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Summary:

The HP TouchPad may currently lack third-party apps and access to video and music stores, but the basics are pretty solid, if not exceptional in some cases. Here’s a few of the standout features that I’ve grown to like in my short time with HP’s tablet.

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Is there room for one more contender in the tablet market? HP thinks so, and last week it launched the TouchPad: a slate that looks similar to competing devices on the outside, but offers a fresh, new take on the inside with the webOS software. Apple’s iPad currently has the lion’s share of the tablet market, mainly because it offers a strong user experience, a myriad of applications and a strong media ecosystem. HP’s TouchPad clearly faces a challenge in the latter two areas for now, but in terms of user experience, there’s much to like.

  1. Superb multitasking. When HP bought Palm and the webOS platform last year, the company wisely continued one of the most compelling functions found in the operating system: simple but effective multitasking. Applications open in full-sized windows, but one touch gesture — a finger flick from the bottom of the screen — shrinks the app into a small card. Users can swipe through multiple cards on the TouchPad to jump from one app to another. And similar cards are automatically grouped together. Open multiple web pages, for example, and the TouchPad stacks them for easy access. Closing an app is as simple as flicking a card off the top of the tablet screen.
  2. Monster messaging. Another webOS differentiator for HP’s Touchpad is the singular Messaging app that integrates several services. From one app, the TouchPad natively supports Google Talk, AIM, Skype audio and video calls, Yahoo! Messenger and future third-party apps. TouchPad owners who also have a webOS smartphone can send and receive text messages from the application as well.
  3. Notifications. These are a necessary evil for any mobile device, and there’s a fine line to balance. People don’t want to be pestered with “in your face” notifications for every email, message or news blurb. But incoming notifications can’t be missed either, or they defeat their primary purpose. The TouchPad offers the best of both worlds, and even an added bonus. Notifications appear directly on the device lock screen so you see them at first glance. An LED light in the home button blinks when there are notifications and the TouchPad display is off. When using the tablet, notifications appear in the top right of the screen and are stacked by application: Emails are grouped as are Facebook updates, text messages, etc. You can swipe through these notifications, and if there’s one that requires attention, a quick tap opens the appropriate application.
  4. Printer integration. I often use a tablet in lieu of a full notebook or desktop computer and although I don’t print often, when I need to print, it’s a must-have function. Other tablets, notably Apple’s iPad, now support wireless printing, but the TouchPad goes toe-to-toe with the iPad in this area. That’s likely due to HP’s commitment to wireless and cloud printing: I recently bought such an “ePrint” device, and the TouchPad automatically discovered my Photosmart C310 printer. Wireless or network printers not found automatically can be added manually with the devices’ IP addresses. You can even choose different print settings such as 2-sided printing or color, directly from the TouchPad.
  5. A keyboard for all hands. I think one of the most under-rated features of the TouchPad is the re-sizable keyboard. In either portrait or landscape mode, holding the keyboard button brings up four size choices: extra small, small, medium and large. When I passed the device around to several people and told them about this function, I found that all used different sizes, customizing the keys just for their hands and use. Given that mobile devices are highly personal, the customized keyboard sizes offer both a nice personalization touch and a wider range of input usability.
  6. A new canvas for developers. The quality of apps on the iPad makes it a compelling device and the TouchPad has a ways to catch up here in terms of quantity. But I’ve already noticed some outstanding new features found in webOS apps that not even the iPad had. Take the Facebook app, for example. There still isn’t one for the iPad, but the webOS version is stellar. Outside of chat support, there are no major features I find lacking. And a unique magazine-style layout option has no equal on any other Facebook client: You can see this useful design in my video overview of the TouchPad below. Need another example? I constantly check WordPress to view and respond to reader comments here on the blog, which leads to various checking in on the comment queue. I don’t have to do that on the TouchPad though, because the software supports integrated notifications in webOS: Comments appear alongside my emails and texts, where I can quickly manage them.

The last aspect is one that shows the most promise to me because I’m looking forward to seeing what applications third-party developers can create for HP’s TouchPad. Unfortunately, this strength also points out one of the key reasons why consumers may balk from the TouchPad for now. A solid mobile platform on a tablet with strong base features is nice, but not enough for everyone to make the purchase. Instead, the TouchPad offers much to like now, with the potential for even more to like later. As much as I’m enjoying this review unit, it’s that potential that I — and many others — are waiting to see.

Note that there are plenty of other pleasant aspects to the TouchPad: a great email client, a wireless charging dock and the JustType feature that works as a universal search function, to name a few. My list of likes will likely vary from yours, but these six items jumped out at me. With solid basics out of the way for the TouchPad, access to a media store and strong third-party apps are the key for HP’s TouchPad going forward.

DisclosureAutomattic, maker of WordPress.com, is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

  1. Facebook app on WebOS is MYPad on iPad.

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    1. There are always 3rd party alternatives, but from my point of view, a native solution effectively guarantees support for all features and faster software upgrades.

