In fact, you'll really only be using gestures to switch between tasks. The Gesture Area (the spot on the bezel beneath the display on webOS phones) is no longer there for things like going back and forth in the browser. You'll need to use the buttons in the menu bar at the top of the window for that sort of thing, which is a bit pedestrian and boring. You can still flick up to get the card view, or tap the home button once for that, twice to bring up Launcher.
The Just Type feature, where you "just type" to find contacts or documents, hasn't been significantly tweaked, letting you start pecking away at the on-screen keyboard to look up contacts or enter in web URLs. It's a little less instant feeling since you first need to tap on the "Just Type" section of the screen -- unless you pair an optional keyboard -- but it's still handy.
Other tweaks include notifications that appear in a top status bar. You'll see an alert should you get a flurry of new emails, and you can quickly flick through them before tapping one to view it in the dedicated app. You can also get quick access to toggling the device's various antennae, and of course get the time and a remaining battery life. There's a screen orientation lock here, but we were wishing for a physical switch as we found the TouchPad to be hugely, well, touchy
when it came to flipping from portrait to landscape.
Finally, there's the unlock screen, which looks a lot like what you'll find on Android Honeycomb. Just grab the lock and drag it away to get in to the tablet. The screen will give you some information about what notifications are waiting for you behind the screen -- the sender and subject of an email, for example -- but rather curiously there's no way to jump right to those items from the lock screen.
The integrated email application is easy and effective, relying on what HP calls Synergy -- a means to tie together multiple accounts and show them all in one view. It'll work with Google, Exchange, Yahoo!, MobileMe, and good 'ol POP3 / SMTP out of the box. We attached our Gmail account and, within a minute or two of watching a spinny indicator do its thing, all our labels appeared as folders and all our emails as, well, emails.
This is probably the best demonstration of the moveable panes UI concept that HP is pushing with the TouchPad. By default, along the left you get a list of folders, in the middle a list of messages within the current folder, and on the right a view of the selected message. But, you can tap below the messages list and drag left to hide the folders, making more room for reading, or tap below the email and drag left to bring that full screen. You can then drag back when you want your lists again. It's intuitive and it works
-- except when it doesn't, as we'll see in the Facebook app in just a moment.
Ultimately, heavy Gmail users will miss some features available on Android, but this is among the best simple, mobile email clients we've yet sampled.
The Calendar app is similarly easy, again pulling in any related Google information should you be using it. Like with email, Synergy lets you sync with many places, including Facebook, Exchange, and Yahoo!, though we found a few selections in the Catalog that bring their own data to the party -- including a Formula One schedule that's particularly handy with all the back-to-back races this season. Ultimately it isn't particularly more or less exciting than, say, Calendar on Honeycomb, but the ability to easily aggregate multiple calendars from disparate sources makes it a useful addition here. At least, for people who have things to do at set times.
The loss of the Gesture Area means you won't be swiping to go back and forward here. You'll instead rely on a rather more traditional looking bar full of buttons. The app will also load the traditional, desktop versions of pages for the most part.
There's no tabbed browsing as such, instead you get carded, each new instance added to your stack. You just tap to get to the one you want, or of course flick the ones you don't want off to oblivion. Flash 10.3 is pre-installed and overall browsing performance is reasonably good, but we did notice some odd stops and starts and delays in loading some pages. Full-screen HD video plays, but not particularly smoothly. The same videos were far creamier on the Galaxy Tab 10.1.
Once loaded, pinching to zoom is quick and responsive, cruising around pages is snappy as can be, and you'll find the familiar "bounce" effect should you try to drag beyond any edge of the screen. In fact, things are very
The on-screen virtual keyboard is reasonably roomy, giving you the full QWERTY experience with a full row of number keys in either landscape or portrait. The symbol key gives you access to your usual array of special characters, though many of the more popular ones are available right there on the number keys as well. You're also given buttons for each of six smiley faces, including, tragically, the sad crying face and, rather more excitingly, the OMG face. There's also a <3 button, welcome addition for the particularly lazy typist.
The TouchPad is quite good at fixing many spelling mistakes and the like, subtly auto-correcting as you go and alerting you when a fix has been made with a small prompt above the word. That's definitely nice, but we do wish the keyboard would automatically insert apostrophes when typing things like "wont" or "dont." HP did, at least, put the apostrophe key right there on the front so you won't have to go digging for it.
The TouchPad gets a custom Facebook app that is better than the Facebook apps on most other mobile platforms because, well, there aren't many that are optimized for tablets -- at least not until that mythical iPad entry launches. This one certainly is optimized and it looks good -- as it should considering that HP handled the development here.
Naturally it's focused on giving you a view into the happenings of those you've chosen to indicate you're friendly with on the service. You're given two perspectives: a traditional list view and a less symmetrical grid arrangement that presents boxes of varying sizes corresponding to the size of the update posted by your associate -- and possibly to the volume of their hubris.
Both rely on the same sort of sliding panes used in the email application, but when you're in list view here the sliding pane inexplicably doesn't fill the screen after being dragged left. It just moves left, leaving a blank spot on the right. Not the end of the world, but something of an obvious bug.
The app also lets you quickly browse through your catalog of associates, view all their birthdays in one handy list, and of course peruse your photo collection. It's a solid addition to the tablet, making social networking easy.
