7 ways the HP TouchPad burns the iPad 2
Can the iPad 2 stand the heat from the HP TouchPad's hottest features that it brings to the tablet market? After reading a list like this, we aren't so sure anymore.
The big question that has been on everyone's mind since the HP TouchPad was announced back in February, how will it fare against the much more widely known and mature iPad 2 from Apple? We'd already tackled the topic a bit in our TouchPad review last week, but there's still a lot more to look at before the final decision can be made on an individual basis. We aren't saying that the TouchPad is better than the iPad 2 in every way, we aren't like HP Europe in that way, but when you stack up a few of the major feature enhancements of the HP TouchPad that we list below, there is no doubt that the new webOS-powered device will be a much more pleasurable choice for some users over the iPad 2.
Let's be real here, the TouchPad still has a few improvements to be made before people migrate from the iOS world to webOS (we're told they're coming). Even with some bugs on the TouchPad, though, we have found 7 ways that make the TouchPad a likely competitor with the Number 1 tablet in the industry, the iPad 2. With a few OTA (over-the-air, something the iPad requires a cable for) updates to the TouchPad, HP could have a TouchPad that is even more strongly placed in the public's mind by the time this year's Holiday season arrives. Can't forget that we gave the iPad 1, and even the iPhone 4, that same liberty when they were released, so is an OTA update too much to ask for potential webOS users to wait for?
Enough talk. Click through the break and read our list of 7 ways that the current HP TouchPad, before any updates are pushed out, beats the iPad 2.
1. Multi-Tasking and Notifications
Perhaps the pivotal feature of the original Palm Pre that set it apart from every other device, and had the crowd cheering with excitement at the announcement, was multi-tasking. The ability to open many different apps at the same time and switch between them quickly was unique for its time, and since then every other mobile operating system has been playing catch-up. Even now, two-and-a-half years after the original announcement, the HP TouchPad has a multi-tasking setup that is only imitated cheaply by the BlackBerry PlayBook, and even then the TouchPad has an improved system with the ability to stack cards based on task or application. Even Steve Jobs himself once said that webOS is great software at a public event, and that's something to say from the man who makes some of the most sought-after gadgets in the world.
Multi-tasking on the TouchPad works beautiful, and especially so with communication apps like email. At any time while you are in an application, simply swipe up from the bottom of the screen and you go from being able to interact with the app, to interacting with a card that the app is viewed in. This small window can be manipulated with swipes and taps, allowing you to switch applications (while leaving the current one running in the background), re-arrange it on the screen for quicker access later, put it in a stack with other cards to condense the space it takes up and toss it off the top of the screen to quickly close it. An example of how this works: If you're ever sending an email but forgot an important address, you can swipe the app up to go into card view, move over to your contacts applications (or Calendar, Maps, Email or any Third-Party apps) and find the address, copy it and bring it back into the email to pick up where you left off.
Along with multi-tasking, though, no-interrupt notifications mean that you'll be able to do your work and keep your focus without that annoying pop-up from an SMS someone sent you (which you got because you paired your TouchPad with your webOS smartphone). When you're ready to see your emails, music player dashboard, facebook messages, twitter timelines, calendar alerts and whatever other notifications that might have arrived while you were working, just look up at the top right corner of your screen in the menu bar, and the notifications are ready for you to sort them out.
On the iPad 2, the only notifications that you'll get will stop your workflow dead in its tracks until you do something with it, which might even mean closing that email you've been working on for a while. And for multi-tasking, the iPad simply has no real effective means of handling it, much to the chagrin of loyal Apple users. Apps don't instinctively run in the background unless they are specifically coded that way (and even then it's tricky), and moving from one app to the next to take advantage of "multi-tasking" takes more swipes and taps than should be necessary. For business users, and even media-junkies, webOS multi-tasking and the notifications system are intensely better than the iPad 2 counter-parts, and there is very little to argue there.
