HP TouchPad Review- A device gone before its time (but maybe not dead yet)

I got up dark and early on Black Friday. It was the first time I’d ever gotten up early to make a purchase on the busiest shopping day of the year. I had one goal in mind: get to Office Depot. I was buying an inexpensive laptop for my church and also hoping to snag a 32GB TouchPad for $150. It worked out perfectly because the TouchPad had to be bought along with an HP laptop.

I’ve been using the TouchPad for almost two weeks now. My iPad now spends most its time in wife’s hands because I’ve been a little enamored with HP’s late TouchPad. Here’s why I think this could have been a legitimate competitor had HP marketed it right and priced it right (maybe $100 less than the comparable iPad) from the get-go.

  • Hardware- While it does not have the metal body and glass screen that an iPad has, the TouchPad is a well put together gadget. It has a nice feel in the hands and has enough heft to feel well-built but it is not heavy enough to be bothersome. The glossy plastic does attract fingerprints but I also think it looks nicer than the options available on the iPad. If the device had lasted, HP could have released a white one that would also have looked fantastic.
  • Screen- The screen on the TouchPad is another high point. It is wonderfully crisp and clear with nice range of brightness adjustments. It is a 9.7″ screen with a 1024×768 resolution. I have found the picture quality to be excellent for everything from watching movies, to viewing photos, to reading books. The screen is quite reflective but it hasn’t been too much of a bother so far since I’m usually indoors when I use the device.
  • Software- It’s really too bad HP didn’t spend more time optimizing WebOS and the TouchPad to play nice together. WebOS is a great alternative to iOS and, as of right now, is even better than the current Android alternatives. Even with its short life, WebOS still has a better assortment of tablet apps than Android. This is one reason why an Android tablet purchased for my mom ended up going back to the store. There simply were not enough dedicated tablet apps to fit her needs. Also, WebOS handles multitasking in a really great way. You have to see it action to appreciate it, but it is far more intuitive than iOS. WebOS combines the user friendliness of iOS with the customization of Android. Plus, there is an active homebrew community.
  • Homebrew community- The TouchPad rightfully took flack for performance out of the box. Compared to iOS, it seemed far less smooth and polished. Well, the homebrew community quickly stepped in and provided dead simple patches to smooth things out and even to significantly overclock the device. After I spent about thirty minutes downloading and installing these patches the performance of the device picked up dramatically. I would say that it feels at least as snappy as my iPad and in doing things like loading full web pages it actually performs more quickly. Oh, and it supports Flash which eliminates the need for a lot of apps since you can go straight to the website and get the full content experience.
  • Android hacks- If HP does decide to shutdown support for WebOS (which is still up in the air as of this writing) then I can rest easy in knowing that there is a huge interest in porting the latest versions of Android over to the TouchPad. There are already Alpha releases of Gingerbread and work has begun on the Ice Cream Sandwich code to get it ported over as well. Should this development result in a reliable port, the $150 paid for this stellar hardware will be a great bargain.
  • Windows 8 (maybe)- This is a big maybe, but if Windows 8 does support the popular tablet chipsets then there is a chance that this could turn into a Windows 8 tablet too.

Those are the big positives for me. The mere prospect of being able to have a Windows 8 tablet for $150 was enough for me to try and pick one up. There are some negatives here that should be noted.

  • Apps- Compared to iOS it is slim pickings. That said, I’ve been able to do just fine. However, if you like having an app for everything you should avoid the TouchPad
  • Out of box performance- I’ve touched on this a bit but I’ll mention it here too. The TouchPad really does need to have those simple hacks done in order to shine. If you are willing to take the (very easy) plunge I wouldn’t worry too much about OOB performance. However, if you aren’t and you are expecting iPad like smoothness OOB you should buy an iPad.
  • Accessories- There are cases and a few other items out there but don’t expect anything near Apple levels of accessories.

So there are my thoughts after actively using the device for nearly two weeks. I think it was well worth the price and if you have a chance to pick one up (I think it would even be worth it at the $200-250 range they are running on Amazon and eBay) and don’t mind a little easy hacking you should jump on the opportunity.

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