So, I was one of the few people that actually snagged an HP Touchpad.  More specifically, I bought one of the 32 GB ones from Best Buy’s website for 150 USD.

  • Is it worth 150 USD? (maybe)
  • Is it worth 100 USD? (definitely)
  • Does it perform better than an iPad? (not even close)
  • Does it fit in a breadbox? (what the hell are you going to do with a tablet in a breadbox?)
  • Do cats like to sleep on it? (yes)

All of these things and more will be described in my review.

Unboxing and Initial Setup experience

I received my HP Touchpad while I was at work. I did spend a bit of time unboxing it but didn’t mess around with it too much beyond initial setup.

I will give HP some props, the box it came in was very well thought out.  It comes in a bookshelf-like box (like what you’d find a fancy hardcover book coming in, or what we more frequently find DVD sets come in only deeper) complete with a plastic covered Tablet, instruction manual, and cables for charging / data transfer.  It might not be Apple Pretty, but I’m still very impressed.

Hardware / Feel

The HP Touchpad is remarkably similar looking to the iPad (original generation).  Both are 9.7″ slate-style touchscreen tablets with 1024x768px screens with very few buttons.  The Touchpad is marginally thicker (by 0.1mm) and slightly shorter (by 3 mm).  Both devices have an LED-backlit IPS display (so viewing angles are not The Suck), both devices have a single button on the bottom of the screen.

Or, in short, a bunch of people were asking me if I bought an iPad when I had it at work.

The Touchpad is heavy for a slate.  It is a bit above the weight of the original iPad, which is downright chunky by comparison to current tablets like the Galaxy Tab 10.1, which weighs 200g less than the smaller Touchpad.

The buttons are responsive, the screen is super sensitive, and the USB port works like it should.  Only gripe here is that the Touchpad draws WAY too much power (2A from USB!) to be charged via a desktop.  Well, that and the fact that none of the buttons are labeled – no one I handed the Touchpad to knew how to turn on the screen immediately.  Way to drop the ball on UI HP.

Operating System and Software

WebOS

WebOS is the operating system that is running on the HP Touchpad along with the HP/Palm Pre and a couple of other devices.  It definitely has a different feel than either Android or iOS, although strangely familiar. You multitask via the “card” system, which means you press the single button in the center (hereafter called the Rolodex button) to bring up a list of “cards” that you scroll through, each card being an application (or, in the case of a few similar applications, a stack of cards).  You can press the Rolodex button again to bring up the full applications menu, which is a tabbed menu browser between Applications, Downloads (which are really apps you’ve downloaded, not files downloaded), Favorites, and Settings.  No huge scrolling lists of apps like iOS, no multiple panes of applications via scrolling left/right of Android, just a series of business cards in a Rolodex-like system where you flip through until your Personal Digital Assistant finds the contact you want and brings it to your attention.

Yes, I went there. The reason why WebOS feels familiar is because it feels like a PDA operating system, not a Cell Phone (iOS/Android) or PC (Windows/Linux/Mac) operating system.  The point of the OS isn’t to bring applications around but to manage your data and information in an easily accessible, readable, and organized fashion.

Web Browser

Unfortunately for me, I want a tablet, not a PDA.  I have a PDA, it is called my cell phone.  My phone is decent at web browsing, but I want something awesome at web browsing.

The Touchpad is not awesome at web browsing.

Using the built in web browser, I was suddenly reminded of Internet Explorer 6.  You know, that web browser most Windows geeks refuse to admit ever using, yet all secretly know that they have?  The horribly non-standards-compliant browser with absolutely no adblocking features or popup blocking features whatsoever (outside of the eventual patch), with only the most basic of features (multiple instances for multiple windows)?  Yeah, the Touchpad’s browser is worse.

Don’t get me wrong, it is usable.  I think if someone would have improved upon it, it’d actually be perfectly cromulent, but it just.. doesn’t work right.  Complex pages aren’t loaded properly, elements are hidden by other elements, pretty much anything heavy in CSS has at least some minor issue.  The browser spawns a new process whenever you open a new window, and is pretty ugly.  Even my phone works better than that, and that one pisses me off due to the four tab default maximum.

So, just download a new browser and be done with it, right?  Not so fast.  Apparently, the Touchpad can’t change default browsers.  That’s right, even if someone made a better browser, you’re stuck using the default one for at least some tasks.  Ye gods HP, did you not learn from Microsoft?  Stop making people use a crappy browser, let someone port Firefox or Chromium or Safari or anything.  Now, it is theoretically possible to use another browser and just deal with the OS launching the built in one for grabbing links from email and the like..  if only there was another browser that worked.

The browser became substantially better after I voided the warranty, but that’s a different section.

