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The gloss plastic finish of the HP TouchPad gives is a spiffy feel that may weigh you down if you're holding it all day, but it feels solid and sturdy in the hands. It's well designed and appealing
In terms of slickness, the webOS give Apple's iOS a real run for its money. It may not be quite as intuitive but it's easily as much fun to use
The absence of a rear camera is surprising, even though video shot on a tablet is rarely Oscar-worthy. Still, it didn't affect back sales of the first iPad, did it?
The processor is fast but not quite fast enough - opening apps can take an age even though they run nicely once they're open
Depending on usage, of course, this will get you through a full day without any worries. But nightly recharges are required
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 4:01:22 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Great look and feel. Slick operating system
Too few apps. Processor slow to open apps
This time last year you could have any tablet as long as it was an iPad. Twelve months later there's a feast of rivals on the shelves, with more on the way. Even so, if you find Android as chaotic as a Wild West land grab, or don't have a BlackBerry phone so feel the PlayBook isn't suitable for you, you're still stuck with the iPad.
Except now there's a new tablet on the block with its very own operating system. Make no mistake, the HP TouchPad is super-slick and a genuine alternative to the other tabs out there.
Let's start with the kit itself: like the iPad, it has a 9.7-inch screen with 768x1,024 resolution. But while Apple's device is slim and light thanks to its sturdy aluminium casing, the all-gloss, all-plastic TouchPad is heavier by 130g and thicker by almost 2mm. Compare the two and you can feel the weight difference. But without both in the room, you won't mind. The HP feels classy and solid and is still light enough to be manageable. It's almost identical in weight to the first iPad in its 3G configuration, though this machine is Wi-Fi-only.
Still, the plastic casing should mean a SIM card slot could be added without seriously altering the design (the iPad had to incorporate a plastic strip across the top edge of its aluminium body to let the 3G antenna connect to the outside world). Like the iPad, and unlike every other tablet out there, there's a home button at the base of the screen, called the Centre key. This oval button sits centrally, as it does on the iPad, but has a strip of light behind it so it can gently flash to let you know there's a message or other notification waiting for your attention.
Where the iPad has one speaker on the back corner of the device, the TouchPad's stereo speakers lie on the left edge, which is good for listening to music or watching video with the tablet in landscape orientation. On the top edge you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack and power button, while the right edge houses the volume rocker. There's a Micro USB connector on the base of the TouchPad, but like the BlackBerry PlayBook you need a special high-voltage charger: plug in a regular phone charger and you'll get a message warning you the tablet may not charge.
The only other thing you'll notice in the lush plastic casing is the camera. It faces towards you so you can use it for video calls. There's no camera on the back. Please note, HP, that Apple got no end of stick for omitting a camera from its first iPad, so don't be surprised if this oversight proves problematic with consumers. Personally, I'm not sure it's such a big issue - a tablet really isn't easy to hold for still shots and video. After all, can you think of a dedicated camera or camcorder that would be improved by being this size and shape?
Pretty cool hardware, then. As neat as the HTC Flyer or BlackBerry PlayBook and way more stylish than the Motorola Xoom, for instance. But with the TouchPad, it's the software that's key.
HP snapped up Palm, the consistently underrated company that gave us the Pilot and later the Treo and Pre phones, in 2010. The excellent webOS interface that launched with the Palm Pre has now been turned into a tablet UI, and it works a treat.
Unlike the iPad or Android systems that have multiple home pages decorated with widgets and shortcuts, webOS has one screen. At the bottom are six icons for browser, email, calendar, messaging and photos, with a final button to take you to the launcher. Here you'll find all the apps, as you would on other systems. Apart from Apple, HP has the most graphically exciting setup available. Touch the screen and under your finger a ripple briefly appears. It's an oddly enjoyable, personal effect. I love it.
Once you've launched an app, it fills the screen. You can minimise it to a card (complete with curved edges that match the shape of the TouchPad) in the middle of the pad. Just touch the Centre button or flick your finger up from the base of the screen. This is the basis of the machine's multitasking, as apps you haven't closed sit alongside each other in card size.
