06/28/2011, 02:21 AM
So I just got back from my local best buy in Northridge, CA after spending about an hour messing with one of the two demo models they had just put on display about an hour before I got there.
Here's my initial impressions and honest a possible review of the HP TouchPad.
Let me start off by saying that I'm a huge fan of HP products. Over the past year or two, HP has really switched gears to developing higher quality products than other I've come to expect from mass PC manufacturers (*cough* Dell *cough*). I'm no stranger to somewhat 1st generation products shipped from HP. I've ordered several really expensive products from them, including a $2200 Envy 14 the day they started shipping.
I also work with tablets on a daily basis as part of my job. I'm currently work on a Xoom, and an iPad. I've messed with the Acer Android tablet floating around the office as well as the iPad 2 and the new Samsung Galaxy Tablet.
Here's my impressions from putting the tablet through some general heavy use for about an hour.
My initial impressions were that of amazement. Picking it up, the form of the tablet felt sturdy despite being plastic. The weight of the device was noticeable, but not cumbersome to someone who's used to the weight of the iPad and the Xoom. The Galaxy and iPad 2 feel MUCH lighter however. For some, I know this is negligible, but for me I would not want to have to rely on my hand to prop it up should I be on an airplane or something for long periods of time. I say this because my entire time with the tablet was spent holding it.
The screen was very clear and bright. The brightness, wireless, bluetooth and other (much needed) settings were all available via the drop down in the upper right part of the UI. The desktop was laid out very simply as I'm sure you've all seen by now. Stacks of cards (currently running programs) were displayed in the center with some quick launch icons displayed at the bottom of the screen.
Swiping back and forth between the cards was fluid and at a good frame rate. Cards displayed at a high resolution. The email card I minimized was readable which I could see as a huge advantage when switching between multiple email messages. I wanted to start with a clean desktop, so I closed out the cards by flinging them off the screen and was left with the blue background.
I first checked out the calendar app as I had read on the forums that there was some issues with it loading quickly. The app card launched in the middle of the screen and I waited patiently for about 5-8 seconds for the calendar to open full screen. It quickly displayed some "demo" appointments for a moment (probably from cache) then wiped them out and loaded what appeared to be a slightly different schedule. The loading process felt a bit jerky to be honest. The tablet was not connected to wifi, so it was not syncing anything at the moment. So I'm not sure what it was doing. I clicked on a day with 3 appointments displayed and was presented with a daily schedule a few seconds later. It seemed relatively quick to load, but as I attempted to go back to Month View, it stalled for a moment. I had at first thought it didnt catch my button press so I pushed a second time a second later and still nothing. As I went for a third press it jumped back to Month view before I could touch it. I attempted this process a second time from the initial load of the app, and it worked much quicker. It might have just been because the unit hadn't been broken in yet.
I twitched out the calendar app for the email one. Email loaded quicker than the calendar app (under 5 seconds) and displayed some "demo" emails for me to skim through. All the emails were organized as I would expect them, but there were no emails with images or other attachments to mess with, so it's hard to see how incoming attachments would interact with the email client. Switching back and forth with the menus to the left of the email message was not as smooth as I would have liked. Dragging each of the panels from left to right was not as responsive as you would expect, but for some reason, just pressing the toggle button (same one you would drag) smoothly animated the panels back and forth noticeably better. Touching a conversation quickly switched the message portion of the window. The text was crisp and very readable. I attempted to reply, forward, and create new messages several times, and every time the new card loaded within about three seconds. A very acceptable speed IMO. The feedback from the keys upon loading a new message however lead to some pretty noticeable input lag on at least 2 of my new messages. It did that thing where you start typing and nothing happens on screen. Then about 2-3 seconds later you start to see the letters being entered in. I should mention that I tried sending a picture from the picture app during this test and that's when I noticed the most input lag from the keyboard. Basic replies and forwards had virtually no lag.
From there I closed out the email app and went into the picture app (app took about 3 seconds to load). The entire album of about 15-20 pictures had their thumbnails loaded within 3 seconds. The presentation of the app was very nice with a black background and images spread out just far enough so you felt like you could see them fine without losing too much real estate. I selected the first of the images and noticed that it took about 3 seconds to depixelize the image. I swiped my finger across the image to get to the next one and found myself waiting for another image to load. I swiped several more times, each image taking about the same time to load (I was still not connected to WiFi, so I know it wasn't trying to download anything). I kind of felt like I was skimming my girlfriends Facebook library over 3G instead of loading from a SSD (just my opinion). The resolution of the images was fairly high, but I'm not sure how high. I did not see a "properties" button or any way to inspect the image.