Document Reading/Editing – for SPOON!s

Allow me to give a disclaimer – I’m definitely not a normal user. I don’t use Word or Excel, I don’t use Powerpoint or Access.  I use Open/LibreOffice for pretty much all of my office needs on my computers (outside of OneNote – my precious precious OneNote…).

Unfortunately for me, the Touchpad comes with QuickOffice.  I’ve used QuickOffice before – it came with my phone as well. I also promptly uninstalled it after realizing how crappy its support for OpenDocumentFormat files was.  Well, QuickOffice for the Touchpad was that plus it was incapable of editing any file.  I say ‘was’ because there was an update released yesterday that corrected that… and removed access to all open document format files entirely.

I don’t blame HP for this – HP doesn’t own QuickOffice, and I’m sure someone could remedy that by making a much better office program, but come ON.  On the plus side, the built in web browser (even with how crappy it is) loads GoogDocs just fine, which can handle all of the ODFs – mostly because that’s the native document format for GoogDocs.

In a similar vein to QuickOffice is Adobe Acrobat Reader.  Now, once more, let me preface this – I hate Adobe.  Much quicker than the QO preface.  :)  Acrobat is another one of the preloaded applications on the tablet, and one that I plan(ned) on making a large amount of use of.  One of my use cases for this tablet was to work as an eBook reader and most of my digital books are in PDF.  They also happen to be large roleplaying books in bright colors, which is the reason why I didn’t go with an eBook reader like a Kindle.  Loading up Acrobat and pointing it at my 578 page PDF of the Pathfinder Core Rules, I was not surprised to see it chug a bit.  I mean, come on, my laptops chug opening that monster of a PDF.  It loads a bit slower than my laptop, but generally looks and feels fine.

I was almost happy to report that the app did exactly what it was supposed to do in a reasonable amount of resources and time – which would probably be the first time I would have ever said that about an Adobe product – until I noticed one small tiny problem.  It has no bookmarks support.  Neither creation nor viewing existing ones.  It also can’t search OCRed text, use jump links in a PDF, nor let me do something as simple as type in a page number.

So, while my roleplaying books look all nice and pretty…  they’re worthless on the device because I can’t jump around or search anything.  Again, I don’t blame HP for this one, and I really hope Adobe steps up their game on their poor implementation of Acrobat Reader – or someone creates an alternative app on the Touchpad for PDFs.  To be fair, I don’t even like reader on my Android phone, so not that surprising.

Kindle App…  works exactly like it does on my phone, only bigger.  No complaints there, it looks nice and I can read everything perfectly fine.  Go Amazon.

Email

I love reading email on devices that aren’t laptops – it makes it feel like less work.  I’m using the default email client on here and, while not exactly what I’m used to, it works fairly well and I only have a single gripe with it so far – I can’t find a way to get it to accept self-signed SSL certificates in order to add my aetherspoon.com email address via a secure IMAP session. There is no way on the Touchpad to accept a self-signed SSL certificate – and, since my mail is hosted by my webhost and not by myself, I don’t have easy access to the Certificate Authority to try and cram the CACert into my Touchpad to make it recognize it.

If that above paragraph made no sense to you, I’ll leave it at “it works great for reading gmail”.

Maps

The Touchpad uses … Bing Maps.  Mind you, the default search engine is still Google, it just uses Bing for maps.  My theory as to why has to involve lots of pieces of paper coming from Microsoft.  Just as well, I actually prefer Bing Maps to GoogMaps for my place of work/residence.  The application works great and so does the GPS – a welcome change from the FAILPS on my phone.

Music, Photos, and Video

I haven’t tried Video yet, so I’ll hold off on commenting too much.  It is supposed to play 1080p video from MP4s, so very similar to practically every other device.  I know many Youtube 1080p videos play just fine (in fact, switching to 720p made it stutter more), so the hardware is probably fine.

The Audio quality out the headphone jack is easily the best I’ve heard in a portable device outside of my high end dedicated MP3 player.  It beats the pants off of my phone and laptop, so major kudos.  The built in speakers aren’t bad for built in speakers either, being better than what is in my laptop (worse than my convertible tablet though) and probably better sounding than the headphone jack on my phone.  On the minus side though, the application is, shall we say, a tad hungry on resources – and by a tad hungry, I mean it responds worse than playing a full screen 1080p Youtube video.  This too was fixed via me violating that warranty.

Pictures, eh.  The camera quality is pathetic cell phone quality, but that’s exactly what I was expecting.  Haven’t tried using it for Skype / GoogChat yet, so it might be better for video.

Other Built In Apps

Calculator

The calculator program is the most pathetic calculator program I’ve seen on a mobile device.  Seriously, my “featurephone” prior to my current smartphone had a better calculator.  It isn’t even full screen!

