All you need to know about the HP TouchPad - read the review
The first webOS tablet: a legitimate iPad contender, or just another wannabe?
One year ago Friday, HP completed its acquisition of Palm. HP was the shining
knight to Palm’s damsel in distress. Palm’s webOS strategy had not panned out
and the smartphone pioneer was a few months away from bankruptcy. It was a tough
time for the webOS faithful, and though the purchase by HP was met with
celebration, it was also looked at with wary eyes.
In the year since, HP and the new Palm Global Business Unit released two
devices: the underrated Palm Pre 2 and the tiny HP Veer. This all changes on
July 1, 2011, with the HP TouchPad. Both the Pre 2 and Veer (as well as the
upcoming HP Pre3) are products of Palm engineering. The TouchPad, however, is
entirely an HP product. When HP bought Palm, it had no tablet prototypes or
operating system in development. It took just seven months for HP and Palm to
pump out the TouchPad and webOS that we saw in February at the Think Beyond
event, and there spent the last five months refining both.
The result is a fast and capable tablet running a thoroughly modern operating
system. There’s a good and growing selection of apps for the TouchPad, but there
are some glaring omissions on the device and in the App Catalog. Despite the
areas where the TouchPad is lacking, it’s still perfectly capable and full of
potential. So much so that this entire review was composed on a TouchPad.
The TouchPad’s packaging is a departure for webOS products. Where the phones
were shipped in layered boxes wrapped in a translucent plastic sleeve, the
TouchPad comes in a tray-style box where the tablet and included accessories are
laid out for you in a well-designed black tray that slips out from inside the
white outer shell.
As you pull out the tray, the first thing you see is the TouchPad itself,
wrapped in plastic adorned with iconography to let you know which buttons are
where. The power and volume icons are engrained in our modern visual language,
but the cards button icon will be a new and unfamiliar one to those not familiar
with webOS. To the left of the dormant tablet is a narrow full-height bin topped
with a lightning bolt and USB icons. As you’ve likely already surmised,
contained within is a micro-USB cable and AC-to-USB power adapter (you’re so
smart). The cable is the same that’s shipped with every webOS phone, and the
power adapter is in the same style as the old Palm adapters, but longer to
accommodate the charging needs of the TouchPad, and lacking branding.
The TouchPad itself is a 9.7-inch tablet that was very clearly modeled after
the original iPad. In fact, in a head-to-head contest on external attributes,
the two are for all intents and purposes evenly matched. Of course, all that
changed when Apple unveiled the iPad 2, which the TouchPad can only match on
screen size. In fact, the TouchPad cannot lay claim to being the fastest,
thinnest, lightest, or number one anything in the tablet world. Next to the iPad
2 or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Touchpad seems downright chubby.
The front of the TouchPad is dominated by the 9.7-inch touchscreen. It’s an
18-bit 1024×768 LED-backlit IPS display, faced with a capacitive touch layer
under a full-front chemically-hardened Gorilla Glass screen. As one would expect
from an IPS display, it has tremendous viewing angles and excellent color
reproduction. The screen was perfectly viewable in direct sunlight with the
brightness set at around 1/3, and the touch panel was exceedingly
Sitting above the screen in portrait mode is a front-facing, 1.3-megapixel
camera for video chat. Below the screen is a small physical button where one
would find the gesture area on previous webOS devices. The TouchPad has done
away with the gesture area concept, but still needed a way for the user to get
into card view to multitask effectively. The traditional up swipe is functional
on the TouchPad, although it’s not an easily discovered gesture. Physical
buttons that are staring you in the face from the moment you pick up the device
are easily discovered. The button serves three purposes: it toggles card view,
wakes the device from sleep just as the power button does, and contains an LED
strip that illuminates with your notifications. This area also contains the
communications coils used by the TouchPad to manage pairing and Touch-to-Share
with devices like the Pre3.
At the top left corner of the tablet you’ll find a headphone/microphone jack.
HP’s made a lot of noise over their Beats partnership, and they’ve integrated
that tech into the TouchPad. That means dedicated audio processing and an
insulated jack to minimize static, which is all meant to deliver a quality audio
experience. HP recommends using Beats headphones, though any old pair of
headcans will receive the enhanced audio experience.
A microphone pinhole sits at center top (right above the camera) and the
power button is on the top right. At the top of the right side is the volume
rocker, which is mirrored by a cutout at the bottom of the right side that on
this Wi-Fi-only TouchPad has no purpose — it’s the spot where the SIM card tray
would reside on the GSM-compatible version of the tablet. Alas, there’s no SIM
tray or SIM card here, just a fixed plastic door covering an empty bay where
someday there will be SIM card hardware on a future device.
The micro-USB port sits at the bottom of the device. It’s the only physical
IO port on the entire device, and even then only serves that role in a
USB-to-your-computer capacity. There are no USB host capabilities here, so you
aren’t going to be hooking up card readers, video output devices, keyboards, or
whatever other tethered hardware suits your fancy. It’s possible HP could add
this in a future version of webOS, but here out of the gate the TouchPad is
lacking those features.
The left side of the tablet holds a pair of stereo speakers (they will be at
the top or bottom in landscape orientation). These speakers are surprisingly
robust, with decent sound and volume. It’s clear HP put a lot of thought and
work into making sure the speakers could produce good sound. You’re not going to
be able to use a TouchPad alone as a party stereo system, but it should be more
than enough for casual music listening or movie watching. When using the
TouchPad case, the speakers are on the hinge side of the flap, which puts them
facing away from you in typing orientation and pointing down (but towards you
… kinda) in vertical movie orientation.
