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6/29/2011
04:27 PM
Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson
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HP TouchPad Review: OS Beauty Vs. Design Bulk

HP's TouchPad won't make you put down your iPad 2, or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, but it will make you wish those tablets had the TouchPad's software innovations and user experience.

Now the ugly stuff ... WebOS has been plagued during testing with performance problems. The worst of them is a sluggishness that starts to creep in over time. I'm not sure whether it's due to memory leaks (which HP confirms is happening) or running too many applications, or perhaps (in the case of Quick Office, according to HP) misbehaving applications, or all of the above. Regardless, I often found myself rebooting. I got frustrated by the more-than-minor annoyance of having to wait for, say, a cursor to appear in an email message body, or for a Web page to scroll, among other simple tasks. Music, either from Pandora or playing on the device, would start getting interrupted by the simple loading of a Web page.

BYTE.com
Also, the TouchPad is extremely slow to start up, sometimes taking two minutes--twice as long as other tablets.

Some applications would bring up a ghosted dialog box. I'm not sure what they said, because they were blank, and they stayed until I finally figured out that if I could just find the invisible "OK" or "dismiss" button, I could solve the problem. But in these cases, often applications would just refuse to launch. (With early, shipping versions of the BlackBerry PlayBook, applications constantly started and then crashed, so pick your poison.)

HP TouchPad: A Visual Tour
HP TouchPad: A Visual Tour
(click image for larger view and forslideshow)
HP says it has been working on OS updates that it will send over the air a few weeks after launch. Where have we heard that before? Oh, right, with Android Honeycomb, and most certainly with RIM's QNX on the PlayBook. It just seems to be the way: Ship the tablet on time, ready or not, and assure everyone that over time these things will get worked out and stabilized. Without an update, the WebOS problems are just too frustrating and prevalent for long-term use. In other words, wait.

Native WebOS Apps-Browser, Email, Messaging. The TouchPad comes with all the usual native applications: contacts, calendar, maps, YouTube, Facebook, etc. But there are three that matter most for productivity: Web browser, email, and messaging.

The TouchPad's Webkit browser performed fairly well. The state of Web performance benchmarks is a bit muddled these days, but I did run some of my standard website testing suite on it, and the browser didn't have a problem with any site I threw at it. For example, on one site that shows up miserably in the native Honeycomb browser (even in version 3.1), the TouchPad browser was flawless.

On the Acid 3 test, however, the browser scored a 92 out of 100, with some significant artifacts. HP says this browser isn't up to the very latest Webkit standard, and that it's working on updating it soon.

The TouchPad browser supports Adobe Flash 10.3, and it managed every Flash site I threw at it. For example, just for fun, I like to see if I can run our video publishing system, Brightcove, on tablets. Much of Brightcove's console is written in Flash. I could preview videos, edit metadata, and publish video, though I couldn't use controls like the scroll bar. I tested another application in my daily toolset: Adobe's Omniture, whose console is also in Flash. Again, I had no major challenges. The performance was even fast. Flash video played just fine as well, especially on porn sites (just wanted to see if you were still paying attention).

The native email application is fairly typical. It provides a universal inbox, or you can view your Micrsoft Exchange (via Microsoft Direct Push with Exchange Active Sync), Yahoo, and Gmail inboxes separately. You can place messages in folders or mark multiple messages for action (like deleting). Unlike with the Android Honeycomb email client, there's no message drag-and-drop into a folder. Also, entire message threads aren't kept together in a single conversation view, so you have to rummage through your inbox email by email. Not good.

I couldn't see inside nested folders (folders within folders). HP provided a few remedies in the short term, and they're working on a fix. Early in my testing, I wasn't able to see HTML-based email content, though that got fixed quickly in a system update. I still occasionally get emails with links but can't see those links on the TouchPad.

What is good is that the email window panes are flexible. In one view, you can see all of your inboxes, lists of messages, and then the text of an individual email. Or if you want to give better screen real estate to a single message, you can pull away some of the list views. This capability is also available in other applications and is similar, in some ways, to Android's fragments.

Finally, the Messaging app built into WebOS is a centralized way to communicate and collaborate and, like many WebOS treats, it uses your existing messaging services, like Yahoo IM, Skype, or SMS. It even detects presence in the app and across messaging systems. Type in a contact and connect via any of the existing services--send a text, send a Skype message. In fact, you can make Skype-to-Skype calls using the TouchPad, or, better, conduct video chats over Skype. Unfortunately, the video performance was horrid. While I could easily hear and see the person on the other end of the call, my picture came through pixelated and like a series of still pictures. HP said it's working to remedy this issue. (I tried Skype on a laptop, and the video worked perfectly.)

There's also a phone/video app, which links either with Skype or with a Palm Pre 3 (paired to the device) for regular phone calls.

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