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Review roundup: HP TouchPad billed as 'mediocre tablet'

Hewlett Packard's entry into the tablet market has drawn praise for its external beauty and criticism as reviewers dug beneath the surface, with one journalist calling the device a "mediocre tablet."

The TouchPad, which arrives Friday, features a 9.7-inch touchscreen with a 1,024 x 768 pixel display and a Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core 1.2GHz processor. The device is Wi-Fi only for now with 16GB and 32GB models that sell for $499 and $599 respectively.

A 3G version of the device is scheduled to arrive on AT&T later this summer. HP announced the Touchpad in February as the beginning of a "new era" of WebOS.

HP's WebOS has been much-anticipated for its potential to break up Apple's lock on the tablet market. The world's largest PC maker acquired the mobile operating system when it bought Palm last year for $1.2 billion, promising to "double down" on WebOS.

However, early reviewers see the TouchPad as arriving late to the tablet party. In general, they were enthusiastic about the device's impressive looks, but took issue with the weight, bugs and lack of applications.

After testing the device for about a week, Walt Mossberg described the TouchPad as "simply no match for the iPad." He praised the tablet's user interface as "attractive and different," but noted that the UI didn't make up for "poor battery life, a paucity of apps and other deficits."

Mossberg found the device's hardware to be "bulbous and heavy" compared to the iPad 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. He also criticized HP for leaving out key features such as a rear camera or a camera app for taking videos and still pictures. The Touchpad has a 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera that can be used only for video chats.

Using his standard video test, Mossberg found the device's battery to last only 60 percent as long as Apple's latest tablet. With the screen brightness set to 75 percent, the TouchPad played videos non-stop for 6 hours and 5 minutes, compared to 10 hours and 9 minutes for the iPad 2.

The review also took issue with the just 300 tablet-optimized apps for the TouchPad. Though the tablet can run roughly 70 percent of the 6,200 total webOS apps, it runs them "in a small, phone-size window that can't be expanded."

Noticeably missing were apps for streaming TV shows or movies and editing documents, as well as stores for directly downloading TV shows, movies and music. HP has promised a music store at launch and a video download store "shortly" after launch.

"I also ran into plenty of bugs in my tests, even though H-P said I was testing a production unit," Mossberg wrote. He had trouble with the email app, photos app and the "Angry Birds" game. He also found that he had to reboot the device periodically to keep it from getting too sluggish. HP acknowledged the problems and said an over-the-air update fixing the bugs would arrive in three to six weeks.

The TouchPad's ability to run Adobe Flash sets it apart from the iPad, but Mossberg found Flash performance on the device uneven. "Most Flash videos played fine, but some froze or stuttered badly, even on a fast Internet connection. A site written entirely in Flash wouldn’t even load, he wrote."

Despite the range of issues, the reviewer found the device a "joy to use," while concluding that, "at least for now, [he] can’t recommend the TouchPad over the iPad 2."

Palm 1

David Pogue characterized the TouchPad as "late for the ball," especially because the device's "biggest distinguishing component" is its operating system. According to him, the tablet "doesn't get off to a good start" from a hardware perspective because it's 40 percent thicker and 20 percent heavier than the iPad.

"It supposedly has a blazing-fast chip inside, but you wouldn’t know it. When you rotate the screen, it takes the screen two seconds to match — an eternity in tablet time," he wrote. "Apps can take a long time to open; the built-in chat app, for example, takes seven seconds to appear. Animations are sometimes jerky, reactions to your finger swipes sometimes uncertain."

Pogue also complained that the TouchPad's battery life lasts only eight hours, compared to the iPad's 10.

To HP's credit, the reviewer did note that both the device and WebOS are beautiful. Pogue also praised the company's Synergy feature that consolidates contacts and calendars from multiple online accounts. The TouchPad boasts changes to the virtual keyboard, adding a number row at the top and adjustable key heights.

HP has also brought over innovations from Palm, such as magnetic charing and close integration with the upcoming Palm Pre 3 smartphone.

"In this 1.0 incarnation, the TouchPad doesn’t come close to being as complete or mature as the iPad or the best Android tablets; you’d be shortchanging yourself by buying one right now, unless you’re some kind of rabid A.B.A. nut (Anything but Apple)," Pogue concluded, adding that HP has shown "signs of greatness," but is "tilting at windmills."

HP TouchPad
Source: AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Rachel Metz found the TouchPad to be just a "mediocre tablet," and not the triumph for HP that it should have been. "Yet while the TouchPad's software is beautiful and intuitive, overall the tablet is more of a "meh-sterpiece" than a masterpiece," she wrote.

Metz said the WebOS software made "perfect sense" on a tablet and navigating around the device was "a breeze." Video performance was excellent, and the device was good for surfing the web, although some websites would not load properly.

However, the reviewer also noted "plenty of fumbles" on the device. For example, IM conversations would sometimes mysteriously stop sending text. Other times, the tablet would stutter and freeze. Metz tested the video chat feature and found it to be "dismal." According to a colleague, the video from the TouchPad looked "like a Monet painting" and the audio sounded crackly.

"Sadly, the TouchPad is more blah than brilliant. The software is great, though, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that HP can come up with a stronger tablet next time around," she concluded.

Rich Jaroslovsky, a self-professed fan of "the polished, easy-to-use webOS software," wrote that the operating system made the leap from phone to tablet "beautifully." However, he was surprised at some of HP's struggles in the hardware department. In particular, Jaroslovsky took issue with the TouchPad's weight, which is even heavier than Apple's original iPad.

The reviewer appreciated aspects of the experience that, like Apple, arose from HP's control of both the software and the hardware. For instance, the TouchPad can be paired with the Palm Pre 3 to pass information and even answer incoming calls and receive and send text messages.

But, the tablet "sometimes struggles with the basics," often feeling "sluggish and underpowered," according to Jaroslovsky. He was also disappointed by battery life, getting only 4 1/2 hours during stress testing.

"Especially given the TouchPad’s hardware shortcomings, you’re probably better off waiting for a TouchPad 2," he wrote.