Round Table: One month with the HP TouchPad | webOS Nation

Round Table: One month with the HP TouchPad

by Derek Kessler Sat, 06 Aug 2011 4:33 pm EDT

Welcome to Round Table, which is in fact not a table at all. Round Table is a continuing series on PreCentral where we pose a question to the staff and they provide their thoughts and insights. The question could be something simple like “what’s the one app you’re still waiting for on the TouchPad?” or something a bit more complicated, like “why do you still use webOS?” Or maybe we’ll just end up discussing the intricacies of glazed versus jelly-filled donuts. Today, however, we’re going to offer our thoughts on the HP TouchPad after having used one for a month.

Adam: At a high level, I would have to say that the execution of the release was both a success and failure. While HP succeeded in creating a product that has the potential to be a true contender in the tablet market and almost every single review praised the potential of the TouchPad and saw webOS 3.0 as a unique tablet experience, they also unanimously had a lot of issues with it. And the saddest part of the story is that HP was able to release an OTA update within one month of its release that resolved almost all of those issues. Had they held back or got the update out prior to the release, it would have resulted in a very different reception by the media and the tech world in general. In addition, it would have been nice to release the TouchPad along with the Pre3 to take advantage of SMS forwarding and Touch-to-share, but so far the HP Pre3 is M.I.A. Regardless, they released the TouchPad when they did and we have to get past that.

As for the TouchPad itself, there is certainly a lot to like. For the last month, I have not been able to put it down, as the usage of both my laptop and my Pre 2 have greatly diminished as a direct result of owning the TouchPad. For the most part, HP was able to take the best of webOS and scale it up to a larger screen. Just like previous webOS versions on phones, the OS is not just a glorified app launcher, but rather provides the user with an immersive and complete user experience. Between cards and Stacks, Just Type/Quick Actions, Synergy, cross-app integration, an almost perfect virtual keyboard, and a homebrew-friendly environment, there is so much to enjoy even before opening a single app. Navigating around the OS is so simple yet so effective. While I did have a number of issues with the initial implementation of webOS 3.0, which I discussed in my TouchPad Love/Hate Editorial, I think HP did a great job out of the starting gate.

Unfortunately, while the OS itself a step above the rest, the availability of apps was the opposite. Don’t get me wrong, because we have a lot of high-quality TouchPad-compatible apps, with more coming every day, but we are still missing a lot the standards that people are used to and expect from other platforms. While you can do a lot in the browser and the implementation of Flash is just amazing, we are still missing document editing and big name apps like Netflix. We are still stuck in the chicken-or-the-egg situation where these developers don’t want to commit until they see a large user base, but how can we get that user base without the apps? This is where HP’s scale needs to step up and convince these developers to flock to webOS, and we just have not seen that yet. The TouchPad is a great device and hopefully it will catch on and not go the way of BetaMax and HD-DVDs. We can only hope.

Derek: I’ve had the TouchPad in my hands longer than most people outside of HP. I received a review unit a little over a week before release, and it’s the first time I’ve ever really wanted or owned a tablet. I’ll admit, I was tempted by the iPad 2, but just tempted. And Android tablets? Don’t get me started. I’ve been a Palm fan since before I had the money to even buy a Palm device, and webOS on a big screen is a bit of a dream come true.

Unfortunately, HP kind of crushed my dreams with the TouchPad. While it was a lot of what I had hoped for, I was disappointed by the app selection, frequent lag, and other small frustrations. Overall, the TouchPad worked as we expected it would, but all of the small issues compounded to give me a more frustrating experience than I would have liked. It was like my Pre 2, with all its webOS goodness and all of its quirks and bugs, was bigger.

And then webOS 3.0.2 was released and suddenly it’s like I have a brand new tablet in my hands. It’s fast, it barely catches on itself, the keyboard is astoundingly accurate and fast. Where was this version of webOS a month ago?

webOS 3.0.2 really encompasses my problems with webOS overall. Palm and now HP have set a precedent of releasing software products that just weren’t ready for prime time (webOS 1.0 on the Sprint Pre, webOS 2.0.1 on the Pre 2, and now webOS 3.0 on the TouchPad) and following up with an update that fixes a bunch of the problems encountered by early adopters. It’s aggravating to wonder if these things were caught in testing and just couldn’t be fixed in time, and if so why release it if the chance to have a perfect launch is right around the corner?

