The HP TouchPad tablet may have been discontinued, but developers continue to write apps for the platform. In fact, there are now 1000 apps for the TouchPad, which isn’t bad since there are still fewer than 10,000 apps for webOS smartphones.
Like a lot of people I picked up a tablet for $99 when they were still available at fire-sale prices, and I’ve been following the progress the developers at CyanogenMod are making to port Google Android to run on the TouchPad. The tablet is a little sluggish at times with webOS and there are thousands of great free and paid apps available for Android, many of which I’m really looking forward to running on the tablet.
But while I’ve been waiting for Android to become available I’ve fallen in a serious case of like with webOS. From time to time I now find myself swiping up from the bottom of the screen when I pick up my Android phone, expecting to be able to switch between apps that way. I also really like how you can minimize notifications one at a time.
It’s not just the user interface that’s growing on me though. It’s also the user experience.
Don’t get me wrong — from time to time the tablet still freezes for a second or two unexpectedly. It takes too long to load programs. And there’s no good reason for the web browser to load a new “card” instead of a tab every time you want to open a new window. It takes much longer to switch between browser cards than tabs.
And while the number of apps for the tablet are on the rise, there still aren’t really enough good apps for the TouchPad.
But here are a few of the things I’ve found myself using the tablet for over the last few weeks.
When I first got the TouchPad I was kind of disappointed in the eBook apps available. Sure, the Amazon Kindle app was pretty nice — but I have a bunch of eBooks that I didn’t purchase from Amazon and it’s a pain in the rear to load them on the tablet in a way that allows you to use the Kindle app to read them.
There’s a third party eReader app called pReader. But it probably looks a lot better on a smartphone. The user interface for the tablet version is just barely optimized for the HP TouchPad. There’s no dual panel view, for instance.
And then Amazon and OverDrive announced that you could now download and read eBooks from public libraries using Amazon’s Kindle software. Suddenly that Kindle app became a heck of a lot more useful.
My local library uses the OverDrive system and offers thousands of books for digital checkout. I can login to the library website, check out the Kindle version of any available title, and download to the TouchPad using the Kindle app.
The books are available for up to three weeks, and they’ll automatically “return” themselves when you’re done reading.
Now the primary thing I find myself using the TouchPad for is reading books. At 1.7 pounds it’s a little heavy for an eReader — but I’ve certainly read hardcover books that are heavier.
Ironically, for the first time I’m now considering picking up a Kindle device though — since I wouldn’t mind having an eReader that fits more easily in the palm of your hand. I’ve been using my iPod touch or Google Nexus One to read books — but the idea of a device that’s a little larger than those, while smaller than the TouchPad seems pretty appealing. Still, the reading experience on the TouchPad is pretty good overall.
Listening to the radio
The HP TouchPad has two reasonably loud speakers built into the side of the tablet. The tablet isn’t going to replace a high-end stereo system anytime soon, but it can generate audio that sounds louder and more clear than anything you’ll get from a typical smartphone.
Since I tend to have bad radio reception in my house, I tend to use a phone or tablet to listen to internet radio as I prepare meals or perform other activities away from my PC. The TouchPad is bulkier than a phone and it doesn’t fit in my pocket. But when I’m planning to use it anyway, it makes a much better kitchen radio than my smartphone.
My favorite internet radio app for Android, iOS, or webOS is TuneIn Radio. The app can automatically check for local radio stations based on your location, and if you sign up for an account it can remember your favorite stations. The developers have also made a tablet-friendly version for the HP TouchPad.
I’ll be honest: I don’t spend a lot of time blogging on the TouchPad. The on-screen keyboard isn’t good enough for extended typing sessions, and while I can upload images and format some text, the experience of blogging from a computer is way better than blogging from a tablet.
That said, the HP TouchPad has the best mobile WordPress app around. The developers at WordPress put some serious effort into the platform, and the result is far closer to the experience of using WordPress in a full desktop web browser than anything you’ll find for Android or iOS phones or tablets.
You can use the WordPress app for the HP TouchPad to moderate comments, compose posts, or edit existing posts. For the most part I use the app to make minor corrections to posts when I don’t feel like pulling out a laptop and waiting for it to boot up first.
As I mentioned above, I wish the HP TouchPad browser had support for tabs (although there are third party webOS browsers with this feature). I also wouldn’t mind a few more configuration options. But overall the TouchPad browser works very much like a desktop web browser.
The browser brings up the full desktop versions of most website — and only a few websites I’ve visited have complained that they’re not compatible with the browser. Every now and again it would be nice to be able to switch to a mobile view — the full Gmail website, for instance, isn’t as easy to navigate with your fingertips as the mobile version. But there are ways to force the mobile versions of many website (including Gmail and Google Reader) to pop up by altering the URLs when necessary.
But the truth is I don’t use the TouchPad much for email, or even reading Google Reader. Instead I use it for surfing the web, looking up information, and basically futzing around — and it’s nearly as good as a laptop for doing those things.
There are a few great tablet-friendly games for webOS including Angry Birds. But if you’re willing to put up with games that don’t expand to the full screen, there are a number of other great time-wasting titles available for webOS.
One of the first things I look for on any mobile platform is a good word-search/Boggle style game. I found a free app called Wordie hanging out in the App Catalog, and once I decided I was OK with ignoring all the wasted screen real estate that comes with playing a webOS smartphone game on the tablet, I found that the game was just as addictive as any of the best word search games for Android or iOS.
The TouchPad has a built-in app for viewing photos and videos. I don’t really see the point in watching movies on the tablet when I could just as easily plop myself down in front of a 32 inch HDTV and watch videos on a big screen.
But for photos, the tablet’s 9.7 inch, 1024 x 768 pixel display is great.
One thing that really makes viewing photos on the TouchPad more enjoyable than looking at the same pictures on a smartphone is that it’s easier to share the experience. When you pull up a picture on your phone you’ll probably have to pass it around to friends and family to show it off. Bring up the same picture on a tablet and you can just tilt the device until everyone can see it.
I’m still looking forward to installing Android on the HP TouchPad to extend its capabilities. But for $99, it turns out I picked up a device that’s already pretty useful. I wouldn’t have paid $499 for it when HP was charging full price. But I’m glad I was able to grab one during the liquidation sale.