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Tech Review – HP TouchPad

Although no-one has been able to threaten the iPad’s dominance in tablet computing, that hasn’t stopped various manufacturers from trying. The latest to step into the fray is HP, a company with very deep pockets and a reputation for producing first-rate desktops and laptops.

HP also has something that other non-Apple tablet manufacturers do not: its own mobile operating platform. HP inherited WebOS with the acquisition of Palm, and has since spent many months and millions of dollars refining it for a new generation of HP mobile devices.

The TouchPad is the first of those devices, and there is a lot riding on it for HP and the industry as a whole.

Unfortunately, first impressions are not great. In the ever-expanding world of handheld devices, there is a fine line between durable and chunky, and at 1.6 pounds and over half an inch thick, the TouchPad veers towards the latter. HP would argue that its dimensions are almost exactly the same as the original iPad, but that’s the point: the iPad 2 is much thinner and much lighter than its predecessor and the style-bar is now significantly higher.

HP has also chosen a high gloss plastic finish for the back of the TouchPad, which looks terrific until you pick it up and start handling it. The shiny new finish quickly becomes a sea of almost perfect fingerprints – again, shades of iPad 1.

However, once you power up the TouchPad, many of its superficial shortcomings are forgotten. The 9.7-inch high-resolution screen displays razor-sharp graphics and responds well to both keyboard and multi-touch commands. The WebOS software is both intuitive and a pleasure to use, allowing multi-tasking in an organized and logical fashion.

The TouchPad’s core features revolve around the five main apps highlighted on the home screen: Web browsing, e-mail, messaging, photos, and calendar. When browsing the Web, the TouchPad handles Flash effortlessly, with none of the holes and conversion issues you see with the iPad. (Here, it should be mentioned that this first-generation TouchPad is only available with dual band Wi-Fi, with no option for 3G or 4G cellular. Therefore, the quality of your Web browsing experience and other online functionality will depend on the strength of your network.)

The TouchPad handles e-mail particularly well, searching out your accounts on set-up and presenting multiple screens for easy reference. E-mails and associated web pages are grouped together in stacks, like a deck of cards, making multi-tasking so much easier and more like the desktop experience. The TouchPad goes one step further with your calendar, merging dates from every platform – even Facebook – into one consolidated view.

Of course, if you are late to the tablet party, then you are also going to be well-behind in apps. There are “only” about 8,000 third-party WebOS apps right now, although developers will be working hard to get that number up. Instead of quantity, the TouchPad emphasizes quality, organizing the apps into an easy-to-use catalog, which highlights “essential” apps and other recommendations.

In summary, the TouchPad is a worthy competitor for the original iPad, displaying a versatility and logic that Apple’s initial offering lacked. Unfortunately, both Apple and the tablet-savvy consumer have already moved on.

But don’t rule HP out of the tablet stakes just yet. Those deep pockets could go a long way in helping them catch up!

The TouchPad costs $500 for the 16GB version and $600 for the 32GB model. It’s available online at HP.com or in-store at all major retailers.

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