Why the HP TouchPad has the best tablet UX I’ve seen

If you asked me last week which tablet user experience was the best, I wouldn’t have had a solid answer for you. They all have good points and bad. Whether one is “best” depends greatly on the user. Well, I’m chucking some of that out the window because I have seen the light and it is the HP TouchPad.

At first glance, the TouchPad looks like an iPad wannabe. Same screen size and dimensions. Similar home screen layout, onscreen keyboard, and app layouts. Lot of the same specs or improvements that are expected on the next iPad. Criticisms on those points are fair, and I’d guess the designers (or their bosses) made a deliberate attempt to start with the iPad as a base and improve upon it. But the distinctions between the two are substantial and great enough in my opinion to put the TouchPad a step not just above the iPad but also all of its direct competitors to date.

First, the card metaphor just makes sense for the larger tablet screen. I wasn’t thrilled when I first saw the card system on the Pre, but it looks ideal for a tablet. There’s more room to see the cards and shuffle between them. I couldn’t see myself thumbing through them on a phone, but I am definitely attracted to the idea of flipping through them on a tablet.

Second, the interoperability between Pre and TouchPad fits lock-step with my concept of phone + tablet combos. Use the Pre or other webOS phone as your roaming mobile device (outside home or office), carrying the TouchPad as needed. At home, the Pre goes down and the TouchPad gets picked up with calls and messages forwarded to it. Going back out, touch the Pre to the TouchPad to shuffle data back over. The ability to seamlessly switch between the two and having them work in tandem is really amazing. RIM was headed in this direction with their Playbook, but it falls short of what the TouchPad demonstrates. Most impressively, these power features look easy enough for a casual user to pick up.

Third, it completely buries the “portrait vs. landscape” debate. Like the iPad, it has a 4:3 screen ratio that is better suited for switching between orientations than the widescreens that other tablets favor. Unlike the iPad, it has no home button on the front bezel and the location of the charging port is made irrelevant by the Touchstone docking station. Portrait or landscape, it doesn’t matter. The design negates the argument.

Fourth, the webOS guys did not fall into the same trap that Android 3.0 stepped into, which is the temptation to make it more like a desktop. More screen space does not mean open season to introduce elements taken off a desktop PC. They didn’t cram in more elements to webOS for TouchPad. Instead, they made better use of the existing elements, like the notifications in the top bar, and retooling of apps for the larger screen. It remains simple, elegant, and geared for the average user, not power users.

All that said, “best” does not mean most desirable nor best for everyone. The TouchPad’s greatest strength could be its greatest weakness. Many of its killer features are tied to being partnered with a webOS phone. Great if you already have a webOS phone, but anyone else will be buying into a whole new ecosystem. That’s a tough sell.

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Ask me which tablet use experience looks the best, I’d say the HP TouchPad. iPad, Playbook, and Xoom may match or exceed it in some ways, but this is the one that gives me that “wow” factor, that hits it on so many (but not all) key points. True, I haven’t laid hands on this tablet, nor the Playbook or Xoom for that matter, but from what I’ve seen, the TouchPad user experience is the one to beat. Ask me if you should buy one and that’s where I’m back to looking at usage, preferences, and current ecosystem.

Comments

  1. Palmpre orphan says

    I have a webos Palm pre phone and while I think webos works well, there is a serious lack of apps anywhere near the variety and availability of apps available for android or iOs. My palm pre is like an orphan when it comes to apps.

  2. Westieswingdancer says

    Honestly, don’t tell me what a great user experience something is until you’ve actually had it in your hands and used it. Waiting till the next to the last sentence to say this is misleading. I appreciate your efforts to get new information out, but this was no better than a PR piece.

  3. rainman says

    I went to get a Droid phone at one point and walked out with the Pre+. Still don’t like the keypad, my thumbs are too fat, but otherwise I love it. It is sharp, snappy and just plain works. I plan to get the Pre3 and tablet when I upgrade. I agree that apps are lacking, but I hope with HP pushing out more product that will improve.

  4. harv says

    First we had to endure Warner bleeeting on about the I-Fad, to the point where everyother commenter wanted to know how much Apple was paying for such a blatant sales pitch, and now this …. Wake up boys ..We’re on to you, being paid shills masquerading as journalists is very low

    • Xavier Lanier says

      So what’s the problem with Warner going on and on about a product that ended up being the fastest selling gadget of all time? Obviously he wasn’t alone.
      Our writers are passionate tech enthusiasts…hence they tend to get excited about exciting technology. We have no problem pointing out what we don’t like. Here’s an example from earlier today: http://www.gottabemobile.com/2011/02/09/sprint-4g-vs-verizon-lte-speedtest-in-san-francisco/
      We enjoy discussing technology with readers, but your accusations of Sumocat being a paid shill is uncalled for and insulting. If you’re as dissatisfied with GBM’s coverage as you seem to be, I can suggest several other tech communities you may enjoy.

    • Sumocat says

      You got me, harv. Clearly I planted the seeds for my four main points in blog posts over the past year or so, starting with my initial impressions of WebOS on the Palm Pre, in preparation for a big payout knowing that HP would buy Palm and launch the TouchPad. “Phone + tablet”, “landscape vs. portrait”, Android 3.0 being more desktop-like, just groundwork for this. Years of preparation down the drain thanks to your attentiveness.

  5. Dalspartan says

    I completely agree. Although I have been an Apple guy for several years, the features offered, with my previous preference for Palm, makes me put this at the head of the list. I was disappointed it’s not ready yet, I guess it means I can save pennies for when they’re available.

  6. Chiro says

    The WebOS is the most sophisticated OS out there for smartphones and Tablets. Beats my iPad, iPhone and Android.

  7. Mimoore says

    I still need to “calibrate” my understanding of the term “Tablet”. It no longer is short hand for “Tablet PC” as it was for many years. Hence seeing Sumocat rave about the best “Tablet” experience is not the same as raving about the best “Tablet PC” experience, correct?

    What is the ability of these Tablet devices to manipulate documents like Word that are native to a PC. If you are making notes to yourself while on a train with your Tablet will you be able to seamlessly put it on your PC, and vice versa? How do the different Tablet (not tablet PC) OS’s compare in this? Thanks.

    • Sumocat says

      That is an accurate take on the situation. I’d go so far as to say dropping the “PC” is symbolic of how the new generation tablets are no longer merely PCs with touchscreens and/or pen input.

      As for working with documents, Tablet PCs are still superior for marking up documents, if only because they remain pen-oriented. But apps designed for working with documents on tablets, such as the iWork apps for iPad, can match or even exceed the Tablet PC for actual creating and editing (at least in slate mode). For example, Numbers for iPad has different keyboard configurations for different data types. Excel’s accommodation for Tablet PC ends at recognizing the pen eraser. As powerful as Microsoft Office is it simply was never designed for tablets.

  8. mobile10.org says

    the top tablet PCs of this year that can become wonderful gifts for your loved one on the upcoming event of new year 2011 and we would like to review the best tablet pc in the market. please note that this article may change based on new input our team will get. more at http://www.mobile10.org/?p=425 and tablet info

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