HP TouchPad Go Review: The webOS what-if
The HP TouchPad Go was to be the savior of webOS as we knew it. It would have, with one swipe up and one swipe over, cast aside all doubt that HP and webOS were major players in the tablet space. But HP just couldn’t give it a chance to swoop in and save the day.
OK seriously, the TouchPad Go would have been a nice little tablet – emphasis on little – and may have stalled webOS’s decline. Realistically though, it would not have stopped the great “Too Many Cards” in the sky from ultimately claiming webOS into her bosom. But it would have been really nice to try.
So, for those of you contemplating getting a hold of one of these little beauties, this review might help you figure out if it’s the tablet for you, or just a novelty that’s fun to think about. So sign into your eBay accounts, and let’s roll.
Video Review · Specs · Hardware · UI · Camera · Performance · Battery Life · Call/Network · Conclusion · Scored For Me
Right out of the gate, one is struck by how small the tablet is. Well, it is a 7” tablet after all. We’re talking about about a 50% screen size reduction from the TouchPad, but this little powerhouse actually outperforms its big brother in many ways. The screen resolution is the same at 1024 x 768 pixels, which when packed into the small frame, bumps things up to 184 PPI. That’s not much by today’s standards, but back in 2011, it would have been not too shabby.
The 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor is still impressive, even in a world of Nexuses and iPad minis, but 16 GB of non-expandable storage falls under the not bad, but not great umbrella. Your standard radios for WiFi and Bluetooth are present, as is support for AT&T’s 3G/HSPA+ network. Also present is a GPS chip, which we’ll talk more about later.
You can’t stop the awesomeness that is webOS; you can only hope to contain it. This particular container is a relatively bulky, but fun plastic shell that feels – wait for it – like plastic. Everything except the soft touch back, of course. An upgrade over the “CSI’s best friend” fingerprint magnet plastic back of the original TouchPad, the soft touch back is one of the best hardware decisions HP ever made. It’s really a minor detail, barely covering 40% of the tablet, but it makes all the difference in the world when it comes to perceived quality and comfort.
On the front of the tablet you’ll find, aside from the screen of course, two small interruptions in the bezel circling the screen. When held landscape – and we’ll talk about that more later – the physical home button with notification LED is in the bottom middle of the screen, and the front facing video-conferencing camera peeks out from the top center. Around the edges, you’ll find what one would expect – a micro USB charging and data port on the bottom, chromed volume rocker on the right side, and the power button and headphone jack on the top right. On the back resides the removable soft touch cover, 5 megapixel “no-autofocus-because-who-needs-it-right?” camera, and LED flash.
The TouchPad Go is, just like it’s predecessor, 13-14mm thick. By today’s standards, that’s pretty thick – roughly 30-90% thicker than today’s competitors. Back in the day, even the Kindle Fire was able to trim off an additional 2.5 mm. But the overall size reduction helped bring down the considerable weight, so the thickness becomes less of a factor.
The most unique aspect of this tablet is that it was built to be a landscape tablet. Some tablets today, most notably the Kindle Fire line, are often used in landscape for video viewing, but there is no design language that tilts in that direction. Even the Google Nexus and the iPad mini are designed for portrait orientation. But the TouchPad Go’s placement of the home button and camera definitely suggest landscape or bust. It makes one wonder how well that would’ve gone over with consumers.
The overall look and feel of the hardware is relatively plain, but still stands as an improvement over the TouchPad. Also, the reduced size naturally means reduced weight, which anyone who has ever tried to read a book in bed with a TouchPad will be very grateful for.
The TouchPad Go we received was loaded with webOS 3.0.2, which is two versions older than the most recent version pushed out to their older siblings. We did have the capability to load webOS 3.0.5 onto the Go device, but considering if anything went wrong, that would be bad on a number of different levels, we opted to run with what was there.
There weren’t many major changes to the OS in those other updates. The most notable omission from our experience was the inability to pair the Go with a non-webOS phone to receive voice calls. The capability is there, as demonstrated for me on a different TouchPad Go – yes, I’ve seen and used more than one – but not with this version of the OS.
When we first started putting the TouchPad Go through it’s paces, we were happily reminded of the intuitive and simple nature of the user experience. It really had been far too long. For those of you not familiar with the UI, it is as follows.
Apps are run in what are known as “Cards”. These cards can be minimized and switched between by swiping up from the bottom bezel. You switch between them by swiping left or right until you reach the desired app. Tap once to restore it back to full screen. Apps, depending on their code, can also run in the background while you’re focusing on another app, thus bringing a smooth multi-tasking experience to the table.
This is the experience that the TouchPad Go delivers. And it is awesome.
But it does have two major shortcomings – bugs and the app ecosystem. Being an unfinished production model, unfortunately there are a few things on the tablet that were not quite finished. Most notably, in our tests, the camera app had a tendency to freeze. A lot. It stands to reason that this is because of the rear-facing camera (discussed in the next section) that was brand new to the TouchPad and webOS 3.0 (phones ran 2.x).
Another shortcoming we found particularly disappointing was the GPS. Despite the fact that the TouchPad Go does sport an on board GPS, it seems Leo Apotheker’s cancellation of webOS ground the train to a halt just before we reached GPS Driver Station. The TouchPad Go features Navigon Mobile Navigator software, but upon initial launch, a message indicated that the GPS was not on. “No problem” we thought to ourselves, we’ll just hop over to the settings and…wait… where’s the GPS on button? We initially hoped Preware might offer a solution with a GPS toggle patch designed for phones. When the GPS was flipped on, we no longer received the “GPS turned off” error, but we couldn’t get a satellite lock to save our souls.
