Quick Look - HP TouchPad

Round three of my slate shakedown continues with the HP TouchPad. Yes, HP has thrown it's hat in the slate ring this year borrowing heavily from the advances made by Palm's webOS software. But can the muscle of a hardware giant like HP and the software talent from Palm, now owned by HP, produce a slate that improves upon the likes of the BlackBerry PlayBook and 7" Samsung Galaxy Tab? Unfortunately, not by very much.

PROS: multitasking, PIM support, app selection, build quality, accessories, speakers

CONS: sluggish performance, no SD slot, high price, poor productivity, complicated setup


The HP TouchPad is a 9.7" webOS device coming in at 9.5x7.5x0.5 inches in size and hitting the scales at roughly 1.6lbs. It is larger and heavier than both the PlayBook and Galaxy Tab, making it about as nimble as a 10" netbook. The screen is fairly decent, however, and the coating seems to resist fingerprints rather well.

I found webOS to perform similar to the BlackBerry PlayBook. Launching, switching and exiting apps is very simple. However, at times the system would bog down to a crawl when tapping on a link, refusing to respond, and then creating havoc with multiple windows opening in succession. In other cases, even simple tasks such as typing a longer blog post can result in text on the screen being distorted as the cursor moves along a line. That's certainly a shame, as the optional keyboard accessory makes typing on the slate near mimic the ease of a netbook.

Unfortunately, that's as far as my typing went on the TouchPad. While the browser recognizes Blogger's composer window for text input, the window refuses to scroll once text reaches the bottom, meaning that you cannot see anything you type further. Trying to scroll merely moves the entire web page up and down on the screen, and not the block of text inside your text window. Fail TouchPad, Fail HP, Fail webOS.

Unlike the PlayBook, the selection of apps on the TouchPad was more substantial, but I still couldn't find anything particularly useful. Yes, the slate comes with PIM functionality standard, but while the device does link your webOS account with a tasks feature, the tasks app itself was nowhere to be found.

The included YouTube app worked well on regular video, but HD playback was choppy. To my surprise the browser was able to load Hulu video. Playback, however, was a whole different story - video was very low frame-rate, stuttering and out of sync with audio. Trying to watch a mp4 or wmv video file with the included video player was a no-go as well. Certainly not the playback experience worthy of a consumption device.

Audio playback fared much better, and the beats audio sound processor makes the stereo speakers perform rather well. It's nice that you can listen to music while multitasking. But the lack of any sound-shaping functionality in the form of an adjustable EQ, paired with just basic playback controls, won't be winning over any audiophiles.

And if you're thinking of moving files over to the TouchPad from your PC over USB, enjoy the wait - transfer rates on average reached only 5MB/s. Another annoying bug - you can delete files from within albums (folders), but cannot delete an empty album. Connecting to a PC in USB drive mode to try to do this doesn't work either. There is an "erase USB drive" option in settings, but even doing this still leaves phantom empty albums showing up on the device! If you're one of those people who likes to add/remove music all the time, be prepared for a real PITA. I am dumbfounded that webOS lacks a proper file explorer - even Windows Mobile 6.5 has far better capability in that regard.


Just like the PlayBook, the TouchPad will force you to create an account before you can get the device working. That means opening up your wifi network, as the setup procedure won't work with MAC filtering enabled. A more significant problem is that webOS won't even create an account at all if you happen to have a very short name.

Good luck getting your TouchPad set up!
That's because the very first entry box in the webOS account setup screen asks for the user's first and last name. But enter something that's 7 characters or less, like Ed Fox or Amy Ng, and you will get the incredibly unhelpful message shown here. I waited, I tried again, I turned off all wifi security protocols, I even went on a neighbors wifi network, and I still had no luck. No, I did not have an existing account, the password was correct and the email address I used was not already registered. Even after an exhaustive late-evening hour-long phone conversation with HP's level 2 tech support, I was still unable to have a working device in my hands.

The solution, after stumbling upon it, was to type in a name combination longer than 8 characters. After setup was finally complete and the device ready to go, I went back into my account and changed the name back to what I originally wanted.

Hardly what I would call an impressive out-of-the-box experience!

I'm still trying to come up with a reason why getting online and creating an account is necessary at all just to get a slate to work. Windows 7 on a brand-new netbook doesn't require anything of the sort, you simply enter an Administrator user name during setup and you're done. Yes, you need to get online and check for updates, but that should be a step taken AFTER you have the device up and running. Likewise, registering your hardware should always remain an option for the consumer. Forcing users to divulge their name and email address to obtain working functionality I think is wrong. Forcing users to do that and then display a message that translates into "up yours" is worse than bad.

