Review: White 1.5GHz HP TouchPad 57
out of 10
The HP TouchPad, but in white with more speed. Kinda.
Inside this review...
There was a decent set of products in the pipeline when HP decided to pull the plug on webOS hardware development. Ready for release – in fact actually kinda-sorta available in Europe – were the HP Pre3 and the 1.5GHz HP TouchPad in white. Further down was the HP TouchPad Go, a 7-inch shrunken-in-the-dryer version of the bigger 10-inch TouchPad. Today we’re going to take a look at the 1.5GHz TouchPad, which packs 25% more processor oomph and double the storage space of the closest comparable widely-available TouchPad, but in a slick (literally and figuratively) white shell.
The White TouchPad (how we’re going to refer to this one through this review) was inexplicably made available in France the day before HP dropped their webOS bombshell, and also popped up briefly in the store of a US-based reseller. The released quantity is hard to pin down, but we’d have to put it somewhere in the hundreds of units, certainly less than a thousand.
There are likely tens of thousands of these sitting in a warehouse somewhere, never to see the light of day. That leaves only one place to secure one: eBay. When the White TouchPad was available through retail (for a day), it was priced at $599, a full $100 over the then-discounted retail price of the 32GB TouchPad (which itself was a $100 more than the 16GB version). We’re not entirely sure how it happened, but a good number of White TouchPads have ended up on eBay, with a going price usually around $450. If you want a 64GB TouchPad, you’re going to have to turn to auction to get one.
The hardware is where things are really different for the White TouchPad. It ships with what is for all intents and purposes the exact same version of webOS as is available for its dark-shelled brothers. There are precisely three recognizable differences between the White TouchPad and the Black TouchPads: the 64GB of storage space (compared to 32GB or 16GB), the 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm APQ8060 processor (as opposed to 1.2GHz), and that fact that it’s white and not black.
The 9.7-inch display is for all intents and purposes the same across the entire TouchPad line-up. But as those who might have multiple TouchPads may have noticed, there are differences. Our White TouchPad has both a slightly stronger backlight across the brightness slider and the colors seemed slightly warmer (less blue, more yellow – barely) than our black 32GB TouchPad. But those same screen differences have been observed between set of 16GB and 32GB TouchPads – it’s a side effect of having multiple manufacturers providing display panels. Even with the two TouchPads sitting right next to each other we had to really look to see the differences, it’s certainly something we couldn’t adequately capture with a camera.
The White TouchPad is the only model available with a range-topping 64GB of storage, and 64GB for storage is the only option configuration for the White TouchPad. Funny how that works. So what does 64GB of storage bring to the table? 32GB more than was available before. So there’s more space for your eclectic collection of music and movies. That’s it. More space.
Considering that you’d be hard-pressed to fill up even the 16GB TouchPad with content available from the App Catalog (unless you’re pulling down several movies from the HP Movie Store), if you’re needing 64GB of storage for your tablet it’s because of the content you’re loading onto it from your computer. That said, if/when we go flying with the White TouchPad, we’ll appreciate being able to have a large on-device catalog of music, books, and movies on hand should we be feeling indecisive about what to watch/read/listen to.
If you’re a webOS junkie like we are, you might have noticed something in our introduction: the beating heart of the White TouchPad is a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm APQ8060 processor. “Wait,” you say, “Isn’t the APQ8060 the same processor that’s in the other TouchPads? It thought it was clocked at 1.2GHz...”
You’re 100% right. But how can the same processor, right down to the model number, be 1.2GHz in one tablet and 1.5GHz in the other? It comes down to a practice called “binning.”
Binning is the process where a manufacturer tests their product’s performance, in this case Qualcomm testing processors, and sorts them based on the results. The APQ8060 was designed to run at 1.5GHz, but due to variances in the manufacturing process not all of the chips were able to measure up to that lofty computing target. So those that didn’t do so hot were sorted into a low-performers bin, slapped with a 1.2GHz sticker, and sold at a cheaper price. They’re at the very least guaranteed to be capable of 1.2Ghz, but 1.5Ghz isn’t a promise. This is exactly the same process that gave the world crappy Intel Celeron chips – they were brain-damaged Pentium chips.
