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HP TouchPad - Interface

By Edward Chester



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The key thing about the WebOS interface that the HP TouchPad employs is that it's centred around multi-tasking. Instead of screens full of apps being your default view, the TouchPad presents a largely blank space with just five icons running along the bottom. To get to the full list of apps, you tap on the arrow button in the bottom right.

HP TouchPad 17

The reason for this arrangement is that once you've opened an app, or more to the point, several apps, they occupy this space as large thumbnails, or cards as they're called in WebOS. These cards lineup from left to right allowing you to quickly swipe between apps, while they can also be stacked on top of each other to create groups of related apps. The cards are large enough that it's easy to see what's happening in each app from this view, thus making it a breeze to find the app you're looking for.

HP TouchPad 9

It's a very slick system that was rightly lauded when it was first shown on the Palm Pre and subsequent Palm smartphones, and it still brings a smile to our faces even now. However, ultimately it's not actually that practical, particularly on a tablet. On a phone the simplistic layout feels right, as there's only so much screen space but, on a tablet, leaving the homescreen so spartan just feels like wasted space. After all, the multi-tasking interface on the iPad is pretty poor but with all those icons on screen, it's quick and easy just to tap the icon for an app again and re-open the app where you left off.

Otherwise, the WebOS interface is very good. The styling all ties in together nicely – only the iPad looks as good, fonts look lovely, and there's consistency across both native and third-party apps.

For instance in apps like email and Facebook you can split the view up into multiple columns or go fullscreen with the simple tap of an icon depicting three vertical bars. This makes it really easy to take full advantage of all that screen real estate.

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Other key elements like the onscreen keyboard are also very nicely done. In fact, the keyboard is currently the best available (at least until the split keyboard for the iPad arrives with the iOS5 update). The layout is excellent and the extra row of numbers along the top is very useful. You can also change the size of keys quickly and easily, though we did find the standard medium setting to be best for speedy touch typing.

Other key elements are also easily accessible. In the top right there's an area containing notifications and quick access to settings for things like the Wi-Fi, brightness, mute, and airplane mode. Unless you're in a fullscreen app, these can be called up with a swipe of your finger, without disturbing what you're doing. Likewise, options for apps are available by swiping down from the top left corner.

HP TouchPad 14

The five shortcuts along the bottom of the screen can easily be changed to ones of your choosing and there are plenty of options for organising all your apps in the main app launcher.

The final two primary parts to the TouchPad interface are Just Type and Synergy.

Just Type is an instant search service akin to Apple's Spotlight feature and Android's Google search. Principally it works in the same way, allowing you to quickly search for contacts, apps, emails, calendar events and such like, as well as jump into a full Google search at the touch of a button. Where it differs to other systems, though, is it adds Quick Actions and Search Using.

Quick Actions provides one touch links to things like starting a new email, text message, or Facebook update. Similarly, Search Using provides links for searching other websites. So with one tap you can search Twitter, Wikipedia, Google Maps, and many more.

The key to both these services is that they're open to third parties. So with Quick Actions, any app can integrate itself with this service, theoretically allowing you to quickly send a Tweet or update your WordPress blog for instance. Meanwhile Search Using can use the search on any website compatible with the open search standard. Once you've visited a compatible site, it will appear in the preferences for Just Type where you can select it to appear in the Just Type list.

Just Type is useful, though it doesn't quite have the same impact as on WebOS phones that have a physical keyboard – all you need do is slide the phone out and start typing whereas the app needs to navigate to the search bar on the homescreen.

Synergy, meanwhile, is HP's name for its contacts, calendar and messaging integration services. Like a number of similar services, such as MotoBlur on Motorola's Android phones, it enables you to sign into multiple online, or local services, that provide messaging, have calendar entries or store contacts. It then presents them through single interfaces.

So, you can jump into the calendar app and see all your goings on from Facebook, Google, Outlook, and more. Meanwhile your contacts have all been neatly arranged with the same person on different services having only one entry.

It's a good system made better by the fact that, like Just Type, it's an open platform so any service can quickly and easily be added without need for a major update.

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Unfortunately, the actual interfaces aren't all that clever. While other similar services present status updates, messages and pictures from various social networking services right there in your contacts profile, the TouchPad merely tells you that a Facebook account is associated with this contact – you can't even tap the Facebook account to open the Facebook app.

Likewise the calendar, while easy enough to use, lacks things like the ability to customise layout style (only colours can be changed) or decline syncing with certain calendars.