BlackBerry has this too, but Palm put it on the Pre phones first. It works slightly differently here as the bezel on the TouchPad isn't sensitised the way it is on the PlayBook. Then, like on BlackBerry's tab, to get rid of a program you simply flick it off screen. Unlike BlackBerry, there's a quiet but satisfying whooshing sound as the program disappears.
It's this kind of subtle detail that sets the webOS apart from the likes of Android, although HTC's beautiful overlay of Android is as stylish and rich. And the way you can put multiple cards in stacks to neaten the effect is impressive. It takes a little getting used to how to do this - it's not quite as intuitive as using the iPad - but once you've got the knack, it's rewarding. The system does it for you in some cases - in email, for instance, when you're composing a reply a new card appears on top of the email app.
Launch the web browser and the virtual keyboard appears. Note that there's a fifth line of keys that shows numbers and other symbols, which is handy. Even better, you can adjust the size of the keys if you find them too big or small for finger comfort (hold down the minimise keyboard key to access the four sizes). There's also a neat language for how you interact with programs. If you see three parallel lines in the bottom left corner, draw your finger across it and it'll pull that panel back to show you the previous one.
The webOS is comfortable with Flash and in tests, it played video content smoothly. There's currently no way to download movies, though this may change when developers come up with more apps.
Ah yes, apps. You'll have been wondering when I'd get to them. Of course, it's no surprise that the App Catalog is lighter on apps than Apple's busy App Store. There are 8,000 webOS-designed apps for the Pre, but they will only run in a small window - you can't magnify them to fill the screen as you can with iPhone apps on the iPad.
Then there's a much smaller number of dedicated TouchPad apps - at around 300, there's a long way to go to reach critical mass, though the number of apps specifically for Android tablets is still tiny, too.
Besides, the TouchPad has only just launched, so expect more apps to ramp up the store massively. At least there's Angry Birds HD (which is free), Facebook and Kindle, though the latter is not yet available to UK users. To help you find what you're looking for, there's a magazine called Pivot that appears when you launch the App Catalog. It's nicely done, even though some of the apps are US-only.
Pricing of apps is around the same as on Android - in other words, there's a weird range of price bands, unlike Apple's simpler price framework, but they're not routinely expensive (BlackBerry, I'm looking at you). Though, be warned, there are surprises here, too. Like the book Kafka Comes to America, which costs £20.72.
When you're searching for apps, each one specifies whether it's for TouchPad or not, which is handy. Search is something Palm always did well. Just type in the search function that sits in a text box on the screen. Tap the box and type whatever you need. The TouchPad will look locally for email subjects, recipients, contacts, calendar entries and more. It displays suggestions as you type. As you keep typing and the possibilities are narrowed, it offers to search maps, Wikipedia, Twitter and more. Or you can simply perform a Quick Action like creating a new email or updating your Facebook status.
The TouchPad has a fast processor - 1.2GHz - but at times it's slow. Especially the accelerometer, which only goes fast when you don't want it to. As for apps, if you're used to the whizziness of the iPad 2, you will notice a difference in speed. Mostly its just opening apps that takes time, and once open they fly, but it can leave you impatient at first. Leave the apps quietly functioning in the background and you can avoid this launch issue, but it will reduce battery life.
That battery life is not bad, but not as long as the iPad 2, for instance. It'll get you through a day's regular use and sit happily for days in standby mode. Don't use it and it'll last for a long time. Use it all day and expect seven or eight hours. You can recharge it conventionally with a cable to the mains or with the Touchstone optional accessory, which charges the tablet wirelessly - just like on the Palm Pre phones. It's pretty cool. And there are other things that can be done wirelessly.
There are relatively few extra features: there's no GPS, only the A-GPS that uses Wi-Fi information to pinpoint your location. There's no SIM card, though a model with phone network connections is planned, and the omission of a gyroscope is disappointing.
If you don't want an Apple product, this is easily the best 10-inch tablet available, though Samsung has a slim model on its way.
This is a handsome, well-built iPad alternative. The operating system is irresistible and easy to get used to. But without the range of apps required for a tablet and a CPU that lags just a little too often, it's not the iPad beater it should be. The lack of rear camera is also a glaring omission. However, as the App Catalog grows and HP implements updates to make the hardware work faster, the TouchPad will become an increasingly important player.