The TouchPad does have a few tricks up its sleeve. Those stereo speakers play there part very well. They not only get loud but actually have a modicum of bass, and with their stereo arrangement they provide a surprising amount of depth and engagement to video viewing and enjoyment when listening to music.
Another bonus is inbuilt wireless charging. Like with third-party wireless charging solutions such as those from PowerMat, this allows you to simply place the tablet onto its dock (sold separately) in any orientation you choose and it will start charging. Unlike those third-party solutions, though, the inbuilt solution on the TouchPad means you don't have to put up with bulky extra cases – it's a real boon for casual, around-the-house use.
What's more, when mounted on its dock, the tablet will go into a presentation mode, showing a nice large clock display, a slideshow of your pictures or even your messages. The rather iPad 1 style case is also rather neat, with it snugly protecting all sides of the tablet and integrating a stand adjustable to three different angles.
Battery life is also decent. We regularly got three or four days of on and off use off a charge. It doesn't have the ultra longevity of the iPad when in standby (or in use for that matter) but if you're regularly dipping in and out of using it, it'll last longer than most Android tablets.
You can also use the tablet in conjunction with an HP phone, such as the Veer or Pre3, with the two seamlessly sharing information (thanks to the way Synergy works) instantly. You can even tap one on the other to make them copy content back and forth. The classic example of this is sharing a webpage; have the browser open on one device then simply tap them together and the same page will open on the other device – great for seamlessly continuing your reading. Sadly we weren't provided with either the Veer or Pre3 to fully test these features.
This partnership does highlight another of the TouchPad's problems, though; there's no 3G version. Yes, we know most people don't actually bother with 3G tablets but it's still a pain that it isn't an option. Instead you must piggyback of the 3G connection on a phone, using Wi-Fi tethering, if you want to get a data connection when out and about. It's a simple enough thing to setup but does often require an extra charge on your phone.
The penultimate nail in the coffin for the TouchPad, as it currently stands, is perhaps the most surprising; it's slow! Despite having a fast 1.2GHz dual-core processor and a respectable 1GB of RAM, the interface regularly grinds to a halt. Its fine up until you reach a certain threshold – say, having half a dozen apps open – then performance just drops off a cliff.
As with much of the tablet competition, though, the most troublesome issue for the HP TouchPad is less technical as it is financial. With it costing £399 for the 16GB version and £479 for the 32GB one, it essentially matches the pricing of equivalent iPad 2 models. While both have their pluses and minuses, the iPad's ubiquity and vastly superior app store means it wins hands down. Likewise, several of the more established Android competition would tempt us away, most notably the Asus Eee Pad Transformer.
When all is said and done, the HP TouchPad is a hard sell. It retails for the same price as Wi-Fi only iPads of the same storage capacity yet it's less robustly built, heavier, lacks a rear camera, is slow and has a vastly inferior quantity of apps to choose from. Its interface does have some great features, its powerful speakers are a boon, and it's more open customisable nature will appeal to those not wanting to be confined to the Apple way of doing things. But if we wanted to go for something that isn't an iPad, we'd opt for one of the Android tablet competition, which are better-established and offer greater choice.