Why did HP invest in the TouchPad

Your own touch

The special thing about the touchpad are the panels and cards for controlling the apps. Most apps divide their display into various adjacent areas or lists ("panels"); For example, the Mail app shows a panel for accounts and subfolders, one for the mails in the current folder and a third for the current mail. Buttons (such as reply, delete, new mail) can usually be found in the headers or footers of the panels.

The panels can be placed one above the other and next to one another, but only within the limits specified by the app - that is, neither in any width nor in any configuration or order. For example, you can drag the selected mail to a third, two thirds or the entire width, but not to intermediate levels. It also cannot be completely hidden to give the mail list more space. In portrait and landscape format, the apps can provide different panel widths; a few require a specific orientation.

A status line at the top of the display shows the time, battery level and WLAN strength. Swiping from above opens a practical menu for setting the display brightness, WLAN connection, turnstile and the like. Apps provide information there, for example, about Facebook updates or new emails; Tapping on the message opens the app, but not the new mail directly.

Started apps remain loaded and can continue to run in the background. You can switch by either pressing the button on the display frame or swiping from below and then switching between the apps shown in a smaller format. This also opens the (configurable) quick start menu with five apps, where you can then call up the start menu, which contains all apps. It can also record browser bookmarks, but (unlike Android) nothing more.

Apps can open several windows ("cards"), which are then displayed one above the other in the list. This is done, for example, by the browser as a tab replacement and the mail app when writing a new mail. When an app opens another, this is usually, but not always, displayed in a stacked manner. You can bring each card to the front, and you can also rearrange it. Apps or their individual cards can be closed by swiping upwards.

The display keyboard knows four sizes each in portrait and landscape format, which differ in the key height, but not in the layout. Typing is precise, only the umlauts can be reached with a bit of a hassle by pressing and holding the letter and then selecting the umlauts.

Cloud synergies

HP has adopted one of the strengths of Palm smartphones: the openness to cloud services. Many can be set up directly, including not only the usual suspects such as Exchange accounts, Google accounts or Facebook contacts, but also the file services Dropbox and box.net, Apple's MobileMe or LinkedIn. Each cloud service implements one or more interfaces, so appointments can be synchronized with Google, Facebook, Exchange or Yahoo accounts, contacts can also be synchronized with Skype and LinkedIn.

The apps use these services transparently: For example, the PDF viewer and Quickoffice display documents from the device, from Dropbox or from Google Docs. With the photo app, photos are copied to the albums of a service, which then results in uploading to Facebook, Photobucket or Snapfish. The telephony app can also use a Skype account to call phone numbers that are stored in Facebook or Exchange contacts.

However, the support is not yet complete. The Dropbox client only implements the file service, but the photo app wants the picture service - so you cannot view photos and videos stored in Dropbox. Attachments to mails have to come from local folders, not from the cloud. Messenger knows AIM / iChat and Google chats, but not ICQ, Jabber and Facebook, although they use the same protocols. You can write emails or start chats directly from the contact app, but you cannot access the Facebook page for Facebook contacts.

The Google access was problematic: the creation of an account acknowledged WebOS with “unknown error”, it then worked via the detour of creating a standard account in the mail app. It then worked with Mail, Contacts, Chat and Docs, but access to the calendar failed.

This structure, called Synergy, is open, so unrepresented service providers can deliver their clients via the App Catalog; Some calendars with sports dates are already available. The search engines are also open. The extensive pre-installation including IMDb and Amazon can be expanded via the store, sometimes the browser also finds a website with OpenSearch - for example on heise mobil or the German Wikipedia - which is integrated as a new search engine with just a few tips.

Apps

The WebKit-based browser makes a good impression, it renders quite quickly; Once pages have been loaded, it zooms and scrolls almost smoothly. Flash works. HP does not include a YouTube app at all, instead the YouTube icon opens the normal website. Unfortunately only part of the videos worked; for the others a new card opened, but nothing happened on it. When closing browser windows with Flash, the touchpad crashed several times, once afterwards the sound stopped until a restart.

