POSTS FOR 2011

Comparing the HP TouchPad to the iPad 2

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I currently own and love my iPad 2, but with HP slashing the prices on the new TouchPads this weekend, I decided to pick one up after calling around and finding some at my local Best Buy.

Preface

I feel that I should start by saying that I’m an Apple guy; or more specifically that I’ve always been an Apple guy. I was converted to the Mac platform back in the early 90’s when my Junior High school’s library got a new shipment of Apple Macintosh LC IIs. I’ve never really looked back.

That said, this certainly isn’t a blind love for Apple. Over the years, Apple has earned my trust by providing high-quality products, software and support that puts the consumer first. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ve liked every single decicion they’ve made, but all-in-all I have Apple’s back because I believe that Apple has mine.

Let’s look at the competition:

  • RIM: RIM is dead. Sell your stock.

  • Microsoft: Irrelevant in this day and age.

  • Google:

    1. They’d screw me in a second if they could sell more data about me to advertisers.

    2. Google values engineering above all else. Unfortunately for Google, Design is more important than Engineering.

    3. Andy Rubin has as much dumb stuff come out of his mouth as Steve Ballmer.

    4. Google recently kicked off a whine-fest because they lost a patent auction.

  • Palm: CEO was a high-ranking lieutenant at Apple in charge of the iPod. Lots of former Apple engineers. Sweet new OS for mobile devices. Hmmm…

Piqued Interest

I have no interest in Android. I’m a bit of a quality snob, and an ease-of-use snob, and most of Google’s products are just not there. Android in particular (and Microsoft’s Windows CE, palm-sized PC, PocketPC, Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Phone Edition, Windows Mobile, Windows Embedded Handheld, Windows Phone 7 Series, Windows Phone 7 devices) all suffer from what’s called The Paradox of Choice (TED video) (Wikipedia summary). The short version is that while people like Steve Ballmer and Andy Rubin are all touting how wonderful it is to have a plethora of devices available, it’s actually harmful to the customer experience.

So when Palm/HP announced the TouchPad, I was intrigued. I’d always thought that Palm’s webOS was a clear stand-out among mobile OSs, but the faulty Pre hardware and a poor at-launch partner (Sprint), and terrible marketing all worked in concert to kill Palm’s chances of making a dent in the marketplace. Palm also was in the poor position of needing a serious influx of cash if they were to continue operating. That kind of split focus is never good for a company.

Seeing some gorgeous screenshots of the OS and devices on Sebastiaan de With’s blog pretty much sealed the deal for me: I was a webOS fan. Unfortunately for Palm/HP, there was no way I was going to spend money on a TouchPad when I could get an iPad.

Comparing the TouchPad and the iPad 2

I ordered my iPad 2 at the end of July, so I’ve only had my iPad 2 for about 3 weeks. I also have an iPhone 4, so picking up and using an iPad was effortless. Because of this, the iPad has set an awfully high bar in my mind.

After spending a little less than 24 hours with my new 32GB HP TouchPad, here are my thoughts:

Pros

  • Palm/HP definitely got the packaging right. It’s the most Apple-like experience for any non-Apple product I’ve ever seen.

  • webOS is gorgeous, with an emphasis on black/charcoal colors, the Prelude system font, and high-quality iconography derived from the circle shape (Palm owns the circle). If you believe (as I do) that a software environment should look as good as it works, webOS is fantastic.

  • The TouchPad hardware is nice to the eyes and the touch. It has a sturdy (although somewhat plastic-y) feel to it.

  • Neither Netflix nor Hulu are filtering the TouchPad’s user-agent string. Hulu seems to maintain a black list for devices (Hulu has to pro-actively block devices), while Netflix seems to maintain a white list for devices (Netflix has to pro-actively allow devices). While I can watch Hulu content on my TouchPad (which comes with Flash), I can’t watch Netflix content (which requires Silverlight).

