The HP TouchPad is HP's answer to Apple's ever-conquering iPad 2. It's the first tablet to run the company's webOS operating system — software HP acquired from Palm when it bought the struggling company for US$1.2 billion in 2010. Although we love the TouchPad's intuitive software, great audio performance and ease of use, its design does little to stand out amongst slimmer and lighter competitors, and the lack of dedicated tablet apps make it a tough sell.
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HP TouchPad: Design and display
At first glance, the HP TouchPad looks like a very attractive tablet. The gloss black bezel, rounded edges and a physical home button that pulses to show notifications are all nice touches. A lot of work seems to have gone into the packaging, too — the HP TouchPad's box slides out like a drawer on the right side, giving it a very Apple-like feel. This extends right down to the box housing the documentation, USB cable and AC charger, which is labelled with, "Now comes the fun part."
Sadly, fun can be short-lived and that's the exact impression you're left with once you get your hands on the HP TouchPad. At 740g, it's not exactly lightweight. In fact, of all tablets currently sold in Australia, only the hefty Toshiba Tablet (771g) is heavier than the thick and bulky TouchPad. Though its rounded design makes it comfortable to hold, the TouchPad looks like an oversized paper weight when placed next to an iPad 2 or the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Adding to the mess is the rear of the tablet, which is amongst the best fingerprint magnets we've ever come across. The HP TouchPad turns even the slightest touch into a grubby masterpiece, and is therefore impossible to keep clean.
The HP TouchPad has a 9.7in capacitive touchscreen. Although there's nothing remarkable about this display, it is comparable to most other tablets on the market, including the iPad. The HP TouchPad's screen is bright, responsive to touch and produces vibrant colours, though its glossy surface means it reflects too much light. Sadly, the TouchPad's touch accuracy could be improved; the "ripple" effect that displays on the screen when you touch it often appears slightly below where you have actually touched the screen. Though not a huge issue, it's mostly evident when tapping the thin notifications bar at the top of the screen, and can cause some minor frustration.
HP TouchPad: webOS software and performance
The HP TouchPad's webOS operating system instantly seems like a natural fit for tablets. It's much easier to pick up and use than Google Android's Honeycomb UI, and handles multitasking infinitely better than Apple's iOS platform.
The key feature of the TouchPad is the card system — a unique way of swiping through multiple, open applications. You simply press the physical home button, or swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen (regardless of the orientation of the TouchPad) to display all current open applications, called cards. From here, you can close apps simply be swiping the cards up and off the screen, or launch new apps from the menu below. You can also group any open cards into "stacks" by dragging them on top of each other. Combined with an intuitive and elegant notifications system, the HP TouchPad handles multitasking with effortless ease.
Using the TouchPad on a day-to-day basis just feels natural. Whether it's opening or closing apps, swiping between open apps, and even basic tasks like unlocking the display, the entire process seems to suit the larger tablet form factor.
Unfortunately, the more we used the TouchPad and its webOS software, the more we found things we didn't like. For every thing the TouchPad does well, it does something poorly. For instance, the lock screen shows handy notifications, but there is no way to unlock directly into these, and considering the large display, their small size seems like a very odd design choice. The Web browser displays Flash, but our experience was less than satisfactory — sometimes it worked, other times it did not. The browser renders pages well, and each new window opening as a card is handy, but performance is sluggish compared to most of the competition.