That’s not to say that the 1.2Ghz APQ8060 in your black TouchPad is a slouch. It just could never live up to its full potential. Well, at least that’s what the testing said, many of you have been able to overclock your TouchPads to 1.5Ghz with no issue. In fact, very few that have attempted the overclock have encountered stability issues that should be exhibited by a processor that was binned for defects.
Of course, a chip maker like Qualcomm is going to be cautious about binning – any hint that the chip can’t stand up to the pressure is going to get it thrown into the not-perfect-but-salvageable bin. Releasing a bunch of chips clocked and labeled at 1.5Ghz that aren’t fully capable of reaching that benchmark would result in this thing we call “consumer backlash”, first against HP and then against Qualcomm. Everybody looses, hence binning.
The fact that the older black TouchPads can be brought on par with the processing speed of the White TouchPad somewhat diminishes the value proposition of the more powerful processor. Then again, if the black TouchPad processors were binned for being able to achieve a minimum of 1.2Ghz, then it stands to reason that the 1.5GHz top on the White TouchPad is the minimum performance level of that bin of APQ8060s. It’s entirely reasonable to assume that these TouchPads are capable of being overclocked beyond that threshold and far beyond the capabilities of the lowly 1.2GHz chips.
But we’re going to look at this from the stock perspective. Without any patches or overclocking kernels, what does that extra 300MHz get you? In theory, the White TouchPad should be about 25% faster than the black versions. Apps should load faster, games should play smoother, and everything should simply be more like buttered kittens.
In practice... not quite so much. Even though the White TouchPad outscores our 32GB TouchPad in Lithium Benchmark HD, 111 to 121 (lower scores are better), and firing up Govnah and looking at the processor activity revealed that it was indeed running at up to 1.512GHz (the two processor cores run dynamically at different speeds – it takes a lot to get both cranking at a full 100%), in reality the performance difference between the two was practically moot.
Overall the White TouchPad was faster in practically all areas. Apps usually loaded faster (though occasionally just-as-fast), web content render more quickly, and frame rates were generally higher across all aspects of the OS (especially evident when swiping between launcher pages). The extra 300MHz really shined when working with the built-in Enyo apps like the App Catalog and Email – they worked noticeably smoother than on the 1.2Ghz TouchPad.
Inexplicably, there was some trouble in paradise. Both our TouchPads were running the exact same build of webOS – 3.0.4 77 – and were syncing with the same background apps and Synergy accounts. But yet the White TouchPad was sometimes notably slower for no good reason. Lightweight Enyo apps would occasionally take a full second or more longer to load than on the 1.2GHz TouchPad, and PDK apps often took longer to launch. Once the apps were open everything was hunky dory, with the White TouchPad responding faster and offering better framerates in intensive 3D games like Need For Speed and Asphalt 6.
Where things really had us scratching our heads was the boot-up time – the black 32GB 1.2GHz TouchPad consistently clocked in at 1 minute 25 seconds, while the White TouchPad with its 1.5GHz processor consistently took 7 seconds longer. We’re not computer engineers here, but we can fathom how 32GB more storage to scan might make for longer boot times, but on the flipside of that coin this tablet has 25% more processing power to execute those commands.
This isn’t really a big deal, but it is a head scratcher. What’s more of a head scratcher are the stability issues we’ve had with this TouchPad. Our older 32GB TouchPad has been running for weeks longer than this one, has had several patches installed and removed, and was generally well-used and seasoned by the time we got around to testing the White TouchPad. Logic says that the longer you use something, the greater a chance you run of it breaking down. Yet, it was the White TouchPad that exhibited more signs of instability, despite having more processing power at its back and being new to the game.