Clock

It displays a clock and lets you set basic alarms.  Actually, this wouldn’t make a bad ridiculously expensive alarm clock…

Calendar

I think this might be the best application on the Touchpad.  It looks nice, it feels nice, and after violating the warranty it works awesome.  Makes sense – if this is an OS meant for a PDA, then PDA-like built-in applications (email, calendar, contacts, todo lists, clocks) would be the best on it.

Contacts

Works well for me, although I’m not sure why I’d use it.  Syncs with my Goog account, which is good.  *shrug*

Facebook

Definitely pretty, definitely usable…  if it weren’t for the lack of FBPurity, I’d rule this to be the best UI for Facebook ever.

Having said that, however, it means that touch.facebook.com is still a much better site (no apps) and FBPurity is a must for even attempting to use Facebook.  I really hope Goog+ never approaches the level of crap that FB has on it for apps.  :P

Keyboard

Any Slate-based tablet is going to need an onscreen keyboard, by virtue of the fact that, as a slate-based tablet, it doesn’t have a physical one.  WebOS’s onscreen keyboard is…  not bad.  Not bad at all.  It isn’t the best I’ve used (I’m spoiled by my haptic feedback on my phone so I know when I’ve pressed a key rather than having to look), but it is definitely above average.  There are four sizes of keyboard, all four of which have the same general keys on it but with smaller height buttons.  The keyboard has five rows (numbers, three rows of qwerty-style letters, and space) and an alternate symbols keyboard.  It works.

Downloadable Apps

So, one of the big advantages of mobile devices in the 2010s is supposed to be the App Store craze, where you can download apps from a single “trusted” (HA!) source for your mobile device.  The Touchpad is no exception with its “HP App Catalog”.  It has many apps that can do all sorts of useless things…  I should know, I scrolled through them all.

All of them.  There aren’t that many – most are meant for the Palm Pre or other cellular devices.  The ones that are meant for the Touchpad are actually okayish, but they’re so few and far between that they might as well not exist outside of Angry Birds HD (which works perfectly fine, FYI).  I mean, I wasn’t expecting a ginormous app store or anything, but I was kind of expecting…  more.  You know, like a Google Reader app, or really any RSS feed reader app whatsoever for free beyond Mosaic.  I’ve already mentioned the lack of alternative web browser, but there is basically no alternative anything to the built-in applications.

I don’t like that.  I use an alternative PDF viewer on my phone, I have an alternative browser or two installed on my phone, I use an alternative clock, alternative widgets, and so on.  Hell, my laptops and desktops are the same – I don’t even use the standard shell in Windows.  I like having choice – it is one of the reasons why I won’t buy most Apple products.

Oh, and those programs meant for Palm Pres and the like?  Yeah, they run in a phone emulator on the Touchpad, meaning your 9.7″ tablet device opens up a picture of a 3.8″ phone and runs the app inside of that.  Come on, even Apple did a better job with that one.

If you don’t like your Touchpad so much, why don’t you fix it?

I don’t mind if I do, actually.  :)

You see, there is a not-so-secret fact about the Touchpad – it is actually pretty friendly toward modification.  Hell, to do the equivalent of rooting a Touchpad, it requires you to open up your Device Info, go to Custom Programs, and then enter in the Konami code.  Bam, root-equivalent access.

After that, I installed Preware, replaced the Linux kernel on the Touchpad, threw on a butt-ton of patches, rebooted fifty bajillion times, reset the clock speeds on the Touchpad, mumboed my jumbo, bam balamed, and wound up with an almost useful device!

Summary of changes:
- Changed maximum clock speed from 1.2 GHz to 1.5GHz, allowing it to actually function properly.
- Eliminated practically all non-critical logging, speeding up the UI.
- Installed Adblocking features to make the web browser not-suck.
- Changed the minimum brightness from 10% to 1%, saving on battery life.
- Installed Preware, an indy app store for the apps that I actually wanted.

Or, in short, made it not suck.  Prior to the unsucking, I felt like I had paid 150 bucks for an over-glorified Rolodex.  It was useful for keeping organizational notes of things… and not much else.  I can use my phone for that and probably be more effective – I have a nice phone, after all.  100 USD might not have been a bad price for such a device, but 150 USD was a bit overpriced.  Now that I’ve completed most of the unsucking though?  I have a decent little device for 150 USD.  I wouldn’t have paid more than 200 USD for it… but I didn’t.

In the near future, Android will be ported to this device.  It won’t be the best experience for Android (the Tablet versions aren’t open sourced, so it is kind of hard to port them), but it might be better than what WebOS is doing for me now.  Still, not too shabby.  Worse than an iPad, but less than half the price.  Maybe in a month or so I can use this for GMing at least, but right now this works as… an alternative web browsing device and oversized PDA.

Now if only I could get my cats to stop walking on top of it – they keep clicking tapping on things.  :)

 

Pictures in a forthcoming post, as my living room lighting is The Suck for taking pictures.

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