As revealed at (and often lamented since) Think Beyond, the TouchPad’s back
case is curved glossy black plastic. It’s an instant fingerprint magnet, more so
than even the glass screen. We would have much preferred a soft touch, or even
just matte finish, back, but HP stuck with the glossy black. To make matters
worse, this glossy back is also slick. While we managed to never drop our
TouchPad, we can’t say we were ever really comfortable holding it one-handed
from the side in landscape orientation. Portrait was doable, so long as we held
it with fingers under the center of gravity (which itself is dead center).
All said, the TouchPad seems to be nicely put together. There was no
noticeable flex in the body, no large gaps (even around the non-SIM door), no
strange imbalances. It has a gorgeous screen and great speakers, but a certain
amount of heft that the competition does not.
The TouchPad is 0.54 inches thick, while both the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1
are 0.34 inches. The TouchPad weighs in at 1.63 pounds, compared to 1.33 pounds
for the iPad 2 and 1.25 for the Tab. Needless to say, the TouchPad isn’t
HP’s done a decent job of shaping the TouchPad so that the thickness isn’t so
obvious. In fact, the shape is a lot like a rounded-off first-generation iPad.
Much of the TouchPad’s design was very clearly inspired by and targeted at the
original iPad, though it’s surprising that HP didn’t make any strides to surpass
that category-defining product in the dimensions metric.
Where HP did manage to surpass the iPad, and even the iPad 2, is in the area
of internals. The TouchPad packs an extra snappy dual-core 1.2Ghz Qualcomm
APQ8060 processor, backed up by an Adreno 220 graphics chip and a full gigabyte
of RAM. You have the option of 16GB or 32GB at launch, though you’ll be limited
to just the Wi-Fi version. An AT&T-compatible cellular TouchPad is due later
in the year. The TouchPad also packs Bluetooth 2.1 as well as an accelerometer,
gyroscope, compass, and ambient light sensor (somewhat annoyingly placed in the
top right corner, directly underneath where your hands hover when typing in
landscape with the speakers pointed up).
All of that combines for snappy performance that is nearly 99 percent of the
time on par with the latest from Apple and Samsung. That 1% of the time? The
TouchPad inexplicably stops for a few seconds. We were told by HP that the user
interface (and the rest of webOS 3.0) still isn’t fully GPU-accelerated, which
could account for some of the slowdowns, but our suspicion is that there are
still some optimizations to be made. Actually, we hope that’s the case, because
these multi-second (occasionally up to 10 seconds) can be especially
frustrating. The OS does pay attention to what’s going on during those freezes,
so once it finally catches up all your taps and swipes during that time are
applied in quick succession.
If you’re familiar with webOS, then webOS 3.0 on the TouchPad will be
instantly familiar. It is the webOS we’ve come to know and love, just updated
for the bigger screen. 3.0 has several user interface enhancements over 2.1, but
it’s still the webOS we’ve come to know and love.
The entire UI rotates in every direction now, with the menu bar moving to the
new top in each orientation. The notification area has moved from the popping up
across the bottom to a spot in the top right of the menu bar, just to the left
of the device menu. The device menu behaves exactly like the device menu from
previous versions of webOS, though it has incorporated at least on homebrew
element in the form of a brightness slider. There are also options for rotation
lock and mute, making up for the lack of a ringer switch on the side.
The notifications work in a manner that combines the best of webOS and
Android. They’re now placed in the aforementioned drop-down menu at the top
right, no longer taking up a slice of the screen when you have a notification.
That system worked fine on older webOS phones, but doesn’t make much sense on a
tablet. Thankfully, HP’s managed to maintain Palm’s lead with notifications,
crafting a system that is instantly intuitive, functional, and efficient.
Banner notifications (like Messaging and Facebook) get the same banner
treatment that collapses into an icon as they did before, while others like
Email are still just an icon and a sound. Dashboard controls, like in Music, get
an icon when that app is not in focus. In essence, the actual notifying part of
webOS 3.0 has not changed one bit.
Tapping on the expanding row of icons produces a drop-down menu with rows for
each app’s notifications. If you’ve received multiple notifications for a single
app, they will create a virtual stack that you can swipe through to triage down
to the important notifications. This is especially useful for Email, at least
for us since we can get upwards of a hundred emails a day. Swiping through the
stacked notifications dismisses the notifications, but doesn’t mark the message
as read. You can dismiss an entire stack of notifications by grabbing the icon
and tossing it off to the side.
The same card metaphor that defined webOS is present in version 3.0. You can
both press the physical home button or swipe up from the bottom edge of the
screen in any orientation. The swiping doesn’t work like the old gesture area
swipe, so you can’t do a slow drag up to lift up the old Quick Launch wave,
mostly because there’s not gesture area. Swiping up from the bezel will first
throw your running app up into card view, a second swipe will open the launcher.
Swiping up again will close the launcher (still somewhat unintuitive),
successive swipes will open and close the launcher. It works exactly the same
way as the up swipe has since webOS 1.4.5. The home button’s functionality has
changed from the Pre of old, where it simply toggled card view. On the TouchPad,
however, this single front-facing button duplicates exactly the function of the
up swipe: card view, launcher up, and launcher down. Annoyingly, the launcher up
and down, whether by swipe, physical button, or virtual button in the Quick
Launch bar, is always accompanied by a sliding paper sound that cannot be
Stacks are present in 3.0, allowing you to group together common apps.
