Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

Summary: HP's webOS tablet, the TouchPad, has landed. It's not the entertainment powerhouse that the iPad is, but there's a lot to like for business professionals. Here's a look.

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On one hand, the HP TouchPad faces an uphill battle in the tablet market because the Apple iPad has been such a hit with the public and continues to gain momentum. On the other hand, the TouchPad has a great opportunity because the iPad's current rivals -- Android tablets and the BlackBerry PlayBook -- haven't exactly set the world on fire, and Microsoft and Intel haven't shown up yet with a true iPad competitor.

After working with the TouchPad for a week, I'm ready to declare it the iPad's stiffest competition yet for individual business professionals, who currently represent a quiet but very large portion of the iPad user base. The TouchPad is no match for the iPad when it comes to media, entertainment, and games, but for those who want the portability of a tablet but the work ethic of a desktop, the TouchPad has raised the bar on productivity.

Photo gallery

HP TouchPad: Unboxing, screenshots, and comparison photos

Specifications

  • Launch date: July 1, 2011 (U.S.)
  • OS: HP webOS 3.0
  • Processor: 1.2GHz dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon APQ8060
  • RAM: 1GB
  • Storage: 16GB or 32GB internal
  • Display: 9.7-inch XGA, 1024x768, IPS
  • Ports: Micro USB, 3.5mm headset
  • Weight: 1.6 pounds (740 grams)
  • Dimensions: 9.45(h) x 7.48(w) x 0.54(d) inches
  • Camera: 1.3MP front-facing
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n; Bluetooth 2.1+EDR and A2DP
  • Price: $499 (16GB), $599 (32GB)

Who is it for?

The TouchPad will mostly appeal to professionals who want a tablet to handle work tasks -- Web-based business apps, email, instant messaging, contacts, calendar, etc. These will mostly be executives, project managers, IT administrators, and other business folks who want to purchase their own tablets and use them for work.

What problems does it solve?

One of the biggest unsolved problems in tablets has been content creation and productivity. The iPad's great strength is its singularity of focus. The app experience is immersive. But, the flip side of that is that it's not very good at multitasking. It's simply not designed for it. The BlackBerry PlayBook and Android tablets have tackled the issue and made some progress, but they haven't gone as far or done it as elegantly as the TouchPad, which allows users to group open apps and windows into logical groups, quickly separate, re-order, or close them, and jump between them with the flick of a finger. The excellent on-screen keyboard (including number keys) and the wireless dock and wireless keyboard make it easier to enter data on the TouchPad than other tablets. All in all, these productivity improvements make the TouchPad the most effective laptop replacement of any of the current tablets.

Standout features

  • Multitasking - Where the TouchPad really shines is in the interplay between multiple apps, multiple windows within the same app, and multiple browser tabs. When most professionals do work, they need to access multiple data streams at once and synthesize that information into a document or email message, and while they're doing it they may need to call, text, or IM a colleague to ask a question or get some data they're missing. In the middle of all that, they may also receive a message where they need to respond to someone else's question or issue. With its notification system, multitasking, and smartphone/tablet interaction, the TouchPad is designed to help these types of knowledge workers be (nearly) as productive on a tablet as they are on a laptop or desktop.
  • Full Web experience - The TouchPad also offers Web browsing that gets a lot closer to the desktop Web experience than the iPad. A lot of that has to do with its Flash capabilities, but it also handles some other interactive Web code better than the iPad, even though both are based on Webkit browsers. I'm not a fan of Flash but much of the Web is still based on Flash and will be for years to come. The TouchPad offers a much better Flash experience than the buggy Flash you'll find on Android tablets, but it's not quite as smooth as the excellent Flash experience on the BlackBerry PlayBook. Of course, the iPad does not support Flash at all. An example of how the TouchPad also works on some sites where the iPad does not is WordPress, the popular blogging tool. I actually started this review of the TouchPad on the TouchPad itself in the WordPress Web interface -- which does not work on the iPad.
  • Smartphone interaction - Most of the professionals who have a tablet also have a smartphone and there are times when it gets clumsy and confusing as to when to use which one for which task. HP has addressed this by letting you pair an HP smartphone with the TouchPad. I tested this with the Pre3 and was pretty impressed. It allows you to take a call received on your phone and bump it over to speakerphone on the tablet or take a text message from the phone and bump it over to the tablet's instant messaging app. There's also a feature called Touch-to-Share that allows you to take a Web page you have open on the TouchPad and share it to the smartphone by simply touching the phone to the tablet. This is fairly rudimentary stuff and it's limited just to HP phones, but it's nice start in bridging these two devices in some meaningful ways.
  • Email app - One of the iPad's worst features (from a business perspective) is the native email app. Using the app in portrait mode is especially clumsy, and moving between a message you're composing and a message in your inbox means you have to save the message, access your information, and then reopen your message from your drafts to finish it. The TouchPad streamlines that process with its multitasking capabilities and provides an email app that makes it a simple finger flip on the bottom of the screen to move from various email accounts and folders to your inbox/folder message list to a full-screen view of a message.

