By a stroke of good fortune, I recently got my hands on an HP TouchPad. The TouchPad is a 9-inch tablet running WebOS.
WebOS is not a popular mobile operating system. It never made a significant mark even on its US home turf. Here in Nigeria, I doubt that it made a micro-blip.
However, WebOS was Palm’s answer to the new mobile age. I owned a Palm Pre smartphone, which also ran WebOS, and enjoyed the user interface. But the lockdown of the device by Palm meant that I couldn’t use it for anything besides voice calls and SMS here.
The TouchPad is HP’s answer to the iPad, a device that is the undisputed king of tablets till date. The question is, does the ToucHPad measure up?
To say the least, setting up the TouchPad was harrowing.
First, this tablet is unusable without signing into your WebOS account. If you do not have one, the option to create is there. As I didn’t have one previously (the Palm Pre that I used to own wouldn’t connect to the internet at all, so I never could create one back then), I had to take that route.
And what a route it was. Creating a WebOS account meant that I needed to use a Wifi connection. Well, the TouchPad has a streak of crazy when it comes to Wifi. It wouldn’t connect to either of the MTN or Etisalat Mifi hotspots I had. It wouldn’t connect to another hotspot via my netbook.
I went to Google in search of what the problem could be, only to find an avalanche of similar complaints on the web about the TouchPad’s choosy Wifi idiosyncracies. Different reports on how it would connect with this type, but not that type.
But I was determined… [in Kanu Nwankwo’s intonation]
A trip to CcHUB
A trip to a cyber-cafe with Swift’s hotspot service turned just as frustrating. Finally, I hit myself on the head for forgetting Co-Creation Hub (CcHUB) at Sabo, Yaba.
At CcHUB, the nice guys there gave me free access to their hotspot and the TouchPad latched on to it happily.
However, creating a WebOS account returned an error saying that the account could not be created. The options were to try again later or get to HP Support. I did try again – like ten times. All failed.
Then I said to myself, What are the chances that the account has been created and the stupid system is just, well, stupid? So, I went a step back, chose the login option and entered the login details I used with each account creation attempt. What do you know, it let me in! Ha!!
I had to verify the new account via a link sent to me via email, and I was good to go.
A bit on CcHUB: If you are interested in startups, small businesses and technology in any way, CcHUB is a good place to hangout to meet people of similar persuasion and to get work done. membership fees are moderate, and for those who just want to pop in once in a while to use the facilities (nice cozy environment, comfy chairs, wifi hotspot, et al), there’s a pay-as-you use option costing N1,000 per day too.
Once in a while, you will find myself and other members of the Mobility crew hanging out there. Visit the CcHUB Nigeria website.
I was notified of a waiting firmware update for the TouchPad, so I went at that right away. In a few minutes, the 62 MB WebOS 3.0.4 firmware was downloaded and ready for installing. No issues installing. Now I was ready to use this baby!
User Interface & Multitasking
The WebOS cards-based user interface is a delight to use. Press the menu button to display running apps. Swipe horizontally to scroll through them. Flick one up to close the app. Tap another to bring it to the foreground and work with it.
Multi-tasking here is the way it should be – just as it was on the Maemo-running Nokia N900. You can see exactly what is running, not just icons of the running apps.
What’s not to like there? It is fun to use and feels natural.
Wifi Issues Persist
The TouchPad handles web browsing, email, Facebook and a host of other instant messaging/social networking services nicely – when the Wifi connection works.
After the initial setting up with the CcHUB hotspot, I found that the TouchPad could now connect to my mifi hotspots and use those for web browsing and Facebook. For the life of me though, it wouldn’t work with the email client.
I had setup my Mail for Exchange account earlier at CcHUB and so my contacts, calendar entries and mails were already on the device. using my mifi hotspot, however, I wasn’t able to connect to my email anymore. Not once.
Checking for device updates too no longer worked. It is crazy, really.
Anyway, web browsing is fine. There’s Flash support, which is a plus in my books. The browser is not tab-based but rather opens new windows which are grouped together in the task switcher.
The TouchPad supports music and video playback. During audio playback, however, there are times the audio quality is good and at other times it comes out faint or scratchy. A bug? Dunno.
There is a front-facing camera that can be used for self-portraits. I’m not sure if it will be used much.
Once your Facebook account is setup on the Touchpad, your Facebook pictures are automatically imported to your gallery for viewing. Nice.
Office documents viewing and editing are supported on the TouchPad. I tried out Word and PowerPoint documents, and had no issues with those.
I was also able to view PDF files nicely.
For internet access, its Wifi all the way, and I have detailed the issues already.
For transferring files to and from a PC, mass storage is there via USB, and it works well without issues.
Bluetooth is also there but functionality is limited.
I love the way that various services are integrated into messaging on the TouchPad. There’s Skype, Yahoo Messenger, LinkedIn, Dropbox, Gmail, and Facebook, among others.
This is similar to what obtains on the Nokias N900 and N9.
The TouchPad runs on a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core APQ8060 processor. But… it often felt like it was running a 600MHz unit when launching apps. I don’t know if the problem is WebOS or HP’s implementation. However, once the apps are running, switching between them is fast, though still a tard slow.
In comparison, the iPad 2, which runs a 1 GHz dual-core CPU feels much faster.
The HP TouchPad has potentials. It works, but not as well as any of us would have loved for it to. The wifi issue is its greatest weakness, followed by the insanely sluggish application launching.
Its no wonder that sales were very low and that HP has given up. I still wonder: is the problem with HP, or is it WebOS? No-one is telling.