Stacking happens automatically for the most part, but often we had links in
emails launch into an unstacked browser card. In practice, Stacks work better
and make more sense on the TouchPad than it did on phones like the Pre 2 and
Veer. You can still swipe left and right in card view to switch apps (there’s no
“advanced gesture” to switch without leaving full view), and tossing cards off
the top works to close. You can also pull apps to the bottom to slingshot them
off the top, and if you rotate the TouchPad such that the micro-USB port is on
the left side, that pull down yields the stretching slingshot and flung birds
sound effects from Angry Birds. It’s hysterical, and led to us wasting at least
five minutes opening a bunch of apps and firing them off the screen.
New in webOS 3.0 is a virtual keyboard. For the first official attempt at a
virtual keyboard in webOS, it’s surprisingly useful. We’d actually go so far as
to say it’s equal to that of the iPad, if not better. The top number row is a
revelation in the world of virtual keyboards. It’s seriously a massive time
saver, especially the shift characters – they match exactly your standard QWERTY
The keyboard is usually lower case letters, but when at the start of a new
line/sentence or when holding or having tapped shift, the letters switch to
upper case. It can be a little jarring at first, but it, like many other
features in webOS, is surprisingly intuitive.
The bottom right key is used both to dismiss and resize the keyboard. Options
range from extra small to large. XS takes up just you under a third of the
screen in landscape, and one quarter in portrait, while L fills half in
landscape and a bit less than that in portrait. In out testing we generally full
back to the middle sizes of S and M. XS was just too small to type with speed
and accuracy, while L was too far spaced for our hands. Of course, your mileage
- and hands – may vary. Regardless of size, we had a tendency to hit the n and m
keys when aiming for the space bar, and webOS’ text correction still so far
behind that it couldn’t parse out wordnword.
On the subject of autocorrect, the dictionary seems to have problems with
apostrophes: it has all of the contractions in place, but doesn’t correct to
their apostrophized form (e.g. isnt is not recognized as misspelled and thus
does not autocorrect to isn’t). On the plus side, autocorrect does now learn, so
if you undo its correction and select your own, it will remember and use that
correction the next time you make that same mistake. Text prediction is nowhere
to be seen.
Text selection is greatly improved. In fact, it’s stupendous compared to
previous versions of webOS. There’s no more holding down keyboard keys and
tapping on the screen. All you have to do is double-tap on any work and it will
highlight, and a third tap will add drag handles at either end (a small
downward-pointing triangle to mark the start, and one pointing up at the end.
Along with the drag handles you’ll get a pop-up box with cut, copy, and paste
options. Pressing and holding in any text field will open a pop-up with select
(which will highlight that word and give you the aforementioned drag handles),
select all, and paste. It’s fairly intuitive and works well.
What doesn’t work well at all is text cursor placement. Since webOS 1.0 you
could tap to place your cursor bar, and then hold the Opt key and drag on the
screen to get more precision. webOS 3.0 has not improved on this. If anything,
it’s taken a massive step back: as best as we could figure, there’s no method
for precise cursor placement in webOS 3.0 – you have to tap and re-tap until you
get it where you want. It’s not good, and when you’re trying to make numerous
edits in a large piece (like, say, this review), then you’re going to get
frustrated very quickly.
Overall, the webOS experience has not changed with 3.0, and that’s a good
thing. On the TouchPad, webOS remains at the top end of the intuitive mobile OS
spectrum, and the changes that have been made should scale nicely to the smaller
smartphone screens. 3.0 improves on the solid foundation of previous versions,
but like those previous versions, it won’t matter if HP can’t sell the public on
the merits of webOS.
The webOS 3.0 launcher is an exercise in plainness. It now fully rotates and
you can place five apps in the quick launch bar across the bottom of the screen.
These icons stay in place when you bring up the full launcher, where they’re
duplicated in the order of your choosing – it crosses the best of webOS 1.0
(permanent dock with unduplicated icons) and webOS 2.0 (card view-only dock and
duplicated icons). The opened launcher has lost the translucency of its
predecessors, instead opting for a slightly noisy opaque gray-green
The app grid changes in landscape and portrait – 7×4 and 5×6, respectively.
As with previous iterations of webOS you have no choice of icon size or spacing,
though HP seems to have picked well in this case (and, of course, the scroll
vertically so you can fit more than 28 or 30 apps on a single page). Because
they have much more space available on the larger screen, HP added tabs to the
launcher. The launcher’s pages can be accessed by tapping on the tabs (located
along the top, naturally) or swiping left or right.
Out-of-the-box you’ll find four oddly-named tabs: Apps, Downloads, Favorites,
and Settings. Apps holds all of the first-party apps (Contacts, Calendar, Memos,
etc), Downloads has the App Catalog and any apps you download, Favorites is
empty, and Settings contains the spread of individual preferences apps (the
consolidated app we saw way back in the emulator leak didn’t make it to the
final version). Those four tabs are all you get. You can’t move the tabs, you
can’t rename them, and you can’t add or delete more tabs. It’s an enormously
frustrating organizational system if you want to go by the tab titles. “Apps”
should mean all apps, but it’s only the built-in apps, while downloads is only
the apps you’ve downloaded, not any files. On my phone I preferred to have my
most-used apps on the first page, with games, miscellaneous apps, and
preferences on the other pages. Conceivably I could do the same here, but then
the tab naming wouldn’t make any sense.
Moving apps around has at least improved. Tap-and-hold on an app icon puts a
highlight box around all of the apps, with a delete x in the top left corner.
