2013 Clean Out: HP TouchPad: Dead Product Review

This is part of my end-of-the-year cleaning of draft posts. I wrote this two years ago about HP’s severely-discounted self-imposed failure that was the TouchPad tablet. I intended to review it thoroughly but never finished the review and never will. I’m posting it here in its draft state for anyone interested. I still have my TouchPad, running Android 4.2 via Cyanogen Mod. It makes a nice digital photo frame ūüôā

“Another one bites the dust” I thought as I read that HP had decided to discontinue their tablet platform after only six weeks on the market. ¬†“If they cut the price to $100, I’ll buy one”, I said. ¬†Two days later HP cut the price of its TouchPad tablet from $400 to $100 and the frenzy began. ¬†That was four weeks ago. ¬†After a bit of camping out at Wal Mart, Staples, and Best Buy, and a cancelled order from Office Max, I finally received my $100 HP Touch Pad. ¬†Make no mistake, the platform is dead, but it still makes a nice browser, email client, and picture frame for the price. Plus I’m interested in other platforms and this was a cheap way to play with one.

Packaging and Hardware

The TouchPad ships in a white box that for all intents and purposes looks like a fatter, more square version of an iPad box. The box opens like a drawer, which I thought was cool until I realized that it created such a strong vacuum that you almost had to tear the box apart to get the TouchPad out. ¬†The package is layered in a similar fashion to the iPad, with the TouchPad on top wrapped in plastic and a small packet containing setup instructions, a gesture guide, and a cleaning cloth below. ¬†The pad itself is wrapped in plastic and has the phase “Designed by HP in California” embossed on the back of it. ¬†Sound familiar?¬†Overall the packaging is very similar in material, look, and feel to an iPad. ¬†HP did a good job making the TouchPad feel upscale, even though they did it by blatantly copying the competition.

At a quick glance the TouchPad looks just like an iPad. ¬†It has a similar 9.7″ screen, shape, and black bezel. ¬†It is slightly thicker and has slightly rounder edges than an iPad, but otherwise looks very similar. ¬†There is a camera above the screen (sorry, no camera on the back), a single “home” style button below the screen, a lock button on the top right, a volume button on the right side, and a headphone jack on the top left, all the same as the iPad. ¬†The one area¬†where the TouchPad differs is the placement of the speakers – they are on the top and bottom of the left side of the device, presumably to enhance the device’s Beats-driven sounds.

The TouchPad is easy to hold, weighing in slightly heavier than the original iPad. ¬†While that isn’t too bad in comparison, it isn’t as light as an iPad 2. The edges make it easy to hold¬†without gouging your hands and help you grip the device. The screen is bright and looks nice – not as nice as an iPad’s, but still nice. ¬†HP added an interesting touch to the home button – it has an LED in the middle that blinks while the device is locked – not the most useful feature, but interesting. Overall the TouchPad is a fine piece of hardware. ¬†The buttons feel a little cheap at times but otherwise it’s nice.

Initial Setup

After pressing the home or sleep button you are greeted with an animated pulsating HP logo in the center of the screen. ¬†You wait, and wait, and wait, and then, no you wait some more, and finally the setup screen starts. ¬†While you hopefully wouldn’t be cold-starting the tablet often, it does take a long time if you do – somewhere over two minutes. ¬†Once the tablet starts up, you are greeted by the setup wizard. ¬†The first thing I noticed about the TouchPad’s software was that it tells you where you’ve touched the screen by showing an animated circle after you lift your finger. ¬†It seems superfluous and unnecessary to me since you just put your finger down and probably wouldn’t forget where you put it, but it may be useful users new to a touch device.

The setup wizard has you confirm your language, connect to a wireless network, agree to the license agreement, and then create a WebOS account. Setup was easy and works as expected. ¬†It’s interesting that you have to create a WebOS account. ¬†Without one you cannot even use the device. ¬†The account includes a backup capability, but I don’t think it’s automatic. ¬†Bravo to HP for releasing a device that is “PC-free” right out of the box but as a user I’m still confused as to what my WebOS account gets me other than access to my device. ¬†It will be interesting during the TouchPad’s afterlife to see if it eventually becomes useless when HP finally shuts down its WebOS account servers.

A final note about my initial impressions Рonce you create your WebOS account, the TouchPad restarts.  Why?! Why do all of these devices restart after you set them up? It is so very annoying to get through all of the setup ready to use your device and have to wait for a restart. Gah!

