Today, I bring you my impressions of the HP TouchPad tablet running webOS. Read on for details.
As you probably already know, HP introduced and cancelled their webOS tablet called the TouchPad. I managed to buy two, one for my father as his welcome to the internet, and one for me. I have to say that at the pricing of $149 each, these were steals. I’ll give you my impressions, pros and cons, and then some concluding commentary at the end of the review.
First, let’s document what I want to use a tablet for in my house. Here is a list of the tasks that I like to perform with tablets:
- Stream video from my home server. I use MP4 files, encoded in h.264 video and AAC audio, as well as WMV files. I like to stream these to tablets in the house.
- Load video and audio files locally for playback. It’s nice to watch the latest Hawaii 5-0 and Two and a Half Men episodes while I am travelling, so I want to be able to play back content locally.
- Email. I manage five or six personal email clients, including a Live IMAP account, a GMAIL account, an IMAP account for a website that I webmaster, and an Exchange Active Synch. In addition, my employer uses Lotus Notes and I’d like to be able to use the Traveller app to get my email and calendar.
- WordPress comment moderation and light post editing. I webmaster a website for my daughter’s school’s PTA organization. I like to be able to moderate comments in WordPress and be able to make light edits to items already posted, like adding tags and categories to content posted by the other volunteers.
- Twitter. I love keeping up with Twitter and like to use the tablets to do that.
- Facebook management. Keeping up with my family’s Facebook content is another task that I like to perform on a tablet.
- Web surfing. I like to be able to go anywhere on the internet, flash or no flash. I expect full and broad website support in the browser on a tablet.
- Skype. I use Skype to keep in touch with family back in Ohio and would like a tablet to do that.
- Amazon Kindle support. Reading Kindle books on a tablet is really nice, particularly when travelling as it lightens the load in my briefcase.
- Light games. Think Need for Speed and Angry Birds here. I usually game on a full PS3 at home, but it is nice to have the ability to play a game here and there, particularly with a nine-year-old in the house.
- Content creation. I like to be able to create Word documents and to be able to read and lightly edit Excel and PowerPoint files.
- Remote access to content. Being able to access content while on the move is a nice feature to have.
These are the main tasks that I like to perform with tablets, and will go down each one to tell you how the TouchPad fares. Keep in mind that we have an iPad, iPad 2 and a Windows 7 tablet in the house in addition to a TouchPad, so I’ll give you some comparisons to these tablets as we go.
Streaming Media in the Home
I have a HP EX475 Media Smart Server in the home running both Twonky and Microsoft’s Media Connect DLNA servers. As mentioned above, I like to stream video in MP4 (H.264/AAC encoding) and WMV formats. The TouchPad media player supports the MP4 format with no issue, but not the WMV format. This is not that big of a deal since everything that I have in WMV is also in MP4, so as long as the media player for the device supports MP4, we are good. I have loaded the app BHomePro from the webOS app store and it works very well with the Twonky server. I’ve streamed MP4 videos, JPG photos and music files inside the home with no issues and very good performance. In order to stream locally to an iPad, I needed to install Air Video onto the Windows Home Server and load that client onto the iPad. That works very well, but I prefer to leverage plain old DLNA rather than having to load another piece of server-side software to make it work.
Loading Video and Music Content Locally
The TouchPad allows you to load content directly to the device without having to use an intervening software. Simply connect the device to the source computer with the USB cable, put it into USB mode, and drag and drop your files onto the device. I hate having to import media into iTunes before loading content onto an iPad and this workflow is not required on the TouchPad. Of course, if you like that workflow, use the HP Play application (still in beta, BTW) to manage the synching operation. With 32GB of space, I have more than enough room to carry music, videos and photos with me while travelling.
The TouchPad was very easy to configure my personal email accounts. In fact, the set up for Exchange Active Synch worked automatically while I had to manually specify servers for the iPad’s email client. In addition, the HP Synergy feature that allows me to link contact information from different applications makes emailing and Skyping and SMS texting much easier than before. Contact information from Facebook, GMAIL, Live, EAS, and other IMAP accounts comes into the Contacts application. As I send emails to people not in my contact list, Synergy adds them and allows me to link their email account information to pre-existing contact information stored in my other online accounts.