You can then drag around and reorder your apps to your heart’s content, once
you’re done just tap the Done button or off one of the apps to exit reordering
The launcher is smooth and minimalist attractive, but the handicapped tab
functionality is a major letdown. Hopefully there’s a webOS update coming down
the pike to restore the functionality that was present in webOS 2.0 (and hidden
in webOS 1.x), until then I’ll just have to deal with organizing my apps under
tabs that make no sense, as well as getting used to new apps appearing on my
Where the launcher is a disappointment, the Calendar app is at least a small
improvement in some ways. It had to be, really. Much of the functionality of the
old calendar app is present here, but it’s presented in a layout that suits the
larger TouchPad screen. The app has been redesigned to subtly emulate one of
those large desktop calendars (a nod to the corporate customer, we suppose).
Your color-coded calendars are listed across the top, each tappable to toggle
them on and off in the main view. The bottom view always holds a New Event
button, day/week/month selector, and Jump to … button.
Day view essentially takes the old webOS 1.x calendar day view and scales it
up to the bigger screen. The only difference is the large date at the top
(“Sunday, June 26, 2011”, for example) and the occasional weirdly overlapping
appointment (not sure if that’s a bug or design feature, but it’s weird). Week
and month views also scale up the older versions, but at least allow for details
like event titles to be shown. Tapping on an existing event opens an Event
Details pop-over with the relevant details (time, location with mapping button,
reminder, and notes) and buttons to delete, edit, and close the dialog.
New events are created in a larger version of the old webOS calendar dialog,
with all its niceties and annoyances. Chief among those annoyances is the date
selector, which still stacks as a vertical scrolling list of numbers instead of
the much more logical month grid so you can tell if July 18 is a Wednesday or a
Sunday. It gets even more annoying with the time, which has jumped from
five-minute intervals in previous webOS calendar apps to single minutes. The
scrolling number picker will never fill the entire vertical space of the screen,
instead it expands to the furthest end, which even in landscape mode isn’t quite
enough to get to 15 from 0. At least with the older phones you could type in a
number and select that time – that’s no longer an option.
Likely due to this single-minute fidelity, you can no longer tap and hold on
calendar events to move them to a different time, though having it snap to the
next hour would be more acceptable than not being allowed to move them at all.
What once was a simple three-step action (tap and hold, drag, release), has
instead become at minimum a five-step process (tap, edit, tap time, select time,
done) that isn’t nearly as intuitive.
The calendar also suffered from speed issues, lagging when switching days or
weeks just long enough that it was noticeable, often up to three or four
seconds. Additionally, the calendar would sometimes get stuck trying to render
one day while still displaying the old one, with the two layered over each other
in a confusing jumble that took a few seconds to clear. We also ran into a issue
with the calendar where it stopped syncing to Google Calendar after entering a
several day’s worth of schedule on the TouchPad. We tried moving those dozens of
appointments to our Palm Profile calendar and to a separate Google account, with
the hopes of at least saving them while we removed and re-added the failing
Google account, when we discovered that Calendar was no longer syncing new
appointments to any of our accounts. Not good at all. There are some very rough
edges in Calendar that need to be cleaned up quickly if this tablet’s going to
be a viable contender in the business space.
Contacts is one of those apps that received an Enyo rewrite, but hasn’t
received much in the way of a functionality boost. It’s still a solid contact
management app, now spread out into a two-column view: an alphabetical list of
your contacts on the left, and the contact you’re viewing on the right.
Everything is merely bigger here, though the photos now display in a pleasing
larger size with photo album-style corner borders and tucked corners. It’s cute,
unnecessary, but like the desktop calendar pad style of the Calendar app, not
distracting. You can still view and manage your contacts’ linked profiles in a
drawer that slides down the entire contact, open mailing addresses into maps,
email addresses into email, and all the rest behaves exactly as it should. No
functionality appears to have been lost in the transition to Enyo and webOS
That said, despite the magic of Synergy, the webOS Contacts app has always
been a bit Spartan for extra features. What more could a Contacts app need?
There’s a lot, and we’re shocked that HP still hasn’t fulfilled the potential of
Synergy by hooking Contacts into the other facets of the services with which it
syncs. Where’s the latest Facebook and Twitter status? Where’s the list of that
contact’s latest emails and messages? There’s so much unexploited potential with
Synergy that HP’s not taken advantage of that competitors have managed to
integrate in far less elegant fashions into their systems.
The first app to receive a real functionality update is actually the first
Enyo app we ever got to see: Email. Previewed way back in November 2010, Enyo’s
adaptable user interface is best demonstrated by the email app. Email is now
presented in a sliding three-pane layout, reminiscent of some desktop apps. The
far left column is a list of your inboxes and folders, topped by your
The middle column is the list of messages in the selected folder, topped by a
search box. The bottom holds three buttons: new email, refresh, and a folder to
signify multi-select. Tapping the folder switches the entire column into a
blue-hued multi-select mode where you can simply tap on messages to highlight
them and then move them to a folder, send to the trash, or add or remove flags.
Once you pick the action, it’s applied and you’re dropped back down to regular
The far right column is where the actual e-mail resides. It’s treated in one
of two ways: if it’s straight text, the text size doesn’t change and it reflows
depending on your width (more on that in a moment), while HTML-formatted emails
scale with the column width. The top bar across the message view has gained a
buttons to print (with an HP networked printer, which we sadly did not have
access to during our testing), move just this email to a different folder,
toggle flagged status, and toggle read/unread status. They’re all incredibly
handy and fit very well into our workflow. Reply, Reply all, Forward, and Trash
sit at the bottom.
