Review: Hewlett-Packard TouchPad
On August 18, 2011, Hewlett-Packard indicated that they intend to exit the smartphone and tablet business. While subsequent announcements have led to ambiguity in HPs intentions with webOS, those currently seeking a tablet may want to consider a platform with a more certain future.
July 28, 2011
The Hewlett-Packard TouchPad is a touch-based Tablet computer running the HP (née Palm) webOS operating system. The Wi-Fi-only TouchPad began shipping in the US on July 1, 2011; a 4G version is widely speculated to be forthcoming.
The TouchPad's glossy 9.7-inch screen takes up most of the front face of the device. This is surrounded by a black bezel set into a rounded single piece smooth black plastic case comprising the edges and rear of the device. The edges are rounded with a variable radius and the back is formed such that the device lies on a flat surface without wobbling. The in-plane switching (IPS) multitouch capacitative touch screen measures 9.7 inches (25 cm) diagonally and has an XGA 1024x768 pixel resolution.
The TouchPad itself weighs 1.6 lbs, while carrying weight is 1.8 lbs with a Micro-USB cable and power supply. Overall dimensions are about 9.5 by 7.5 inches and it is slightly more than half an inch thick.
The TouchPad has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, Micro-USB port used for both data and charging, built-in speakers (both on one long edge of the device), microphone, and front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera. Notably, there is no rear-facing camera. All TouchPads have integrated Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n connectivity; WPA, WPA2, WEP, and 802.1X authentication are supported for the Wi-Fi connection.
A range of accessories from HP is available, including the HP Touchstone Charging Dock, an $80 device that allows wireless charging of the TouchPad, similar to the Touchstone available for the Pre. Also available are a wireless keyboard and a case similar to the one for the original iPad for which the cover of the case can fold back to create a stand for the device.
Like the rest of HP's line of mobile devices, the TouchPad runs the webOS operating system, though the TouchPad is currently the only HP device to be using webOS 3.0 (webOS smartphones currently run on version 1.x or 2.x). Though webOS 3.0 has a number of refinements over previous versions, most of them are behind-the-scenes changes, and the UI's card metaphor remains intact and familiar to users of previous webOS iterations.
A number of basic applications are built into the TouchPad, including native web browser, map, email, calendar, and contact management clients as would be expected in a modern touch-based Tablet. Additionally, Quickoffice and Adobe Reader provide business functionality, and Amazon Kindle, Facebook, YouTube, and music applications also come pre-installed. Further applications are available from the HP App Catalog, though the developer community has yet to reach a critical mass equivalent to that of the iOS or Android ecosystems.
Use at the University
The TouchPad is compatible with relevant core University services, including AirPennNet, Exchange, and Zimbra. Exchange and Zimbra connections are made via ActiveSync and support syncing of mail, contacts, calendars, and tasks, as well as GAL lookup, SSL encryption, and remote wiping. One notable limitation is that calendar entries can be made but meeting requests cannot be sent from the device.1
As the TouchPad supports 802.1X authentication, it can successfully connect to AirPennNet, although it does so in a non-standard way. Despite this, the connection seems to be satisfactorily secure for the device to be used on AirPennNet.
The TouchPad is currently offered in two Wi-Fi-only configurations: a 16 GB model retailing for $499.99 and a 32 GB model for $599.99. ISC recommends the 32 GB version, and in general recommends that any Tablet purchased have at least 32 GB of storage. The more pertinent concern, however, is connectivity. If a user requires network connectivity in places where there is no Wi-Fi, then ISC advises waiting for a 4G-enabled model of the TouchPad or purchasing another Tablet device with cellular data connectivity.
The University's Computer Connection stocks both current TouchPad configurations.
The HP TouchPad is an interesting device entering into the well-established niche of Tablets with 4x3 9.7 inch displays. Its form is highly comparable to the original iPad, sharing a display (4x3 9.7 inch 1024x768 IPS), dimensions (9.5 by 7.5 by 0.5), and weight (1.6 lbs), avoiding the experiments in size and aspect ratio performed by other Tablet manufacturers. This puts the TouchPad into a known market but also opens the device to inevitable Apple comparisons2.
For the most part, the TouchPad holds up well on its own merits. The webOS interface is intuitive with a short learning curve and the preinstalled applications provide good functionality for the Penn environment, allowing native connectivity to Exchange and Zimbra with a pleasing, intuitive email client and good calendaring. The TouchPad also provides a good, if not perfectly rendered, web browsing experience, scoring 93/100 on the Acid3 test3. Physically, the device feels solid and pleasant to the touch, though the back is slippery without a case, and the weight and thickness suffer in comparison to the slightly lighter and thinner iPad 2.
There are areas in which the TouchPad could be improved. First is the lack of cellular data connectivity, requiring users either to be near a Wi-Fi network or to create their own hotspot with a device capable of doing so. This immediately rules out the device for users with demanding travel schedules who need connectivity anywhere, anytime. As it has the ability to connect to AirPennNet, however, the device could be effective if deployed for use primarily on campus. If speculation holds true, a 4G-enabled TouchPad has more potential to meet the needs of the far-flung data user.
In addition to connectivity concerns, the touch-sensitive interface feels slightly less responsive and accurate than other touch interfaces. webOS responds to touch by displaying an indicator where it detected the touch; often the indicator is several millimeters from the intended touch spot despite significant time spent using the device by a given user. Finally, the HP App Catalog is critically lacking a breadth of quality applications, and has yet to reach the flourishing level of developer activity visible in the iTunes App Store and the Android Market.
Due to all of the above, the TouchPad remains an enthusiast's device for now, primarily for those familiar with and fond of the HP webOS operating system. It's certainly a usable device that will meet the needs of some at the University, and will be significantly better once the connectivity issues are worked out and the App Catalog expands.
ISC does not consider the TouchPad to be a primary computing device, but rather a complementary device to a more capable desktop or notebook that meets ISC's recommended standards. Unlike the iPad, the TouchPad can be operated independently of a computer and can be updated over the air without wired syncing, but it does not provide the same usability and productivity of a computer with a full desktop operating system.
TouchPad image courtesy of HP
Notes & References
--Jordan McClead, Michael McLaughlin, and John Mulhern III, ISC Technology Support Services (July 28, 2011)
Information Systems and Computing
University of Pennsylvania
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