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Multi-tasking in webOS is quietly brilliant.

Wasting time with the fun "Just Draw" app. I call this 1st grade quality masterpiece, "Zombie Invasion vs. Handgun".

Bubble Birds 2.0, one of the few decent free games (sadly) in HP App Catalog.

The "Memo" app -- now I'm finally getting something done! So far, this has been one of the best uses I've found for my new toy.
Tablet proves surprisingly fun, but there's definitely rough edges to this package

I was among those who two Fridays ago jumped online and bought a clearance-priced TouchPad from Hewlett-Packard Company (HPQ).  I wanted to do a quick post with some of my impressions on the device, as I've written about it frequently, but never actually sat around and played with one for longer than a few minutes.

I. The Price is Right

I went all out with my purchase -- I bought a protective case, HP's TouchStone charging dock/stand, and a compatible wireless keyboard from HP.  With various coupon codes, and discounts I received my 32 GB TouchPad for the sweet price of $120 -- roughly 1/3rd of what people had been paying just weeks prior.  My whole purchase came out to roughly $260.

To be honest I never really saw the point of a tablet at the $500 mark -- and I still don't.  To me the main uses of a tablets are notes taking and games.  If I made $250,000 a year, a $500 tablet would make sense, but on my young professional budget, that cost is outweighed by the limited utility -- to me at least.  Some may find other uses -- I can see some parents using it as an education toy-turned-gaming device for children.  

I should mention that I also have unlimited data tethering (Thanks Sprint Nextel (S)!) and a laptop, so the "portability" of a laptop isn't as exciting to me.  For those who don't own a laptop or don't tether, I can see where a tablet would be a new and exciting experience.

That said, I always said that "When tablets hit around $250 I will buy one."  

At that price, the limited utility justifies the cost, for my lifestyle at least.  So when the opportunity came to get a fully loaded TouchPad with all the bells and whistles for $260 USD, I jumped on it.

II. The Good

I want to start things on a positive note.  After about 10 hours of use, I'm actually enjoying webOS 3.0 to a degree.

The keyboard feels very fluid (I have one major gripe -- more later).  And the card-based multi-tasking is intuitive and beats iOS/Android in my mind.  You close apps by simply flicking them upward in the tile view -- brilliant.  And that's not to mention the orientation, which switch super-fast and feels very responsive.

As for the browser, it's on par with Android's in my opinion, offering Flash video (which you can't play in iOS!) and other perks.  Like Android, there will be some sites with incompatible page elements, etc., but most mainstream public sites will be treated well.

The configuration of the device was painless.  Likewise the HP App Catalog was accessed fast and was relatively well laid out.  Downloads and installations of apps were quick and easy.

The customizable homescreen wallpaper is a nice touch.

Scrolling long lists was a bit of a pain, but at least you wouldn't miss your target -- a frequent downside of "kinetic scrolling" schemes (e.g. iOS), which have the unfortunate tendency to overshoot your target.

The apps that I downloaded were also relatively fun.  Games (like Angry Birds) felt as fluid as their Android/iOS counterparts.

Probably the most useful thing in the tablet so far has been the memo app.  I've been using it to jot quick notes I used to use MS Notepad for.  I actually find it's slightly quicker to type out and organize my thoughts on tablet as I don't have to bother with the visual distraction of my laptop's other running apps.  As an added perk, I feel like I'm on Star Trek: The Next Generation writing an engineering report when I take notes on my TouchPad.

The hardware is great, overall -- the processor is fast (1 GHz, dual-core), there's plenty of RAM, and the screen resolution is decent.  HP and its Palm unit did a surprisingly respectable job in that regard.

III. The Bad

That said, webOS had a long ways to go before it would have been a legitimate competitor to Android or iOS.  One thing I always harped on is the lack of apps.  Well guess what?  I was right.

The single biggest downside to webOS is the lack of free apps, in my opinion.  And at the root of this problem is HP's utter failure at promoting developer advertising options.

Yesterday I went through the entire catalog of free apps downloading any one that sounded useful.  Much of the catalog was composed of redundant apps (e.g. a dedicated app for each NFL team), or apps for major newspapers.  There were some gems among the rest of the apps, but there just weren't enough to satisfy most serious smart phone users.

For example there were only 6-7 decent looking games (all of which I grabbed).  When actually playing these, many were built for the lower resolution webOS smart phones or exhibited bugs.  So really the number was arguably even smaller.

Again, I'm still digging, but there seems to be a lot of trash, a little treasure, much like other app stores -- but there's far less apps to dig through.

Again this sordid state is largely because webOS has no built in advertising support, in its standard SDK.  Free apps in Android and iOS come thanks to services like Google Inc.'s (GOOG) AdMob or Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) iAd platform.  For most developers, the only merit of a free webOS app is as a product demo.

To be fair, there is an AdMob SDK for webOS, but it seems like no one (not even Rovio, the Angry Birds folks) is using it.

