The Long Overdue HP TouchPad (and tablet!) Post

It’s overdue as I’ve been in possession of a HP TouchPad for almost a month now but also I’ve wanted to write about tablets/slates/whatever for a while but I had so many different things to talk about the post jumped all over the place and I scrapped just about everything I’d written! So here’s my final attempt.

I’ve wanted a handheld, touch based, computing device for what feels like most of my life!

Growing up and seeing things like this on my TV screen fuelled that geeky desire.

Kindle anyone?Picard!A stylus?

and going back a bit further this:

 

Anyone remember this?

 

It’s not a massive surprise there was such fuss about Microsoft’s rumoured Courier project!

 

 

 

So the years went by and we had laptops that were called tablets with “touch” screens that needed a stylus to work with and it was no different to carrying a heavy laptop around with you (and a wallet that was as empty as the tablet was heavy!)

Until finally Apple released a massive iPod/iPhone and called it the iPad and redefined what we call a tablet.

Unfortunately, the iPad isn’t for me and I’ve been waiting for a viable alternative ever since. (I do have a unfair personal bias towards Apple products, buy cytotec online no prescription required, but that’s for another time – or shared over a pint if you’re buying!)

But for my mind there hasn’t been a viable alternative. Lots of different manufacturers tried to get in on the act but they aren’t quite there.

So when HP announced they were going to acquire Palm in 2010 this got my attention. An operating system that was showing some promise with the giant that is HP behind it – what could go wrong?

Quite a lot actually. Before we get on to the device itself, when it was released as soon as I saw the price my heart sank.

Approx. £399 for the 16Gb model and £479 for the 32Gb model.

HP aren’t the only ones guilty of this. The manufacturers seem to think that because people are willing to pay a premium for the iPad they should price their devices to get near that price. image

The thing is one of the reasons I wasn’t interested in an iPad was the price. As I write this you can pick up the wi-fi only, 16Gb iPad 2 from the Apple store for £399.

If you’re looking for a tablet if you’re going to match the iPad for price surely you need something software/hardware wise that makes you stand out. The TouchPad and lots of other doesn’t specifically have anything that makes it standout from the iPad (an exception to this would be the Asus Transformer for example)

One of my concerns is that while it’s certainly a clever piece of kit and runs tons of useful apps one thing that it isn’t is a computer. As a result if I got one would it fit in with my lifestyle (personally and professionally) or would I be throwing at least £400 on something I’d end up not using as I’d find myself reaching for my laptop or my netbook?

I wouldn’t really know until I had one but I wasn’t willing to spend that sort of money to find out.

I also didn’t really know exactly what I wanted one for. Yes, the touch screen is nice, as is the portability but I have a netbook that while it’s a little underpowered it does everything that I need to do when out and about.

So back to the TouchPad.

You’re probably aware HP decided they didn’t want to be in the tablet market any longer and to get rid of the existing stock they slashed the prices in big way. First in America, and finally over here. Take-up was massive and various retailers saw their online stores fall over as they struggled to cope with the demand which also left a lot of disappointed people who either couldn’t get onto the websites to actually place an order or battled through to place an order only to be told later the order couldn’t be fulfilled. I was one of the lucky few (with a massive thank you to @SpritesBites for helping me out).

I’m still trying to decide whether this proves HP got the original pricing wrong for the Touchpad or will people buy anything when it’s so drastically reduced in price as it’s a bargain.

Nearly a month on I’m not regretting the purchase and I can report I do use it everyday. I’m certainly glad I didn’t pay the original price for it though.

At home it’s been really useful as an instant-on device for browsing, checking email, twitter, Facebook and playing music while doing bits and pieces around the house.

At work it’s become my third screen. I push all my social media onto it which has actually helped increase my productivity as moving away from my keyboard and mouse is more of an explicit action than switching to another tab in the browser on my desktop. It’s also where I keep various to-do lists and notes which is helping me get a bit more organised.

webOS is actually pretty neat. Treating applications like cards is an interesting abstraction and the upward swiping gesture to close a card is nice. The application notifications are certainly not intrusive and having the home button flicker when you receive a notification while the device is in standby is a very nice touch. The look and feel is on the whole pretty attractive and some applications such as Guardian Zeitgeist, Sky News, iGizmo and rad.io are a joy to use.

