such a boring and work-related activity? Well, the best examples I could give are the WP7 beautiful calendar design and Steve Jobs, who, 13 years ago, replaced the boring “beige box”- aka the PC – by a colorful rounded device. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IMac_G3
Bing Maps (good)
Maps are powered by Bing, and personally, I like the interface better than the Google Maps in the iPad 2. The easy access to various views and features (Road, Satellite, Fish Eye, Traffic, Drop a Pin, Clear) from the sliding panel on the right is more convenient and elegant than the page turning effect offered in iOS.
When I tried to get directions to a local restaurant, I got the results instantly. Pinch and zoom was fast, although a little less fluid than the Google version for iPad, so on the performance side it is good.
webOS Chat (confusing – implementation of Synergy needs more work)
webOS requires you to add as many messaging, social networking and cloud services accounts you have including AIM, Box.net, DropBox, Facebook, Google, LinkdIn, Skype, Outlook, Yahoo!, MobileMe, Photobucket, Snapfish (and more). You perform this from the Account window found in the settings section (picture). This allows Synergy to aggregate these services where it is appropriate across the webOS applications.
While it works very well with email, contacts and calendar, the chat integration is disappointing, Skype does not work well there (the lag is terrible), Google talk seems to be OK.
Photo Gallery (brilliant – thanks to Synergy)
I love the fact that my Facebook photos albums showed up automatically when I added my Facebook account in Synergy. The only other mobile OS that delivers this feature is Windows Phone 7.
Communication and Social Apps
Skype integration in webOS chat (not working)
Skype is integrated in the webOS chat application but it does not work very well. Basically messages are delayed (by up to 30mn) and I was not able to see my online and offline contacts, although I was able to see the conversations I had.
Additionally, to access video calls, you have to find the camera icon buried in Skype drop down menu (!) and when you tap the icon, it opens another application labeled “phone and video call”. This is not working and it is incredibly confusing. I cannot find any good reason to explain why it was implemented so poorly. That defies any logic.
Facebook (very good)
The Facebook application for TouchPad has been custom-built and is the only version specifically adapted to the tablet form factor (for now). The iPad still runs the iPhone version and on Android 3.x, the integration is obviously not optimized for tablets.
The app offers the same sliding panel structure as the email app, providing a tri-panel or a bi-panel view depending on the information you need to access.
The secondary navigation in each section is efficient and easily accessible either from an additional panel on the right side or at the top of the screen, offering more space to display each feature and sub-section.
The photo gallery is beautifully designed and the tile view gives another dimension to the news feed! (see picture above).
Just like the email application, when inside the message section, the transition between new messages is an animation that shows the different message windows piling up as cards on the home screen – which is great for understanding that it is possible to access Facebook messages directly from the main screen but slows down the in-app navigation.
There is one free application that enables Twitter usage, iSpazHD, I tried it and it just worked fine.
Media and Entertainment (regular)
Photo and video capture (none – webcam only)
HP decided to bypass the back camera, which is not a bad choice knowing that most people will not use a tablet to shoot photos and videos – it probably allowed the manufacturer to dramatically cut costs on a under-used feature. Many people will complain about this, but you’ve been warned.
As for the webcam we could not test it since the video call service related to Skype did not work…
Books with Kindle application (good)
The TouchPad comes with the Kindle icon pre-loaded, but you still have to download it for free from the App Catalog. Nothing surprising here, just your regular Kindle application, it is nice to have it at launch, and now that the tablet costs only $100, the device becomes a nice choice when it comes to buy an e-reader :)
YouTube and HD Video Playback (good)
For watching movie you mostly have the option to buy movies in the HP Movie store – Netflix and Hulu are not included with the Touchpad. You can watch videos on YouTube, the icon on the apps section launches the browser. HD video playback is fluid and the display quality offers a great experience.
Battery Life (good – fast charging for a tablet)
Battery life with minimal usage
The battery life is pretty good, with minimal usage, mostly email, web browsing no video playback, the battery lasted for 3 days.
Battery life with average usage
When used a little bit more intensely with a lot of applications testing, web browsing, emailing, music listening, display on, and 15 minutes of video playback, the battery lasted for a day of work, roughly 15 hours.
Recharging time (fast for a tablet)
When the tablet is not in use, The battery recharge in less than 3 hours (could be 2h30) – after just 2 hours it was charged at 71% – in comparison the iPad 2 takes about 3+ hours and the Samsung galaxy Tab takes 5 hours.
What is good
– The webOS user interface is great, the usage of cards and Synergy makes the navigation efficient and fun
– Synergy allows the aggregation of messaging, calendars,contacts, photos from various services in one view, that’s brilliant
– Facebook custom application is great
– Performance and multitasking are good
– Battery life and charging time are good
What is not so good
– Touch interface is unstable
– Severe lack of applications
– Skype and video calls integration has to be re-worked
– Copy/paste has to be debugged
– measured performance
What could be better
Overall, the aesthetics of the OS user interface could be improved and some basic functions that are not working well have to be fixed – Skype chat, copy/paste, touch interface.
The device could be a little less heavy and bulky although it looks elegant and solid.
The innovative “card interface” invented by Palm that inspired other mobile manufacturers <link to playbook> could be improved by removing the animation between each new card/page launch within applications (example: browser, email, Facebook messaging section).
The HP TouchPad did not stand up to expectations, so much that it died before getting a chance to be improved. We express our deepest condolences to the Palm team who invented the brilliant webOS user interface.
Besides a less sexy design than the competition, the major roadblock for consumers to purchase it (at a $500 price point) is the severe lack of applications, and we all know that now, the value is in the software. The PlayBook is facing a similar challenge, that is why RIM recently decided to unify its mobile offering under one single Operating System.