The HP TouchPad up close: What might have been
It's a powerful tablet with a unique and security-conscious operating system that could have been great if HP had given it enough time to mature.
This is a review about what could have been. When I first wrote about the TouchPad, it was based on a mini-review because there was limited time to do a full test. In the meantime, we all know what happened.
Hewlett-Packard didn’t like the tablet's sales performance and decided to discontinue it. But then there was an outcry of support, backed by sales that followed a price drop to $99. HP decided to ramp up the production lines again, so there should be more TouchPads coming onto the market. Where it goes from there is anybody’s guess, but users should grab one if they can, especially at that price.
The sad part is, now that I have completed the full review of the TouchPad, I like it even more. The TouchPad could have been a really great tool for government users, an alternative to either the Apple iPad, which is having a hard time cracking into government, and the many me-too Android-based devices that fill up the rest of the market.
HP TouchPad 16G
Pros: Secure operating system; good interface; great sound.
Cons: Picks up a lot of fingerprints; limited app support not expected to grow.
Ease of Use: A-
Price: $99 current price if you can find one (was $499)
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TouchPad runs on WebOS, which is a good operating system that we were able to easily connect to our test network without any problems. Things that are important to feds, such as enterprise encryption, work natively with WebOS, making the tablet a good choice for adding a fully functional unit to an existing infrastructure.
Whereas a device such as the Research in Motion PlayBook requires a BlackBerry smart phone to make use of corporate e-mail, the TouchPad interface is more like adding an enterprise client to your network.
As an example of how e-mail works smoothly on the TouchPad, during your initial setup, you can give the device all your information about which e-mail accounts you own. Once it's set up, it displays a three-pane view very much like a desktop client. On the far left, you have all the information about the various accounts the TouchPad is monitoring. If you only have one e-mail account, you can eliminate that one or leave it if you want to run a full command center from your tablet with multiple accounts. The middle pane shows you the inbox of whichever e-mail you happen to be looking at and on the far right is the preview pane. New e-mails will trigger an alert pop-up if you want for every account or only for selected ones you need to constantly monitor.
We have to say that after setting up the TouchPad e-mail command center, we really enjoyed answering our e-mail on the tablet more than sitting at our desks. The interface is that good.
Web browsing works well and was made better because of the 9.7-inch screen. The resolution for the screen is 1,024 x 768, which used to be the default on desktop monitors not that long ago. The graphics chip is 3-D capable, and Web pages with a lot of Flash applications ran with no problem.
One minor negative in terms of the screen that might affect your Web browsing experience is that fingerprints build up on the TouchPad like crazy. Part of that is the glossy finish, and part of it is the fact that the materials had to be compatible with the optional charging dock that lets power flow into the tablet right through the back of the unit. Whatever the reason, we kind of felt like we were working with an AMC Pacer at times, a car with so much fingerprint-capturing glass that you needed to carry a case of Windex with you when driving. By the end of our test, our TouchPad had been cleaned several times and was still covered in a thin layer of fingerprint smudge.
If audio is your thing, the TouchPad is a great choice, too. The sound coming out of the tablet might be a little soft, but it is perfectly rendered. Watching and listening to video on the TouchPad is a better experience than on most standard desktops.
There is only one camera on the TouchPad, a forward-facing — looking back at you — 1.3 megapixel model that could be used for videoconferencing. There is no camera looking the other way, though we don’t think this is much of a disadvantage. In fact, we would have liked to seen the cameras removed altogether to help it breeze through security at some agencies rather than adding a barely adequate one like we see in most laptops these days.
In terms of general specifications, the TouchPad seems quick and responsive with all tasks, thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-CPU APQ8060 1.2 GHz processor. Our test unit had 16G of RAM, which seemed like more than enough.
Battery life on the TouchPad is rated at 10 hours, but we received a bit less than that in our testing, which involved running movies and keeping the brightness at 80 percent. In our worst-case scenario battery life testing, the TouchPad was able to keep running 7 hours, 54 minutes before triggering an emergency shutdown. So you can expect a full day’s work out of the TouchPad — or a full day of goofing around, as the case may be.
The TouchPad has a standard USB charger, the kind in which one end inserts into a power plug that goes into the wall. When attached to a desktop USB slot, it won’t draw power from it, though, so you need to choose whether you want to share your hard drive with your desktop or charge your device — you can’t do both at the same time. There is also the aforementioned docking cradle selling for $79 that can charge the TouchPad, but we did not have that part of the unit to test for this review.
One area in which the TouchPad is a bit lacking is the number of applications available for download and purchase. HP does a nice job of selecting good ones and recommending them, using a sort of digital online magazine that is a clever part of their store, but there are perhaps hundreds of them available, as opposed to thousands and thousands for the iPad and Android models.
What is there is good, but with the fate of the TouchPad — and WebOS, for that matter — hanging in the balance, it’s doubtful that the selection will be growing much more.
For a first try, the TouchPad is a really good tablet, much better than a lot of companies are able to create on their first try. And the built-in security and clean interface seem perfect for government employees who need security in a tablet but don’t want to be tethered to a single company’s smart phone.
It’s sad that we might not see any more of them and probably will never get our hands on a TouchPad 2, which could have added features such as Global Positioning System capabilities and fixed some of the minor mistakes of the original. Still, at the discounted price of $99, it’s worth begging, borrowing and stealing to try to grab one of the last few. You won’t find a better value in a tablet today or probably at any time in the future.