What's wrong?

  • Inconsistent performance - My biggest beef with the TouchPad is performance. It has a 1.2GHz dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU and 1GB of RAM, so it's got the hardware to really move, and there are times when it flies between tasks and apps and runs great. However, there are also times when it unexpectedly chugs, freezes, or gets really slow. I never had it crash, but there were 8-10 times over the period of one week where it slowed to a halt. That's too many. I suspect this is a software issue and asked HP about it. The company responded that performance improvements are part of an over-the-air update for the TouchPad that will arrive after launch.
  • Bulky form factor - The look of the HP TouchPad echoes the first generation iPad. It has the same rounded corners and curved backplate, only it's black instead of silver and plastic instead of aluminum. Of course, by the time the TouchPad landed, Apple had already come out with the thinner and lighter second-generation iPad. By comparison, the TouchPad feels bulky and heavy.
  • Entertainment gap - The one big area where the TouchPad falls short of the iPad is in entertainment -- music, movies, and games. Some of you will say, "That doesn't matter for a business device." However, a lot of the professionals I know with iPads love to use them to watch movies during flights on business trips. The size of a tablet is perfect for a tray table or a lap, and it's much nicer than wrestling with a laptop. The TouchPad simply doesn't have the app or entertainment catalog to compete with Apple's iTunes or iOS ecosystem. However, if it could partner with Amazon, it could make up a lot of ground very quickly, at least on the entertainment side. Since Amazon has its Kindle app on the TouchPad at launch, at least there's some potential there.

Bottom line for business

For business professionals intent on productivity, there's a lot to like about the HP TouchPad. The email and multitasking capabilities alone are enough to give it an edge over the iPad. And, we haven't even talked about the TouchPad's ability to print (especially to HP printers) -- another important asset for some professionals. The expanded Web browsing capabilities are huge, too. It allows the TouchPad to access a lot of sites (Flash and others) that aren't accessible from the iPad. This can open the door to Web-based business apps and other important sites.

I expect a lot of the consumer-oriented reviews to hit the HP TouchPad pretty hard because of its bulkiness, lack of games and entertainment content, and fewness of third-party apps (although it's ahead of Android Honeycomb and BlackBerry PlayBook when they launched). Those are all valid concerns and because of them I certainly wouldn't recommend the TouchPad for the average consumer.

However, for people who couldn't care less about the latest games and movies and just want to get work done in meetings and on airplanes, the HP TouchPad will be a breath of fresh air. I consider it the most productive tablet yet and the first one that can serve as a legitimate laptop replacement for professionals on the road.

I think a lot of business professionals will find the TouchPad to be exactly what they were hoping for in a tablet because it will allow them to work the way they are used to working, but do it in the convenient form factor of a multi-touch tablet. I would fully recommend the TouchPad to professionals if it weren't for the performance issues and the fact that HP needs to add editing capability for Microsoft Word and Excel files (something HP says is coming "this summer"). With those two things in mind, I would recommend holding out until HP addresses those issues and adds more productivity apps to the catalog. I expect HP to keep pushing forward. Jeffery Ben, a Senior Product Manager on the TouchPad team, told me, "HP is committed to being on this journey for a long time."

For professionals, the TouchPad is a solid first step.

Video: Where TouchPad trumps iPad

To see the TouchPad in action, check out my video, Three areas where HP TouchPad trumps the iPad.

Competitive products

Where to get more info

This was originally published on TechRepublic.

Topics: Hardware, Browser, Hewlett-Packard, iPad, Laptops, Mobility, Software Development, Tablets

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  • For businesses?