What makes the Email app the epitome of Enyo-tasticness is the columns
themselves. The list and message columns have little grab handles at the bottom
that you can tap or drag to the left and right to collapse or expand columns and
give your message more or less room on the screen. The columns in email all
collapse to the left, stacking with the folders on bottom, followed by list, and
then messages. This system makes for a fantastic email triaging system
(especially when coupled with the previously-discussed stacking notifications),
as well as for great email reading.
The compose window is fairly Spartan: it’s a fixed-width affair (the
background peaks in on the sides when in landscape) that takes after the
previous versions of webOS. It’s basic: you’re not going to be inserting images
inline with your text (or anywhere in your text, for that matter), hyperlinking
individual words, or partaking in any other form of modern day email magic.
Heck, the webOS 3.0 email client has even lost the ability to format text as
bold, italic, underlined, or colored, something that webOS fans have been doing
for over a year now.
Even with all the magic that sliding Enyo panels bring, the Email app is
still lacking in many ways. There’s no threaded messaging, which is now
supported on every competing platform. There’s also still no proper Gmail labels
support, which we know is only important to a set of potential TouchPad buyers,
but so does LinkedIn, Box.net, and Snapfish integration (to say nothing of
MobileMe, which is hilariously available in Synergy despite its imminent demise
and replacement with an iOS-centric cloud solution). Enyo has brought a massive
user interface improvement to Email and webOS 3.0 in general, but the features
aren’t there yet. Don’t get us wrong: the UI enhancements are fantastic, but a
great experience only goes so far when that experience only lets you do so
While Enyo forced a ground-up code rewrite of every built-in webOS app, Maps
is one of the few that received a complete user interface rethink as well. The
new big-screen version of Maps draws data from Bing Maps instead of Google
(there’s no option to change your maps provider). There are tradeoffs to be made
with the switch to Bing. For one, HP has managed to build a much better maps app
with Bing than Palm even managed with Google’s strange quasi-cloud app solution.
The big-screen interface is much more fluid than the old Google Maps while still
supporting all the same gestures to zoom and move about.
Bing also adds support for “Birds Eye” 45-degree imagery, which allows you to
look at any point up close (or far away, if your into such things) from four
directions; switching your angle is as simple as rotating the map with two
fingers. Bing does support transit directions and traffic viewing, but its
support for both is nowhere near as robust as Google’s. There’s currently no
Street View equivalent for Bing Maps, not that we had that as a viable option on
New to Maps in webOS is the ability to drop a “pin” on the map. The pin can
then be moved around to any point you desire, and tapping on it will allow you
to get an address for that location, as well as get routing to there and save
that point as a bookmark. Map views and bookmarks/recent searches are handled
via a sliding Enyo panel that comes in over the map from the right.
Routing instruction is delivered in two manners: the default is as a bar
across the bottom of the map, with buttons to switch between car, mass transit,
and walking directions, plus a rout overview and start button that drops to a
turn-by-turn mode with arrow buttons to skip back and forth through the route.
The second option is triggered by hitting the list button at the left, which
takes the bar and slaps it into a panel on the left side, with all the same
options as the bar, just in a vertical format with a complete scrollable list of
the routing directions.
The Wi-Fi TouchPad does not have built-in GPS; it gets its location using
Google Location Services. Google Location Services works by calculating your
position from the known GPS location of a Wi-Fi network’s IP address, and in our
testing it was almost always able to get our location within a block. Needless
to say, you’re not going to want to wait for the cellular version of the
TouchPad if you’re wanting to use it for actual navigation.
If there’s any one app that seems to have the most rough edges, it’s Memos.
Unfortunately, Memos is the only text editor available at the time of this
review for the TouchPad (there’s a Markdown editor in the Catalog, but it lacks
basics like autocorrect). And as such, Memos had the inglorious task of being
our composition platform for this review. If there’s any app that tested our
patience on the TouchPad, it was Memos.
Memos in webOS 3.0 is the grown up big screen version of Memos from the Pre.
It uses the same sticky notes grid metaphor, though now placed on a light tan
fabric that we can’t help but associate with a cubicle divider (do they not know
that sticky notes don’t stick well to cubicle dividers that have been soaked
with the tears of their employees?). The top left corner is perpetually occupied
the stack of new notes, though it changes to display the color of the next new
note. Tapping it opens a square editing window, complete with bowed shadows from
your sticky note. You can change the color to one of five at the top (orange
being new to the pastel palette). The square editor window ensures that your
text does not reflow when switching from landscape to portrait, but it also
means you’re wasting horizontal space and always covering part of your note with
the keyboard when in landscape.
While the user interface is utilitarian with a dose of cute, editing is
anything but. First up is cursor placement. As mentioned earlier, cursor
placement in webOS 3.0 is an exercise in Zen breathing practices, and Memos only
makes it worse. Everywhere else, tapping to place the cursor actually moves the
cursor to that position and it blinks like a desktop text editor. In memos, the
cursor doesn’t visually move all of the time, and it certainly doesn’t blink. It
might be placed in the correct position, but you won’t know until you start
Once you get above around 1,500 words in a memo it starts to bog down in a
most quicksand-like manner. The app still knows what’s going on and processes
what you’re doing, but it can take seconds for text you’ve typed to actually
display, and it may or may not have autocorrect applied. Speaking of
autocorrect, in every other app when a word is corrected, it’s left with a
dashed gray line underneath to indicate that it’s been corrected, and you can
tap on that word to see what it used to be and switch it back to that if
necessary. That doesn’t always work in Memos – it will autocorrect just fine,
but good luck if you want to go back and undo that correction, as your only
option is to backspace until you get back there (thankfully you can hold down
the shift key to delete entire words with one tap).