A feature that was introduced with to webOS smartphones earlier this year takes Universal Search to an entirely different level. With JustType, yes, you can do a search for contact details from any view on the TouchPad (just, you know, type, and it starts), but it can also do so much more. Send a tweet, start an email, update your Facebook status, search YouTube, convert measurements, play a specific song on your hard drive, look up a recipe and even do a simple search on Google. Whenever you Just Type something, the TouchPad reads what you are telling it and offers the most likely options for what you can do with it. And since developers can tap into that API to add their own applications to the system, Just Type, Just Works. For whatever you need, whenever you need it.
I'll give you an example. I "JustType" to find an email conversation that I was reading earlier between myself and Kevin about the TouchPad Unboxing video that is working on, and after finding it, tap the option to launch that app and read it right on the page. While reading the conversation, I realize I need to just call Kevin, so I "JustType" his name, and his contact details show up. I can see that he's on Skype, so instead of calling him, I tap the Skype Video Call icon and the Phone app launches. Within a few seconds I'm talking with Kevin face-to-face. Kevin needed me to send him a file, though, so I "JustType" the file name, and it pops up with the ability to send it in an email. It really does like nothing else.
On the iPad 2, you have search that you can access on a specific page within the launcher view (so you have to close your application you're in just to get to it), and it only searches the content on your device. It's not going to calculate your tip quickly using the JustType Plugin from that third-party developer, and it's certainly not going to let you search your Box.net account while talking on FaceTime. Just like with multi-tasking and notifications, JustType simply has no competition when it comes to TouchPad and iPad 2 comparisons.
3. Full Web Browsing
Very possibly the bane of Steve Jobs' existence, the lack of Flash on the iPad 2, is conquered easily on the HP TouchPad. There really isn't much to say of the matter when the TouchPad has it and the iPad does not. If you're looking for a device with full web-browsing capabilities, the TouchPad is the only choice you really have.
Granted, there are many apps in the iPad App Store (hundreds of thousands more than on the TouchPad), but those apps often carry only a portion of the features that a real website can offer, and many of them cost money just to use (even one time) as is the nature of apps. No doubt, the TouchPad could serve much more nicely if it had even a small percentage of the number of apps that the iPad does, but the ability to access any website at any time (as long as that website doesn't strictly forbid the webOS browser) is just one more reason why the TouchPad can stand toe-to-toe against the iPad 2, holding ground firmly, and perhaps even gain a bit.
4. TouchStone and Touch-To-Share
If there is an accessory that Steve Jobs says you need to get with the iPad 2, it's the Smart Cover. And if there's one that HP wants you to get with the TouchPad, it's the wireless TouchStone Charging Dock. Both of them can act as a stand for your device while you're using it, and yes, both can put your device to sleep when the accessory is docked (though the TouchPad has to be configured to do that with the TouchStone, a minor step), there are a few major differences between these two accessories.
For one, the TouchStone dock is a wireless charger that chargers your tablet while it sits on the stand, which the SmartCover does not do (the iPad needs a cable to charge, or a separate docking station with only works in portrait mode). TouchStone technology also allows one other major advantage to appear on the TouchPad: Exhibition Mode. With Exhibition Mode, your device can be silently charging on the dock that sits on your desk and also be displaying the rest of your days schedule, a photo slideshow, statusses from Twitter, a music library for easy listening (with Beats Audio) and of course, any number of other possibilities with third-party applications. So you're working hard, and your TouchPad is working hard as well (while charging wirelessly). Try to do that on the iPad 2, and you have to leave the device plugged into the charger and the app itself running in full-view on the screen waiting for you to interact with it every 2 minutes to wake the device back up.
On the iPad 2, there is some semblence of device pairing between the tablet and a compatible iPhone, but it's not much. You can track the location of either device (from a computer with iTunes installed), and with MobileMe you can save 5GB of files to the cloud which you can access on the iPad or iPhone. But that's where the pairing ends. With Touch-to-Share technology in a webOS smartphone and the TouchPad, however, you can do all of that and a whole lot more. Starting with sharing SMS text conversations and phone calls from both devices (from all the way across the room) to tapping the two devices together and transferring data (like maps, images, web pages and more). Touch-to-Share, which is shown over and over and over again in nearly every tech review or video demo that we've seen, is really handy if you can't take the TouchPad with you out to dinner, but still need those directions. Quick and easy, it just works.
