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Hands-on: HP's TouchPad has great features but is no show-stopper

The new webOS tablet offers a slick interface and features, but won't be able to compete with the iPad

July 7, 2011 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Over the Fourth of July weekend, while most of America was grilling burgers, watching parades or viewing fireworks, I was exploring HP's new TouchPad tablet. It arrived on the Friday before the holiday weekend and I spent much of the long weekend trying to see how it would fits into my life and work style.

HP TouchPad
HP TouchPad

The TouchPad combines the innovative webOS operating system with impressive hardware. The lack of add-on apps, however, means that it will have trouble taking on the iPad and risks being considered an also-ran in the increasingly crowded tablet market.

A great-looking tablet

The device itself is a stunner. Its shiny black case, rounded edges and minimal buttons add up to an elegant look (although the glossy surface picks up fingerprints easily). There are cool design touches, like the backlit Home button, which is the only thing that mars an otherwise clean surface. When an app occupies the full screen, the button lights up.

It felt good in my hand, whether it was being used in portrait or landscape mode, but its surface was so slippery that I nearly it dropped once. I much prefer the rubberized surface of Fujitsu's Q550. I also tend to prefer the option of a pen for more exact work; the TouchPad doesn't come with one.

At 9.5 x 7.5 x 0.6 in. and 1.6 lb., the TouchPad is 0.2-in. wider, nearly twice as thick and 5 oz. heavier than the iPad 2. As a result, it felt a little heavy compared to the iPad 2, but despite that I was able to comfortably hold it for long periods of time. There's a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, but no rear-facing camera.

The TouchPad's display is very like that of the iPad 2. Both have rich and sharp 9.7-in. 1,028 x 768-pixel screens, although I found the iPad's to be brighter. Both also offer a capacitive multi-touch screen that works with two-finger gestures. They're both second-best, however, when compared to the 1,280 x 800 resolution boasted by the slightly larger Samsung Galaxy Tab.

The TouchPad is well equipped with a 1.2GHz Qualcomm dual-core Snapdragon processor and 1GB RAM. You can buy a model with 16GB of storage for $500 or 32GB for $600, but there's no 64GB version that matches the top-of-the-line iPad 2.

The TouchPad offers 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi networking; I easily connected with my office's Wi-Fi network as well as one at a library and with a mobile hotspot. The more itinerant among us won't be happy that there are no 3G mobile data options; HP says these will be available later this year.

You can use the included USB cable to connect the TouchPad to a PC or Mac and move files back and forth. It doesn't have an SD card slot or a USB port for plugging in a memory key or keyboard. It does, however, have Bluetooth.

HP TouchPad
Dock for the HP TouchPad

To charge the TouchPad, you either plug in the micro-USB connector or place it on the optional $75 dock, which conveys electrical current to the tablet inductively while the tablet is held upright. It works like magic, but only when the pad is in the dock with the Home button facing down or to the right, which means users will have to be careful to get it right.

In tests, the 6,300 milli-amp hour lithium polymer battery played online videos for 5 hours and 50 minutes, nearly two hours longer than an iPad 2 (which ran for 4 hours and 3 minutes). Unfortunately, the battery isn't user-replaceable, and there is no battery gauge such as the one that graces Motion Computing's CL-900.



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