Also a shortcoming with webOS, and this has not changed from it’s inception, was the app ecosystem. It is, in a word, desolate. It’s almost a perfect candidate for David Marcus’s Genesis project. Even the apps that were popular back in the day have fallen by the wayside so only microorganisms, and Sparkle, are left. I would say more here, but Michael Fisher has gotten me addicted to Sparkle now, and I have to go play more.
The TouchPad Go comes with two camera sensors, one front-facing 1.2-megapixel – OK, we’ll call it a “camera” – and one rear-facing 5-megapixel shooter. The TouchPad Go was one of the first tablets to offer a rear-facing camera, but in typical HP style, the camera itself seems as though it was an afterthought, more than an actual feature. The camera lacks even the auto focus that the Pre3 finally – FINALLY – brought to the webOS line of hardware, so in that respect it was a step back. It should be mentioned, though, that the quality of the camera makes perfect sense when you look at the history of Palm/HP cameras: poor. The TouchPad Go is no exception.
Granted, this is a camera in a tablet, but if you’re going to do something
ridiculous innovative, own it. Put it right on out there. “Sure we know you’ll look like an idiot photographing your kid’s recital with a phone book, but darn it, if you’re going to suffer that indignity, we’ll give you the best undignified equipment you can have.” But no. HP pried open a Pre3, somehow made the camera worse, and shoved it into its tablet.
Performance on a TouchPad is difficult to determine. Is that lag? Or has my tap just failed to produce a result? webOS is unfortunately no stranger to memory leaks and occasional lag. But to be perfectly honest, that’s one thing that just goes with the territory when machete-hacking your way through the webOS jungle. It’s just one of those quirks. And yes, that sounds stupid even as I type it. No one ever said webOS lovers were sane.
The TouchPad Go performed a benchmark test a little on the low side, despite expectations given its beefier processor. The Go scored a 107 on the Lithium HD Benchmark app which was surprisingly present in the HP App catalog. We honestly would have thought a higher score would be on the menu for this little device, because it certainly stood up to the eye test well enough. We managed to run 29 different apps before running into the fated “Too Many Cards” error, and movie playback/game play was all on par with expectations. Perhaps we just need to raise those expectations, but hey, we’re webOS fans at heart after all.
The battery life on the TouchPad Go was rather elusive. When we first acquired the tablet we fired it up, loaded the profile, and get her rolling. We picked it up every now and then for a few days, just to get a feel for it, but we never really got it going hard core. In that mode, the battery seemed to go on forever – three days after the first initial charge. Then we actually started using it in earnest. Surfing, games, reading on the Kindle app, and the battery took a nose dive. Even when putting the Go through moderate usage, we were running on acid fumes by just after dinner time.
This could be for one of a few reasons. First of all, this is a two-year old battery. It had really never been used as far as we could tell, but still, batteries generally have an expiration date. So that may have been our entire problem.
Also, consider this tablet was still a couple of months away from release. It’s entirely possible some optimizations were not present in the software that would otherwise be there in the final product. We’ve already discussed other software glitches in a previous section, but suffice it to say, for whatever reason, battery life plummeted as soon as we started actually using it a lot. We’re not even talking about “a lot” by power user standards. We’re talking about “a lot” as in “more than a little”. A power user would have no problem burning through this battery in under a day. Before lunch wouldn’t even be a shocker.
Call Quality/Network Performance
The call quality on the TouchPad Go was decent. Of course, as previously mentioned, we were unable to pair a non-webOS phone with the tablet and we didn’t have any working webOS phones that could make calls – hooray for micro-SIMs. But we were able to test Skype, which should be a fair approximation of what a speakerphone would be like. On the receiving end, the speakers were a little quiet, but definitely audible, especially considering hearing loss after playing for 12 years in a heavy metal band. On the other end, callers complained of a fair amount of echo – which was not an uncommon
complaint observation on the full sized TouchPad – but otherwise, it was a decent Skype machine. It was on par with what other tablets would manage.
+ Everything you ever loved about your TouchPad in a tiny, more portable package.
+ Full blown offline mapping software is built in. Doesn’t connect to GPS, but why be picky?
+ Screen Resolution is the same, so apps that work on the TouchPad should work on the Go
+ Instant Street Cred with the webOS Community. “Yeah peeps, I got me a Go”
– Manages to be even more buggy than webOS
– Wireless features are off the table – no Tap to Share and no TouchStone support
– The apps that work on your TouchPad should work on the Go – what’s left of them.
– Takes a doctor file, Preware, Impostah, and a patch just to get into your profile – don’t be in a hurry.
The HP TouchPad Go was the definition of the over-achieving little brother – almost. In theory, the 7” form factor, GPS, camera and soft touch back would have all added a ton of value to the tablet and the brand. Unfortunately, the GPS didn’t work yet, the camera was less than ideal, and at the time the form factor was an untested commodity. Oh yeah, and it was killed before it could have seen the light of day.
Overall, had the Go been released, it could have forged the way towards bringing webOS to the masses, not at firesale prices. Had it done what it should have, HP would have debuted this tablet in the $200 – $250 range, making it the cheapest tablet on the market at the time. Could that have saved webOS? Probably not. But it sure as heck would have been compelling, had it survived. Put up against today’s competitors, it likely would be my daily driver, just because the OS is so compelling. As for apps that are not available for it, I can certainly get them through my Lumia 920 or Samsung GSIII.
So let’s all lift our pints and breathe a wistful sigh for our dear departed Aunt Opal. May you ever fly on the wings forged from the dreams of webOS faithful.