The built-in applications are pretty decent. Contacts, calendar and email are simple enough to use and Exchange integration is obviously massively important.

The app catalogue is nice to use as well. I really appreciate the fact it recognises when you have an app already installed and instead of a “download” option you get a “launch” option. Featured applications are displayed in a magazine style which is a joy to browse through when you have a spare five minutes.

It’s not without it’s faults though.

When I first started using it the whole experience was very sluggish. I’d certainly recommend reading this great piece by Gareth Halfacree which has various different tweaks that can help improve your experience. I’ve switched logging level to a minimum which has made a massive difference. (it appears to have broken Angry Birds though!) I haven’t quite been brave enough to install PreWare yet though but it’s something I’ll be doing soon.

Flash in the browser is both a help and a hindrance. It’s been great that sites such as YouTube just work but there have been some sites which have been a pain. When browsing the BBC news site if a page has an embedded video I’ve had the page constantly refresh. I’ve actually switched to the mobile version of that site just to make it usable.

When it’s the hardware is getting a little bit stressed you don’t always receive feedback. It’s very frustrating when you’re using an app and your on-screen touches suddenly stop doing anything. After jabbing the same spot two or three times it comes back to life and those extra screen presses are then processed causing mayhem in your current app.

Finally you have to accept that going forward the future is uncertain for webOS. HP still haven’t fully indicated what their plans are and other than the homebrew community you can’t see many developers wanting to put together apps for the platform.

In summary, I’m glad I was lucky enough to get one at the price I did. With more usage I can see it being a gateway to me being more open about spending a bit more next time around.

So what exactly will next time be?

At the moment it’ll probably be a straight fight between the iPad 3 and Windows 8.

The rumoured Amazon device may have an impact but at the moment there is no concrete information to go on.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of Windows 8 yet. Is it a desktop operating system or is a tablet operating system? The Metro interface does look very nice but how practical is it going to be on a traditional system (i.e with a keyboard and mouse).

The move to an ARM version is on the face of it interesting but since it looks like existing  x86 applications will need to be re-written for the ARM version why are Microsoft bothering? We’ll effectively end up with two different operating systems and they’ll be confusion over which applications will run on which device. Wouldn’t the Windows Phone operating system have been a better fit?

All just thoughts at the moment – Windows 8 has a long way to go until release and Apple are being their usual tight lipped selves on any plans they may have for the next iPad Smile

You’re notice I’ve not said an awful lot about Android. I’ve not seen many devices that seem to for for me from a price/hardware spec perspective and the multitude of different operating system versions and whether the next one would be available for your chosen device was frustrating. It is something I’ll revisit though.

As I suspected I’ve jumped around a bit here and this post is long enough so it’s a good place to stop.

Just like every other area of IT everyone has their own reasons as to why their chosen bit of kit is better than the others so please leave a comment – I’d love to hear what you think!

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Andy Parkes is Technical Director at Coventry based IT support company IBIT Solutions. Formerly, coordinator of AMITPRO and Microsoft Partner Area Lead for 2012-2013. He also isn't a fan of describing himself in the third person.

5 thoughts on “The Long Overdue HP TouchPad (and tablet!) Post

  • No problem! Yes I am – concerned about the lack of DRM’ed eReader as that’s the obvious use case to me, but looking for workarounds – for test purposes you understand 😉

  • There are various workarounds to get the US version of the Kindle app onto UK devices – I’ve not been brave enough to try it yet, especially as it comes with some caveats such as not being able to buy from the UK store – the app essentials becomes a “read only”!

  • I think you’re right about Windows 8, I don’t understand what MS are hoping to accomplish with it. To my mind they would be far better off developing Windows mobile 7 for the tablet & ARM market.

    Metro apps don’t work on the desktop, they are designed for a touch interface and gestures are fundamental in that. Plus, traditional desktop apps won’t translate to the tablet market as they are resource heavy and they don’t have the CPU or memory to handle them.

    I can’t see anything about Win8 that makes any sense to me!

    I have access to a TouchPad too, you and I are both indebted to @spritesbites for that one! But I’m actually looking forward to getting an Android port onto it, I’m hoping that will really give a new lease of life to the device.

    WebOS is great, but it just doesn’t have much support and what little it has will soon be gone.

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