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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).


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$250 used iPad > Touchpad
By vision33r on 8/30/2011 9:53:38 PM , Rating: 1
For the price of an used iPad 16GB Gen 1 which can be picked up for $250, it is worlds better than the Touchpad because with the iPad you can get atleast 100+ apps that are free and many are full version apps with no limit.

Also tons of high quality games and apps go on sale for $1 all the time. All this renders the competition as dead.

Android's biggest problem is it lacks native Honeycomb apps and some of them are lazy ports of smartphone apps. Since Android has all types of different resolutions, some apps just look totally off on a tablet screen.

The lack of high quality developers for Android is not helping the Honeycomb ecosystem.

By Spring of next year, most of Touchpad users would have abandoned it for something more sleek and supported like the upcoming Amazon tablet or the Color Nook 2.




RE: $250 used iPad > Touchpad
By Diesel Donkey on 8/30/2011 11:36:18 PM , Rating: 3
The TouchPad has a great browser, e-mail app, photo viewer, mapping app, music player, IM capabilities (with messages from multiple sources combined into one view), and Skype video calling and chatting implementation. It is wonderful for streaming Flash video, and the keyboard is excellent (good proportions and responsiveness, and a number/symbol row included).

It is not great for gaming, and it is missing a few apps that some might consider important (Evermore comes to mind).

However, I think the UI combined with the positives I mentioned in the first paragraph overshadow the lack of certain apps. Unless the TouchPad app catalog is missing something in particular that someone feels they absolutely need I think that person would be very happy with a tp.

I spend my time on my TouchPad browsing the web, using one of several very good Google Reader clients, listening to music through the surprisingly decent speakers, looking up directions in Maps, and typing up notes in a great Simplenote client called pondNotes that supports Markdown. I'm not a Netflix user, so aside from Evermore, there's really nothing I fee like I'm missing on the TouchPad. And the UI is phenomenal.

I even like the form factor of the TouchPad. The few ounces of extra weight don't bother me because I'm just not that frail (and I often use the device in my lap or on a table), and do we really need to argue over a couple of millimeters of thickness? I think it just makes the TouchPad easier to hold. I don't need anything thinner, and in fact I don't really want anything thinner, especially if it means that I can inductively charge my tablet.

To each his/her own, I suppose. I just wish more people would try it and think for themselves a little bit before knocking it. Thinner and lighter with 8 bajillion apps does not inherently mean greater utility or enjoyment.


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