30 Second Review: The HP TouchPad
I was really excited for the HP webOS TouchPad to arrive, anxious even. I thought webOS was a nifty idea when it first emerged on the Palm Pre, and I was optimistic about webOS’s future since HP announced it would be on more than just mobiles. But then I played with an HP TouchPad and got my first real glimpse of the webOS future, and I have to say it’s not what I expected.
For starters, the device is big. It feels really big — unnecessarily big. And not luxury Cadillac-big, but prototype-big. And it’s also made completely out of plastic. That’s not a detraction, but it’s not a plus, especially when many tablets are incorporating some sort of metal frame or design to convey a sense of of durability.
What’s worse are the TouchPad’s buttons. The central ‘home’ button is actually a tiny recessed black pill-shaped oval at the bottom of the device, which is nearly invisible if you have any kind of vision problem. The power and volume buttons are also black, and while they blend well with the curved plastic around the sides of the device, they also present the same problem.
Moving past the plastic, I turned my attention to the webOS operating system for tablets. It does quite a bit right: gorgeous transitions, gorgeous graphics and a visually stunning experience. Plus, webOs handles information intelligently so it’s centrally locatable. I like the status bar showing the strength of wireless connections and the now-infamous multitasking app ‘cards’ that can be shuffled, layered and organized. I was even impressed that a live image of the browser ‘card’ continued to play a Flash YouTube video. That was all a plus. Also nifty was the cute little ‘ripple’ effect when I touched the screen, so I could see where and what exactly I was touching. That’s great for older people or just those who hate not knowing whether the screen is responding to them.
Here’s the problem: The execution is poor. Many reviews said it felt like a first-generation device, but I felt like it was an incomplete device. For example, the map app was poor at guessing partial addresses even when I zoomed into an area of interest. Dropped pins on the map apparently don’t do anything when you tap them. Annoying. On iPad and Android, tapping a map pin offers you an address, possible street view, and if there’s an associated business, the web address and phone number.
HP, if you’re not going to compete on looks or style, you’ve got to have some rock-solid OS running on your black chunk of polycarbonate. Of all the tablets I’ve played with, this is officially the most unresponsive one I’ve ever used. After loading up TheVARGuy.com, I hit the button for a new tab. The ripple showed I had hit the correct button, but nothing happened. I hit it again, and then a third time. Suddenly, three new tabs sprung into life simultaneously, a solid three seconds after touching the button. Three seconds isn’t long in the grand scheme of things, but it matters when your competitors have instant or near-instant response time.
I found this delay issue not just with the browser: In the mail app, touching a new message was followed by a considerable half-second delay before the selected message was highlighted and shown. Scrolling through the message resulted in the same delay. My finger had scrolled to the top of the message before the actual text in the box responded.
This is a huge disappointment. The iPad and iPad 2 are lightning-fast and ultra responsive. The BlackBerry PlayBook and the swath of Android tablets I’ve used — despite the ‘choppy’ nature of graphical transitions — are still responsive. I’ll take responsive over smooth any day, because the end result is no time wasted and no frustration. To be fair, I made sure no other app ‘cards’ were running, and I also tried two different TouchPads with the same result. These were demo units, but if this is what’s acceptable as a demo I don’t see why people are going to buy a TouchPad when the iPad and Android tablets are displayed right next to them in the retail setting.
For the price tag HP is asking ($499 for the 16GB version) HP either needs to do much more work or drop the price by about $100. My advice? Get an iPad 2 or the 10″ Galaxy Tab from Samsung. The Galaxy Tab is the zippiest Android tablet I’ve used, and it’s priced the same as the Touch Pad. Or, save some coin and get an iPad 1. It’ll be more responsive than the Touch Pad and the app library is very well-stocked.