By Nate Adcock on Sun, 11/13/2011
This will definitely be a different kind of "What I played this week" post. The HP TouchPad tablet might be remembered--if remembered at all--in the annals of gadget ignominy. Just another iPad contender that hardly made it to the ring, before HP decided to pull the plug. I won't be the first or last to say that it's a shame. The product has some rough edges to be sure, but serious potential as well. I played several decent apps on it this week that I felt deserved (along with the device itself) at least a minor review (2 recommendations mentioned here--free Gun Bros and Appy Geek have iOS equivalent in the App store). Though it isn't strictly iPhoneLife material, this review might interest the gadget nut curious how the TouchPad stacks up to our beloved iPad. Actually pretty well...
The story is, I was going to do the normal "What I played" column this week, but a friend managed to get me a TouchPad to check out. What kind of geek can I claim to be to not write about it? Figured the least I could do would be to post up on the experience, since I did truly play with it more than anything else this week. To summarize, I would say it's more or less a somewhat slower (and cheaper) version of iPad--there are simple optimization tweaks that do speed it up to a comparable level for most tasks. In other areas, the webOS shines rather well, especially in simple multitasking, navigation and a few other areas. Who knows, maybe HP will try again with a newer device? Or some other vendor will come along to carry on the webOS banner in a tablet form. The TouchPad story could still be re-written, and only time will tell if another device like it comes to market.
The box the HP tablet comes in is somewhat similar to an iPad's, but maybe a tad bigger. The included kit has power adapter and microUSB-USB cable to sync and connect the unit to your computer, which makes copying music, pix, and movies a matter of a few mouse clicks. Also included are the obligatory getting-started manuals and warranty docs.
Once you actually handle this tablet, some obvious differences become apparent, though it's size and weight are comparable (it fit rather well in my iPad mophie workbook folio). The TouchPad screen is the same size as the iPad, and appears as crisp and responsive (in most regards), but when holding it, the feel can be a little slippery due to the smooth edges.
The unit back/side cover is completely made of sturdy-grade and glossy plastic. The edges are attractively rounded at the corners and sides. Finger smudges are an ever-present annoyance due to the black, shiny finish, but you also get a handy wipe. Power on/off is located on the upper right corner much like iPad with headphone jack opposite, and volume and home button are also similarly located to the placement on iPad.
No screen lock button though, and the "center" or home screen button is oblong instead of round and internally lighted (a nice touch), which can be useful in the dark when it goes to sleep (it flashes dimly). The unit has a small microUSB port roughly below the "center" button (again, think Home). The left side of the unit has no buttons marring it, but stereo speaker openings are apparent, and the sound they produce was *not really very good (maybe there is a tweak for that too). UPDATE: A minor app issue that cleared up after restarting. Actually the sound with the Beats Audio option turned on was quite good.
Also similar to an iOS device, the TouchPad is a fancy brick until you tie it into the vendor's on-line consumer space, which I hate (UPDATE: Apple did deal with this complaint in IOS version 5, so my statement here is not totally accurate--you do not have to connect to your PC iTunes anymore with a new device). Why can't we buy a device, take it out of it's fancy wrapper, spend 30 seconds or so to start up and connect to a WiFi network, and then actually use it? Is that so much to ask? The TouchPad doesn't let you past the 3rd setup screen without network connection/registration with the webOS on-line store. Unlike iTunes, a credit card is not required.
WiFi MAC authentication is a problem (if you use it to protect your network from intruders), and according to the on-line tips/documentation it doesn't work at all where WiFi services require a web-portal login process to connect (like a hotel). This could be a big issue for the road warrior. I got around the MAC limitation by using an old WiFi router I keep around for crap like this. I connected to my off-line router first in order to get the MAC address, and then added the MAC to my allow list on my primary home network (using simple ping/arp commands). After that, it was pretty much smooth-sailing. I'm surprised how many consumer network devices I have run across that share this limitation. MAC security has been around for quite some time, and vendors should account for this.
Anyway, once I connected, it was at least another hour or so of updates, registration and restart activity before i could grab some worthwhile apps from the store and start playing around with it. I grabbed the Kindle app, a weather app, free Gun Bros shooter, and a free feed reader called Appy Geek, all of which pretty nicely done for freebies.
I have to mention that the webOS update was on the order of 50MB versus the monster sized iOS downloads that are typical. The install still took as long or longer than either my iPad or iPod touch. I was also able to connect it like a USB drive to my computer and transfer music, and movies to it in less than 5 minutes.
One notable item i have to give a thumbs up on... I wrote this review on the HP tablet, as it includes a native document editing program that also can be connected to cloud storage services like iCloud or Google docs to allow storing and syncing. This is an aspect of the TouchPad that was remarkably mature. It was a very simple prospect to add on-line services (email, contacts, calendar) in the same manner.
Since this is a "what I played" post should probably talk a bit about Gun Bros, eh? It was the only game so far I have tried. If you like a shooter with a 3D aerial visual aspect, this one is pretty good. The game was aften jerky in the early parts after initial load, but after a level or so became more fluid. This is a distracting behaviour for webOS in general. It inexplicably slows down, pauses and speeds up at odd times, but it was admittedly much improved after I reduced the logging (do a web search for "TouchPad optimizations").
The object is for you and your computer-controlled brother to blast as many bad guys as possible in each wave as you progress through the levels. A robust store of weapons, armor, and power-ups are available through in-game advancement and via in-app purchases. You can also invite friends to play in multiplayer mode as well. Gun Bros is a seriously fun shooter, and aside from the annoying jerkiness at first, I had a hard time putting it down. You can grab it in the app store (iTunes links posted above) for iOS. Tip, replay easier waves to get the cash for better stuff.
The second app I grabbed was a free feed reader called Appy Geek. I should have reviewed this for iOS (iPhone version only at this time) when it popped on our app store. It really is about the simplest way to get all the the latest tech feed stories in one place. The interface shown above is indicative of webOS presentation for apps like e-mail, contacts, etc. A 2 or 3-pane view that allows you to filter down through categories of material very quickly. The iOS version of course does not incorporate this view aspect, but similarly makes it super easy to stay informed on tech news.
In a few cases, webOS reminded me of the old Palm devices that I used years ago. And nothing at all wrong with that, as they very popular for the same reason iOS today is popular. Ease of use. Apps are kept running in the background unless you swipe them up off the home screen completely, so you can quickly switch to them by swiping left or right (they appear as mini-windows or "cards"). The launcher area and menu items are somewhat reminiscent of the older Palm environment, but with markedly better finish. I really hope HP changes their mind and continues to support the webOS environment with similar devices to the TouchPad (or even resurrects the TouchPad). You can still buy them on reseller sites if you know where to look, and while the firesale pricing is gone, you might find one for around $200. If you do, make sure to grab the apps I mentioned in the webOS store (simply search them out by name). Our readers can find them in the Apple app store as well (links above).
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