24 Hours with the HP Touchpad

Holy cow, a month between posts.  In the interest of getting something out here, following are my initial thoughts on the $99 HP Touchpad.

Last week the air was sucked out of the tech news world by HP’s announcement that it would discontinue its webOS tablet and would be cutting the price by 80% to liquidate the stock.  This device was just released a few months ago at $500, with the price quickly being cut by$100 due to lacklustre sales.  With the price dropped to $99, the tablet fell into impulse buy territory and I placed an order through Bestbuy’s online store.  The tablet arrived in yesterdays mail, following are my initial thoughts on the experience.

Packaging was slick and thoughtful al’a Apple’s products.  Upon bootup I found the screen to be responsive, bright, and adequate.  Programs were slow to load and there was an occasional lag, following these easy directions fixed that quickly enough.

Right off the bat I was impressed by HP’s embracing of the hacker culture.  “Rooting” the device was as easy as entering a code.  There is a Homebrew app installer called Preware (think Cydia for iOS)…HP even goes so far as to advertise this.  I had to boot my computer into Windows to get it installed due to driver issues (my understanding is that it works in OS X too).

Apps: there are not many good ones, and far fewer free ones.  It seems HP is following Apple’s lead in making the app store a profit driver for themselves and not a way to help out users and devs.  Coming from Android, this was a big buzz kill.  Luckily the browser is half way decent, not great, but mostly adequate.  Unfortunately, there are no alternative browsers.  No Opera mobile, no third party browsers at all…there are a few hacks available in Preware that make the browser more efficient, but it still leaves a lot to be desired.

Adobe Flash comes pre-installed and pushes high def videos without a hitch…pretty impressive.  This shows Apple has sabotaged the Flash experience on Mac.  If it can run on a phone, or a tablet, but hiccups on Core 2 Duo machines, where would you place the blame? The browser offers flash on demand which is how I like my Flash served (as needed and only as needed but don’t doubt you need Flash for the whole web experience).

The app store, which HP calls the App Catalogue, is underwhelming at best.  Most apps are designed for phones and run in a small section at the center of the screen.  Most tablet apps cost money, even stupid little utilities.  I did purchase a Google Reader app, as the full Google Reader doesn’t work in the browser (from Android experience I know it doesn’t work in the Android browser or Opera mobile either).  However I have no plans to pay any more for apps as I will be installing Android on this tablet as soon as it becomes available.  It may be months before a stable and safe Android install is ready, but most of what I do can be done in the browser until then.

There are areas that the Touchpad really shines.  Multi tasking is excellent, the card paradigm works well, but with this much screen real estate it seems dumb to limit the device to only full screen apps.  Sound is excellent, loud and with bass…better than most laptops.  The screen is also bright and crisp.  However, there are areas where it also falls on its face.  Lack of customization,, lack of widgets, and a dearth of applications come to mind.

In short, had I paid $500 (or even $400) I would have cried.  But at $100, and with Android soon to come, it is a great tablet.

Edit: Probably the biggest problem with the Touchpas is HP and having to deal with their lying conniving ways.  Yesterday HP posted that coupon codes for some popular apps, in the post they are explicit that the codes are good till 8/31.  But like everything HP, the truth is in the fine print.  So you read the post, head over to the app store where you have to input a credit card before you can use the coupon code, then you are told the coupon expired…  Back at the post you read “while supplies last” in the fine print.  Supplies?  It is electronic distribution, there are no supplies!  But read the post comments, all positive, no one complains that the coupons are expired…why?  Simply because HP has to approve comments, and they only approve positive comments.  They are careful to keep the secret that they are all gone…even today…30 hours after the deal ended, HP is still collecting credit card info from users under the pretence that they will get something in return.  It is all a scam to get credit card numbers under false pretences.  But I guess no one will be surprised that HP sucks…the wonder is how they can suck this much and get away with it.

Edit 2: The Touchpad has some glaring holes in what one would expect from a tablet.  No GPS and no ambient light detection (auto screen brightness) have surfaced as important missing features.

Using the tablet for a few days has re-enforced my thought that tablets are only consumptive devices, no one is really going to be using them to create much.  I have settled into using mine for internet surfing, streaming audio and book reading, with comic books being its best feature.  Further, there is no file manager, you have to download an app for that.  In my view this really precludes the device from being called a PC.  Part of what defines a PC is its general purpose nature, and the lack of a file manager is a major strike against it.


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