The HP TouchPad is dead, long live the HP TouchPad! It feels very odd reviewing a product that you can't buy any more. When you factor in though that this new tablet computer is brand new out and still in its review period, and that many people will this week be taking delivery of their shiny new gadget, it begins to make more sense.
The HP though is a quandary. While HP announced suddenly last week that they were dropping the TouchPad completely, but still supporting WebOS, the tech world went into shock. After all, the TouchPad had barely been released when it was canned, and many outlets hadn't even taken delivery of their stock yet. As a tablet with the WebOS operating system on it though it's had a huge amount of positive press in the last year and when the fire sales began with the tablets selling from only $99 (£89) around the world the only way to get one now will be on eBay. The entire worldwide stock of TouchPads is sold out completely.
I was one of the people who bought a TouchPad in the fire sale, for all of you obviously so that I could review it. But what is it like to use and more importantly, have all the people who've bought one wasted their money?
Let's start with the actual hardware. It's an iPad'esque tablet with a standard ratio 1024 x 768 resolution IPS screen (though it's a couple of hundred grams heavier than the iPad 2). It contains a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 1Gb of memory and comes with either 16Gb or 32Gb of storage; the 64Gb version is unlikely to ever see the light of day. On the front there's a 1.3MP webcam, but no camera on the back. It's got a volume rocker and a micro-USB port for charging and connecting to a PC or Mac where it shows up as USB storage to allow you to transfer files to it. Battery life is good at around 7.5 hours. This might lag a long way behind the iPad but unless you were an exceptionally unlucky early-adopter, your touchpad just cost you less than a quarter of the iPad's price.
The back is piano-black plastic and the front is glass. Some people have criticised the build saying it's not up to the iPad 2's standards. It's not, but in fairness it's still excellent and one of the best built tablets I've yet seen. There are stereo speaker ports on the bottom, or side edge (depending on how you hold it) which are truly excellent. I had some trouble with the sound, ie. I didn't have any at all and was getting worried. A quick search online however revealed a software bug that was fixed by simply restarting the tablet. I eventually found the shutdown and restart options rather worringly hidden behind a reset button in the OS and the speakers sprang into life.
I'm going to give a special mention to these speakers as they are simply the finest speakers I've ever encountered in a mobile device, and simply phenomenal for such a small device. The range and distortion-free volume will project across a busy room giving pleasure to everyone there. They might not be up to the quality of a good set of desktop speakers, but for a portable device they're hard to match.
So what about the operating system? Well I should start by saying that at times it can feel a bit laggy. It's slow to rotate the screen and occasionally feels a bit sluggish. Apparently the tablet version of WebOS was developed by shoe-horning it onto an iPad 2 on which hardware it apparently performed much faster.
In general usage though WebOS on the TouchPad is very fast and extremely intuitive. Programs and browser tabs are treated as cards which you can stack into piles and move around to form groupings. To close an app or a browser tab you simply flick it off the top of the screen. This interface is completely effortless, utterly intuitive and an absolute joy to use. This simplicity extends to all aspects of the OS and while it might not allow you much control, which as a Windows user is one of the first things I miss, it's extremely well organised and workflow becomes simple and joyous.
The on-screen keyboard is also a joy to use and even has a proper number row across the top unlike iOS and Android that includes all the standard symbols available on the shift key. WebOS won't let you slow it down with too many apps either. If it detects performance will slow it will prompt you to close an app before opening a new one to keep performance speedy.
Where WebOS will be let down will be with app support. So far there aren't many TouchPad apps (identified by the "for TouchPad") wording in the app store and with news that HP won't be producing the hardware any more this will probably scare most developers away. It's best to assume that what we currently have so far as apps, and operating system updates too is going to be it. The TouchPad you've just bought isn't going to change much if at all during its lifetime.
To sum up the value of the HP TouchPad and whether it was worth the money for all those people who bought one it's six of one and half a dozen of the other. It will forever be a limited device in apps and updates. If you are the type of person who will want to do more with it in the future this will quickly drive you nuts. If like me you're happy to just have something that cost peanuts for a little light email and web browsing when you're crashed out on the sofa, then it's the bargain of the decade.
WebOS is every bit as polished a tablet operating system as iOS and indeed is far better in a great many ways, most notably the way it handles applications and multi-tasking. The hardware is excellent all round and the IPS screen is absolutely glorious. If you're waiting on delivery of your shiny new TouchPad, you're very right to be so excited.
Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.