I am a big fan of Palm products. Those days it was cool to carry a Palm PDA, and if my memory did not fail me, my first Palm product was a Palm Pilot series. Palm gave me the impression of building nifty products but not a world shaker one. However when the webOS was first unveiled in 2009, I thought it is the mobile platform to go, with Windows and Linux both dominating the desktop market. The thoughts of web connected device, taking advantage of the Web 2.0 technologies, was just salivating.
Since then, a handful of Palm devices were launched sporting WebOS. I love the simple interface but the form factor never grew on me. With the products mostly focused in the US market, strangely if I may add, I never got to own one until now. Then HP acquired Palm, and it got me lighted up. A PC giant (or a ex PDA big player in Jornado and iPAQ), and an promising next generation mobile OS maker, perfect marriage or a disastrous divorce in making?
Fast forward to last month, the first webOS tablet with HP DNA was launched. As I was in the market for a tablet, it didn’t take me too much of deliberation before I placed a pre-order. I didn’t even have the chance to test run the product even though a demo unit was available during the pre-order event. I admit I was a tad disappointed by the form factor (again!) once I caught a quick glance on the demo unit. But I thought I will be wowed over by the implanted webOS, or at least I was looking forward to that.
The TouchPad was finally delivered to me yesterday. As I un-boxed the unit enthusiastically, I realized I was no longer bothered by its form factor, despite it being thicker and heavier than the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 10 and iPad 2. Perhaps the nagging concern of form factor had worn off. The 9.7inch gorilla glass is tightly fitted and enclosed with a piano finish housing, defusing a sense of refine touch and quality feel. The clean design blends well with two slim, chrome-looking buttons (power and volume). The microphone, headphone socket and the home button are so discreet, it will not be surprise if anyone were to hold the tablet upside down. The clean line design however is interrupted by the speakers’ positions, as the Beat-by-Dre speakers sit too deep into the tablet. Unfortunately, the “not flushed with the housing” design make the unit looks like a manufacturing defect.
Power on the Touchpad, I was greeted by the HP logo. It took awhile before the first setup wizard screen appeared, but since this was just one time, I had no complains. The setup process required me to connect to a WIFI hotspot so this requirement needs to be taken note of to potential buyers. (This is afterall a Web gadget). Otherwise the whole setup process was simple and a breeze, another tell tale sign that HP wants to keep the whole experience simple. The 1024×768 screen resolution looks a bit low on the otherwise decent display. The display looked gorgeous until I placed it side by side against my favorite Samsung Galaxy S2. The color appeared marginally pale and lack of “punch”. On the other hand, the touch sensitivity is great and while I like the ripple effect I suspect it is designed with a reason behind. More on that later.
On the webOS, I love the concept and the implementation of the application cards. It is not new but I think in webOS 3.02 it is more polished now, perhaps with the help of bigger screen estate. I like the idea of glancing all the active applications like a deck of cards, and ability to stack them up or side by side. To close the application, a swipe up gesture is good enough. No worries of whether the application has exited or not, or which button or menu to press to quit the application. Simple and consistent gesture.
The JustType proves to be very useful for me as it not only provides context search, but also brings all the possible search to you in one place. A keyword search will give me a comprehensive list of available search options. I can trigger a google search, or I can search against the application catalog or wiki. I can even post a status about the keyword(s) in Facebook. Google and Apple should take note of this (and the simple card style launcher), but I suspect they would be too proud to acknowledge such conveniences.
Multi-tasking is another selling point although I have to say it looks like webOS 3.0 might have fallen into the same “speed trap” as Android during its Eclair and Froyo days. The tablet seems to show signs of lagging when I opened many applications. So I do make a point to swipe out applications I do not need (in case you still have not internalize this, it means I quit the app). Perhaps a reminder from HP that human being can only do so much of multi-tasking.
Apart from the cards concept, the system UI layout is clean with just a status bar at the top, displaying active notifications and system status. The home button will lit up in a subtle blinking mode whenever there is new notification,which is functionally and aesthetically pleasing. For a content intensive application, the content could be organised in multiple pages which can be swiped and layered neatly within the application window, or opened up as a new card. Again, simple and consistent navigation experience.
Life is never perfect, so are electronic gadgets. There are some petty annoyances such as dummy Wifi status icon that does not show the wireless strength. The main gripes I have with TouchPad is the occasional lags, and the lack of applications. I should be forgiven if I have mistaken that the ripple effect (which animates for every screen touch) is designed to assure user that there is nothing wrong with the touch accuracy and sensitivity. The lag should and needs to be fixed in the next release of software update. It can be frustrating when the tablet takes a few seconds to wake up (which I suspect happens when there’s a new notification in the background while the tablet is in deep sleep) , or the application takes its time to load up.
As for the meager application catalog, I believe it is a matter of time developers will jump onto the bandwagon, so long HP doubles up its release of webOS devices and appliances to the market. This will in turn build more demands for the developers. After all, if Rovio, the Angrybird “farmer”, chose to release its game at the same time as the TouchPad’s launch, it does say something about how keen the developers in general are to join in the fun. (The last I remembered Rovio took a while before they release the Windows Phone version of their birds and pigs game). It is a chicken and egg situation (with no pun intended) but the ball (or is it the egg?) is apparently in HP’s court.
Regardless, there are some applications which I think should be part of the default application offering. For example, there is no application for YouTube, one which is so synonymous to Web that excluding it from a Web-oriented device is like taking a steering wheel away from a car. It may well be a case of HP wanting to prove a point that they have Flash support, as the workaround (of a missing YouTube app) is to playback the videos from YouTube’s desktop version site directly. Even a Youtube video search from JustType fires up the YouTube web page directly. I have to say though, the playback is as good as what you would experience from a desktop, buttery smooth without stuttering.
As a matter of fact, for every of the web sites I surfed, the web browser will always open the site in desktop format (not mobile) automatically, and you won’t feel any dysfunctional or crippled navigation as you would experienced sometimes from a smartphone. Perhaps, there is an underlying message HP wants to send out here. That Touchpad is a desktop in a tablet form, and a simple one too. Now, my TouchPad is starting to look more sleek and slim, oh yeah!