HP TouchPad

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.

Reading eBooks

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.

Amazon Kindle for the HP TouchPad

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.

HP TouchPad TuneIn app

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.

Blogging

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.

HP TouchPad WordPress app

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.

Web Surfing

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.

HP TouchPad 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.

Light gaming

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.

Viewing Photos

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.

HP TouchPad Photos app

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.

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19 replies on “You know what? The HP TouchPad with webOS is actually pretty nice”

  1. What I like about the HP Touchpad is the multitasking ability: specifically, the ability to listen to streaming flash video loaded on a web page in the background while browsing on another page.

  2. When I first opened the box and loaded the HP TouchPad and was showing it off to friends and family, they and myself were left thinking, wow this is actually really slow and unresponsive… BUT since I’ve overclocked it to 1.5ghz, I’m extremely impressed, especially since I paid £115 for a 32GB model. I can stream live TV, watch any video that I want (after converting it to the right file type), listen to music with good sound quality, play a number of games and read books with ease… So why ANYONE would moan about this device after paying so little for it is beyond me.

    I would have paid the same money just to be able to watch the videos and stream live TV and everything else for me is a bonus!

    If anyone else is fortunate to have the opportunity to buy one of these things, I would say go out and get one as you will not be picking up a bargain like this for a very very long time!

  3. I integrate all the emails, including that of the company. With that I don’t need to open each individually. I can do my email work anywhere, anytime. It is so cool. So easy to get things done. The web-browsing is good enough, and I can get all the stuffs which I get from my PC; so why boot up Windows which takes time, and with a heavy PC. On the Touchstone, the clock is beautiful at night! I can even set the alarm. O, no one talks about Facebook? The Facebook Tablet is great, though I still don’t understand why it differs much from the normal one. Yes, app continued to be added, and today, BBC was in! Bravo. This is one tablet which is worth everything. O, I do use the wireless keyboard for typing notes and even FB chat. Yes, there is a FB chat….. Ah, too many stuffs. Yes, I installed Preware, and overclock to 1.5G, and it is pretty fast! 

  4. We’ll soon find out about they Kindle Fire. Right now this is all on paper.  Let’s see how it actually performs . From what I’ve read so far it seems like an eviscerated RIM Playbook. Maybe that’s why they’re calling it the “Fire “, as Blackberry gets burned at the stake and martyred . I hope Amazon doesn’t do the same to the Touchpad ,if they buy webOS.

  5. You for got to mention free 50 gigs of Box.net cloud storage ,also try Splashtop , ironically I find it easier to use on my Mac-drag and drop, open delete files ect. no iTunes synch, also have a feeling iCloud may not be that different-i.e all your files are being handled by Apple. It refreshing to bypass all this, and have photos and other files on a tablet that is equal to and in some was better than the iPad 2 .

    1. Yeah, I’m running UberKernel and have the TouchPad clocked at 1.5 GHz… but I didn’t want to get into that with this article, because the truth is that even without any hacks the tablet is pretty good — for a $99 device. 

          1. At some point I really need to tell everyone about the time my laptop caught fire in the middle of a BSD install. Then you’ll understand my caution.

          2. If your laptop actually had flames then it was the battery, not the system.

            At worst over clocking would only burn out some components and you’ll get a puff of smoke but that’s it.

            Unless you had one of those environmental laptops with the case made of wood or even bamboo?

      1. The most problematic and addictive thing about WebOS is the gestures. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve tried to swipe on my Macbook to switch apps. I’ve done it on the GF’s iPhone. I’ve done it during a presentation to the screen.

        HP really lost its way with WebOS. I hope they either bring it back to life or sell it to someone willing to nurture it.

  6. I got the 32GB during the fire sale. All in all it’s an OK OS but it isn’t anything better than the others, and there’s the problem.

    Not to mention that the hardware just isn’t that good. I had to send one in already to be fixed and it came back worse thus it wen’t back for an exchange = BS. . . and now HP has actually had my TP longer than I have lol.

    All in all the TP is a fail for many reasons. The OS is unfinished in many areas, the browser is slow and lacks many basic features, the hardware isn’t anything special and in fact it has some serious design flaws–cracking around the speakers & usb port. What makes this so pathetic is, HP had the design in hand over 6 months before launch. Seriously, there should be some top people fired over this debacle.

  7. I bought a $99 TouchPad as well.  I use it for 90% of my computing, switching to the iMac only when I need Word or Excel, or need to type for an extended time. 

    I like the Glimpse app, which allows up to three apps to run on the screen at the same time, instead of disappearing into the card stack when you switch to a different app.  It’s slow, naturally, but increases the TouchPad’s utility for the things I do with it.

    I also like the way HP has been making for-fee apps available without charge in the HP App Store from time to time for brief periods.  I’ve missed on some, but scored several others.

    I like the TouchPad enough to consider upgrading to the 32 GB model when they go on sale for the last time. 

  8. You just set forth a great use case for the Amazon Kindle Fire at $199.  All the things you like about the TouchPad, plus Android, Amazon services and ecosystem, and (most likely) an amazing community development scene.

    1. That’s true. Most of the points I’ve made are not exclusive to the webOS platform (except for the excellent WordPress app). 

      I guess this is my confessional post about how I bought a $99 tablet and was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually like the thing. 🙂

    2. Well, showing photos to a group is a little more difficult with a 7″ vs a 9.7″ screen.  While the KF’s wider screen would be better for watching movies despite the smaller size.  So not exactly the same…

      Basically WebOS is a little more capable than Android, since it’s more a patched version of desktop Linux rather than a stripped down separate fork like Android is.  Though that potential is unlikely to be fully realized now but it’s one of the reasons why the WordPress app could function so well.

      While the Amazon Kindle Fire will rely heavily on the Amazon services but that’s where it shines compared to just about everything else in the market that can’t offer even half of those services.

      So it really doesn’t matter much that the Kindle Fire is a pretty basic tablet with practically no build in features.  So long as all you’ll be using is the services and don’t mind the 7″ form factor then most people can live without bluetooth, no HDMI, no G-Sensor, no memory card expansion options, etc. Since Amazon will compensate for most of those limitations with cloud services and features only they can provide.

      Though of course there will still be people who want those hardware features that Amazon left out and not everyone wants to buy into the Amazon experience.  So it remains to be seen how fully it will effect the tablet market but pricing should at the very least become much more reasonable from now on but don’t expect everyone to go $199 and under as that’s only realistic for companies like Amazon to pull off.

      The HP TouchPad had a lot of potential, showing what it’s still good for was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of its potential,  but HP released WebOS before they fully optimized it for the hardware and before getting enough apps developed and deals with service providers set to make it really useful to the masses.

      But those are the risks with early adoptions into new markets.

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