Review: HP Touchstone 2 Audio Dock | webOS Nation
 
 

Review: HP Touchstone 2 Audio Dock 24

by Derek Kessler Wed, 04 Apr 2012 6:16 pm EDT

Review: HP Touchstone 2 Audio Dock

We don't get to review many accessories these days, for reasons that are fairly obvious: nobody makes or sells webOS devices, so why would anybody make accessories for those devices? It's a hard life for the accessory-wanting HP TouchPad, HP Veer, or HP Pre3 owner. But just because they aren't available doesn't mean accessories don't exist. For example, there's the Touchstone bluetooth audio dock, a never sold and never announced successor to the original Touchstone that incorporated Bluetooth audio streaming into the charging mix. At least a few have landed out in the wild, but they're exceedingly rare. You know, like the HP TouchPad Go. We've managed to get our hands on one such example of the HP Touchstone 2 Audio Dock, and it's partly what we expected, and partly not.

As with the TouchPad Go review, we're going to preface this with a note that what we have here is assumed to be a preproduction unit and may not represent a complete picture of how this device was intended to look and behave once released. We have no reason to believe it is not as intended, but we cannot compare its perforamance with another example of the same model, nor would we expect HP to provide support in the event that it is not behaving as designed.

The Touchstone 2. What does it have in common with the original Touchstone charging puck? An inductive charging coil, magnets for aligning and securing the device, and a Micro USB port. That's pretty much the basics of the original Touchstone, though this new version goes in a less subtle and elegant direction with a bigger and bolder design and includes Bluetooth and an audio-out port. It's the next generation of Touchstone, and HP's definitely left their mark on it.

Review: HP Touchstone 2 Audio Dock

The first Touchstone could be summed up easily: an angled black puck with a hole for the USB port on the back, a suctioning ring on the bottom, and a chrome Palm logo on the top, all swaddled in black soft touch coating. The Touchstone 2 is a different story. The shape is more complicated, with a rounded square base the size of the original Touchstone, and then a bracket-style holder for the phone that sticks up about five degrees from vertical and then pitches back forty-five degrees an inch later. The design puts your phone up higher and at a steeper angle than the old Touchstone could.

Review: HP Touchstone 2 Audio Dock

The sides and front are wrapped in a metallic gray painted hard plastic, while the back 'inside' of the bracket is a glossy black (thankfully to be rarely touched) and the top where you set down your phone is a glossy black barely concave circle ringed with a matte black squircle. It's a strange mish-mash of materials that seems flashy yet somehow works. The bottom of the charger features a black rubber pad with an inset HP logo, while a flush Micro USB port and audio-out jack sit on the back edge of the base.

Review: HP Touchstone 2 Audio Dock

That base brings our first point of contention with the Touchstone 2: It's black rubber, not the "inspired by gecko" stick-to-any-flat-surface-but-not-adhesive suction material from the original Touchstone. There's nothing holding this Touchstone to your desk, nightstand, or office window like before. To add insult to this injury, despite taking up more volumetric space, the new Touchstone is lighter than the old one, making it all to easy to pick it up along with your phone. Thankfully it'll be tethered down by at least a Micro USB cable, but it's still hardly the same stick it and forget it level of friendly as the old Touchstone.

The new design is at least more friendly to the HP Pre3. The shiny circle on the top is slightly smaller than the top of the old Touchstone, but it's also less concave. This forms better to the less-rounded back of the Pre3 and makes for a more assertive grab when setting the phone down. The flip side of that coin is that phones like the Veer and older Pre phones don't latch on as well to the new Touchstone as the old. It's just the same, as they can't pair up with the Bluetooth receiver anyway. There is a gripe to be had about the new better-grabbing magnetic top: the hard uncoated plastic scratches very easily, and that shows all too well on the inexplicably glossy center circle.

