TouchPad a Mixed Bag
Update: This article will look incredibly familiar to one written slightly earlier, which I missed, by Stephen Hackett over at Forkbombr. It wasn’t my intention to mimic his format. I encourage you to follow the link and check out his thoughts as well.
HP has certainly tightened up much of what Palm started, and navigating the TouchPad quickly became not only second nature, but an experience I found myself missing going back to the iPad or a Honeycomb device. It’s good enough that it sticks with you — like a catchy song you can’t get out of your head; but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any out of tune moments with this device.
From the start of using this tablet, it was clear to me that HP had some work left to do on tuning and tightening the OS, and that lack of polish created frustrating and disappointing moments while using the TouchPad.
Typing on the TouchPad’s virtual keyboard—the first in a webOS device—was a mixed bag.
The keyboard has five rows instead of the four on the iPad, which spares you from the iPad’s tedious switching of keyboard layouts to, say, type numbers or exclamation points. And you can shrink or enlarge the keyboard, a nice touch.
However, the TouchPad’s auto-correct didn’t insert the apostrophe in some common words, such as “don’t” and “won’t,” slowing me down, and it lacks the common feature that inserts a period when you hit the space bar twice, a feature I missed constantly.
The speakers likewise impress — as you’d hope given the cavernous cut-outs they receive on the side. HP stopped short of slapping a Beats logo on the device but makes no qualms about talking up its branded inclusion in marketing materials. In most ways the speakers deliver, offering (relatively) full sound compared to the tinny mess we’re used to. That said, we were surprised to find maximum volume to actually be lower than what the stereo slivers on either side of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 can manage.
With its glossy black plastic chassis and nicely rounded corners, the TouchPad looks fairly attractive from the front, but the back of this tablet smudges up quickly with fingerprints. We’d much prefer a matte or soft-touch surface, as found on the BlackBerry PlayBook and HP’s Pre 2 and 3 smartphones. We also noticed some minor creaking on the left side.
Weighing 1.6 pounds and measuring 0.54 inches thick, the TouchPad is heavier and thicker than the original iPad (1.5 pounds, 0.5 inches), nevermind the super-slim iPad 2 (1.3 pounds, 0.34 inches) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab (1.25 pounds, 0.34 inches). We felt the strain on our arm when trying to use the slate one-handed after several minutes.
The TouchPad can directly download third-party apps through the built-in HP App Catalog. Here again, HP took a chance to do distinguish itself from the app-buying experience on the iPad or Android Market. As a platform, WebOS does not have the volume of apps to match its competitors, and at this point in the game, there’s probably no catching up. Instead, HP has designed a curated buying experience on the TouchPad as a way to highlight quality content and to give the developers behind those apps a chance to shine.
Like most other tablets on the market right now, I’m far more excited about the device’s potential than I am about the product I have in my hands today. Honeycomb could be great with a visual overhaul, more attention to detail and some unique, defining features. The BlackBerry PlayBook could be great with, well, an email client (among other things). And the TouchPad could be great some day too, but not today.
Today, the TouchPad is a solid tablet that definitely exhibits what I have come to call tabletitis. It is a jack of all trades, master of none, that shows tons of potential but isn’t quite there yet. The hardware is lacking and the software needs a shot of adrenaline.
Lots to love, but unfortunately, also lots of 1.0 bugs and flaws. It’s decidedly a first generation product facing second generation competition. On the upside, it seems like the foundation is solid, so let’s hope HP can quickly build on it.