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HP TouchPad Hands On

So, it's a decent, if not quite perfect piece of hardware but what really sets the TouchPad apart from all the other tablets our there is its WebOS interface.

This presents a fairly blank homescreen when you have no programs open, with just five icons running along the bottom (Internet, Mail, Calendar, Messages, App Launcher), and a notifications bar along the top. Drag down from the top section and you can see your latest notifications.

The fun starts when you start opening some apps. While in an app, you fairly obviously have a full screen experience but minimise a few apps and they arrange themselves in cards that run horizontally across the home screen. You can quickly and easily swipe through them to find the one you want and you can stack one on top of the other to keep them organised. It really is a great way to multi-task, though it doesn't go quite as far as the BlackBerry PlayBook that can actually keep a video running in the background while you navigate to another app.

Whereas on the WebOS phones, there is a gesture area underneath the screen for opening and closing apps, and moving back and forth within programs, these functions have been replaced by onscreen controls (for back and forth) and a single physical button for getting you back to the home screen on the TouchPad.

The apps themselves are really nicely presented. Take the email app for instance. Like most of these tablets, it can show the list of emails on the left with the email you're reading on the right. However, it goes a step further by allowing you to add a third column that shows a list of email accounts/folders, or you can get rid of all the columns to show the email you're reading in fullscreen. All this you can do with just a few simple button taps.

Browsing the web also seems effortless with a really speedy web browser that supports flash video and HTML5.

Another key feature of WebOS is Synergy. This is the company's name for it information integration services that pulls in information from social networking sites and email accounts and integrates the whole lot, adding pictures, calendar events, status updates and messages into your contacts.

You also get Just Type, which as its name suggest enables you to simply start typing on the home screen whereby a variety of options will appear. If what you've typed matches a person, email, or calendar entry, it will show up below, of if not you can tap on a website and it will search that website for what you've written (this is compatible with any website that has a search box, like our very own). Otherwise, you can use the text to start a message or a status update for Facebook, say. The whole system is fully customisable and any third party app can be integrated into it.

Other neat features include the ability to wirelessly print direct to HP printers, see messages from instant messaging services along with your texts in one inbox, and the picture viewer that integrates fully with social networking sites, allowing you to comment on photos straight from the app.

All told, it looks very impressive. Whether it will be enough to dissuade buyers from potentially cheaper Android tablets, or those with a few more physical features (like the microSD slot and a rear camera) is something that's a bit early to call. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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