    I don't think the author did a good job of explaining why the WebOS tablet is better for businesses. I look at my own company and tablets are consumption devices. They are great for having easy access to files (pdfs in particular), presentations, and email while away from the desk. Tablets haven't replaced a single computer but they have cut down on a lot printing. <br><br>For my needs, a Windows 7 tablet/slate is ideal. I am looking forward to seeing what Win 8 brings. I don't see how WebOs fits any needs that I might have.
    retnep
    • RE: Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

      @retnep When I purchased my Touchpad the sales rep did mention and emphasized Windows will be developed to be a strong feature for the Touchpad. I have the Galaxy Tab 7" and iPad 2 and they are not dynamic enough to run both of my businesses. I believe the HP Touchpad is most suitable to fulfill my needs.
      Sweat Studio
    • RE: Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

      @retnep I agree, great points made. No tablet will ever replace an office desktop, a tablet is just an extension of that desktop.

      This tablet is going to fall flat on its face because of the price. Can't go toe to toe with the iPad2, that's just suicide, especially with an alien OS like WebOS (which I am sure is good, I am just making a point).

      Right now, to get ahead in the tablet market at all, you need to price it right. The iPad had such a head start, that undercutting it now may not be an option anymore. If the 500$ iPad was isolated within a month of its release by another worthy 400$ tablet, there would be wiggle room, but the iPad now has the tablet world by the naughty danglies, and they won't let go.

      I am not trying to defend Apple or the iPad (I own a Transformer myself), but it is just the truth. the iPad has become an epidemic of mass proportions and there is no choke point for it. It was left to feed and grow for too long and now the market bar is set so high that only a miracle is going to save any competing vendor.
      Bates_
      • I feel bad for the shareholders

        @Bates_
        I think the shareholders of Micro$ux, HP, Motorola, RIM, Samsung, and HTC should all demand their money back. There is no tablet market. None. There is an iPad market and Apple has enabled too many barriers to entry for any competitor to have a hope of being successful in the iPad market.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barriers_to_entry
        -Advertising: check. Apple has the best advertisers.
        -Capital: Apple has the most money in the bank.
        -Control of resources: Apple is buying almost every single component that is required to make tablets.
        -Cost advantages: Apple gets preferential prices from suppliers.
        -Customer loyalty: people like me and DeRSSS and frough and the James Quinn / msalzberg poster will never ever buy anything from anyone other than Apple and there are millions exactly like us.
        -Distributor agreements: Only Apple gets preferential treatment in enormous chains like Best Buy.
        -Economy of scale: Apple sells millions of iPads. Others are happy to sell 10.
        -Intellectual property: Apple has laid out a patent and trade dress minefield. Competitors are not able to create rectangular devices any more or devices with multi-touch.
        -Network effect: Apple is able to leverage its amazingly successful (some would say monopolistic) iPod product line by tying everything into iTunes and by not allowing anyone else to tie into iTunes as a first class citizen.
        -Switching barriers: It is far too expensive for any iOS customer to switch to another product not based on iOS since they lose access to all of their programs.

        In other words, there is zero chance that any competitor will ever be able to create a successful tablet. Ever. Apple WINS!!! YEAH!!!
        woulddie4apple
      • RE: Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

        @Bates_ I think the apple fanboy is right. As much as there are the apple fan boys and girls that will never buy anything but Apple there are people that will never buy anything with the Apple name on it. These people "hate" Apple because they think Apple is gimmicky, goofy and hippie left wing(Not that Apple is or is not those things but that is a perception that lingers on to a certain extent). My guess is that 1. They view the whole tablet idea in a similar light 2. Many of them being older they can't be productive on tablets because they can't see or have to squint to see the damm thing.
        edkollin
    • RE: Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

      @retnep the problem is that windows 7 is not made to run on tablets. And even with windows 8 which will most likely be based on or have the same kernel as 7: will also not be lightweight enough to really run on anything that low power. Besides tablets don't really get real work done because they lack keyboards.
      Jimster480
      • RE: Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

        @Jimster480 The Kernel is utterly irrelevant, Mac OS X and iOS both use the XNU Kernel (Apple's version of CMU Mach). The problem is applications have to be redesigned for multitouch (or "blunt fingers") and if the OS can run existing applications that "re-imagining" (which is hard) is less likely to happen.

        There is nothing about the "Windows Kernel" that makes it unsuitable, the problem exists in the "userland" layers above it, especially the existence of UI elements that are predicated upon mouse interaction.