As far as sending emails, the composing app is very easy to use. I also picked up a Bluetooth keyboard to connect to the TouchPad, and find it simple to compose long messages with either the on-screen or Bluetooth keyboard.
My employer uses Lotus Notes and mandates use of Lotus Traveller software to get access to email and calendar functions on mobile devices. Since webOS is not supported by Lotus any longer, I am out of luck getting corporate email. I can use the web access client, but meeting notices don’t work as they require a browser plug-in that has not been developed by Lotus. I am pretty much out of luck getting my corporate email on the TouchPad, where I can use either Traveller or the browser on the iPad. If your employer uses Exchange Active Synch, the TouchPad will work well for you.
WordPress Moderation and Post Editing
My experience here has been mixed. There is a WordPress app in beta form that allows the normal mobile device access, and I’ve used it on the iPad to fix typos, add categories, moderate comments and the like with no real issues. It is not a replacement for Windows Live Writer, but it works for on-the-go maintenance duties. The issue is with the webOS client, any time I edit a post, the posting date is changed to November 1999 and so the post falls off of the website. You need to log into WordPress and revise the posting date. This bug renders the client useless for post editing and I hope that the webOS version is fixed at some point. However, the WordPress dashboard renders perfectly in the web browser, so I can make those edits that way, but score this one Advantage iPad until and unless the webOS client is fixed.
I use the Twitter app called Graphite on the TouchPad. Graphite is the best Twitter app that I have ever used, hands down. It is much easier to read forwards, looks better, and is easier to get around in than any of the iOS Twitter applications. In addition, the Twitter web page works fine in the TouchPad browser. Graphite gives the advantage to the TouchPad over the iPad for Twitter use.
HP developed the first tablet-specific Facebook app for the TouchPad and it has become my preferred way of using Facebook. In addition, any photos that you post to Facebook automatically synch to your Photos app on the TouchPad and are available for viewing on the TouchPad offline. The iOS tablet Facebook app is also very nice, but the ease of use advantage goes to the TouchPad here.
The browser on the TouchPad supports flash and so my EX475 media streaming application works fine over the internet. This is a huge advantage over the iPad, which requires Air Video and some port forwarding on the router to accomplish the same thing. While browsing is not tabbed, you can open up additional card views and have multiple websites open at the same time. One drawback, though, is the browser can be a bit slow in rendering complex pages. The ability to run flash offsets the speed issues for me, so advantage TouchPad.
We use Skype to video chat with family back in Ohio and the ability to do that on a tablet is a distinct advantage. Of course, since the iPad does not have a camera, you can’t Skype video chat with that tablet. My wife’s iPad 2 has the capability to Skype and it works rather well, but most of the time we use my Windows 7 tablet or my Windows 7 desktop for video chatting.
The TouchPad integrates Skype into the phone and messaging application, so it handles Skype out of the box. Just configure your Skype account when setting up your online accounts. Before the recent webOS update, Skype video chatting was choppy. Since then, I’ve noticed a much-improved Skype experience. In addition, it is simple enough to use that my father can now Skype with us over his TouchPad. This works well for us.
Amazon Kindle Support
Amazon published a beta Kindle app for the TouchPad. The UI is a bit confusing; trying to figure out how to get to your library took some time, but once you figure out the UI issues, it works well. The iPad app and the Windows app works better, but this does synch your library and works well enough. My father currently has three books that I bought for him that he is reading on his TouchPad, and he gives this app a two thumbs up.
I prefer to game on the PS3, but hey, I can’t exactly haul that out on a plane, now can I? Gaming options for the TouchPad are light compared to the iPad, but the normal staples are here. We like Angry Birds HD, Glow Hockey HD, Solitaire, Asphalt 6 and Coloring Book HD. The clear advantage goes to the iPad, but there are some worthy games available for the TouchPad.
This is where the mobile OS options fall short for me. I like to be able to create Word documents and to be able to edit and view Excel and PowerPoint files while on the go, and really am looking forward to Windows 8 ARM solutions running Microsoft Office for this requirement. However, the TouchPad stands out here over the iPad since it bundles QuickOffice. In fact, this entire review was drafted on the TouchPad using QuickOffice and the Bluetooth keyboard. While you can buy the comparable iOS app and keyboard to extend the iPad capability, and it works well, I prefer the loaded QuickOffice app for the TouchPad. Also look into Picsel SmartOffice to get more robust PowerPoint support on the TouchPad.