  • The bezel/cards UI is awesome.

  • Built-in support for several third-party accounts, including Skype and Dropbox. While iOS (and Mac OS X Lion) also has this, webOS’s integration seems to go a lot deeper — specifically in being able to do a decent job of merging contacts together across the various services.

  • The Facebook app (developed by Palm) beats the pants off of the phone-only iOS Facebook app. The closest competitor available for the iPad is an app called MyPad+.

  • The Last.fm app is also designed for the TouchPad, easily beating the phone-only iOS Last.fm app.

  • The photo app has built-in support for Facebook photos and videos built right in.

  • The on-screen keyboard has digits as part of its first screen. You don’t need to tap shift to get to them.

Cons

  • It’s a lot heavier than my iPad 2.

  • The screen and iPhone 3G-ish style back attract fingerprints like its their job.

  • The UI doesn’t track finger movements as quickly as iOS, so the touch/scroll responsiveness feels laggy compared to the iPhone 4 and iPad 2.

  • Actually, the whole OS is a bit laggy. It’s as if it takes a moment to “spin-up” after I launch an application or switch from one screen to another.

  • The TouchPad uses a non-standard Mini-USB cable, so my cache of leftover cables from my BlackBerry Pearl days are still as useless to me as they’ve been since I upgraded to the iPhone.

  • It doesn’t seem to charge when connected to my computer, so I need to disconnect it, climb down underneath my desk, and plug it in to get it to charge.

  • Ever heard of BeatsAudio? It’s the technology that powers the Beats by Dre headphone that are so freaking awesome. Yeah, not feeling it here. The iPad 2 speakers are better.

  • The app selection is downright awful. All of the apps that I take for granted on iOS (e.g., Netflix, Hulu, Twitter, Instapaper, Flipboard are nowhere to be found on the HP App Catalog.

  • While the photo app supports Facebook, it doesn’t support Flickr which is where I have a 6-year investment in photos.

  • Although the webOS browser is based on WebKit (the same engine that powers Safari and Chrome on the desktop and the web browsers built into iOS, Android and Blackberry OS 6), it is much slower than those other devices. As a matter of fact, I’ve been trying to run through the Browserscope test suite for the past couple of hours and it’s still nowhere near complete.

  • The UI doesn’t change between portrait and landscape modes. iOS understands that the portrait orientation is narrower than the landscape orientation, so it adjusts the UI accordingly (see Mail). In webOS, it simply takes the UI and squishes everything together in portrait orientation.

  • Syncing sucks. Even with the HP Play software that you can download, it’s still a pretty awful syncing experience.

Conclusion

All-in-all, the TouchPad is a mixed bag.

I think that the core of the experience (i.e., webOS itself) is a good OS with lots of potential. Remember iPhone OS 1.0? Or even 2.0? webOS 3.0 is clearly a better user experience and I believe that with more resources, webOS could definitely be a contender in the mobile space.

Unfortunately, the rest of the experience is pretty poor. The hardware — while feeling and looking good — is too slow to be of any real use to anybody. The TouchPad doesn’t charge over USB from my computer (early 2011 MacBook Pro), and doesn’t support standard-sized Mini-USB cables. The selection of apps is so paltry that it only took me about 15 minutes to look through every single app in the entire store catalog.

Would I have paid $499 or $599 for one of these? Not a chance. How about at $100 off like they were last week? No way, José. But $150 for a 32 GB model still feels like a good deal. Maybe a touch high ($129 would feel like a more appropriate price), but I don’t really have any regrets about yesterday’s purchase.

A couple of years ago, the kids would play with mine and Sarah’s Nintendo DSs when we were all in the car. Unfortunately, we only had one copy of New Super Mario Bros. and they would constantly fight over who would get to play it. In the end, we decided to spend $40 on a second copy of the game. The result was the wonderful peace and quiet that came from two happy children playing video games in the back seat. Totally worth it.