User Experience

I’ve always been interested in the WebOS because it seems to be well thought out. ¬†The interface looks more refined than Android but the platform is a bit more flexible than the iOS, making it a nice middle ground. One of the necessary features of tablets these days is the ability to display in either landscape or portrait orientation and to switch between them. ¬†The iPad does this very well – rotating the screen and gently moving the screen elements into their new locations with a nice animation. ¬†Android tablets do this horribly – flashing from one orientation to the next as if they just had a seizure. The WebOS tries to be more like the iOS and uses a pleasing animation, however the rotation is buggy and some screen elements still end up in the same location that they were in before.

The keyboard on the TouchPad is really nice. It includes a small row of number keys above the top row of letters (like on a real keyboard) that make it very easy to enter numbers and additional symbols. There is no need to switch to a separate keyboard screen to enter the @ symbol or a number, which makes entering email addresses and passwords a snap.  The iOS needs this option. Badly.

While still a touch-based platform, the WebOS is uniquely different from both the iOS and Android. ¬†Like the iOS, it depends only one button – the home button – to perform its tasks. ¬†It has no back button or menu button like Android. But instead of building a navigation and toolbar structure into the apps, it provides a system-wide menu bar. ¬†The application name shows up on the left – tapping it brings down a menu that contains commands for the application as well as the standard cut, copy, and paste. ¬†The right side of the menu bar is more interesting because it houses the clock and notification area. ¬†Tapping the area brings down a convenient menu that displays the date, the battery percentage, a brightness control, a volume control, wifi information, rotation lock, airplane mode control, and mute options. ¬†It’s extremely convenient and its always there making it easy to change some of the common settings for the device. ¬†It’s a nice.

What isn’t nice is the lack of consistent navigation. ¬†The WebOS does not provide a consistent navigation mechanism to move between screens in an application. Instead it is up to the developer to create their own. ¬†Some apps use the older WebOS style back button at the top of the screen, others put a small button on the bottom left, while others put a large button centered on the bottom. Navigation varies widely between apps and it quickly becomes confusing. WebOS phones include a gesture area at the bottom that allowed the user to swipe back to go back in an application. The gesture area is not available on the TouchPad and it seems as if HP just tore out the functionality without putting in a replacement.

Overall the WebOS is a pleasant-looking platform.  I find its theme to be a bit more pleasing and its configuration a bit less intimidating than Android.

  • home button lights up
  • hit home button to switch apps – drag app up to quit
  • backs up to the cloud
  • nice default blue diagonal background
  • Each setting is a different app, as opposed to being one app
  • Wallpaper selection is odd – stored in screen settings, displays a small window with small thubmnails and a small preview
  • When apps load, they show up in a card and the icon pulsates – like mac os x bouncing
  • Software manager is where app updates are stored
  • It has ringtones (?)
  • Designed out of the box for over the air updates
    • will automatically update over time
  • UI is fluid and card metaphor is very nice
  • sad that you can’t see the background picture unless no apps are running. you can see it on lock screen. ¬†there are no separate background.
  • cards are rotated slightly to the right. ¬†The edges are not antialiased.

Apps

  • Browser
    • Opened in one “pulse”
    • scrolling not quite as smooth as iPad
    • supports flash
    • settings are accessed from menu. ¬†Not a lot of back navigation in OS
    • def loads than iPad
    • view port “wanders” – it scrolls side to side outside of the content of the page even though the page fits. ¬†annoying.
    • tabs are shown as separate cards in the app view
    • while running v8 benchmark the browser cards could not be quit
  • Email
    • Notifications show up in menu bar
    • Gmail setup was easy
    • Figured out comcast account, but assumed IMAP
    • Could not see outgoing mail server password when i typed in password
    • mail app looks nice, but is SLOW
    • lists do not show scrollbars at all – no indication of how long the list is
    • can open word documents in an external app (quick office)
  • Calendar
    • Not all apps open up after they load – some just stay in the card view waiting for you to tap them
    • looks nice but transitions from one view to another are slow. ¬†Nothing displays for several seconds
  • Chat
  • Photos
    • Can sign into Facebook to view your photos
  • Facebook
    • App is just a link to the HP App Catalog. ¬†Must download it
  • App Store
    • Called HP App Catalog
    • Layout is clean for app pages, however FB screen shots needed to be rotated to the right and could not be zoomed
    • Download / Install feature doesn’t take you out of the store.
    • Done in background (nice). ¬†Button turns into a Launch button after installed.

Performance

Slow. Scrolling is reasonable but quickly becomes laggy; web pages take a while to load; apps in general take a while to open. Not nearly as fast as an iPad. I have no idea how Palm / HP thought this could compete at the same price point…

Overall

A cool platform that just didn’t seem complete. The OS has interesting features but I often found areas that looked like they were simply never finished – navigation paths that you could not get out of without quitting the app, buttons that didn’t function. The software still wasn’t done even after updates.

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