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August 9, 2011 • Editorials

Five Reasons I Didn’t Buy a HP TouchPad Last Weekend

As most tech-heads are aware, this past weekend HP ran a $100 off ‘instant coupon’ special on the HP TouchPad. In addition, certain retail shops ran additional $50 off specials and Staples even had a $100 off deal, meaning it was possible to get the 16GB version of the TouchPad for $299 – $349. I know many folks who simply couldn’t resist the price and went right out to grab one. Since I am a big Palm webOS fan as I indicated in my review of the Palm Pixi Plus, I certainly printed out the Staples coupon – yet I didn’t buy one. And I will detail five reasons WHY I didn’t.

When the HP TouchPad launched in early July, some of us headed to our local stores to check them out. Dan didn’t buy one because as he said here:

I checked out the HP TouchPad the day it was released and… didn’t walk out with one. I’m impressed with WebOS but I found the tablet a bit too laggy for my taste.

I had a similar experience – I loved the webOS on the Palm Pre Plus and Pixi Plus, but found the hardware on the phones too weak. When I first tested out the HP TouchPad I liked it better than any of the Android tablets I tried in my local Best Buy … but not enough to buy one, even given the Best Buy return policy (which is more because I never tend to use those things!). Since then HP has released an OTA (over the air) update to webOS that was supposed to address many issues with the initial release.

So with the price on the 16GB TouchPad down to $299, I simply had to look again! I was able to stop in during a time there was no one around for a while, and right after they unboxed a new demo unit, so I had plenty of chance to fully mess around before resetting the system. It was as close to an in-home demo as I could hope. But as I said, I didn’t get one – why? Here are five reasons:

  • Hardware: This is one that they simply can’t fix with an OTA update! The HP TouchPad feels like an inferior device compared to other top-line tablets, and particularly compared to the iPad 2. I wasn’t alone in that assessment, either – I heard a couple of folks remark that compared to the iPad the TouchPad felt like it was made by VTech! Ouch! It is a very plasticky machine with a spongy feeling to the buttons. It was one thing that I had to take a razor to the budget Pixi Plus case to get the lock switch to work properly, but on a full priced tablet?
  • Performance: Multi-tasking slows things down, we all know this. But the HP would randomly feel sluggish for no reason at all, would quickly buckle under the pressure of a few apps, and actually became totally unresponsive on more than a couple of occasions. I learned the limits on my Pre and Pixi, but with a tablet we expect a bit more – but the TouchPad didn’t deliver. Overall it felt slower than the original iPad.
  • Operating System & Core Services: Just like iOS and Android, webOS on the TouchPad is more or less an upscaled smartphone OS. But unlike iOS, the TouchPad doesn’t ever make you forget that this is just an oversized smartphone OS. Things pop up tethered to corner and much smaller than they could have been, the core PIM apps feel anemic compared to other tablets. I ran into errors opening too many ‘cards’, which made me go through and manually close stuff until I could open a new card. ‘True’ multitasking is great … until you meet the downside. Similarly, the ‘full browser experience’ – which is code for running Flash – is better in theory than in resource hogging, system choking, app-crashing reality.
  • Keyboard: I was terribly excited to try the TouchPad keyboard again, as the layout seemed perfect but I had numerous issues when I tried the initial release. I had heard that the OS update had fixed the accuracy issues, but I still found myself with way too many mis-types. I know I am a lousy typist, but my frame of reference was the iPad, and for whatever reason I was much less accurate with the TouchPad.
  • Apps: I read somewhere, probably related to Windows Phone 7, that it isn’t about having loads of apps, but the RIGHT apps. To an extent I agree, but would go further and say that you also need the right functionality in those apps. Comparing Slacker radio on different platforms is one example, and also Facebook. Let me be blunt: the HP TouchPad suffers from a tremendous lack of quality AND quantity in the app selection. You will immediately bump against the limits of what is available, and based on many top-line apps ported to WP7 and webOS (small-screen) I hold out little hope that you will EVER be able to lead an app-centric existence on the TouchPad. To put it in perspective – I have ~2x the amount of apps ON MY IPAD that are iPad-specific than the ENTIRE TouchPad library!

I’m sure some will just dismiss me as a ‘hater’, or some sort of ‘iFanBoy’ or whatever, but to those who do I suggest re-reading my Palm Pixi review. I LOVE webOS, and have had loads of success with HP handheld products through the years going all the way back to the HP95LX. I was pulling for the TouchPad to rock, for the Pre 3 to deal with the hardware issues of earlier phones, and for me to be able to move to a webOS world. But when I fail to buy a product not once but TWICE after considerable hands-on time, that means something to me.

As I was starting to write about this, Dan chimed in on the reason HE didn’t get one on the sale last weekend:

When Elana stopped in to grab one it wasn’t available. 🙂

As Dan had also noted, HP just announced the higher speed TouchPad on AT&T. That also gave me pause, as it means that in the course of a month, HP has dropped price on a product while simultaneously churning out an improved iteration. In ONE MONTH! Perhaps before the snow starts falling we’ll have a thinner high-speed dual-core system with an even better version of webOS … and still for $300!

The combination of troubled hardware and software, with a general lack of developer support and mindshare, doesn’t indicate a high confidence of success for a platform. It will be interesting to see the sales from this last weekend’s price slash – and also the number of returns.

Did you grab a TouchPad last weekend or at least check one out? What do you think about the platform?

6 Responses to " Five Reasons I Didn’t Buy a HP TouchPad Last Weekend "

  1. Joel McLaughlin says:

    The Touchpad felt worse than my craplet I reviewed. The screen is good enough, but the back felt really cheap. HP hardware isn’t supposed to feel like this.

  2. JohnKes says:

    and no GPS or compass!

  3. Perry Reed says:

    The build quality of the Touchpad is indeed disappointing and definitely not typical HP. But the biggest disappointment of the Touchpad is definitely the apps. I had the same problem on my old Palm Pre. I liked WebOS (with the exception of a few really annoying glitches), but the quantity and quality of the apps was dismal at best. Not only were most apps simply not available, but the ones that were were nowhere near as good as the versions for iOS and other platforms. The original Facebook app for WebOS was a perfect example. Compared to iPhone, the Pre version was just AWFUL. Missing most of the features of the iPhone version, it was also slow and buggy.

    Sadly, that is typical of most of the WebOS apps I’ve seen. It’s really too bad, because the OS itself is very nice. They were the first to combine services via Synergy and their multitasking is the best out there. Of course, both of those features have been copied by everyone else now (Synergy in particular has been done much, much better in Windows Phone 7).

  4. […] recently remarked about how and why I didn’t buy a HP TouchPad during the recent mega-sale at Staples and elsewhere. As I mentioned then, Dan had also looked at the TouchPad when it was released and described it as […]

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