Likewise, I bought the TouchPad primarily for the kids to play with so that they stop stealing my iPad from me. When we’re at home, one of them is typically playing video games in the living room while the other is playing with the iPad. I think it was money well-spent to have two movie/music/game-playing tablets available for trips and long car rides. My daughter, Julianna, is also getting to the age where a computer is starting to feel more appropriate, so I think that the TouchPad will be a great device for her.

If you’re looking for a tablet for yourself, though, I would definitely say to skip the TouchPad and every single Android Honeycomb device out there. Spend the $499 on an iPad instead. You’ll get a better value per dollar spent with an iPad than with anything else right now.

Epilogue: Side-by-side Photos

In this first photo, you can see their shapes. The TouchPad has a much larger border radius than the iPad. In both cases, the displays are nice and bright.

iPad 2 vs. HP TouchPad

Here they are at a slightly different angle with the displays turned off.

iPad 2 vs. HP TouchPad

Here is a comparison of their thicknesses. As you can see, the TouchPad is roughly twice as thick as the iPad 2.

iPad 2 vs. HP TouchPad

(Photo credits: First photo by HP/Palm. Second and third photos by Sebastiaan de With. Fourth, fifth and sixth photos by Ryan Parman.)

Update: Micro-USB ( )

Thanks to a comment below, I’ve learned that there is apparently a new USB port size du jour called Micro USB. The TouchPad uses the Micro-B flavor, which is why my Mini USB cables didn’t work. However, I would argue with the commenter’s assertion that Micro USB is “the primary standard for every single other device on the market.” I have plenty of other devices at my fingertips that don’t use Micro USB.

Update: Hulu ( )

Over the past couple of days, Hulu has now added the TouchPad to their blacklist. Sorry, but no more Hulu for TouchPad users.

Hulu blocks HP TouchPad

Update: Preware ( )

Last night, while I was digging through webOS-related resources, I discovered Preware. Preware allows you to install homebrew apps, much like Cydia and Rock Your Phone for jailbroken iOS devices. The difference here is that because of the relaxed sandboxing that webOS uses, you don’t need to jailbreak anything to use it (Palm/HP is actually quite OK with this community).

Preware

As part of digging around, I found a write-up by Jeffrey Van Kamp of Digital Trends entitled “Got a slow HP TouchPad? Here are 3 easy ways to speed it up.” The first thing you learn is that webOS does a ton of logging in the background. While potentially useful for debugging, it also uses up a tremendous amount of system resources. The article discusses how to turn it off by enabling developer mode, installing Preware, and then installing a homebrew package that disables the logging. Also, if you’re interested in squeezing even more juice out of your TouchPad, the article also discusses how to overclock your TouchPad from 1.2 GHz to 1.5 GHz.

Govnah

Another article by John Biehler entitled “How to install Preware onto your HP TouchPad on a Mac” suggests a few other packages you can install to improve the general responsiveness of webOS on the TouchPad. There are a few others you can install to just make life a little simpler as well. I chose to install the following patches:

  • Advanced Reset Options
  • Faster Card Animations HYPER Version
  • Increase Touch Sensitivity and Smoothness 10
  • Just Charge By Default
  • Muffle System Logging
  • Private Browsing
  • Remove Tap Ripple
  • Unthrottle Download Manager

That last one is interesting. I had wondered why downloads seemed so slow on the TouchPad compared to my iOS devices. As it turns out, webOS throttles download speeds down to 64 kbps. Applying the patch to unthrottle the download manager sped up my TouchPad downloads dramatically.

Speed Test

Ryan Parman

Ryan Parman is an experienced software engineer, open source evangelist, and passionate user advocate currently living in Seattle. He is the creator of and , and worked on DevOps and Security at . He is now bringing learning into the digital age as an Engineering Lead and Site Reliability Engineer at . Ryan's aptly-named blog, , is where he writes about ideas longer than .