It seems that the bigger your memo is, the buggier the app gets. You might be
thinking that we were being unreasonable in inflicting 1,500-word memos on the
TouchPad, and you might be right. If we had a better and more robust document
editing solution at our fingertips, we would have used it, but there was no such
option available. And problems don’t start cropping up at that threshold –-
that’s just where the app becomes unusable and you have to start with a new
memo. Problems begin after maybe only a few dozen words. That’s not good.
When it does work, the Memos app works well. It hasn’t gained any new
features (except for the color orange), but the bigger screen did allow HP to
move every option for Memos out of the app menu (which now only holds “Help”.)
The top bar across the grid of notes has a search box in the top left, and an
Edit button at the right that allows you to delete memos one at a time, but
without having to open the memo and hit the trash can icon. You can’t use the
Edit button to rearrange your memos, no, that’s not possible. Your memos are
ordered from newest to oldest (by creation date), and there’s nothing you can do
Like Contacts, Messaging’s interface has taken the old webOS interface and
scaled it up to the TouchPad’s screen size. There’s a column of your
conversations, buddies, and favorites on the left side, with the conversation
window displayed on the right. Synergy is in full effect here, allowing you to
switch between messaging services through a quick menu in the top right corner.
There’s really not anything new here, although unlike contacts you can slide
over the conversation panel to fill the entire screen, and the slide it back to
view your conversations list (just like in email).
We may have lied when we said there’s not anything new in Messaging, because
there is. Kind of. The TouchPad can be paired with an HP Pre3 to share text
messaging and calls over Bluetooth. As far as the messaging app is concerned,
it’s just a text message and treats it as such. Once the phone and tablet are
paired, it’s just another chat service. If the Pre3’s set to silent, it’s
actually easy to forget that the tablet is working through the phone to do the
messaging, at least until you pick up the phone and see the messages you sent
and received waiting for you to read them again on the smaller screen.
Like Maps, Music received a ground-up user interface rebuild for webOS 3.0.
The new app is designed more like a desktop music app than the old fresh-in-2009
but funky-in-2011 webOS music app. All the controls are laid out for the user to
see, with a library and playlists column on the left, and the list of songs,
artists, albums, or genres (as selected on the left) displayed on the right.
When music is playing, a Now Playing drawer slides down at the top of the
If selected from the Artists, Albums, or Genres filters, the song list slides
in as a panel from the right, which can be dragged back to the right to go back
to the appropriate list of filters. When in the songs view, the vertical list
includes columns for Song title, Artist, and Album. Tapping on any one will sort
the song list in alphabetical and then reverse alphabetical order. A magnifying
glass in the categories views allows you to perform a live search of that
category (e.g. searching in Albums searches album titles and album titles
Along the bottom of the app is a persistent control bar with back,
play/pause, and forward buttons, a scrubber progess bar with repeat button,
artist name and song title, and random buttons, and a volume slider. That’s
interesting is the fullscreen icon at the bottom right corner. It launches into
an HP-take on Coverflow, something of a combination of Palm’s Music app, Apple’s
iTunes, and HedamiSoft’s Music Player (Remix) 2.0. A flat horizontal scrolling
view of all the album covers in your current playlist is displayed. Tapping to
the album cover to the left or right will switch to that track, but you can
swipe left or right to peruse the album covers, and once you’ve found something
you like, tap it to play that track. The control bar stays along the bottom the
entire time, with an inverted minimize button to get back to the desktop-style
list view (there’s no Coverflow-style way to view the album list in this music
app – rotating to portrait merely rotates the whole interface, not its display
Getting music onto the TouchPad can happen in one of two ways: You can copy
music over manually by dragging and dropping from your computer to the TouchPad
connected and mounted via USB, or you can use HP’s new HP Play sync software to
handle the drag-and-drop for you. HP Play will be available for Mac or PC and
will sync you music from any music library on your computer (iTunes, Windows
Media Player, etc). It’s designed to work as a media player if you really want
it to, but it’s just not quite there yet. If you want to use HP Play, you’ll
want to use it primarily as a sync option, but there are even some limitations
Your choices for syncing are “everything” or selected playlists. Since
everything includes more music that we could fit on our TouchPad, and we didn’t
want to leave things to random picking from software we weren’t familiar with,
we opted to pick the playlists we wanted transferred. HP Play picked up the
traditional playlists from our iTunes, but didn’t grab any of our smart
playlists. The app does have the option to create its own smart playlists, but
they lack the advanced nesting options of iTunes. So we created a standard
playlist to sync over a bunch of stuff we’d like to listen to, hit the sync
button, and watched it go. The app successfully transferred close to 7GB worth
of music – all DRM-free MP3 or AAC files, ripped from CDs and purchased from
iTunes and Amazon over several years. It was neatly organized by artist and
album in individual folders, which looked great over USB.
So we hit the eject button in the app to unmount the TouchPad. The app said
the TouchPad had ejected, and Finder (we’re using a Mac, of course) said it had
ejected, but the TouchPad was still sitting there happily with the USB icon on
its face. Thankfully, yanking the cable didn’t get us a stern warning like our
Pre gives us (or worse, a full-on freeze).
