[sc:hardware-category ]I have, several times, mentioned that I don’t see much use for a tablet. However, my previous fondness for Palm PDA’s overcame this hurtle this week with the release of the TouchPad.
I haven’t owned a Palm device since WebOS came out so it was with quite a bit of curiosity that I booted up the TouchPad on Friday. I had heard about the OS and seen demo’s of course, but until you’ve had a chance to play with an OS for a bit, there’s just no way to tell how it will be.
To start with, I picked up the 16g unit, I’ve found in general on my mobile devices that I don’t use all that much storage so I didn’t see any need to spend an extra $100 on 16g of flash. And what’s with that anyway? The cost difference at the local store is $30 bucks, tops, why does HP charge $100?
Anyway, getting back to the unit, I pulled it from the box and found the TouchPad to feel quite dense all things considered. The constructions is all plastic but it feels solid and doesn’t flex. The documentation that comes with it, is well, mostly non-existent. Not a hug problem, but first power on seemed to be a little confusing as after you press and hold the power button, all that happens is an HP logo comes up and slowly pulses. Without any other indication I was unsure if this meant it was coming up or waiting for something else.
The setup wizard is straight forwards enough, though you have to have a network connection in place to complete it. This promptly came back to the issue I first had with my Windows Phone 7 setup as I use MAC address filtering on my Wi-Fi network. So there’s no way to find out the MAC address of the device until you’ve completed the setup and you can’t complete the setup without a connection. This forced me once again to disable the MAC filtering, get connected, find the MAC address on my router and then re-enable MAC filtering.
What ever happened to printing the MAC address of the device on the box? Ah the good old days.
The only other issue I had with the setup wizard was the requirement to have a “WebOS” account. I know it makes sense so they can bill you In the app store and all, but during the setup process, really?
The Home Screen
Once up and running the interface is quite nice, the primary parts of the interface are the “Just type” search bar along the top, the current applications displayed as “cards” in the middle and the launch bar along the bottom.
The launch bar has six items on it:
- The web browser
- The Launcher
These cannot be changed, so if for example you don’t use the messaging app, then you don’t have a choice to replace it with something you do, like the Music app. The Launcher app is where all of your other apps reside and can be run from as well as all of your settings.
At the top of the screen is the “Just type” search bar and so far I haven’t used it at all. I can’t quite get my head around it yet as I have to TYPE on the keyboard to use it and the whole point of the tablet is to avoid using a keyboard… just saying .
The e-mail app is divided in to three columns, the folder list, the message list and the message. This works quite well in landscape mode, but the columns are a little thin in portrait mode. Adding my Exchange account was straight forward and promptly provided me with all my Exchange folders.
However, as many OS seem to like to do (I’m looking at you Android), WebOS decided to “flatten” my folder hierarchy in to a alphabetic list of folders, though not completely as some of the folders do have their hierarchy in place. I can’t pin down exactly what the patterns is, but either way it’s annoying.
Trying to select some of my commonly used folders as my favorites (so they display at the top of the account list) was also quite challenging. Selecting them as a favorite was a simple tap of the star beside their names, however there was no immediate response and so the obvious second tap deselected them again. Several times the wrong folder was added as a favorite and only after about a 5 second pause did things work correctly.
This seems to happen throughout the OS at times, either no immediate feedback after an action or something counter intuitive happens. It will be something HP will need to work on in the next release.
After reading a few messages and moved to another application and then came back a few minutes later to see if I had any new mail. This all was smooth, however when I selected a message to read the message body was not displayed. After a bit of playing around, I found the only way to read message bodies was to close the e-mail app and restart it. I’ve had this happen a few more times, but cannot track down an exact set of actions that cause it.
Something that I miss quite a bit in the e-mail reader is auto web linking in the subject line of a message (ie if I get a message with a link in the subject line, pretty much every other e-mail reader will create a link you can tap on). You also can’t select the subject line to copy and paste in to the web browser.
The web browser is of course the central tool of pretty much all the tablets and the WebOS browser is quite nice if a bit basic in comparison to most modern browsers on the desktop.
It does a fine job to rendering websites and it’s flash support is quite good (I did have a few issues with a couple of flash based video sites).
