We wanted to like the HP TouchPad, we really did. Ever since we first saw the WebOS software it runs being used on the Palm Pre (HP bought Palm last year) back in 2009 we were won over by its charms as a slick and powerful touch-friendly alternative to iOS, so when it was set to arrive on a tablet, we were tickled pink. Unfortunately the transition hasn't been an easy one and with the TouchPad arriving late to the tablet party, it's struggling to convince us to steer away from the established iPad and Android competition. Here's why.
HP hasn't dropped the ball when it comes to design, at least not in the purely aesthetic sense. The none-more-black colouring and curvy shape is simple but highly effective, and it really looks the part whether in-hand or resting on its dock (more on which later). However, it won't stay like that for long. The glossy black plastic back gets covered in fingerprints very quickly and it isn’t the hardiest surface either, with our review sample already sporting a healthy selection of dings and scratches (not all from us, it must be noted).
Build quality is also only okay. It has an all-glass front, with everything else reasonably tightly packed together - there are no wobbly panels or such like but there's a bit of flex in the back and some of the edges around the cut-outs for the speakers are a little sharp. Also the volume rocker is a little loose. None of it's serious but neither does it quite match the best.
What's more, it's heavier than much of the competition. Despite having the same 9.7in screen size as the iPad 2 it's 139g heavier – 740g vs 601g. While this doesn't make it obviously much worse to hold for long periods, it certainly doesn't help. And it's a shame because the curvy design really is a comfortable one. Of course, we still maintain there's limited comfort in holding any of these larger tablets, with none of them really being suited to single-handed use – unlike the 7in tablets such as the BlackBerry PlayBook or HTC Flyer – but the TouchPad does stretch the idea even further.
Physical features are also limited. You do get a forward-facing camera for video calling and such like while a standard microUSB socket is used for data transfer and charging, and there's of course a headphone jack as well. However, there's no HDMI of any sort for connecting to a TV, no microSD slot for expanding the storage (16GB and 32GB versions are available), no full-size SD slot for getting photos straight from your camera, and most surprisingly there's no rear camera. Admittedly these are all somewhat niche requirements when it comes to everyday tablet usage but when much of the competition does offer some of these, they stand out as omissions.
Just quickly taking a tour of where these features are, the microUSB sits on the bottom (when in portrait) edge, webcam in the bezel above the screen, there's a volume rocker on the right, the power/screen lock button on the top, and stereo speakers on the left. The speakers are in this orientation as the logic is you'll most often be using the tablet in landscape when engaging them, which is something we found to be the case. Meanwhile sitting dead centre of the bottom bezel is the only button this machine uses in navigating the interface – it maximises and minimises apps – though it's not actually needed as a gesture also takes care of the same duty.
The screen is one of this tablet's stand out features, though. It's the same size (9.7in) and resolution (1,024 x 768 pixels) as the iPad 2 and is as within a gnat's whisker of being as good quality with great viewing angles, bright colours, and good contrast.
So the hardware's not out of this world but what always appealed with WebOS devices was the awesome interface. Can this save the TouchPad?…