Remote Access to Content
The TouchPad integrates with DropBox out of the box, and if you install Box.Net’s app, you get integration with their service and a free 50GB account for as long as you own the TouchPad. This, coupled with Google Docs support, means that you have options for accessing content and making light edits while travelling. One nice way that I’ve used this feature is to create a Word document using QuickOffice on the TouchPad, saving it to DropBox and then picking it back up on the desktop or Windows 7 tablet when I return home via the automatic DropBox synching capability. I am not aware of anything as easy to use on iOS, although I am going to explore iCloud soon. Right now, I’d have to give the advantage to the TouchPad.
Overall Hardware Design
The iPad and iPad 2 have larger storage options (64GB as opposed to 32GB max on the The TouchPad integrates Skype into the phone and messaging application, so it handles Skype out of the box. Just configure your Skype account when setting up your online accounts. Before the recent webOS update, Skype video chatting was choppy. Since then, I’ve noticed a much-improved Skype experience. In addition, it is simple enough to use that my father can now Skype with us over his TouchPad. This works well for us.
The iPads are made from aluminum rather than plastic for the TouchPad, and have 3G capabilities while the TouchPad is Wi-Fi only. I prefer the design of the iPad. The iPad feels higher end. After using the TouchPad for a few months, I have concluded that it is robust and high-quality, but the advantage has to go to the iPad on this front.
I have not activated the 3G capability on either iPad in our house (I use the hotspot feature on my Android phone instead), it is nice to know that I could activate that and use the GSM capability when roaming around Europe. With the TouchPad, I am anchored to Wi-Fi only, or to my phone’s hotspot. Since I am on Verizon CDMA, I can’t use the hotspot feature in Europe. This is a minor nit, but again with GSM capability, the advantage goes to the iPad.
Now one thing that I really like is the TouchStone charger. The TouchPad supports inductive charging, and will charge through the case when placed on the TouchStone charger. webOS has something called Exhibition Mode that will display a photo slide show, current weather, a clock, and other information on the screen when configured, and it turns on automatically while the device is on the TouchStone charger. This means that I essentially get a mobile photo frame and an extra clock to use, which is a distinct advantage over the iPad for me.
I don’t rent much from iTunes, but I do buy blu-rays with digital copy support. These digital copies are stored in iTunes on my desktop and the iPads can synch that protected content for playback. The TouchPad can’t do that. In addition, the Roxio-based rental store available for the TouchPad is not robust at all as far as content is concerned, so the advantage goes to the iPad here.
The webOS UI is based on card view. All running applications run in a card that is on the desktop and can be moved and stacked. If you want to open up another app, just minimize the card currently running and open the other app. The first app is still running in memory and can be switched to at any time to resume. Closing an app just takes flicking it off the top of the screen. This is much more intuitive to me than the iOS grid of application icons, and was much easier for my father to grasp as a newbie. I largely prefer the approach taken by webOS here and is very similar to what showed up in the BlackBerry PlayBook that we reviewed here and here.
The TouchPad is a very nice device. Unfortunately for HP, it ended up being largely a me-too device without enough differentiation from the iPad to ensure traction in the marketplace, so we all know what happened commercially with it. For my use case, it largely ticks the boxes, and support for flash in the browser, content creation and online synching, DLNA, Kindle and Facebook, and the webOS UI made it a compelling purchase even before the firesale. My father has one as his first foray into the internet, and the better support for flash websites made this a compelling choice for him. He was getting one for Christmas before HP cancelled the product as the webOS UI is more intuitive for a newbie than iOS. I use mine every day and will probably use it more than the iPad that I have at home, and my father uses his every day as well. This was a good purchase for us.
At full price, the iPad is a better choice for most people. At $149 firesale pricing, this is a no-brainer. At $250 on eBay, I’d take the plunge. I give this a 4/5 Recommended on our rating scale.BlackBerry PlayBook Review Part OneBlackBerry PlayBook Review Part TwoWhy The TouchPad Is Deader Than A Doornail