Anyway, the TouchPad has carved out a niche in my life. It doesn’t really travel much with me, but it’s definitely become a preferred around-the-house device. It’s fast becoming my favorite reading device, taking over my news feeds, Instapaper queue, books, and some light web browsing. In fact, it’s often my preferred Flash video client – I watch a lot of YouTube, and often it’s just easier to do on my TouchPad than on my Mac.

But that niche isn’t a vital one. I’m not dependent upon my TouchPad like I am my laptop or my phone. It’s number three on my traveling gadgets priority list, and will remain there until the app selection makes some substantial improvements. Don’t get me wrong – I like the TouchPad a lot, I just don’t love it yet.

Riz: HP really hit the nail in the head with regard to the most important issue surrounding the TouchPad: justifying its existence. For at least as long as there’s been an iPad, there’s been speculation about how good webOS would be on tablets. HP moved beyond fanboy speculation to a real product you can hold in your hands today that proves just how good it can be. Use it and you’ll want to keep making use of it. It’s that compelling, and that’s a big thing.

Surely most TouchPad users would agree that it provides a compelling user experience, one that’s well differentiated from and (if not better) competitive with tablets offered by other manufacturers. One can’t help but get starry-eyed about the potential this device and this OS have in the tablet space.

Now, did they hit it out of the park with every aspect of the device? Of course not. It lags. It reboots. The PIM functionality out of the box is bordering on shameful, especially given Palm’s legendary PDA heritage. But at the end of the day all of the functionality issues facing the TouchPad are fairly trivial, provided they’re addressed in a timely manner. The TouchPad is ultimately a great experience in need of a little polishing, which is infinitely better than an experience that’s ugly down to the bone.

More importantly, the hardware ecosystem needs to be built out further and faster. More devices, more interconnectivity. More of that “rolling thunder,” we heard so much about before. People get excited about webOS launches, and nothing captivates like new hardware. More launches will have the greatest impact on webOS’s footprint.

So get cracking, HP. The TouchPad’s great and all, but in this era of Android, you should already have your next act waiting in the wings by now.

Tim: If there was any other time period in my life that I can compare these first 30 days of having the TouchPad to, it would be those first 30 days of owning a smartphone back in 2006. The fresh new apps, form factor, decent hardware and, of course, webOS 3.0 have made this last month really exciting. The device is nowhere near perfect, with more than a handful of bugs and a small crack next to the headphone jack, but my experience overall is still a positive one, and here’s why:

Perhaps I can be more forgiving of its faults than most people because of the optimistic perspective I have of the future of webOS, but I don’t think the TouchPad deserved most of the harsh and negative reviews that it received. Personally, I have been able to get work done faster and much more efficiently than ever before (I keep a dictionary and Twitter on my TouchPad on my desk for quick glancing while I write for you guys here, as one example). The ultra-portability means I can go anywhere with this device and not have to think about carrying a larger laptop bag – the tablet literally never leaves my side. And with it paired to my Veer, I rarely spend any time on my phone anymore; all of my phone calls go straight through the TouchPad and allow my phone to sit as a clock on a nearby Touchstone charger.

The crack in the hard plastic body is annoying, but it’s also covered up by the case I bought from Best Buy (which doubles as a stand), so I hardly even think about it. One bug that has me more frustrated than anything is how often the audio stops working on the device. How can I enjoy the superior sounds of Beats Audio in the tablet when I need to restart it at least once a day to get the music to play again? While the app selection is smaller than most other platforms, it has already grown enough to add the necessities for me, so I’m content with it. More choice is always better, though (especially when trying to gain market share).

It’s only been 30 days since I picked up this TouchPad from Best Buy, but there is no way I will be returning it any time soon. There’s always more that can be done to improve a device for the community, but then that’s why we’re all on PreCentral: to improve our experience with these webOS devices. After spending a month with the TouchPad, and really enjoying it despite the problems, I’m confident things will get even better in due time. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for – HP could use some good reviews out there in the wild to make up for all of the rough ones from a month ago.

So there you have it, that's what we think after a month with the TouchPad. Surely, your thoughts are much more important than ours - that's why there are comments for you to respond right below here.