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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.

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RE: A Familiar Refrain
By lightfoot on 7/1/2011 12:42:20 PM , Rating: 2
At this point in time what possible advantage could a non-iPad tablet have which would out weigh it's disadvantages compared to an iPad - for a normal average consumer?

You mean other than price, superior hardware, functionality the ability to upgrade the memory, not be forced to use iTunes to get all your content, standardized connectors and the ability to freely subscribe to content services?

I really don't know - the lack of the Apple logo is a major deal breaker for many.

RE: A Familiar Refrain
By Tony Swash on 7/2/2011 5:15:20 AM , Rating: 2
You mean other than price, superior hardware, functionality the ability to upgrade the memory, not be forced to use iTunes to get all your content, standardized connectors and the ability to freely subscribe to content services?

Let's pick that apart a bit - from the point of view of a normal consumer. Remember the task here is to look at what might guide the purchase decisions of normal average consumers - not what affects your own consumer choices.

Price - as far as I can see there is no competing tablet that whilst having the same screen size, weight and equivalent build quality significantly undercuts the iPad on price. And the iPad price is not out of the ballpark, it's not dirt cheap but it's in the sort of price range accessible by a very large segment of the population.

Superior hardware (love to know what you mean by that) and the ability to upgrade memory - normal consumers just aren't interested in that sort of stuff unless it offers palpable concrete advantages - which it doesn't. The iPad feels very fast and responsive, is as fast and and responsive as competing tablets and because of the combined design of the OS and hardware feels like a very well specced piece of kit. Generally unless it has a real world benefit normal consumers don't care about spec sheets, they care more about brand reputations and Apple is a leading brand.

iTunes - most normal consumers love the easy one click synchronisation of iTunes and love the iTunes store (hence the billions of apps and music sold). iTunes is the gateway to one of the key advantages that the iPad has which is Apple's unmatched ecosystem and content library. And of course almost all major content services are available on iOS.

I cannot see what advantages competing tablets have over the iPad and obviously neither can the bulk of normal consumers as they seem to prefer the iPad by a factor of tenfold to other offerings. That's how this issue of what tablet has the best offering will be resolved, empirically by the choices actually made by consumers. Of course once the consumers have decided and if they go for the Apple offering (which is what is currently happening) one could fall back on the old 'apple zombie fans are all hypnotised sheeple' line but why would one want to do that in public, it only makes one look juvenile, dopey and mentally incontinent.

RE: A Familiar Refrain
By Pirks on 7/4/2011 10:58:56 AM , Rating: 2
if they go for the Apple offering (which is what is currently happening) one could fall back on the old 'apple zombie fans are all hypnotized sheeple' line but why would one want to do that in public, it only makes one look juvenile, dopey and mentally incontinent... Motoman

"Apple does not compete on the merits of it's products...including their reliability. They compete on the fact that they're Apple, and you're not. Apple consumers will report that they are ecstatically happy with their Apple products regardless of whether or not they blow up, fail immediately, can't be used in the sun, or whatever. If Apple products immediately killed every member of your family once opening the box, they'd still have 100% customer satisfaction ratings. Marketing propaganda. In the same way that Bose and Monster Cable consumers are convinced that they've bought the best stuff in the world, the same is true of Apple consumers. Reality has nothing to do with it." (C) Motoman

some hot foaming words from good ol' Moto, the main "Apple sheeple" propagandist here :)

"If you can find a PS3 anywhere in North America that's been on shelves for more than five minutes, I'll give you 1,200 bucks for it." -- SCEA President Jack Tretton

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