I closed the photo app and went to the instant messaging app. HP has done a good job of integrating all the typical messaging clients (and even a few I'd never heard of) into a single app that you can use to send messages over IM. I integrate all my IM clients on my PCs with Pidgin, so seeing something like this built into a device made me smile. A "demo" GoogleTalk account was demonstrated by default. The chat conversations appeared clear and colorful, with images of each person next to their chat bubbles. I felt it was a very nice configuration and scrolling and switching between the conversations was very very smooth. By far the smoothest scrolling app I'd seen so far.
From there I closed out the messaging app and checked out the settings section of the applications menu. There were options for setting up VPN configurations, Bluetooth, and a host of other detailed things that you would be hard pressed to find supported on other tablets. I messed with a game for a few moments that was some kind of Geometry Wars meets Air Hockey hybrid. The animations were incredibly smooth, and the colors were very vibrant with strong contrast between the blacks, and neons. I was very impressed.
I was unable to check out the Browser due to the lack of WiFi at the time. A sales rep and I attempted to connect it, but for whatever reason it wasn't detecting the router. We were both stumped. Another thing that I attempted to do was pair my iPhone 4 with the tablet in the hopes that I would get some kind of link to let me share calls or messaging, but it was no use. Neither my phone nor the tablet could see each other. This was a huge disappointment to me as only the Palm devices would be able to share any kind of link with the tablets (At least at launch. I've been told that HP left the pairing options open to developers for future apps/support/updates).
It's important to me for a tablet to be able to handle all my messaging when I'm using it. I don't want to have to reach for my phone every time someone texts me while I'm on the couch with my tablet. The vast majority of my day is spent on emails and messaging with co-workers through IM or text. So to be able to centralize all that would be a huge plus for me.
So having said all that, here's the Pros and Cons I've come up with:
1) Excellent multi-tasking interface designed around logical work flow and organization.
2) Standard suite of apps does everything you'd expect it to and more. (Facebook integration with Photo app, adjustable keyboard sizes, etc.)
3) Messaging app integrates many of the primary IM services into a single window, making carrying conversations and seeing who's online very simple.
4) Graphics processor appears to run launch title games very well.
5) Swiping between cards on the desktop was as smooth as you would expect from a 100% optimized OS with a lightning quick frame rate that could stand toe to toe with iPad 2's scrolling experience.
6) Flash support in the browser is a huge plus just from a functionality perspective. While many worth while sites are completely Flash/HTML5 compatible, you still come across sites that have not made the switch to at least carry an HTML5 version of their site for Apple devices. Flash is not going anywhere anytime soon. Having a tablet that can do both is almost a must for me.
7) Exhibition Mode and Wireless Charging. While I didn't get to witness either of these first hand, these are both definite pluses for the TouchPad that no other device on the market has right now. They are both signs that HP is looking to the future and attempting to innovate where other tablets are just trying to keep up.
1) Lack of support for phones other than Palm. (I know there's a large group of users out there that are die hard supporters of Palm and hand held webOS devices. I'm not one of them. I can not see myself getting a Palm device just to get 100% functionality out of my TouchPad)
2) Frame rate and input lag were VERY noticeable issues at certain (repeatable) instances during general use. The core block of applications for the tablet were more than adequate in terms of function, but I notice things like initial load times, and input lag when loading calendars, emails, etc, and to have it happen constantly was already starting to get annoying.
3) Photo app load times on individual images on hard disk. I would expect the app to fetch image data for at least one image in front and behind the current image. The tablet appeared to only load once you moved to the next image. (This isnt a huge issue for me, but I dont remember having this issue on other tablets, so I thought I would mention it).
5) Third party app load times. In general, I noticed that instead of other tablets that launch into some kind of custom load screen (like Angry Birds would do on the Android or iPad tablets) what TouchPad does is load a card with a spinning animation in the middle of it while the app starts to fire up. Things like this are ugly to me, and show a lack of attention to detail that I've come to expect from mobile OS's.
The first generation adaptation of an (older) OS to a new platform shows around the edges of this device. The physical product feels like something out of HP's mid-range section of hardware. That's not a bad thing, but it leaves you feeling (knowing) that they could have done more for the form factor given more time. I would have liked to have seen something in brushed aluminum like from their Envy series of notebooks, rather than the slick, black plastic that they opted for. The screen is no better or worse from the other competitive products like the iPad or Galaxy (clarity wise, not resolution wise). The OS itself felt very first-gen to me. It was the little things like the load times, and the jerkyness of the calendar that really showed me that it's still a couple beefy patches away from being something truly competitive in the tablet market.
I was geared up to pick one of these up on Friday, but after getting to mess with it for a good chunk of time, I've decided to wait till it cycles at least one generation.
**It's worth noting however: I talked to the Best Buy rep that worked on installing the tablets into the display with the HP rep prior to my arrival. The HP rep told him that the Demo models were just that, "Demo Models," and that the retail products would most likely perform a little better due to lack of bloatware loaded into them, and it's constant running of the HP Experience Demo walkthrough that the tablets would default back to should they go untouched for a minute or two.**