Everything seemed good until we fired up the TouchPad’s music app and saw a
grand total of 144 songs, when we’d transferred well over 700 tracks. All of the
playlists were there, but several were empty. So we plugged the TouchPad back in
and looked at the USB drive: the songs were all there. Curious, we opened HP
Play again to see if we could get anything to happen. The app was fine until we
attempted to see what was on our TouchPad through the app, at which point it
froze for five minutes before we had to force quit it. The app did the same
thing again, which is a problem since you have to view the music on the TouchPad
to sync it via HP Play.
Undeterred, we attempted to manually drag-and-drop instead. It worked fine,
with the TouchPad mounted as any old USB drive. Once we ejected, it got to work
quickly and had reindexed the music database in a few seconds. And found nothing
new. Still 144 songs, even though there were 600 other songs on this TouchPad
that synced and played just fine on our other webOS devices. We couldn’t figure
out any rhyme or reason to why some songs were recognized and others were.
There’s something about the formatting, as the TouchPad recognized entire albums
and completely ignored others. Like we’ve said a few times before: rough
Phone & Video Calls
If there’s an app we don’t exactly associated with tablets, it’s “Phone &
Video Calls.” But it’s there on the TouchPad, and its implementation is
certainly unique. webOS 3.0 has Skype integration built-in from the start, and
you can use the app to place audio and video calls over Skype with no issue. In
fact, Skype audio calls behave just as if the tablet were a phone, albeit a
phone with only a speakerphone. Not that you’d want to hold a ten-inch tablet up
to your head. Callers reported that we came through nice and clear over the
Video calls take place in portrait orientation only (the camera is located at
the top of the tablet, after all). The person with whom you’re having a video
call takes up the majority of the screen, with your own video getting placed in
a thumbnail in the top left corner. Of course, you need to be connected to a
Wi-Fi network to place any of these Skype calls, and we ended up doing all of
our testing while hooked up to a Verizon LTE MiFi. The end result was that our
video came out a little choppy with clear audio, while the video coming in was
clean and crisp. Whether that was the fault of the TouchPad or our MiFi was
unclear (we were getting a good 2.5-3mbps up, but it’s still over cellular), but
even with the stuttering the video calling was still perfectly usable.
Where things get slick is when the TouchPad is paired up with an HP Pre3. The
tablet can take and place calls through the phone, essentially acting as a giant
Bluetooth speakerphone. It’s very slick and something we look forward to using
when we can become permanent owners of a Pre3. And before you ask – our Pre3 was
a pre-production unit destined for Europe, so reviewing it, or even offering
impressions (except to say that we want one even more badly now), is out of the
Calls from the phone popped up in a phone-style notification at the top right
corner, complete with the caller’s photo if available. Tapping the answer button
launched the phone app (which takes a good five seconds on the TouchPad) and you
were off and talking. The implementation is simple but incredibly
Photos & Videos
Photo viewing on the TouchPad has gotten the Synergy treatment. HP’s added
conduits for syncing with their own photo service Snapfish, as well as
Photobucket. But the photo syncing prize is Facebook, which HP has managed to
successfully integrate into Photos & Videos with typical webOS elegance.
Your Facebook albums appear as albums in the left side panel of the Photos app,
and load in the pictures grid as if they were any old photo. The difference is
in the commenting support, which will display comments posted to your photos, as
well as allow you to enter your own comments.
Of course, you can load up your own photos and save them from the web
(there’s currently no way to take pictures using the front-facing camera) and
view them just the same. The app is pretty basic: your sources and albums are
listed on the left, and the photos are displayed in a four-wide grid on the
right. Videos are displayed in a similar fashion, but those that we tested for
whatever reason lacked a thumbnail preview. Videos will resume right where you
left off if you close and relaunch the app.
When viewing both videos and photos, tapping the screen will open a control
bar along the bottom. A button to return to the folder view sits in the bottom
left, while buttons to activate a slideshow, share via email, add to album,
print, and trash (slideshow and print are for photos only, obviously). Photos
from Facebook lose the trashcan icon and gain a comment bubble, which when
tapped opens a comments box in the top right corner where you can read comments
your friends have left you as well as post your own.
The last standard built-in app to receive a full rethink is the web browser.
The aptly named “Web” emulates a full desktop app, with a persistent top
navigation bar containing back and forward buttons, traditional address bar, and
buttons to share the current page, open a new browser card, and access the
bookmarks/history/downloads panel. It’s a clean and simple interface that works
well on this screen size.
The browser identifies as a desktop browser and will load the desktop version
of most websites. Thankfully, it’s also plenty fast, though it only managed to
score a 92 on the Acid3 test. While it might not be the best most
standards-compliant browser, it does include Flash 10.3 beta, which worked
flawlessly in our testing. Video from multiple sites, include 1080p YouTube
clips, loaded and played smoothly through Flash. There was occasional visible
frame rates with 1080p YouTube, but really that’s overkill considering the
tablet only has a 720p-capable screen and no video-out option.
Hulu does work on the TouchPad, but we imagine it will only be a matter of
time before our favorite legit streaming television site blocks the TouchPad
browser. Flash is set to autoload out of the box, but that can be disabled in
the brower’s preferences. All that said, this implementation of Flash is
accessing Flash content as if it were a desktop browser, which presents some
problems when you’re wanting to do things like work a YouTube video scrubber.
Multiple taps are required to wake the Flash as if you just moused over the
video and then reposition the scrubber. All the while you’re likely to start and
restart your video at least a few times. Flash does continue to play when you
jump up to card view, so if you were hoping to use some Flash-based services in
the background (like Google Music Beta, for example), then you’re in luck.