Though you'll get a highly polished Facebook app out of the box, you're left to your own devices if you want to tweet. You can, of course, use the web interface, but serious users will immediately start trawling through the App Catalog to see what's available -- and sadly it's rather slim pickins. We found only one Twitter app that was fully-functional and optimized for the TouchPad, a beta of an app called Spaz HD, and we must say it's reasonably good.
It offers a similar multi-column view that's configurable to list your feed, your mentions, a search, direct messages, you get the picture. These columns lack the dragability and resizeability of the other custom apps, but can at least be rearranged, ala TweetDeck.
Google Maps and Earth are definitely two of the most usable apps on Android; here it's Bing Maps attempting to offer the same experience, and doing a reasonably good job at it, too. The app gives a topographical view to start, but you can of course pop over to a satellite imagery view or the service's Birds Eye angle, using multi-touch gestures to get a good view on that potential vacation destination. (Car propped up on cinder blocks out front? Bad sign.)
You can save locations, view traffic conditions, and get yourself directions too. We're told the mapping functionality has been exposed to TouchPad devs who want to add a little cartography to their apps, but at this point we're not seeing anybody take Microsoft up on that offer -- including the Weatherbug app, which renders its own maps using Google data and, sadly, offers some of the worst performance we saw on the tablet.
As was rumored
, the TouchPad is unable to create or edit Office-like documents out of the box. It does ship with QuickOffice pre-installed, but that offers read-only views into your pseudo-productivity files, and even that was a feat it couldn't manage for long. After a few days of use the app inexplicably stopped working. It would just never load. Ever. We're told a fix for that is coming "soon" and that document editing will be available by "mid-summer."
Epicurious brings its culinary delights to the TouchPad with a clean, easy to use app that takes advantage of the surface area here to display recipes, ingredients, and lots of beautiful food photography, ensuring that if you weren't hungry when you tapped the Epicurious icon you will be before you sling it off the top of your screen. You can also create a shopping list if you like directly from any recipe's ingredients, but this tablet's a little too big to be dragging along to the grocery store.
Given that the TouchPad is manufactured by a company that earned a lot of its consumer cred by becoming nearly synonymous with the word "printer," it should come as no surprise that the TouchPad supports printing out of the box -- assuming you own a compatible printer. But, it should, perhaps, also come as no surprise that the number of printers that are supported is somewhat limited. Any HP-branded network-connected PCL-capable ink jet or laser machine can be connected and printed to by the tablet. This covers the vast majority of HP printers sold over the past five years, but if yours is a little older or, perhaps, a little more generic, you might need to start looking for alternatives
Skype support is built in to the TouchPad and webOS 3.0, which is good, because otherwise you'd have nothing at all
to do with that 1.3 megapixel camera up front. All the contacts on the device are Synergy'd together, which makes for a bit of a mess if you just want to Skype somebody. Also a bit of a mess: what you'll look like to whoever you call. We tried multiple video chats and, while the video going down to the tablet looked okay, that going out looked generally awful despite sitting on a solid 802.11n connection. Just rolled out of bed? No worries, you're good.
App Catalog and Pivot
The selection in the App Catalog is quite good, but the subset of apps actually optimized to take advantage of the full display here is quite slim. HP pledges to have 300 TouchPad-optimized apps available in the Catalog in time for the launch, and a further 6,200 from phones. Those apps will be mostly unable to make use of the resolution, running in a small picture of a phone, which is a little quaint but also disappointing, especially since you can't even rotate that faux phone from landscape to portrait.
Those few apps that have been optimized are good, and the curated Pivot magazine
definitely highlights some of the better ones, but ultimately we didn't really find anything
here that made us want to hang up our iPad and shut down our Galaxy Tab. That HP-developed Facebook app is really the only piece of software that's genuinely better than what's available elsewhere, and we think we could make do without it.
Touch to Share and Pre 3 compatibility
It's perhaps a little early to get too excited about what the TouchPad can do with the Pre 3
, given that it'll be awhile before release. But, should you find yourself in possession of one of HP's next portrait QWERTY sliders rest assured that it'll happily talk to your TouchPad.
The two pair over Bluetooth quickly and, once suitably synched, can exchange contact and messaging information. Getting a call on your phone? You can pick it up on your tablet and use it like a gigantic Blueooth headset. Want to send an SMS? Don't squint at the little, rubbery keyboard tucked within the Pre 3, tap away at the expansive, glossy one in the TouchPad.
But, of course, the biggest news here is Touch to Share, which allows you to open a webpage on your phone, tap that phone against your tablet, and have the tablet bring up that page. You can also send URLs the other way or, indeed, swap by just having the browser open on either end. In this way there's obviously not a lot of smarts behind this functionality -- either device just pushes addresses when proximity is detected -- but there's a fair amount of elegance to the process of exchanging information here.
We've often downplayed the importance of high-quality rearward-facing cameras on tablets because, well, holding up a big slab of a gadget to take a picture of something is far from easy and equally distant from anything rewarding. That said, we certainly don't hate the things and having one is a standard feature on modern tablets -- and so we're a bit perplexed by the complete omission of a rear-facing camera here.
You do get an 1.3 megapixel front-facing shooter, which at this point can only be used within the integrated video chat application -- Skype. Because of this we're unable to give any accurate description of the capabilities of said sensor, simply because we couldn't capture the output from it.