HP TouchPad Review by 3G.co.uk

in the past year or so, the choice of tablets has grown enormously, so you’re not limited to the iPad. But for anyone who can’t get to grips with Android or is not familiar with BlackBerrys, so feels a PlayBook isn’t for them, there hasn’t been anything else. until now. Because HP has brought out the HP TouchPad, which runs on its own operating system, and a jolly good job it does too. 

First impressions

the TouchPad manages to appear lightweight and yet still be sturdy enough to feel as though it is a classy piece of kit. Weightwise, it’s about on a par with a 3G iPad (although bear in mind this tablet is Wi-Fi only – a 3G version is due to be launched later in the year). Unlike the iPad it has a plastic casing (so we suspect that HP could, if it saw fit, add a SIM card slot at some stage). But where it is the same as the iPad is in the fact that it has a home button at the bottom of the screen – the Centre key. It is oval in shape, and when you have a notification or message, it flashes gently.

the TouchPad features a 9.7in display that boasts a 768×1,024 resolution, but it is not quite as slender and light as the iPad. the glossy, plastic chassis means it weighs 130g more and is 2mm thicker – mind you, unless you hold one in each hand, we’re not sure you’d really notice the difference.


There is a front-facing snapper for making video calls, but don’t look on the back for another camera because there isn’t one. the first iPad didn’t have one either and many were the comments made about it, so we suspect HP might get some negative backlash for this too. as it is, we’re not so sure it’s much of a problem – after all it’s pretty hard to hold a tablet and take pictures or movies with it, anyway. and most tablet owners are likely to be carrying a mobile with a camera anyway.

on the bottom of the tablet you’ll find a Micro USB connector – but don’t try to plug in an ordinary mobile phone charger – like BlackBerry’s PlayBook the TouchPad needs a high-voltage charger. There’s a power button and 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the device and a volume rocker on the right.

the speaker sits on the left edge (unlike the iPad’s which is on the back corner), so it is well designed for watching video in landscape mode, or listening to music.


Of course, as we all know, it doesn’t matter how good the hardware is, it’s the software that really makes or breaks a device – and HP has a trick up its sleeve. It was HP that bought up Palm, which brought us the Treo and Pre mobile phones, as well as the Palm Pilot. and it’s the top-notch webOS that appeared on the Palm Pre that has now been turned into a tablet UI – and it does a pretty decent job.

webOS 3.0 doesn’t go down the route of having numerous home screens covered in shortcuts and widgets, as the iPad and Android systems do, instead it has just the one screen. Along the base you’ll see six icons for photos, messaging, calendar, email and browser, plus a launcher button, and it’s here you’ll find all the apps.

we also love the way it all looks – touch the display and it ripples under your finger  – it’s a great effect. Launch an app and you’ll find it fills the display. It can be minimised to a card view on the middle of the screen, simply by touching the Centre key or flicking up from the bottom of the display. when multitasking, apps you’re not using will sit beside each other in card view.

Operating system

we also really like the way you can put multiple cards in stacks to make neat little piles. getting used to the system takes a while, as it doesn’t have the instant intuitiveness of the iPad system, but once you have, it is very rewarding.

Fire up the web browser and the virtual keyboards will pop up. we like the fact that a fifth line appears that shows symbols and numbers, and the fact that it is possible to change the size of the keys to suit the size of your fingers. It also offers a rather clever ‘language’ that allows you to interact with programs. if three parallel lines appear in the bottom left corner of the screen, pull your finger across and a panel will be pulled back to show the previous one.

Playing videos is a smooth experience – and it is Flash compatible. It is not possible to download movies as yet, but we suspect that might change when more apps have been developed.


We’ve spoken about software – now on to apps, another make or break feature. we probably don’t have to tell you that the App Catalog can in no way compete with the sheer vastness of the App Store. however, there are 8,000 webOS apps that were designed for the Pre – but they are not designed for a tablet and appear in a small window – you can’t even blow then up to fit the screen as you can when using iPhone apps on the iPad.

At the moment, you can only choose from 300 apps designed specifically for the TouchPad, but bear in mind that it is very new and this is sure to increase pretty rapidly. the good news is that you can get Angry Birds for free, as well as Kindle (which is not yet available to UK users) and Facebook. What we do like about it is the fact that there’s a magazine (entitled Pivot) which helps you to choose the apps you want, when you launch the App Catalog. It’s well executed, although many of the apps at the moment are for the US only.

if you’re looking for an app, it’s handy that it shows whether it is for TouchPad- and the search functions works well (Palm always did a good job of searching). the Touchpad can look for contacts, calendar entries, email subjects and plenty more when you type in a search. as you keep typing the suggestions will narrow. You can also carry out a Quick Action – such as updating your Facebook status or starting a new email.

the price of apps is pretty much on a par with Android – which in reality means that there are some rather odd price bands. Apple’s pricing strategy is more simple, while BlackBerry’s is just plain expensive. Mostly, the apps are not too dear, apart from the odd surprising few – the book Kafka Comes to America, for example, comes in at a whopping £20.72.

Under the hood

the TouchPad does benefit from a fast processor, but it can still prove slow. Opening apps can be a touch sluggish although once they’re up and running they usually work just fine. the secret is to leave your apps running in the background (just watch out that they don’t drain your power too much). the accelerometer also suffers from being a tad on the slow side.

as we’ve mentioned the battery life, we must say it’s pretty good – but not up there with that on the iPad 2. You should get a day’s use out of it, and if it’s on standby it should last for a few days. if you use it all day, it will run down in about seven or eight hours. You have two options for charging – use the traditional cable and charge it using the mains, or buy the rather cool Touchstone wireless charger – like that used by the Palm Pre phones. You can also wirelessly print to HP printers and connect with an HP smartphone. 

the TouchPad is a bit sparse on features – there’s no GPS, for example, although there is A-GPS that uses your Wi-Fi info for nailing down your location. Nor is there a gyroscope or a SIM card (HP does have a tablet with phone network connections in the pipeline, though).

Pricewise, it matches up to the iPad – with the 16GB WiFi version costing £399, and the 32GB version £479. 

Our conclusion

if you’re not after an Apple tablet, this is easily the best choice of 10in tablet on the market (although we know that Samsung has a slim model in the pipeline).

the operating system is intuitive, smooth and easy to get to grips with but until there are a comparable amount of tablet optimised apps on offer, it can’t totally compete with its rivals – and that lag from the processor does put it at a disadvantage.

we would also liked to have seen a rear snapper. however, we reckon once the apps are in place, and HP has worked on some updates to get the tablet moving just a bit faster, the HP TouchPad will become a contender.

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