June 30, 2011, 1:36 pm

You need to correct the first paragraph: "we had a chance to have a look at the final design of the iPad" - pretty sure you mean TouchPad. You'll lose some clickthrough revenue...

A Scotland

June 30, 2011, 1:43 pm

It is interesting that TR continue to place such a high emphasis on the absence of 3G. How many people out there actually pay for a separate 3G card for their laptops or tablets?

I seem to recall that TR described the initial wifi only iPad as pointless because of this omission, but my understanding is that the majority of sales are the wifi only models. This makes sense to me as I don't actually know many people who could justify paying extra for a 3G sim card.

I wonder if it is a big deal for journalists due to the nature of their work and so journalists assume it is also a big deal for everybody else.

Not having a go just genuinely curious. I may well be wrong and the odd one out but would be interested to know.


June 30, 2011, 2:10 pm

Oops! A last minute rewording of that opening paragraph ended up with it not making sense. Apologies.


June 30, 2011, 2:16 pm

An interesting point. It's almost certainly the case that as journalists we do attach more weight to such things but nonetheless, there are vast swathes of the population that regularly commute by train where it comes in very handy, and there are of course many other such examples.

Also, it's not that we absolutely feel it has to have Wi-Fi, merely that it's regrettable that currently the option isn't there.


June 30, 2011, 2:21 pm

Coer blimey, I'm not having a good day of it so far, am I. I of course meant to say "it's not that we absolutely feel it has to have 3G".

A Scotland

June 30, 2011, 3:08 pm

I wonder how long before they put wifi on trains as standard...

richard smith

June 30, 2011, 3:52 pm

@ A Scotland - I know 6 people with an ipad all of them have wi-fi only models, most of them use it in the office on the tube or at home. One of them uses it on the train but he just downloads stuff to read off line.

I had the original Palm Pre which was an awesome phone, well I say awesome phone the hardware was just about passable at the time but the OS (Palm WebOS as the time) was in my opinion class leading - true multi tasking, the very fact it never had to be shown a cable to charge or sync calender and contact etc was just amazing and that was V1.4.5.

I am now on a Galaxy S2 as my contract came up for renewal and went from a £35 pm contract for the Pre to £27 for the G2. Would have stuck with my Pre had it not been for the battery lasting 4hrs max and been dropped too many time to mention (slider going) and as O2 don't stock any other WebOS phone (and they are not getting the Pre3) went to G2. Will the Pre 3 be available from anyone. G2 is excellent hardware, but I'm not that in love with Android just seems there is an extra couple of taps to do task.

So in answer to the question will anyone buy the tablet and the phone I probably would if the phone was available from someone, but as HP promised it for summer and summer is nearly over and it has yet to even appear unlocked on their website let alone on a carrier.

Come on HP you paid the money for an excellent OS - do it justice.

Ian Yates

June 30, 2011, 7:20 pm

Summer is almost over? Where are you from? Here in the UK Summer is officially June, July and August.

I agree WebOS is/was an amazing OS. It'll be a shame if HP can't do something with it.

Also, I have a WiFi-only Asus Transformer and just tether it to my phone if I need the Internet - one bill but all the freedom.

Chatan Mistry

July 26, 2011, 2:18 pm


This is a great and balanced review. Well done guys.

I've had the tablet for a couple of weeks now, and I've currently got the original Palm Pre as my mobile phone which I've been using for about a month.

On the whole, I've been very disappointed by the TouchPad. The hardware itself is nice and the OS is excellent. But it is SO SLOW! Navigating the OS can become jerky and when you do anything remotely intensive like web browsing (which is excellent otherwise - it's a great compromise for the lack of apps) it grinds to a halt. If you put it next to a iPad/iPad 2, it looks terrible.

I originally thought the bad performance was due to indexing that the device might be doing. But alas no - a week later it's still slow.

My recommendation for anyone is to wait to see what HP do. There is a 4G version of the TouchPad due later in the year with a faster processor, but I think the key is to see whether HP spend time optimising the OS for performance. I cannot believe a dual-core CPU would be this taxed by the OS this way. My Palm Pre was a little slow, but that's a single-core processor and it's a couple of years old so it's understandable. This is brand new hardware and it feels work

HP - sort yourself out! Oh, and whilst you're at it, check the spelling of buttons on your GUI, You shouldn't be having spelling errors in the OS! (hint: look at he toggleAll button in the email client!)


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