Why I bought a $99 HP TouchPad

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

HP TouchPad

Well, I did it: I took the plunge and bought one of those dirt cheap HP TouchPads. As a happy owner of a Motorola Xoom, you wouldn't think I'd be in the market for a new tablet -- especially one that's just been given its last rites -- but over the weekend, like thousands of other technophiles, I found myself shelling out a hundred bucks for a discontinued and critically panned gadget.

Crazy? Maybe. But I had my reasons.

First, though, in case you've been living in a cave the last few days (or, you know, just somewhere without Internet access), let me catch you up: HP recently announced it would stop making its TouchPad tablet. Then on Saturday, the shockwave hit: The company launched the sale of the century to get rid of its remaining TouchPad inventory, with the normally $499 32GB model selling for $149 and the normally $399 16GB version priced at just 99 bones.

HP's TouchPad, which weeks ago couldn't be moved even with free sexual favors attached, was suddenly selling like hotcakes. Here's why I got in on the madness:

1. Ninety-nine bucks is a steal for that kind of hardware.

HP TouchPad Hardware

Sure, the TouchPad isn't perfect, but we're still talking about a pretty decent piece of hardware here. The TouchPad rocks a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor along with 1GB of RAM and a 1.3MP front-facing camera, all housed under a 9.7-inch multitouch display. Even if it's used only for basic things like Web browsing, email, and on-the-go movie watching, at $99, that's a freakin' steal.

Now, I don't expect the TouchPad to replace the Xoom as my primary tablet -- not by any stretch of the imagination -- but having an extra touch device around the house can have its benefits. The Xoom is my personal device and is tied to all of my private data, so I tend to be wary of letting it wander into the hands of visitors for more than a cursory tour (I know -- I'm anal that way). The TouchPad, aside from giving me a fun toy to tinker with, can function as a more public-use kind of tablet for my home, giving friends and family a touchscreen gadget to grab as needed.

2. The TouchPad's webOS interface is less buggy now than it was at launch.

While initial TouchPad reviews were more or less universally lackluster (to put it nicely), a webOS software update pushed out in early August appears to have fixed many of the early problems.

The update, webOS 3.0.2, is said to make the TouchPad faster and more responsive. It includes a handful of tweaks and additional features, making the tablet feel, as This Is My Next's Joshua Topolsky put it, "much more like the device it was supposed to be."

3. HP's TouchPad could eventually run Android -- and maybe Ubuntu, too.

HP TouchPad Android

Aside from the default webOS software, there's a good chance I'll be able to install Android onto the TouchPad at some point in the foreseeable future. Teams of Android enthusiasts like the gang from RootzWiki are already hard at work creating Android ports for the product. For the moment, the phone-focused Gingerbread will be as good as it gets -- the tablet-optimized Honeycomb release, remember, was never made open source -- but with the all-purpose Ice Cream Sandwich release on the horizon, the future holds no shortage of interesting Googley possibilities.

A 9.7-inch dual-core Ice Cream Sandwich tablet for $99? Yeah...exactly. 

Another interesting option: The TouchPad could conceivably run Ubuntu, the open-source Linux operating system. Some folks have already made headway in making that happen.

4. HP's webOS itself is pretty interesting.

Alternative operating systems aside, the TouchPad's own webOS is not a bad piece of software. Don't forget: The guy who designed that interface is Matias Duarte, who left Palm in 2010 to join Google. Duarte is credited with designing the revamped look and feel in Android's Honeycomb release; he's described as having served as the "lead designer" on the project.

HP TouchPad webOS

Despite the problems with HP's TouchPad, webOS has long been adored by much of the tech community -- and, according to HP, the OS itself is not dead. "We're going to continue to evolve it, update and support it," webOS head honcho Stephen DeWitt has promised. "We stand by it."

Personally, I've had only limited amounts of time to explore webOS on the tablet level. I wouldn't mind the chance to play around with it in a more leisurely fashion. And that brings us to my final point...

5. I like gadgets.

Plain and simple -- it's one of my weaknesses. Now, would I have paid $400 to $500 for a TouchPad? Not a chance. But at $99, with all of the potential usage scenarios, exploration, and tinkering it brings, this gizmo definitely earns a place on my increasingly crowded coffee table. That kind of purchasing opportunity doesn't come along often.

Still looking for your own $99 TouchPad?

Ironically, HP has been struggling to keep its TouchPads on the shelves since announcing the product's demise. I lucked out and found a handful of 'em in stock via Amazon last night -- several of my social media followers were able to get in on the action, too -- but suffice it to say, those are now long gone. Same goes for a bunch of TouchPads that briefly popped up on Barnes & Noble's website early this morning.

According to HP Social Media Manager Bryna Corcoran, HP has another batch of TouchPads coming in soon from a warehouse. "No more [are] being made," she tweeted Sunday night, "but [we] have inventory coming from ones already manufactured."

Corcoran says she doesn't know exactly how many units will become available or when they'll arrive, but HP is working to get them on its virtual shelves "ASAP," she promises.

If you're interested, here are your best bets for getting your hands on one:

  • Sign up on HP's website. HP says it'll send you an email notification as soon as its next set of TouchPads is ready.

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  • Watch HP's TouchPad order pages (16GB, 32GB) like a hawk. Email notifications are great, but if you see the tablets actually appear on HP's website, you'll be a step ahead of everyone else.

  • Keep close tabs on SlickDeals' TouchPad pages. The deal-hunting community has at least two threads devoted to TouchPad sales; you never know when a random third-party retailer might make more units available.

And hey, if you happen to come across a good source, share the love: Post the link in the comments section below. Just don't expect it to last for long.

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Article copyright 2011 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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