The TouchPad includes a webcam and support for Skype, but getting the two to work was impossible. The device refused to sign me in to either my work or personal Skype account, doing nothing but hanging at the login screen with a revolving busy circle. No error message, no Skype functionality, nothing. Is there any more insult to injury the TouchPad has to offer?

Finally, while the QuickOffice app does a nice job of letting you open Word and Excel docs, it offers no editing capability. That's a real shame considering that the optional keyboard accessory, paired with a basic MS Works-like app, would bring some real value for business and home users. Or you could just buy a C-50 multimedia netbook for $300 and tack on MS Works for $29.


The keyboard makes full-page text editing easy
I took the liberty of picking up a few extra items with my TouchPad purchase, namely the wireless keyboard accessory, touchstone charging dock and the case/cover. These three extras alone totaled over $200 - something to keep in mind when factoring in the price of a slate versus a netbook.

The cover does a very nice job of protecting the slate from damage and scratches, something you will need to be mindful of when dealing with a naked touchscreen device on the go. It has openings on the sides for all the ports and buttons and holds the slate firmly in place using rubberized plastic. It doesn't add much to the weight and has a non-slip surface that's better to hold than the glossy plastic used on the TouchPad. When open, the cover doubles as a landscape stand with two different angles of tilt - useful when working with the slate on a desk.

Charge your slate on-the-go while you work
The touchstone charging dock works well as a stand and charger, making use of the cover unnecessary. The USB cable can plug into the included AC adapter or an external battery like the Energizer XP8000 or XP18000 (reviewed by lgpOnTheMove here) for mobile charging. The downside is that the cable is fixed to the stand, meaning that if you only want to bring it along to use with the keyboard, the cable will hog precious space in your gear bag and be left dangling uselessly off your table. On the plus side, the dock does tilt at any angle, making it an extremely useful add-on if you want to double your slate as a text editing terminal, especially since the screen works so well for documents when mounted in portrait orientation.

And that's where the wireless keyboard comes in. Measuring in at 11.25x5.25 inches, it's not that much larger than the keyboard on my 10" HP 210 Mini netbook. Too bad that it's actually too big to fit in my 10" netbook case, meaning you'll need a bigger gear bag if you're taking that keyboard along with your slate.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the true usefulness of this keyboard. Lack of bona-fide document creation/editing apps on webOS and poor web blogging performance are two big problems already inherent with the TouchPad. And while the addition of dedicated cursor keys makes editing text simple, the lack of a delete key ends up being totally frustrating. With only a backspace key available, it makes it impossible to delete text forward of your cursor - you must move the cursor forward with the right arrow and then use backspace, a method that is completely counter-productive!


Being able to access the web and get to my blog with a slate is great. But when I have to grab for my netbook if I want to respond to a comment, or post something beyond a few sentences, simply defeats any/all purpose! I just don't see the benefit behind a handicapped device. And that $600 entry price (32GB model) versus $400 for a top-of-the-line netbook makes it hurt even more.

$800-left; $450-right - netbook beats slate!
I won't even get into the lack of Netflix/Hulu video streaming, as that is something that likely won't be improving any time soon. The absence of a functioning file explorer means the TouchPad will be littered with phantom empty folders over time that cannot be deleted. But missing any document creation capability, and in particular the broken text editing support for blogging, is a painful flaw that will prevent slates from gaining any ground beyond just an expensive and mostly useless luxury toy. Why invest in a slate if the apps needed to make it perform and be truly useful don't exist?

The ugly truth is you pay a heavy price premium today for gaining just a fancy touch UI, while being forced to sacrifice common functionality and features - traits more akin with Apple hardware than HP. In fact, this is the first HP product I've seen that has put form over function.

To be brutally honest, even the QuickWeb feature on HP's 210 Mini netbook is more useful than webOS on the TouchPad. There, I said it.

Given their evolution from smartphones, it is clear slate hardware (and software) still has a long way to go. Maybe in two years time slates will get the video hardware capable of flawless browser-based streaming in any codec/format. Except in two years time netbooks will be shipping with even more capable 22nm quad-core Atom processors using integrated HD graphics not unlike today's Sandy Bridge.

As it stands, I'm going to have to return this device too, as the HP TouchPad, accessories and all, simply fails to provide an experience even vaguely comparable to a lesser-priced Windows 7 netbook.




  1. The fact that your keywords are HP Slate (an unrelated device) immediately brings question to your knowledge in this space...

  2. @Andreas

    Pay more careful attention and you will notice that those two words are two separate categories, one for manufacturer and one for device type, listed alphabetically and separated by a comma - I'm pretty sure I know a Windows 7 device when I see one!