The iPad alternatives are coming fast and furious these days, and one of the most intriguing by far is the HP TouchPad. For starters, it’s one of the few tablets that doesn’t run some form of the Android operating system. Instead it’s powered by HP‘s WebOS–an attractive, smartly designed environment that originated on the Palm Pre smartphone.
Furthermore, the TouchPad syncs effortlessly with your online world: Facebook, Google and even Microsoft Exchange (for you business users out there). The Facebook app in particular blows everything else out of the water. (Not that iPad users even have a native Facebook app to call their own.)
And here’s the best news: From Aug. 5-7, you can get the 16GB HP TouchPad for just $399.99. That’s $100 off the original price, and $100 less than the comparable iPad.
Ah, but how does the TouchPad actually compare to the iPad? Physically, it’s about the same size and weight (a beefy 1.6 pounds) as the iPad 1, though the TouchPad is glossier and more rounded. Sadly, the piano-like finish shows more fingerprints than Sherlock Holmes at a crime scene.
As for the interface, WebOS is simply splendid. Once you experience the “card view,” which puts every running app on its own card, you’ll never want to use anything else. This is how multitasking should work; you simply flick back and forth between cards to choose the app you want to view. And when you’re done with an app, you flick it up and out of the “deck”–a uniquely satisfying experience.
Because WebOS has been around for a while, app selection is pretty good. You’ll find favorites like Angry Birds, Evernote, Kindle, and a version of USA Today that far exceeds both the Android and iOS versions. However, there are a few notable omissions, like Netflix, Nook, Dropbox and any kind of decent Microsoft Office counterpart. (HP does supply QuickOffice, but it limits you to viewing documents; you can’t create or edit them.)
Many of the stock apps are excellent, most notably the calendar, e-mail client and Web browser. And kudos to HP for endowing the TouchPad with a battery that’s good for nine solid hours of video playback. (Translation: you should be able to use the tablet for days and days without recharging. I’m on day two, and the battery gauge still shows nearly full.)
There’s even a killer accessory: the Touchstone Charging Dock, which not only gives the TouchPad a place to stand, but also charges it inductively! That’s right: just place the tablet on the stand and it immediately starts charging. There’s no cord to plug in, no connector to physically mate with. The dock is pricey at $79.99, but it’s just too cool not to have.
So far, so good, right? I’m sorry to say the TouchPad suffers from one annoying problem: performance. It’s a slowpoke, especially compared with the iPad and higher-end Android tablets. Apps that should pop open instantly take several seconds to load, and Web pages are slow to appear even over a fast Wi-Fi connection. Although a just-released WebOS update does help a bit (especially with the highly oversensitive screen-tilt sensor), I found myself frustrated by the TouchPad’s pokiness.
That quirk aside, there’s a lot to like about the HP TouchPad–especially at $399.99. The only thing that really gives me pause is the long-term viability of the WebOS platform. Android and iOS definitely don’t have that problem.
Self-proclaimed cheapskate Rick Broida has been a technology writer for over 20 years. He has authored over a dozen books, including, most recently, “How to Do Everything: Palm Pre.” Currently he writes the Cheapskate blog.