HP TouchPad is Impressive but has Annoyances

I picked up an HP TouchPad the other day…

Before I even used this tablet, I really liked idea of this device for several reasons:

  • full multitasking (yes, REAL multitasking in a mobile architecture)
  • inductive charging
  • it’s not tied to any desktop software like iTunes
  • it also includes Flash in the browser, but that is becoming less and less important as websites begin to convert to HTML5.

To level set, I have an iPad (1st Gen with the latest iOS) and a Windows Phone 7 (running the Mango beta) on a Samsung Focus. This note is not intended as an iPad Vs HP Touchpad vs Windows Phone showdown but undoubtedly there will be some comparisons made.

The HP TouchPad is nice, but…

Overall, the TouchPad is a REALLY GOOD entry to the tablet market.  I am really impressed when you consider that this tablet includes the first version of WebOS not running strictly on a phone (version 3.0.0). I keep hearing that an update is pending and some of my issues below will be addressed, but I haven’t seen anything yet. I would really like to see how the over-the-air update function performs.

After a week of use, I like this device.  Let me repeat that since I am about to list some annoyances:  I like the HP TouchPad.  However, it is obviously not a perfect device so here are the top items that I DO NOT LIKE:

1. HP made some questionable camera decisions. Where do I start with this annoyance? Let’s break this up into annoyance 1a and 1b.

1a. There is only a front camera. Why is there no rear facing camera? Don’t tell me “it doesn’t make sense” because HP included both cameras on their Slate 500. Even if HP decided it didn’t make sense, they should have included it anyway and let the developers and users decide how to utilize it.  I don’t expect people to walk around taking snapshots with a 10” tablet, but there are dozens of uses beyond snapshots.

  • I can easily imagine a warehouse program that would use the camera to scan bar-codes. How can you take photos of large stock items with the screen facing away from you?
  • Take Windows Phone’s Bing Vision as a great example why there needs to be a rear camera.  Bing Vision allows you to point the camera at a book cover and it will tell you all the details about the book and where to buy at the lowest price and download it from Kindle.
  • Someone could also come up with a creative way to use both cameras as motion detecting security device.

If anything, you would think HP would want the feature just to say “me too” when compared to the iPad and the slew of Android devices.

1b. There is no camera app for the front facing app.  You read that correctly… In version 3.0.0 there is no way to take a photo with the TouchPad.

2. The browser is not good, bordering on bad. I’m not a fan of WebKit browsers in general, but this one is barely functional in some instances.  Since there aren’t that many apps available yet, the browser needs to be excellent — it’s not even close. You know when you go to Starbucks and you have to agree to the terms to use their AT&T wifi? Well, that language is all stacked on top of other sections and it is difficult to actually click the acceptance box. Try browsing through photos on facebook — it is a challenge to read all the comments for each photo. Try adjusting the volume in a YouTube video. The browser also scores the lowest of any modern browser on the ACID3 test.

3. The organization of apps and icons in WebOS is confusing.  It comes preloaded with two categories: APPS and DOWNLOADS. I still don’t know what the difference is. Worse yet, I cannot create my own folders to organize apps the way I want. On my iPad I created folders called “Reading” “Kids Games” “Music & Movies” and so on.  I would like to replicate this behavior on the TouchPad. This seems so basic and logical, but it took several updates to iOS and lots of begging before Apple finally added it.

4. Lack of quality apps hurts big time since this is what makes a tablet actually useful. Where’s Urban Spoon?  Where’s Netflix streaming? Windows Phone is up to “only” 25,000 apps but they reached that level faster than any other platform and they did it without a lot of junk type apps. I’m not impressed with a high number like the Android and Apple app stores since so many of their apps are pure junk.  How many fart apps are there in the Android App Store?HP could take a lesson from how Microsoft is courting app developers.

5. This is the newest, yet least fluid of any of the devices I own. My phone running the Mango beta is the smoothest, followed by the iPad, followed by the HP. The HP sometimes stutters as you navigate and browse. I hear the first update will address this issue, we’ll see.

6. Button clicking doesn’t always work. When I try to tap an on-screen button I see the little animated ripple on screen, but it doesn’t always activate the control. After several attempts, it usually kicks in.  After some reading, this seems to be systemic problem in WebOS phones as well. This is really annoying and needs to be fixed.

