- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2011

For $399, Hewlett-Packard Co. will sell you a 16 gigabyte tablet computer called the HP TouchPad. Along with that amount of storage, you get a 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core processor, a 9.7-inch XGA-quality display (1024 by 768 pixel resolution), and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. There’s a front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera for video calling and what the maker says are “internal stereo speakers and Beats Audio,” the latter promising sound enhancements.

Add $100 and they’ll bump the storage up to 32 GB.

However, this tablet is not ready for prime time, not by a long shot. Save your money. In fact, save that money, add another $100, and get a 32 GB Apple iPad. You’ll be much happier, especially if you hope to be in any way productive with your tablet between now and say, the middle of the 2012 presidential primary season at the earliest.

Part of this is not HP’s fault. Apple has a two-year head start in the tablet computing race. There are tens of thousands of applications for the iPad, most of which are well executed, and are highly compatible with matching desktop applications. And, yes, there are a number of good apps for the HP TouchPad, which runs neither Apple’s iOS nor Google’s Android operating system. Instead, it runs webOS, something acquired when HP bought out Palm Inc. in April 2010 for $1.2 billion.

The TouchPad is not as bad as it might have been. The webOS product is leagues ahead of the last thing I played with from Palm, which I believe was in 2007, or eons ago in computer years. It’s a sprightly operating system that opens programs (or Web pages) as “cards” you can shuffle, or dismiss by flicking them upward on the finger-controlled display. A nice operating system, however, is only the beginning.

First issue: There are a number of apps to download, many of them free. But these all show up in a screen labeled, “downloads,” and not under “applications,” where it might be more logical to have them. Yes, a press-and-hold with your finger will let you move the app over, but why force the extra effort?

Second issue: A version of the generally excellent QuickOffice program is preloaded on the TouchPad I tried, but it’s a read-only edition here. You can’t do the very thing for which QuickOffice is so well noted: Edit, save and thus share revised versions of Microsoft-compatible documents, spreadsheets and presentations. The feeling of being a kid whose nose is pressed against the glass of a candy store is nostalgic, but unhelpful when trying to get work done.

Third issue: Connect the TouchPad to a desktop computer, in my case an Apple iMac, and it shows up as an external hard drive, from which, or to which, you can drag files. Fair enough, but the TouchPad warns it won’t charge via the USB connection. I’ll let you guess which tablet not only syncs but also charges when connected to a desktop computer - Mac or PC. The first letter of its name is a small “i.”

These hit-and-miss deficiencies could be argued as just the growing pains of a new product. And, if this was the really-and-true first tablet computer, this reviewer, if not the overall market, might be more forgiving. Growing pains these may be, but the TouchPad is not the first, or the second, or even the third tablet at this rodeo. There’s been enough user experience out there to suggest that HP could have done more - a lot more, in my view - to really hit one out of the park.

Video quality and audio quality are good, although I wouldn’t confuse the sound put out by the TouchPad with a Bose stereo. In many situations, however, the audio and video could combine to be very effective presentation tools in a group of five or six people around a small table.

But the world wants far more from a tablet, and is getting more, right now, from the TouchPad’s competition, led by the iPad and several Android-based rivals. If HP, in Palo Alto, Calif., wants to strike any fear in the hearts of its Apple neighbors up the road in Cupertino, it’s got to move quickly and decisively to beef up the software complement, tweak the interface, and better integrate with desktop systems of all kinds.

If not, I’d predict a fire sale to rival the current one for leftover buttons and T-shirts from Tim Pawlenty’s recent short campaign for the Oval Office.

E-mail: mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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