HP TouchPad
Reviews lay their hands on HP's new tablet, but it isn't quite a homerun

HP has a lot to prove with its 9.7" TouchPad. Not only does the webOS-based device have to counter market-dominating iPad 2 (and a host of Honeycomb-based tablets), but it must also live up to HP's own expectations of being "better than number one".

I. TouchPad Hardware

When it comes to specs, the TouchPad is no slouch. It packs in a 1024x768 display (matching the iPad 2, but falling short of Honeycomb tablets which typically feature a 1280x800 resolution display), 1.2GHz dual-core Scorpion Snapdrapon processor, Adreno 220 GPU, and 1GB of system memory. The TouchPad can be had in capacities of either 16GB ($499) or 32GB ($599).

While the internal specs clearly put the TouchPad toe-to-toe with its present-day competition, the exterior design and dimension are more akin to the first generation iPad. Both the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1 are around 0.34 inches thick; likewise, the iPad 2 weighs in a 1.3 pounds while the Galaxy Tab 10.1 tips the scales at 1.26 pounds. 

The TouchPad, however, is 0.54 inches thick and weighs in at 1.6 pounds. It's interesting to note that Samsung went back to the drawing board to make its Galaxy Tab 10.1 design-competitive when the iPad 2 was announced. HP either didn't have that luxury or just feels that the webOS 3.0 experience will win over customers more so than a sexy, svelte exterior.

II. What Reviewers Think

The embargo for the HP TouchPad lifted yesterday, so the reviews naturally started creeping onto the web. The overall theme for the reviews seems to be that this is a nice effort by HP, but that it has less polish than existing tablets on the market. Couple that lack of polish with a dearth of available apps, performance problems, and buggy behavior and we're left with a tablet that may be a tough sell for many. 

First, let's talk about the positives, starting with the battery life as reported by Tim Stevens of Engadget:

Battery life according to HP is 9 hours for continuous video playback, and in our test (WiFi on, Bluetooth off, video looping) we came close to that: just over eight and a half hours. That puts it slightly ahead of the Motorola Xoom but again behind the Tab and iPad 2. Ultimately this means the tablet will comfortably give you a day of serious use, or multiple days of more casual tapping. 

Josh Topolsky of This is My Next praised the overall webOS 3.0 experience which shouldn't be a surprise considering that most people enjoy the OS on smaller devices like the Pre and Pixi:

General navigation through the OS continues to be carried out through app cards and stacks of cards, which both work beautifully to create a clutter-free multitasking experience. As I said in my original Pre review, cards feel like “half application switcher and half active widget,” and that hasn’t changed much on the TouchPad. Stacks add an even better sense of an overview of your work, and the whole thing flows more naturally than probably any other mobile OS on the market. Palm nailed this the first time, and it still feels wonderful to use.

However, there are plenty of downsides that can dampen the experience as Boy Genius Report points out:

As gorgeous as the software is on the TouchPad, I’m sad to say that performance leaves much to be desired. With a dual-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon processor, this puppy should be a screamin’ demon. Instead, I find that some apps are slow to launch and the device bogs just as often as lesser webOS devices. Scrolling stutters often in a number of applications, and the UI has a tendency to be a bit jerky at times. 

Engadget's criticism was even more biting, with Stevens concluding:

The shortage of apps is a problem, no doubt, but that will change with time. What won't change is the hardware, and there we're left a little disappointed. Holding this in one hand and either an iPad 2 or a Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the other leaves you wondering why you'd ever be compelled to buy the HP when you could have the thinner, lighter alternative for the same money. Meanwhile, the performance left us occasionally wanting and, well, what is there to say… With such compelling alternatives readily available, that's asking rather a lot. 

Topolsky was also overall critical of the device, but at least was a bit optimistic about its future in the marketplace.

Still, the bottom line here is that the stability and smoothness of the user experience is not up to par with the iPad or something like the Galaxy Tab 10.1, even if many of the underlying ideas are actually a lot better and more intuitive than what the competition offers. That, coupled with the minuscule number of quality apps available at launch make this a bit of a hard sell right now. If HP can convince developers to get behind this product, and the company can laser focus on the end-user experience, becoming the number two player in tablets isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Really. 

III. $50 Mail-in Rebate

For those of you that read all the reviews and still want to purchase an HP TouchPad, there's some good news. HP is offering a $50 rebate on the device that would take the 16GB model down to $450 and the 32GB model down to $550. There is one rather large catch though -- you have to show proof of ownership of a Palm Pre, Pre Plus, Pixi, or Pixi Plus to qualify for the rebate.

The promotion runs through July 31.

"Game reviewers fought each other to write the most glowing coverage possible for the powerhouse Sony, MS systems. Reviewers flipped coins to see who would review the Nintendo Wii. The losers got stuck with the job." -- Andy Marken

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