7.  I’ve come to like the swiping and throwing motions that are built into WebOS but they are not obvious at first to a new user like myself. Since this is a TRUE multitasking environment on a large screen (not on a phone) you would expect to see a close option or an “X” on each app. As computer users, this “X” is baked into our being.  Closing an app with the TouchPad is a two-step action to hit the home button to get to the task list, and then you throw the app away. Alternatively, you can swipe from the edge to the center to get the task list. Regardless, both actions require two steps.  It’s not bad, just different.

8. I guess the only way to switch between browser instances is to go to the task list? I don’t see a “tab” option anywhere. Once you get to the task list, the instances are generally stacked.  I still haven’t figured out how to get to the middle of the stack without closing every instance on top of it. Implementing something like IE’s QuickTabs or OSX’s Expose would be really helpful here.

9. The hardware itself is OK, but doesn’t feel as solid as the iPad. In fact, I had to replace my first TouchPad due to a defective case. Whereas the iPad has an alloy back, the TouchPad has a plastic case.  I was told the plastic is required for the inductive charging (but I don’t know for sure). Which, by the way, the Touchstone charger is really cool!  You can charge it in either orientation but if it is placed horizontally, it must be centered or it won’t charge.

10.  The Exhibition app doesn’t seem complete. Maybe I don’t understand this app but it is basically a display app (think screensaver) that scrolls through photos, displays your agenda, an animated clock, or any other “exhibition” app that someone creates.  When you set your preferences, you must click “start” and as expected it takes over your screen.  The problem is that if you select “clock” and “photos” it doesn’t rotate through these items as you would expect.  You must select a drop down to switch the display element.  If I have to do this, then why do I have to go through a set up process?  Here are my suggestions to improve exhibition:

1. Obvisouly, it should rotate through the items you selected in the setup without on-screen interaction.

2. There should be an option to auto start when placed on a charger or Touchstone. (Update:  Exhibition does auto start when placed on the Touchstone.  I’m not sure why it wasn’t but now it is.)

3. It should remember which Touchstone you are using and let you set preferences for each.  For example, my Touchstone at work would display my agenda and clock.  When placed on my home Touchstone, it would display photos.

4. Integrate alarms into the clock.  I can imagine a Touchstone by my bed that would replace my real alarm clock.

11. I want to use Bing everywhere. It’s good that Bing is the default map provider (I didn’t even see Google listed as an option), but why isn’t Bing available as one of the built-in web search providers? This is really inconsistent and a little confusing. This really needs to be tightened up by the HP guys. Perhaps they should give the user an option of all Bing or all Google in the settings. I am on a Google-free diet right now and this experiment is difficult with the TouchPad.

12. Minor hardware design issues may be limiting later. For example, the volume control should be two buttons vs a single rocker switch.  There should also be a usb port on the long side of the device for horizontal docking.

13. Changing the wallpaper requires a series of crazy steps.  Before you can change the wallpaper you need to realize that it can only be done from the “Screen and Lock” app under settings. That’s fine, but you also need to know that the image must exist in the “Wallpapers” folder on the device.  Once you understand these two items you can then browse photos with the “photos” app and click the “+” icon to copy images to the correct location then go set it with your “screen and lock” apps.  If that sounds confusing, it is because it takes TWO APPS to change your wallpaper. It’s too bad that you simply cannot long-click on any photo (in the web, in facebook, in the photos app, etc)  and set as wallpaper.  The good news here is that the TouchPad has integration into other services like Facebook.  When you browse with the photo app, you can see your FB photos as well.  This is a good implementation and similar to the way Windows Phone does with Facebook, Flickr, etc…

14. The power button does NOT turn the device off with a long hold like every other device in the world.  Yes, this function is needed.  You iPad owners know that an occasional reboot is required. You also need this for air travel. How do you turn this off anyway?

15. Inserting the text cursor into a precise place in the middle of a word takes several tries of tapping in the approximate area.  With iOS and WP7, you long tap the text area and get a very maneuverable cursor to drop EXACTLY where you want.  With WebOS it is probably quicker to erase and retype the entire word vs trying to do single character edits like this.

16. Why oh why doesn’t tapping the space bar twice insert a period?  I thought this was standard on every device.

17. There doesn’t seem to be a web service that allows you to locate, lock, wipe, loud ring, or display a message on a lost device.  I think every platform (even BlackBerry finally) has this type of service.