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HP TouchPad goes on sale to mixed reviews

Firmware, UI win praise; hardware seen as uninspired

By , Network World
July 01, 2011 09:58 AM ET

Network World - The initial reviews of HP's TouchPad tablet are in and they paint a somewhat confusing picture. But they all agree this much: TouchPad (1) is no iPad 2.

Overall, many reviewers liked the webOS operating system and user interface, especially the way it makes use of multitasking, notifications, and integration with an array of online services and websites via the HP Synergy synchronization feature.

BACKGROUND: Analysts lukewarm on HP TouchPad chances for success

The device itself is where it suffers most in comparison with the iPad: a glossy, black 1-inch plastic case that's slightly thicker and heavier and far more prone to fingerprints, than the sleek, aluminum unibody iPad 2 housing, or of the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, running Android 3.1 firmware. The 9.7-inch touchscreen is the same size, resolution and aspect ratio as the iPad 2.

It comes in two Wi-Fi only models (3G models with assisted GPS are coming later), based on internal storage capacity: a 16GB model for $500, and 32GB for $600, the same pricing as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the iPad 2 (which is also available with 64GB, for $700).

There are, of course, far fewer tablet-specific apps for TouchPad, about 300 at launch versus more than 90,000 for iPad. By one recent count, there are about 1,300 Android tablet apps.

Engadget's Tim Stevens sums up a common set of impressions. 

"The shortage of apps is a problem, no doubt, but that will change with time," he writes. "What won't change is the hardware, and there we're left a little disappointed.

"Holding this in one hand and either an iPad 2 or a Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the other leaves you wondering why you'd ever be compelled to buy the HP when you could have the thinner, lighter alternative for the same money. Meanwhile, the performance left us occasionally wanting and, well, what is there to say."

UI and operating system

TouchPad has a distinctive UI, based on the webOS firmware originally created by Palm.

"I like the interface a lot," writes Walter Mossberg, reviewing the tablet for The Wall Street Journal. "Instead of a screen full of app icons, the main screen of the TouchPad's operating system, called webOS, presents running apps as "cards" -- large, live rectangles that you scroll through in a horizontal row."

The cards are easy to size, move and close using finger swipes. They can combine both local and offline content, and cards with related functions are "stacked" atop each other.

"It seems to me that the general tenets of the webOS philosophy have always been based around speed, simplicity, and finding the shortest and most organic steps to getting things done, and webOS 3.0 doesn't seem to have lost those principles," says Joshua Topolsky, reviewing for ThisIsMyNext. "HP has certainly tightened up much of what Palm started, and navigating the TouchPad quickly became not only second nature, but an experience I found myself missing [after] going back to the iPad or a Honeycomb [Android] device."

"It works beautifully, and conveys far more information than the iPad's application switcher (which is just a row of icons)," says David Pogue, reviewing TouchPad for The New York Times. He notes that HP argues the tablet offers "real multitasking" with all open apps always running, compared to iPad, where only selected apps can run in the background, and the rest are suspended until the user returns to them. "Apple argues that true multitasking runs down the battery -- and the battery-life stats prove it correct," says Pogue.

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