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HP TouchPad Mini Review

Posted by Andrew at 5:00 AM on July 13, 2011

My HP TouchPad arrived on my doorstep last Tuesday and it’s been an interesting week since I opened the box. Here are a few thoughts on the first WebOS tablet.

First impressions do count and the box itself started well. It has an almost airtight sliding drawer construction that makes it impossible to open quickly. This slowly reveals the TouchPad as it pulls gently out. Once you eventually have the ‘Pad in your hand, it’s obvious that this is a well-constructed device. The front is glass, presumably of the Gorilla variety, and the black is a hard shiny plastic with the HP logo in the centre. It is heavier than I was expecting but not uncomfortably so.

As a Pre 2 owner, I was right at home with WebOS from the start. Some of the gestures are missing, such as the back swipe, but the main upwards swipe from the bottom of the screen persists. Along with the multitasking this is the heart of WebOS. And it works very well. I’m probably biased but I definitely think that WebOS is the best tablet OS by far.

This would be for naught if there weren’t the apps to run on the OS. And it would be wrong to say that there are loads, becuase there aren’t. But they’re coming and each day new apps are released specifically for the TouchPad. Most of the phone-based apps also work in a kind of emulator but you don’t get the benefit of the big screen. The TouchPad apps are pretty good and there’s some nice free stuff that HP has presumably helped with. The Epicurious app is chock full of great recipes and there are Sky News and USA Today apps as well. Of course, Angry Birds makes its obligatory appearance.

Other commentators have mentioned that the TouchPad is a bit laggy. Laggy is the wrong word – it pauses sometimes. When you are actually doing stuff, it’s pretty quick – I have no complaints there. For example, doing a bit of web surfing is as quick as you’d get at your laptop, but if I switch to the email app and I change to a different email account, the app sometimes seems to pause as if it’s checking for new email. These are generally minor irritations - looking at my TouchPad now, I’m listening to music with a weather app, email and three web browsing sessions open. Flicking between the apps is smooth and they respond instantly once they pop to the foreground.

What else is good? The Beats Audio is very impressive – I think it’s possibly the best MP3 player I’ve listened to.
The Skype client is integrated into the Messaging App and seems to work well. I Skype-d my father with video from the UK to Shanghai and there was a bit of lag at the beginning of the call but the call got better as it went on. (Of course there are a number of factors involved in Skype calls).
Ms Office document editing isn’t ready yet but the viewer has handled all the Office docs and Adobe .pdfs that I’ve thrown at it.
Video plays well but the hi-res screen shows up the limitations of the source. What looked really crisp on my phone now looks a bit pixellated in places. Perhaps I should have bought the 32 GB version after all.
Flash works as well as Flash ever does. The BBC’s iPlayer works ok but I had a bit of trouble with Channel 4′s on demand programming.
Bizarrely, there’s no calculator app. C’mon guys – how long would it have taken to take the basic calculator from the Pre and re-skin it?

There’s a nice three pane app interface that I hadn’t seen before. It’s used to good advantage in the email app, with the left column showing accounts, the middle showing the email headers and the right showing the email body. By tapping on a little III icon, you can get the pane to expand over the panes to the left. It’s very slick and very handy.

One personal peeve is that certain apps insist on running in a particular orientation, which as far as I’m concerned is upside down when I’m holding the TouchPad in my hand. I can understand that some apps want to run in landscape rather than portrait but wanting to run a particular way up is nonsense.

Overall, I’m pleased with my purchase - for the purposes of disclosure this was a personal purchase and not a review unit. There are some rough edges and there is a lack of apps, but there’s nothing a few software updates won’t fix.

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