There are quite a few issues I have with the web browser, but that’s not to say it doesn’t do it’s job, just that my expectations of a web browser are quite high these days due to how good Opera is on the desktop.
The first issues I have is that there is no default home page, so by default a blank browser window comes up. The browser is pretty responsive but I found a few sites which used “floating” toolbars to be quite jerky while panning and only redraw the toolbar after I had stopped.
You can open multiple browser windows of course and each one becomes a “card” on a stack, which is need way of displaying them, however I found that if I opened multiple pages on the same site, the stack quickly obscured the details to the point you could not tell which card was which.
There’s also no “touch” way to switch between browser cards without going back to the home screen, in this age of tabbed browsing, that seems down right archaic.
In fact, this is one of my biggest issues with all tablets and touch devices, they all pretty much have defined “hard” buttons for features that seem to make much more sense to be included in the touch interface. Having to click the hard button to bring up the task list seems counter to the basic premise of a touch screen device.
Another feature that’s lacking on the web browser is a password manager, having to type in account information on common websites is a real pain. Also missing is a find option on the current web page, so if you have a large article and are looking for something in particular, you have to manually scan the whole thing.
Perhaps the biggest issue that comes up in the web browser (and I don’t think it’s limited to it) is that once in a while a line of text will suddenly go funky. A chunk of text will almost look italicized and slight lower then the rest of the line.
The first content I loaded on to the TouchPad was some MP3’s. This was easy enough as when you connect the TouchPad to a computer you have the option of presenting it as a standard removable hard drive. This then allows you to use Windows Media Player to sync your music to the TouchPad.
After moving some music over I found the audio from the TouchPad to be very good, HP as included it’s Beat Audio technology with the TouchPad and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of it.
However once again there seems to be quite a few features missing from the music app, it supports playlist but there doesn’t seem to be any way to sync them from a PC. Creating them on the TouchPad is hard as there’s no way to do multiple track selects. You have to drag them one at a time to the playist. There is an option to drag an entire album across, but that is seldom what I want to do.
The calendar app pulls data from all your different accounts and displays them for you and I have to say it’s perhaps the prettiest calendar I’ve ever seen. In the month view I can just stare at it for minutes .
Of all the apps, this one seems the most polished, I just love it.
I don’t really use messaging, but I do find it strange that they don’t support Windows Live Messenger.
WebOS supports multiple accounts for various online social networks, etc. and I configured several, including Facebook and LinkedIn. However Twitter was missing as was MS’s Live.
Of course the WebOS account is also configured and here is my biggest issue with having yet another account, there’s no way to disable it’s integration with pretty much everything on the TouchPad, from Contacts right down to local storage. There are “slider” options in the WebOS account screen that tells you they are enabled, but they don’t actually slide to the off position.
Another issue I have with the WebOS account is that to make any changes you have to re-enter your password, which is good security, but you don’t have to do the same thing for any of the other account types.
The TouchPad supports VPN, however unless you have a Cisco VPN, too bad. How about some OpenVPN love HP?
Other Misc. Items
After using the TouchPad for a while, I’ve found the rotation sensing to be a little be too sensitive, the screen will rotate when I really don’t want it to, HP should include a preference to set how sensitive this is.
The TouchPad supports charging through the MicorUSB port, but a standard USB adapter will not work, HP has decided that the TouchPad requires more power than the USB standard supports and have therefore sent a special power adapter to use with the TouchPad. I knew this before purchasing the unit, but this seems silly, sure it might have taken longer to charge, but you would have been able to do it from pretty much anything.
I picked up the TouchStone stand with the TouchPad and I don’t understand why everyone hasn’t included wireless charging in their portable devices, it’s just so convenient.
And finally, why isn’t the storage expandable, is a MicroSD slot really that hard to include in the hardware?
Reading this review, you may get the idea that I don’t like the TouchPad, but that would be far from the truth. The TouchPad is great, but it really feels like they rushed it out the door too soon. Most of the above criticisms I have are easily fixed through OS updates and I suspect many of them will be.
The question remains then, would I recommend it to a friend? Probably not at this time, it’s a very nice unit, but the I’d recommend waiting until version 2 comes out.
I’ll be adding a review of some of the 3rd party apps and the app store in another post shortly, so stay tuned.