Call me cheap, but I usually don't pay for a lot of apps on my smart phone, so I'm not planning on starting to with my tablet.  The sad part is that I'm actually somewhat inclined for accidental ad clicks on smart phones/tablets, so over an app's lifetime I'd probably make developers far more in "free apps" than paid ones, if only HP had supported that option.

Some other minor gripes:
  • No navigation buttons (back, forward, etc.) in the virtual keyboard.  Argghhh! Why?!? This mars and otherwise brilliant interface.
  • No rear camera hardware.
  • No way to use the front-facing camera to take still shots (perhaps one of those loathed paid apps does this... but no thanks.)  Looks like the free app "Digicamera Still Life" does allow for still shots, although I still feel this should have been available from a default webOS app.
  • Random errors/timeouts (esp. "007" errors) in the App Catalog frequently occur when try to access app profiles.
    pasting
In short, the worst thing about the TouchPad is webOS, which still has an anemic App Catalog and some frustrating interface flaws.  That said, at $120 for a 32 GB tablet, webOS's annoyances seem a whole lot more tolerable.  

It's been fun (sort of) using webOS and getting to know this unique interface, but I won't be terribly sad to see it go when a streamlined TouchPad-adapted Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" or Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" comes along.

Maybe that's what HP should have done in the first place.

UPDATE: Tuesday Sept. 30, 2011 3:20 p.m. -

For those of you eager to get a TouchPad (or TouchDroid, soon hopefully) of your own, HP just announced that it would be making a "small" quantity of the devices available soon.  It says it is still sticking to the plan of a phase out, but comments:

HP will be manufacturing a limited quantity of TouchPads with webOS during our fourth fiscal quarter 2011, which ends October 31.

HP will offer these units on a per-customer-limited basis, so scalpers won't have quite the merry ride they did during the clearance (though we imagine they'll find ways to escape HP's planned restrictions).


Comments     Threshold


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The Good you missed
By jnmfox on 8/30/2011 3:34:39 PM , Rating: 5
Thanks for the update/review but you missed a few things that really improve the webOS experience.

1. Multitasking- I think you undersold how great the multitasking is, I have a hard time using my iOS device after playing with webOS.

2. Preware- how you "jailbreak" your webOS device but it isn't frowned upon like with other mobile OSs.
http://preware.org

I'm sure others have more "Goods", please post them below.




RE: The Good you missed
By Mitch101 on 8/30/2011 3:36:21 PM , Rating: 3
It also supports HTML5 and Flash.


RE: The Good you missed
By JasonMick (blog) on 8/30/2011 3:44:38 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
1. Multitasking- I think you undersold how great the multitasking is, I have a hard time using my iOS device after playing with webOS.

Well I did say...
quote:
The keyboard feels very fluid (I have one major gripe -- more later). And the card-based multi-tasking is intuitive and beats iOS/Android in my mind. You close apps by simply flicking them upward in the tile view -- brilliant.

I would say describing it as "brilliant" and saying it beats the top two tablet OS makers is sufficiently congratulatory.

Android's multi-tasking isn't as horrible as you make it out to be, it's just clunkier to use than webOS's.

quote:
2. Preware- how you "jailbreak" your webOS device but it isn't frowned upon like with other mobile OSs.

I'll have to check it out.

Sounds good, but what are the benefits of jailbreaking the device for the non-developer? The TouchPad already has Flash and wallpaper (goods I mention) -- things Apple's iOS does not. But I guess I'm confused what jailbreaking adds, other than a perception of freedom...


RE: The Good you missed
By jnmfox on 8/30/2011 3:51:16 PM , Rating: 3
1. I agree you said it is brilliant maybe more what I meant was it is difficult for users to understand how great the multitasking really is without at least seeing it if not using it.

2. There are more apps, and kernels, patches, and other tweaks available via Preware. You can cut-down on the logging the TouchPad does to speed-up performance, increase the touch sensitivity, overclock the processor and much more. There are also more free apps available via Preware.

Here is a great guide for new TouchPad owners.
http://forums.precentral.net/hp-touchpad/293028-ne...


RE: The Good you missed
By JasonMick (blog) on 8/30/2011 4:16:25 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Here is a great guide for new TouchPad owners.
http://forums.precentral.net/hp-touchpad/293028-ne...

Thanks, great link! Reading now...


RE: The Good you missed
By Targon on 8/30/2011 4:09:37 PM , Rating: 4
WebOS is open by default, with no lock down the way you see it in other devices. There is a "hidden" developer mode that you can enable, and this will allow you to install apps and directly access the device from a computer.

Preware itself is like a secondary app catalog for homebrew applications that are not in the official app store. Patches for the OS, overclocking, etc. If you check out and ask questions over at precentral.net, you will probably find that many, if not most of your negatives are already covered.

The biggest problem with the number of apps is that HP did not really try to get the entire WebOS ecosystem going in a rational way, and it kept people from taking the platform seriously. If the Pre 3 was released first, instead of the Veer, WebOS might be doing quite a bit better at this point.