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    2. free Ad-free version? I have an ipad 2, and bought the touchpad for 99 yesterday. The facebook app is free, so its much better, and will probably get android-beta the next month, and become official in a few months. Now think, a dual core 1.2 ghz 1gb ram 16gb tablet, for 99 bucks? with future android possibilities? who wouldn’t get one?

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    3. free Ad-free version? I have an ipad 2, and bought the touchpad for 99 yesterday. The facebook app is free, so its much better, and will probably get android-beta the next month, and become official in a few months. Now think, a dual core 1.2 ghz 1gb ram 16gb tablet, for 99 bucks? with future android possibilities? who wouldn’t get one?

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  2. One other thing to like about the HP Touchpad & webOS is the development environment. The majority of apps are built using web technologies: HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript. That makes it pretty easy for someone to get started on webOS development, especially if they already code for the web. No fancy tools needed, just an HTML5 browser and your standard web dev tools.

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    1. Great point, Mike. Oddly, this has long been the case for webOS and yet it hasn’t attracted as many 3rd party developers as I would have expected. Hopefully, my perception changes and the app ecosystem builds quickly because in my opinion, the core building blocks for success are present in the TouchPad.

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    2. In my time I’ve written two commercial PCL emulators for HP competitors. I’d like to take a crack at writing a service for the TouchPad that would allow it to pop up on the local network and accept printouts from things like Word running on PC’s and then allow you to haul them around and view them on the TouchPad e.g. make it into a virtual laser jet. I have no idea how I’d do that in HTML 5. I’m pretty sure I need a more traditional devtool stack but alas their dev tools error out for some unknown reason on Mac OS X Lion.

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    3. I think that’s because there are simply too many things the HTML5/CSS3/JS combination can not achieve. I don’t know about elsewhere, but previous webOS product flopped in China’s smuggle market because it was IMPOSSIBLE to make any third-party Chinese input app for the system. When the PDK came around everything was too late.

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  3. What I cool feature I liked about my TouchPad today: Beats audio!

    I plugged in my Bose Quiet Comfort 15’s and selected AfroJack Take Control in Hp Music Player: BAM! WOW! OK, so it sounds a lot better than any of my other tablets: Playbook, Xoom, G-Slate, iPad, iPad 2.

    What I’m sad about today: wireless charging rate on the $80 dock. Charges at half the speed of plugging in a cable. :-(

    I’m uploading about 100GB of music into Amazon Cloud Drive to experiment with Amazon Cloud Player on my TouchPad and see if it works better than Google Music Beta does. Amazon took my Kinlde app on my TouchPad (and still hasn’t released their HTML 5 based reader either natch!) But today they began giving away unlimited audio storage. The Love Hate struggle continues.

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  4. All of my other 10″ tablets support micro-USB host mode cables to turn around the USB port to let you mount things like USB Flash Drives. So far the HP TouchPad doesn’t seem to have support for host mode. :-(

    Come on HP! Even the iPad has a camera connection kit!

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  5. don’t know whether hp will able to catch apple ipad. But too many tablets coming with really cool feature like motorola xoom, asus conceptual mobile phone cum tab, bb upcoming tab and may nokia also jump in band wagon

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  6. should mention HP Touchpad comes with 50GB free cloud storage on Box.net for life, 10 times more than Apple’s iCloud.

    also has stereo speakers with Beats Audio, not mono speaker like iPad2.

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    1. Both are also “things to like” Danielle: thanks for adding them!

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    2. Danielle, the iPad’s don’t have a mono speaker, go check a tear down and you’ll see they have Stereo speakers The Beats audio in the HP TouchPad is pretty nice though, makes my Bose Quiet Comfort 15’s pop!

      The Box app doesn’t come with the HP TouchPad. If you want to cover the advantages of non-bundled 3rd party apps the iPad’s are going to win that comparison. I read Bloomberg Businessweek+ on my iPad 2 every week. I dig through the History Channel’s Civil War app every morning on the bus ride to work. And of course I can read books in my Kindle library on my iPad 2, can’t read any of my Kindle books on my HP Touchpad. And when I’m shopping I can scan barcodes directly from products with the iPad 2’s rear facing camera and check prices to assist with making buying decisions. No rear facing camera on the HP Touchpad. When I get home I can pop an HDMI cable into my iPad 2 and fire up Hulu+, Netflix to watch TV showss and Movies on my Sony flat panel. The HP Touchpad doesn’t even have a Movie store to rent movies from (no matter how HP tries to wave their hands.)

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  7. The main problem with HP touchpad is and was never its OS,but the timing of its launchall which led to it falling behind in the app race. And the initial hardware which was designed looking at the ipad1 and launched after the ipad2

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  8. I recently published a blog post article, which might be of interest to people reading this article, entitled Using Tablet Devices in Learning, Teaching and Education with a focus on the HP TouchPad and the benefits of webOS: http://wp.me/pFqgC-3S

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  9. For me, the best feature of all with WebOS has to be its homebrew community which is supported and encouraged by HP and has no equal among mobil operating systems.

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  10. scotty, the touchpad has been out for exactly 1 week. Give it a rest.

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