As mentioned earlier, the Touchstone 2 packs a Bluetooth receiver and audio-out jack, but it only works with the Pre3. That's thanks to the magic of the communication coil, which is what also enables Touch-to-Share with the TouchPad. The Veer has the same communication coil, but HP never got around to releasing an update to enable it before pulling the plug on webOS devices. So unless you have a Pre3, the Touchstone 2 isn't for you.

Review: HP Touchstone 2 Audio Dock

That radio is activated when you slap down a Pre3 for charging and the communication coil is recognized. There's some extra special mojo going on between the two devices; our Pre3 and the Touchstone 2 automatically paired without any input from us. It shows up in Bluetooth preferences as TouchStone 2 Audio Dock (capitalized Stone, for real). The Bluetooth receiver is smart enough not to waste the time and effort turning itself on if an audio cable is not plugged in. The automatic pairing mojo goes further, as setting down a Pre3 with Bluetooth turned off will actually prompt you to turn it on so pairing can happen. This behavior is exactly the same as you get with a TouchPad and Pre3 attempting Touch-to-Share, and we're glad to see it as pleasantly thought-out for something traditionally as dumb as a charger. The Touchstone 2 and Pre3 stay paired up even after taking the phone off the charger, though once you wander out of range they won't reconnect until you put the phone on the Touchstone.

It seems that for every "we like this", the Touchstone 2 throws a roadblock up in our way of giving it a stamp of approval. Bluetooth pairing is smart, seamless, and easy. Audio quality is not great. We plugged the Touchstone 2 directly into our office stereo system and the resulting audio it pumped out was muddy and seriously lacking in bass. We get outstanding results from the same stereo when plugged into our computer, and pretty decent sound straight from the Pre3's audio jack. That the one added feature of the Touchstone 2 stumbles here is not a good thing. We could blame it on the fact that what we have here is not a production device, but when it comes to transmitting the audio it should be a relatively straight-forward affair: audio comes in via Bluetooth and is transmitted back out through the 3.5mm stereo jack. There's not a lot of thinking and optimizing that has to go on there - and this is from a company that had enjoyed a long and profitable relationship with the audio wizards at Beats Audio.

The Touchstone 2's audio feature only supports music and videos - phone calls answered while on the Touchstone 2 are sent to speakerphone and not to your attached speakers. Which is all well and good, we guess, considering that phone calls are of such low bitrate you'd really get to hear how crappy the audio really is when sent to decent speakers.

Review: HP Touchstone 2 Audio Dock

When it comes to enhancing the capabilities of something as basic as a charger, the Touchstone 2 Audio Dock takes a step in the right direction by adding Bluetooth audio streaming support and no-fuss automatic pairing. But it's hobbled by the middling audio quality, material choices, and the disappointing omission of a stick-anywhere base. The original Touchstone was sold at a huge profit by Palm, debuting at $40 with a bill of materials at around $10. We would have hoped that the Touchstone 2 would have either bumped the old version down in price and taken the $40 spot or replaced the older-though-still-perfectly-functional model all together. You know, if it'd ever been announced or released. But after having used one, we're not so sure we'd want one as it is after using the old model for nearly three years now. With a few tweaks the Touchstone 2 could have been a solid step forward for wireless webOS device charging, but instead it's a solution that feels like something HP would have produced - it works, but it's lost the spirit of the original.

24 Comments

Design-wise, I'd pick the old one over this any time; it's very, very ugly. But I would've loved the audio (I have every faith in HP to have fixed the audio issue in time) and a magnetic connection to my beloved Pre3 that deserves that name.

Trust me, if you have a Pre3, the design of the TS2 is an order of magnitude better. The Pre3 is at home on this thing where it seems to struggle with the pucks. I love my TS2. I have half a dozen pucks, but my TS2 is where my Pre3 rests.

"With a few tweaks the Touchstone 2 could have been a solid step forward for wireless webOS device charging, but instead it's a solution that feels like something HP would have produced - it works, but it's lost the spirit of the original."