RE: The Good you missed
By luseferous on 8/30/2011 4:21:39 PM , Rating: 2
I was going to comment on PreWare. It gives access to a whole load of extra O/S tweaks,themes, apps and utilities. For example free games such as Quake and Doom.(shareware versions) or apps like Govnah that allow you to easily alter the speed of your device.

On the your comment about back and forwards buttons. If its anything like the Pre' then try using a swipe in the gesture area.


RE: The Good you missed
By Diesel Donkey on 8/30/2011 11:02:46 PM , Rating: 2
Sadly the TouchPad has no gesture area. However, the up-swipe gesture is still present via software that detects when your finger leaves the bezel and enters the screen.


RE: The Good you missed
By Reclaimer77 on 8/30/2011 4:28:40 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
To be honest I never really saw the point of a tablet at the $500 mark -- and I still don't. To me the main uses of a tablets are notes taking and games.


I feel the same way. Why do they expect me to pay cheap laptop prices for a tablet that does far less than a cheap laptop?

When tablets hit $250, give me a call. But $500 for something that could be off the market and unsupported tomorrow? No deal.


RE: The Good you missed
By Solandri on 8/30/2011 8:59:34 PM , Rating: 2
From the teardowns I've seen, the tablets do in fact cost more to manufacture than a netbook with an equivalent-sized screen. The screen on a good tablet is IPS for good viewing angles, so costs ~$70 vs. $40-$50 for a regular TN on the netbook since you're always viewing its screen from the same angle. The touch-sensitive digitizer adds another ~$65, which is significantly more than the cost of the keyboard + trackpad + HDD (usually on the order of $30-$40). And even though the tablet's CPU is less capable, the lower power requirement means it costs about the same as a netbook's CPU.

I agree with you and have been saying for a while that the magic price point for tablets is $200-$250. But for the time being, it seems technology still hasn't gotten to the point where you can manufacture a decent tablet for less than a similar netbook. So right now, you're pretty much paying extra for the convenience and portability of a smaller form factor, as well as the social status that comes from owning a snazzy new (if overpriced) product.


RE: The Good you missed
By mattclary on 8/31/2011 2:24:40 PM , Rating: 2
Several people from my office bought these. One of our coworkers installed preware and overclocked everything for us. We are all very happy with our purchase at that price point!


RE: The Good you missed
By Aikouka on 8/30/2011 4:03:34 PM , Rating: 2
I've used a TouchPad and an iPad fairly extensively, and I've never really understood why people laud the multi-tasking in the TouchPad so much. Maybe I've just grown used to iOS's implementation, but as long as an application implements the APIs, it seems to work very well. Of course, if you run into an application that doesn't, it can be rather annoying.

Do you really find the need to let any application just run in the background?

Also, I highly disagree with the close gesture being intuitive. I would have had no idea how to close an application if I didn't read about someone else having trouble with it on the Anandtech forums.


RE: The Good you missed
By Zoomer on 8/30/2011 7:30:28 PM , Rating: 2
Of course.

Music streaming sites. Video streaming sites, file/image upload, irc/chat clients, navigation apps need to have the ability to run continuously in the background for proper functionality.


RE: The Good you missed
By TakinYourPoints on 8/31/2011 5:14:03 PM , Rating: 2
All of which multitask under iOS...


RE: The Good you missed
By The0ne on 8/30/2011 9:40:53 PM , Rating: 2
Trust me, 99% of the members really have no clue how a good multitasking OS is capable of or should be. The reason is as you've stated, that because the offering isn't there...rather because of poor OSes consumers can only expect so much.

Multitasking is a gem. Once you know it and use it you won't ever want to go back. Having said that it's not easy to program for. I've designed micro-controllers and programmed for the 68K CPU in late 80's and early 90's and I absolutely loved it. The Amiga got me hooked on the multitasking abilities, the scripting of tasks into various programs without user attention and so forth. It was just pleasurable to use.


RE: The Good you missed
By Diesel Donkey on 8/30/2011 11:05:20 PM , Rating: 2
To be fair, HP did include a getting-started-type manual with the TouchPad that covers how to close apps.


RE: The Good you missed
By Diesel Donkey on 8/30/2011 11:07:58 PM , Rating: 2
...though, of course, I suppose that doesn't really mean anything when it comes to a discussion of how intuitive the action is.


RE: The Good you missed
By retrospooty on 8/30/2011 4:24:07 PM , Rating: 2
"Multitasking- I think you undersold how great the multitasking is, I have a hard time using my iOS device after playing with webOS."

Ditto with my android. WebOS is so easy to switch from open app to open app... Also just to easily tell what apps are still open. Really missing that from my old Pre


RE: The Good you missed
By ATTFdiggs on 9/3/2011 6:49:03 PM , Rating: 2
I just want to say thanks for posting up the info on preware. It is pretty amazing the speed that can be gained from the patches they offer. I haven't received either of my touchpads yet, but we had one at the office being used for development that is a loaner. I used it to test the patches and was very pleased with the results. Once I receive the pair I ordered, Preware will be the first stop.


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