I got a great deal on the new HP Touchpad, and I had wanted to get it just to get it and try it out. I think that Palm’s (now HP) WebOS operating system was probably the best phone/tablet operating system other than Apple’s iOS.
And after an hour there are already some things I like better about WebOS than iOS, particularly how multitasking works. And there are a few things I definitely don’t like – media sync and the HP Play Beta software for the Mac.
The user interface is good, especially when it comes to multitasking. The WebOS card system is the best way to handle multitasking on a mobile device. Period. Even after a few hours I like it way better than iOS’s implementation. Swiping up from the screen to kill apps (or app tabs/fragments), swiping up from the bottom to bring up the task switcher, they just seem more natural than the double-tap of the home button on iOS devices. And the card interface is (sadly) the smoothest experience of the entire OS.
But even after the update design to improve performance, the touch response is still lacking. I don’t know how Apple does it, but everything is always more responsive on an iOS vs Android and HP phones and tablets. All the Android phones I’ve ever played with and the TouchPad have that same, slightly lagged response. If iOS never existed we might never notice, we might not have this issue. But coming from iOS devices I certainly can tell, and sometimes I’ll get ahead of the screen, resulting in unwanted taps. If they cant fix it (because of the way the device or OS is designed) then we’ll just have to live with it, and thats disappointing.
The dearth of Touchpad-native apps is one of the bigger issues, mostly due to it being a relatively new platform. The nice part is that since I’ve got great web development skills, I should be able to make my own applications fairly easily (unlike the 10 times I tried to make an iOS app and gave up because I couldn’t wrap my brain around Objective-C — too much C# and web dev have rotted my core I guess).
That said, even some of the apps the Touchpad has look incredibly awful. The USA Today app (also available on the iPad, and an app that I use somewhat frequently) has this weird side-scrolling news article list for each “section” of the newspaper, and then an article pop-over on the right side. I’m really not sure what design decisions were made, but the app you get on the iPad is infinitely more readable and usable. Similarly with the Facebook app – you just wonder what the designers were thinking. There are at least two or three better layouts they could have used.
There is a free Angry Birds HD app. So, there is that.
For me, the media experience didn’t go so well for me. I have a Mac and currently manage everything through iTunes. My goal was to load about 10GB of music from my library and some movies (540p H.264 medium profile aka iPad 2 compatible). Loading music is awkward because you have to put the device in USB disk mode, which keeps you from doing anything else while the transfer is going. The HP Play Beta software did a half decent job of importing my iTunes library, but it didn’t do very well with Smart Playlists or the Folder/Playlist hierarchy I have. That, and I tried to add “Recently Added” songs to the Touchpad, and it tried to import my entire music library (rather than songs I had recently added to the iTunes library it imported from). Video didn’t turn out so well either, I copied Iron Man 2 to the device, but wasn’t able to play it. Googling for help didn’t work since all the links end up being for pay-for software to convert it down for the device, not much about specifications or what Handbrake settings I can use. As someone who has a large and carefully manicured digital movie and TV show library, its something of a letdown to not have it work right out of the box.
Edit: I was able to get some movies from my media library working, but many didn’t work. Considering I used the same settings on all the rips, I really don’t know what the problem is.
Follow Up – August 20
HP announced they’re discontinuing the TouchPad. Which is incredibly heartbreaking, knowing they could have done something really good with it. I took mine back and got my $400 back – luckily it was the last day of the 14 day return period. Then, as the fire sales happened around the internet this weekend, I spent $99 on a new 16GB TouchPad. So I’ll still end up with one, but for a lot less.