The mail client supports Gmail, POP, IMAP and Exchange. The IMAP and Google support work well, we haven't tried POP and Exchange. Any folder of multiple accounts can be shown cumulatively, but you have no access to the global IMAP folder. The display cannot be configured (apart from the panel layout). You can zoom in on mails, but because the mails are then not re-wrapped, this is of little use. The connection of the address book is solved in an exemplary manner.

Attachments can be saved locally and local files sent again. New emails appear immediately via Google push. IMAP idle did not work with our company server, even the automatic polling in the background rarely found new mails - they only came when you opened the app. The synchronization of the star marking did not work properly either via IMAP or Gmail.

The installed Quickoffice can only display files, but cannot edit even simple text files. It can't do anything with pictures, videos and music.

The speakers surprise with a rich sound for tablets. Music can be played from the PC on the device, the files must be there in the “music” subdirectory, which is nowhere documented. After the music was played, a photo album appeared in the photo app for each music album, which contained several copies of the album cover - annoying, also because photo albums cannot be deleted. HP provides a Windows program that syncs the collection with an iTunes library.

Not too much can be said about the app offer a few days before the start of sales; After all, the clearly designed App Catalog shows the tablet-optimized apps specially. These include some games such as Angry Birds HD, the beautiful Twitter client Spaz HD, an RSS reader and some news apps from USA Today, for example. The Facebook app is well done, it makes ample use of the panels, which is a bit confusing at first. The chat doesn't work, which is all the more annoying because the Messenger app doesn't offer Facebook chat either. TapNote is a small text editor that, strangely enough, does not access the Dropbox connection of WebOS, but requires entering the access data again.

The apps for the Palm smartphones feel more like foreign objects. They start in original size in the center of the display and cannot be enlarged. A smartphone is indicated around the apps, which is required for swiping forwards and backwards.

Handling

In daily use, it is not only the long loading times of the apps that are a problem, but also frequent waiting times. Sometimes it takes several seconds before the tablet reacts to a gesture. Sometimes the keyboard opens with a delay, sometimes a list doesn't scroll immediately, sometimes several typed letters only appear after a few seconds, sometimes the calendar takes a long time to scroll. Often one sits at a loss in front of the tablet with Skype, Facebook or Quickoffice.

Because there is no reaction, one is inclined to assume that the previous gesture was not recognized or was recognized incorrectly, so that one repeats it. The tablet then often carries out all gestures including repetitions after its microsleep - with often undesirable results. Some of the breaks may be attributed to a slow internet connection, but not all.

There is an LED in the button on the front, which, if the device is switched off, indicates when emails, Facebook messages or the like arrive. Unfortunately, the flashing light and message do not deactivate, for example if you have read and deleted the mail on another computer.

The back is made of plastic and willingly accepts fingerprints. On the side with the button there is a micro-USB socket to which the power supply unit or a PC can be connected - charging only works with the power supply unit. The tablet can be commissioned and operated completely without a PC; it reports to the PC as a USB device and grants access to all user files such as pictures and music, but not to all apps and configuration files.

The display shows strong colors over a huge viewing angle. The brightness of around 250 cd / m2 is a bit scarce for bright daylight. A first runtime test certified the touchpad with over five hours when playing a video at full brightness. The battery was charged after about three hours. You can only access the Internet via WLAN; HP plans to bring a 3G version onto the market later.

Early start

The time for the market launch of another tablet is well chosen: Android 3 is not making any headway, Apple is a bit stagnant (albeit at a high level). But despite the many good ideas, the touchpad looks unfinished, as if HP had invested too little time in fine-tuning and forced a hasty sales start.

The Palm surface in tablet format is definitely fun, the browser is good, and multitasking with panels and cards is clearer and more useful than on iOS or Android. The wide range of cloud services and the interface for retrofitting others are also appealing. In everyday life, however, there are many teething troubles, especially microsleep.

When it comes to content, HP is unlikely to initially offer as much as Android: books will soon be available on Kindle, music downloads will certainly work somehow. Nothing in films and TV series, here HP relies on the few browser offers in Germany - Incidentally, Maxdome does not run because it requires Microsoft's Silverlight instead of Adobe Flash. The range of magazines, daily newspapers and games is also poor. Overall, the touchpad turns out to be less of a complete iPad competitor and more of a promising Android opponent, despite a lot of good approaches - when it's finished. (yow)