Top 5 free apps for the HP TouchPad; Easter eggs bonus

A common complaint about the HP TouchPad is the lack of apps in the store, but there are some good ones. These are my 5 favorite free apps on the TouchPad so far, plus two cool Easter eggs for the TouchPad.

HP just launched the webOS-based TouchPad a couple of days ago and those of us who picked one up have spent lots of time getting familiar with the new tablet. Reviews are all over the web, including my own first impressions of the TouchPad which points out the good and the bad about this first effort by HP with webOS on tablets.

A common complaint about the TouchPad is the lack of apps in the app store, but there are some good ones for those who try out what is there. I haven't tried any paid apps yet due to lack of time, but I have installed and tested quite a few free apps on the TouchPad. These are my 5 favorite free apps on the TouchPad so far.

I have included a couple of honorable mentions at the end of the article which you won't want to miss. There are also two cool Easter eggs for the TouchPad at the end of the article that owners should check out.

Spaz HD. I am a big Twitter user, and having a good app is a must on any mobile device I use. I am pleased with the Spaz HD app which is free in beta, as it makes good use of the larger tablet screen. It displays multiple columns which the user can select with simple taps in the settings screen. The app displays tweets in different colors depending on if they mention the user, and it is very easy to get a lot of information at a glance with the thoughtful screen layout. One thing I like about the multi-column format of Spaz HD that is missing on apps for Honeycomb, is that it keeps the display the same in both portrait and landscape orientation. This means you can pan around in portrait and still have the benefits of the multiple column format.

Audiophile HD. The audio system on the TouchPad is impressive with the Beats Audio technology HP has stuffed in the slate, so one of the first things I did with my tablet was put several gigabytes of music onboard. The TouchPad Music app is pretty good, but the Audiophile HD takes music playing to the next level. In addition to the awesome turntable interface, Audiophile provides good treble and bass control for music playback. You can even spin the vinyl at faster than normal speeds, if you feel like playing around. If you have a big music collection as I do, it takes a while when you first start the app to bring it all into the system. The app runs pretty smoothly after that initial period and is worth the wait.

PressReader. Newspapers aren't entirely dead, and PressReader is an app that presents full print newspapers in a digital format on the TouchPad screen. It's all there, from the front page to the lesser stories of the day. Newspapers require a paid subscription to get the content, but a few free current issues are included with the app to give you a feel if they are worth the investment. It's pretty cool panning the newspaper around on the tablet screen, and it's a good way to transition to digital newspapers for those on the fence about the technology.

Mosaic. Tablets are good for following RSS feeds, and Mosaic is an app that syncs with Google Reader and presents news articles in a unique graphical way. Feeds and topics are displayed in boxes with images inside so you can tell at a glance if an article is of interest. Just tap the article and see the full text and images onscreen. The app has some rough spots if your Google Reader feed count is large as mine is, but the authors promise an update soon that improves handling of lots of RSS feeds.

USA Today. If all you want is a quick look at the top news stories of the day, the USA Today app is a good fit. The interface is attractive and well designed to make it easy to find the news items of interest. It runs very fast and is a good demonstration of the benefits a tablet brings for content consumption.

Honorable mentions. You can't look at free apps for the TouchPad without mentioning Angry Birds. The original Angry Birds app is available for free and runs well on the big TouchPad screen. There is no Angry Birds Seasons app for the TouchPad yet, but the newest Rio app is available for $1.99 in the store.

TouchPad owners may be surprised to find no simple calculator app included by HP, but the free 4tPad Calculator app is worth picking up. It is a simple calculator with a tape for showing a string of calculations during a session. It won't win any awards but is free and addresses the glaring lack of a calculator on the TouchPad.

Easter eggs.

Every new platform has Easter eggs, those special features that give owners delight once discovered. So far I have discovered two Easter eggs, one cool and one very useful.

Most of us have played Angry Birds and are familiar with the special slingshot sound in the game accompanied by bird shouting "Weeee" when shot. The webOS card interface has you close apps by tossing the app's card off the top of the screen. HP has added this Easter egg: instead of throwing the app card off the top of the screen, drag it down to the dock at the bottom. Once at the bottom of the screen let the card go and it will slingshot off the top of the screen, closing the app and playing the familiar Angry Birds sounds. It only works in landscape orientation, and when the front button is on the left of the display. Thanks to buddy Jason Perlow for discovering this trick, although the button orientation requirement threw us for a bit.

The second Easter egg is incredibly useful. Device users often like to take screenshots of what is happening on the device, and the TouchPad makes this easy. Simply hit the front button and the power button at the same time, and the screen is snapped with a visible indication it has been taken. It is stored in a media folder called "Screen captures". All of the screens for this article were snapped with this method, which has worked in every app I have tried so far.