That's a little biased, you know? We dunno what they had planned to do with this. Could also be that they wanted this to sell as an extra accesoire for the people who do want audio out. So that they would sell it next to the old one.
So I don't like that last sentence; should contain the phrase "but we never knew what HP's plans were, so maybe they would've sold it as an extra accesoire".

It's our honest assessment. It doesn't matter how HP planned to market it - it matters how customers would have percieved it.

I've been using mine since November with my Pre3, I couldn't imagine not having it. I don't hardly ever use the audio out - but the Pre3 just fits with this thing. I have mine on my kitchen counter and can see my Pre3's exhibition mode perfectly from any angle I can see my kitchen. They definitely had the design right when considering it was to be used with the Pre3's size.

are you french?

I wish this actually made it to market. This is EXACTLY what I want to have in my car. I already have a normal Touchstone mounted near my shifter with a 3.5mm cable nearby, but it would be outstanding to just set the phone down and let it do its thing.

totally agree, would be great for cars!

RQ

Would have loved one of these for my home theater. =(

*s i g h* Of course version 1 was going to have it's issues and, sure, it's not pretty to look at. But woulda been pretty awesome to have a few throughout the mancave.

Say it with me with conviction, 'Thanks again Leo!'

yeah, thanks Leo.

RQ

I want! I want! I want! Please someone sell me one!

Hmm I thought Touchstone 2 itself has a speaker. Now my gripe is gone...

me too, but still want one...

RQ

I think we don't have to talk about the TouchStone 2 as if it were a final product, HP makes a LOT of prototypes, so the final product may have be improved.

still, good review, and is good to see it, I think it shouldn't be that tall...
but again, I would love it!

RQ

Version 2. And I'm still explaining to the rest of the world what the origional does.

Plus one on this comment. My son with his Evo 3D sits and stares at my phone on my touchstone with envy. I don't know if I have ever even plugged my pre3 into a cable besides my initial preware/doctor update....

I havent plugged in my pre3 via usb since WiFi file sharing, between that and my touchstone there is no need (would have been useful in the original pre days broke the "door" off all of them)... but i do wish i had a touchstone 2 i'm tired of fussing with the dock trying to get it to stay i miss the immediate snap on the original pre + touchstone

Derek, there seem to be a few differences between your touchstone 2 and mine. First of all, my unit actually has completely different stamping including a P/N (although it does say not for resale. Yours definitely has a different firmware since they show up as different devices. I wonder if your poor audio quality is because of an early build of the touchstone firmware. My unit seems to have the actual chipset firmware and has great audio quality. The one glaring difference I see is that your unit seems to have a different top end than mine. My unit has never scratched and the entire top is a single piece of the same material. The magnet also does not seem over powered. From looking at your pics, I think the one I have may be a later version of hardware and your unit may have a newer HP firmware. If you ever have yours in the Dallas area, shoot me an email so we can compare them.

BTW, don't you like the Pre3's profile on this thing better than the pucks? If not yet, you will.

I said it before and I say it again. It's ugly. It looks like some obscure device cheap Chinese manufacturers sell for the iPhone.

Besides that, it doesn't make much sense. I bought a Bluetooth receiver in 2009, connected it to my sound system at home and in the office and my touchstone doesn't need to be put near the receiver.

I'd like to know if the Veer running the unapproved OS 2.3 or 2.4 will pair with it??

The Veer won't auto-pair but you can manually pair this dock with anything that does BT A2DP

The opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not in any way represent Hewlett-Packard or Palm in any official manner. Any implications derived from my posts are the result of my own warped point of view and do not indicate any intention or evidence of past, present or future activity or plans of the aforementioned HP and Palm.

edc

Great... send me 2, please...

Best Regards... B)

So, is it even possible to get our hands on one? It pisses me off how my pre3 constantly shows the "charging" icon on and off (if it's not in that perfect spot) when it's placed on my normal touchstone (I already filed it down so it fits pretty well). The desperate search begins...