What sort of instability? We’ll preface this by saying that our black 1.2GHz TouchPad has been a trooper and generally only required a restart when we were tinkering with things. The White TouchPad, however, well it’s not quite the Boy Scout. It had the distinct tendency to randomly decide not to be responsive in strange ways. In fact, during our boot speed testing it once just plain refused to shut down through traditional measures. It had been freshly booted and would launch any app you wanted, but wouldn’t shut down. It’s an issue we’ve never encountered on any other TouchPad we’ve touched (power + volume force killed the TouchPad).
Even more weird were the audio quirks we encountered. There was the well-documented and workaround-ready Pulse Audio restart issue, where the audio just goes silent and you have to restart the Pulse Audio service to get things noisy again. That’s nothing new, even if our other TouchPad never had the issue. What was new happened just as often (which is to say three or four times during our two weeks of testing): the White TouchPad’s speakers would sound as if they were shorting, putting out crackling audio severely lacking in bass. A device restart would solve this one. It’s weird and aggravating to know that this higher-end TouchPad just simply isn’t as good as our older and supposedly less-capable 32GB TouchPad.
In here we could insert the entirety of TiPb’s excellent review of the 2011 iPod Touch update: “It comes in white now” and call it a day. But we won’t, because there’s more to say about the White TouchPad’s whiteness. Only the plastic backing of the TouchPad is white – the glass bezel around the screen is still black and the buttons and speaker grills are still dark chrome (though more clearly so against the white case).
We weren’t too keen on the white, especially since it’s still the same plastic as before, but we’ve taken to it. The white-and-black motif between the front and back gives this TouchPad some visual interest, plus helps it really stand out in a crowd. Somehow it looks classy, like a tablet in a suit. This classiness is only amped up when you slip the White TouchPad into one of HP’s matte black folio cases. Sure, it’s swaddled in black again, but now the white almost serves as an accent, peaking out along the speaker edge, USB port, headphone jack, and a surprisingly interesting narrow line between the black glass and the black case.
There’s one massive advantage to the white over the black. It’s seriously mind-blowing how much better then shiny White TouchPad is over its glossy black counterparts in this department. It’s just as much of a fingerprint and skin oil magnet, but you can’t see it. The show-everything nature of the black TouchPads is the primary reason we keep it in the folio case at all times (though there is the argument for protecting what is now a sold-out collector’s item). We might qualify as anal retentive when it comes to our shiny gadgets, but we know we’re not alone in saying that having our favorite devices showing our fingerprints after just a few minutes of use drives us crazy.
It’s one thing for a Pre or Veer – you can just wipe it on a pant leg (or the inside of your pocket) to take off the fingerprints on the screen. But a tablet? You look pretty silly rubbing that on your lap. The black screen is still just as fingerprint attracting, but that white back just doesn’t show it. To see the results of your sticky fingers you really have to put a White TouchPad it under a light and look at it at an angle.
Speaking of the Veer, these two were made for each other. They both come in white, and if the Veer were to ever receive a webOS update to enable Touch-to-Share it'd be the perfect companion. Alas, that's not looking likely to happen.
If we didn’t cover it in this review, there’s a reason: we covered it in our downright epic review of the original TouchPad or the webOS 3.0.2 and webOS 3.0.4 updates. Go read those for the full skinny on everything else.
It’s White. It’s faster (kind of) and it can fit more. But is it worth venturing onto eBay and paying $300 more than what the next-step-down TouchPad last sold for at retail? In all honesty, no. The White TouchPad is a collector’s device, and oddity that barely saw the light of day. It’s not as rare as a Foleo or TouchPad Go, but it’s also not as alluringly interesting as those. It’s a step better than the TouchPads that came before it, with its only true claims to fame being white and relatively scarce.
The stability issues and not improved build quality of the White TouchPad actually lowered this one a notch in our books. It could have been markedly better than the older TouchPads. It should have been. But it’s not. The fact that so many TouchPads have been overclocked to 1.5Ghz and beyond without issue further diminishes the White’s luster.
It’s not quite a white elephant, but we’re not sure a White TouchPad is worth the cost either.