        I'd also take issue with the notion that no work can happen without a keyboard. There are plenty of work applications that don't need a keyboard, or a virtual keyboard isn't a disadvantage. We have applications where most of the interaction is picking things from a database to create orders - this is fast on the iPad because the elements combine in known ways and you're never picking from more than about 20 elements at a time. The graphical nature helps too. This is actually faster than a traditional laptop - but honestly, nobody creates orders "for entertainment". However the app needed its UI completely redesigned for multitouch.

        Work is more than wordprocessing and spreadsheets.
        jeremychappell
    • RE: Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

      After being stuck with a defective motherboard in a HP DV9000, I personally will not purchase any HP product.
      ojr@...
    • RE: Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

      @retnep I'm sorry to say that but the Blackberry Playbook already does all these. I think that chosing a tablet is just up to the person who's buying. Some people prefer the ipad and some prefer the motorola, the acer, the samsung or the playbook. I chose the playbook because I read about it that I can use the net with blackberry bridge, while paying just one data plan instead of 2. It uses the plan you're paying for your BB to go on the net. Besides this, I can edit my word, excel or powerpoint docs on it; I can view my pdf files. The rest will depend on what app will be available for it. Every tablet has lots of possibilities. It's all about the apps.

      The big problem is that a professional can't chose an ipad if he has a BB, for instance. That's absurd!!!! NON-SENSE!!!
      jlvandal
    • RE: Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

      @retnep <br><br>What is important is will Win 8 run on this tablet and the same for the Android mess. If I can install Win 8, then all these tablets actually become useful, just like when you wipe the toy Linux OS from a cheap netbook and install Win 7.<br><br>Win 8 has a huge potential for upgrading all these toys to real business productivity devices.
      tonymcs@...
      • RE: Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

        @tonymcs@... Welcome to the discussion Tony MCS, the ultimate Windows Fanboy.
        non-biased
  • RE: Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

    How long since you used an iOS device?

    I just opened a new wordpress account, activated it via an email, made a first post and shared it on twitter, copied the link which I will paste here:- Hello World: http://t.co/NqDOwIb all from an iPhone 4.

    So what was that about wordpress?
    bannedagain
    • The blog author forgets something so important about us Apple fans

      @bannedagain
      If even 1 of us can get something working, then it works for all of us. We give Apple this privileged benefit of the doubt because Apple has always been so good and kind to us. Other companies have not always been so good and kind to us so when we can find even 1 unverifiable posting that suggests something doesn't work in a competing product we immediately bring out terms like "ease of use".
      woulddie4apple
      • RE: Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

        @woulddie4apple

        Anyone with an iPad or iPhone can easily verify the veracity of the following statement, made in the article.

        It takes a few seconds to go to wordpress.com.

        "Full web experience

        An example of how the TouchPad also works on some sites where the iPad does not is WordPress... /snip ...? which does not work on the iPad"
        bannedagain
      • RE: Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

        @woulddie4apple Poor Zealot, all those post in the past about AntennaGate and now you pretend to believe the flips side that if it happens to one it happens to all. Must be getting lonely down in Grandma's basement these days.
        non-biased
    • RE: Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

      @bannedagain

      That it doesnt work on the ipad soooo did you do that from your ipad???
      Fletchguy
    • RE: Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

      @bannedagain Perhaps he was talking about managing a self-hosted blog with Wordpress.org's codebase. The interface is not signing up for a Wordpress.com account, activating it, or sharing it on Twitter.

      The only thing that speaks to what the author was talking about with Wordpress was making a post, and you just had a one-liner. It doesn't look like you used categories, tags, tried scheduling the post or other things that are more complex interface tasks.
      bmacfarland
    • RE: Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

      @bannedagain

      Not only are you divorced from most of the web as you can't use Flash, you can't even view sophisticated web apps as Apple has not implemented autoplay in the HTML 5 audio and video tags in a desperate attempt to prevent web apps being used on iOS. This is why we see iPad "apps" rather than just web apps for everyone.
      tonymcs@...
      • RE: Review: HP TouchPad is the productivity tablet

        @tonymcs@... I haven't missed anything on the web simply because there is pretty much always an app available that gets me the info faster than using a browser regardless of it being Flash or not. Of course most of those apps are free so don't go there.
        non-biased
  • Me and DeRSSS want to know about the screen

    Are the screen layers glued together? No? Then it is a useless pile of junk. No business person wants to use a tablet that doesn't have its screen layers glued together!
    woulddie4apple