Now, about that bookmarks/history/downloads button: it slides in a panel from
the right that contains a list of your bookmarks, your recent browsing history,
and your downloaded files. Bookmarks and history can be swiped to delete, while
the downloads view can only be emptied by hitting the clear button. Selecting
any item from any of the three views will load the URL or file and close the
Overall the browser is actually quite excellent. There were a few rendering
quirks here and there, but by and large it performed like a champ. Complex pages
loaded and rendered with relative ease, and pinch-to-zoom and double-tap-to-zoom
worked quite well. We’d say the TouchPad browser is right up their with iPad
Safari (though it does only manage to score a 92 on the Acid3 test).
The TouchPad Facebook app is one of the first tablet Facebook apps to land.
Developed by HP, the app takes a bounding leap over the only other Facebook
tablet app (for the PlayBook) and lands squarely in the realm of awesome. The
app is Enyo in nature (naturally), with you navigation between sections (your
wall, photos, profile, etc) handled via a left-side list and you content (news
feed, post, photos, etc) displayed on the rest of the screen. Leaving a comment
on a post slides the main panel to the left, revealing the comments in a column
on the right. It’s simple and intuitive.
Aside from the standard list view for your Facebook news feed, there’s also a
slick grid layout that arranges photos, links, and posts in varying-sized boxes
that make for quick scanning of what’s going on in your feed. It’s a unique
layout and one we can see ourselves turning to on a regular basis for our more
casual Facebook reading. Regardless of view, photos open into a dark browser
with the photo you’re viewing filling the center and a line of mini thumbnails
along the bottom where you can jump to other photos (or swipe left and right on
the main photo). There’s a comments and likes button in the top right corner
that opens a panel quite similar to that of the Photos & Videos app.
The Facebook app is also unique in its integration with Maps and the browser.
Tapping a link will load that page right in the Facebook app instead of opening
a new browser card. This allows you to check out whatever it is your friends
have linked to, but still have the context of their comments. A swipe or tap on
the drag handle throws the webpage off to the right. Places opens a similar
view, with your location and available check-in locations displayed from the
Bing-powered Maps app, all within the Facebook app. HP says these integration
APIs are available to developers, and we’re looking forward to seeing more apps
As was announced at the February 9, 2011, reveal of the TouchPad, HP
partnered up with Amazon to build a Kindle app for the TouchPad. The app is
quite similar to other tablet Kindle apps, with a two-page layout in landscape
and single page in portrait. Tapping the sides of the screen will move to the
next or previous page, as will swiping across.
Tapping the center brings up navigation controls that include a scrubber at
the bottom and back button, Kindle WhisperSync button, and quick-jump button for
navigating the content. There’s also an options bar across the top with buttons
to take you back to your library, adjust the font, size, and color, change the
screen brightness, start a search, and dog ear that page.
Highlighting and notes are fully present in the TouchPad Kindle app: tap and
hold on any text and you’ll get copy-paste style controls asking whether you
want to mark a note or just highlight the text. Those notes, highlights, and
your dog-eared pages are all found under the Markups tab when you select Notes
and Marks in the quick navigation button.
Shopping for books using the Kindle app is less enjoyable. There’s a link to
the Kindle Store at the bottom of the app, but it launches into the browser into
the desktop version of the Kindle Store. Yeah, buying books through the browser
isn’t exactly difficult, but it’s still a less-than-integrated experience that
won’t necessarily go over well for those expecting a seamless experience. HP has
told us that there’s an update for the Kindle app (which apparently is currently
a beta version) due shortly after launch, hopefully that will integrate the
store with the app instead of launching the browser to buy yourself some
QuickOffice and Adobe Reader
HP’s made a big deal for some time about their corporate goals for the
TouchPad, and full-featured Microsoft Office suite support is practically a
requirement for any enterprise tablet. Sadly, full-featured the Office support
on the TouchPad is not. The QuickOffice suite works well enough for viewing and
is nicely integrated with the cloud (pulling in documents from Google Docs,
Box.net, DropBox, and on the devices), but it’s lacking a major feature for any
documents suite: editing.
That’s right: the tablet meant to conquer the boardroom has zero document
editing support out of the box. The QuickOffice Suite supports the viewing of
Excel, Word, and PDF files (which launch into a separate Adobe Reader app). It
does not yet support PowerPoint files, nor does it any editing. HP told us that
an update is in the works to add document editing to the TouchPad’s QuickOffice
suite, but until that update is pushed, all we have is a fancy document viewer
that pulls in content from the web. That fancy document viewer is at least
marginally functional – it was able to handle all the Excel and Word documents
we threw at it, as well as a gaggle of PDFs.
Nowhere to be found on the TouchPad is a Tasks or YouTube app. HP indicated
that they believe the TouchPad’s Flash implementation is good enough for YouTube
use, and we’d actually agree, so long as you don’t have to use the video
scrubber. The omission of a to-do app, a staple on webOS devices for over two
years and on Palm OS devices all the way back to the beginning of time, that’s
particularly egregious. Also missing is anything not called Skype that’s able to
take advantage of the front-facing camera, a calculator (seriously, HP, a
business tablet with no calculator?), clock app, any way to purchase music and
movies, and voice control. HP says that a HP MovieStore and third-party music
purchasing service will be available at launch, but they didn’t seem to be ready
in time for our review. Additionally, Word document and Excel spreadsheet
editing is due by mid-summer.