HP TouchPad review: first look

14 Feb 2011

After its announcement last week, this is the first opportunity we’ve had for a hands-on with HP’s WebOS-equipped TouchPad. If you haven’t had the chance to check out the news story covering the announcement, the core details are pretty straightforward.

The TouchPad is a 10in tablet, with a resolution of 1,024 x 768, running a tablet-optimised version of webOS, the mobile operating system HP inherited when it acquired Palm. Under the hood is a meaty dual-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm 8060 processor, there’s a 1.3-megapixel webcam on the front for making video calls with (but no camera on the rear), and HP will be selling the device in 16GB and 32GB versions. Initially only the Wi-Fi version will be available, but 3G-enabled versions will follow soon after.

So what is it like in the flesh? Well, it's still four months away from being unleashed on the public, so there's unsurprisingly the odd creak here and there, but otherwise it's remarkably polished. There isn't much to say about the front, other than it's made from Corning's scratch- and shatter-resistant Gorilla glass. All you see is the webcam and a small button in the centre of one of its short edges.

The rear panel is subtly curved and finished in polished black plastic, and it already feels up to snuff - it feels solid in the hand and the curved edges and corners make it very comfortable to hold. A quick session with the on-screen keyboard revealed the capacitive touchscreen to be as sensitive as you might expect, and on first impression HP has made a great start on customising the smartphone-focused webOS apps and user interface.

Particularly impressive is the email app, which elegantly presents your messages in a number of different ways: full message view emails take up the whole screen; drag a small handle at the bottom-left corner of the screen and a navigation view is revealed in a panel to the left; drag another handle and all your email inboxes appear in yet another panel. It sounds as if the screen might become crowded, but it doesn't - especially in landscape mode. Another neat touch is the notifications menu: you can use this to directly browse and manage  emails without having to launch the full email app.

As for third-party apps, HP says "well-written" ones should display just as well on the touchpad screen as they do on the company's smartphones. However, it says the new Enyo development platform should allow developers to write once and have their apps work just as well across all webOS devices.

As with previous webOS-based devices, the TouchPad handles multitasking beautifully. Hit the button on the edge of the screen and up pops the "card view", representing the various applications running in the background; sweep left and right and the cards all scroll by, just as smoothly as they do on the Palm Pre 2.

Other notable features include "touch to share", which uses HP's next-generation Touchstone technology to transfer information between other webOS smartphones and the TouchPad, simply by resting the phone momentarily on the tablet's edge. In demonstration we were shown a web page being sent from the TouchPad to the new Palm Pre3 (more on this beauty later on), which was a little underwhelming but HP promises there is "more to come".

As with the BlackBerry PlayBook, it's a positive first showing; it's just a shame we have to wait until the summer for it.

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