5. HP Synergy
When most users think of webOS HP Synergy, they think of the ability to sync your contacts from Google and Facebook to all of your webOS devices, just be signing into one account. But Synergy goes a bit further beyond that, and luckily so, since the iPad 2 can do that same thing. Synergy is open and available for app developers to hook up with in their applications, giving webOS users more than just the default options like LinkedIn and Yahoo to sync, but potentially hundreds, or even thousands, of other services and applications to sync with as well. A service like BatchBlue, for example, could have an app created that pulls in all of the contact details from your accounts there, or 37Signals could do the same thing with Basecamp. The possibilities are, quite literally, limitless.
On the iPad 2, you'll need to sync one service with another, and then import the contact details into your exchange account, or do any number of other things, before your contacts are legitemately synced across devices. For your average user, that's a long hard road to travel down. With Synergy, it's as easy as logging into an account.
6. Box.net 50GB Free Storage
Now, maybe this isn't something that HP has necessarily done with the device itself, but being given 50GB of free cloud storage space for the rest of your life is exactly the kind of deal that potential tablet buyers should be looking for when deciding which device to get. Within just two years, that 50GB of free storage from Box.net, which has come to some kind of amazing agreement with HP, will pay off the entire cost of your TouchPad. On the iPad 2, that same service will cost you $20/month (or more) for 50GB, and most people will settle for hte 5GB that Apple gives you for using their MobileMe service.
So while iPad 2 users are busy connecting their devices to iTunes, which is the only software that will sync with their device without voiding the warranty, TouchPad owners will be streaming home movies from the desktop PC while on a trip around the world. The world is moving to cloud storage, and with Box.net and a free 50GB service, the HP TouchPad is several steps above the rest.
And lastly, perhaps the biggest advantage for the HP TouchPad over the iPad 2, is the Homebrew development community. If you want to install a theme on your iPad or patch the menus to act a little bit different, you have to go through a sometimes grueling task to jailbreak your tablet and void your warranty (and possibly bricking your device). On the TouchPad, you install WebOS Quick Install on your desktop computer, plug your TouchPad in using the USB cable, and grab all of the homebrew software that you want. Without voiding your warranty or risking the health of your device in unnecessary ways. Oh, and on the TouchPad that's all entirely legal and even indirectly supported by HP - on the iPad 2, this is simply not the case.
With the webOS Homebrew community actively working to make these devices even better, and with teams like WebOS Internals patrolling the forums to make sure everything is completely legal and without malicious intent, TouchPad users can safely get into Homebrew apps, patches and themes without ever worrying about damaging their devices. At any rate, even if they do install something that locks up their device in some way, HP provides the webOS doctor completely free from the support website so that you can reinstall the operating system, webOS, and get back to enjoying your TouchPad. You aren't confined to iTunes, and you aren't limited on what you can do to your device (as far as the software goes). By allowing homebrewers to continue working like that, HP is securing a population of people that really get into their community, and that's a big win for everyone involved.
Does the TouchPad hold up?
With all of these features and paradigms that the HP TouchPad has over the iPad 2, the question of whether or not the TouchPad can hold up against the Number 1 tablet device in the world is one that needs to be answered by each person based on their own circumstances. Keeping in mind a few things; that the HP TouchPad has had some difficulties that come with every new product launch, but that OTA updates are coming sometime in the future, and that the iPad has plenty of features that the TouchPad does not (like the enormous app catalog that they've created over the years), will probably keep you wondering which device to go for.
You really do need to see each device for yourself at your local BestBuy or Walmart and see which one feels right for you and fits best into your lifestyle. Our job here isn't to dismiss one device over the other, both of these devices stand strong in their own ways, it's simply to say that you have a choice. Of course, that leaves us with that last question for you: Which choice will you make?