Category: News

HP TouchPad Update feat. BeatThatBro

It’s been about a month since I got my HP TouchPad. Since then, my opinion of it has changed drastically for the better. I’ve been showing it to friends and family, and almost everyone has been impressed by it. My good friend Brian even said that my original post on it was too harsh! So here’s what I’ve noticed over time:

Usability

webOS is still easy as ever to use. One of the things that impressed me the most was when I handed it to a friend who I don’t consider to be extremely tech-savvy (if you’re reading this, sorry). After a minimal amount of demonstration, he was using it in 5 minutes as naturally as I have been for a year. He was navigating the web like a champ, loading flash-enabled pages, and listening to emergency radio streams without skipping a beat. He was not just hovering in one web browsing session either. Instead, he was effortlessly juggling multiple cards at a time. I was completely wrong about needing to be a techie to tolerate this device. Well done, HP/Palm!

Hardware and Accessories

The only defect I found with my TouchPad (besides the backlight bleed mentioned before) is a small hairline crack that formed on the plastic shell between my headphone jack and the screen. Other people have reported cracks around the speakers, but I don’t have that. Again, it’s only noticeable if you’re looking for it and doesn’t affect normal use. My screen’s still in good shape. Everything else has held up pretty well over a month of moderate to heavy use.

I purchased the official case for my TouchPad. It’s a black folio-style case with a smooth, faux leather-ish outside, fuzzy inside, and rubber around the edges. I love the fact that it can fold into a stand, allowing the device to stand freely at two separate angles in landscape mode. The case fits the device like a glove, with buttons and ports aligning exactly. It also exposes the screen and bezel completely, so up-swiping is never inhibited. The case is completely compatible with the Touchstone, so you don’t need to remove it to be able to wirelessly charge. My only gripe is that the groove for the headphone jack is deepened, so it will keep wider headphone plugs from completely making it in.

The Touchstone is a modern marvel that still amazes me. Just like Pre and Pixi, the TouchPad can charge wirelessly via this charger. The TouchPad, however, is not backwards compatible with the old Touchstones (plus it would look stupid), so it has its own new model. Instead of a magnetic circular base like the older ones were, this new Touchstone is more of a slanted stand. The TouchPad doesn’t cling to it, you just set it down and let gravity do the rest. Charging works well through the case, which is surprising. As promised, the Touchstone also triggers Exhibition mode when you set the TouchPad down onto it. It automatically goes into your preferred mode, be it a fancy $500 clock (in several styles!), or a Facebook feed screensaver, it’s a neat thing to watch instead of just having it passively charge. Of course, if you want to use it while it’s charging, you can do that too.

One downside is you’ll pay out the wazoo for the accessories. This stuff wasn’t cheap, even on sale, but they make me happy, alright?

Software Update (3.0.2)

What happened to 3.0.1? I don’t know. Who cares? 3.0.2 is where it’s at! HP actually did relatively well with sticking to a release date. By relatively, I mean better than Palm ever did. Instead of “in the coming months,” we heard stuff like “in a couple of weeks,” and “the end of this month (July).” They didn’t deliver on the 31st, but they did deliver on August 1st. Even though it’s a day late, it’s still a relief for webOS fans who are used to not seeing anything until it’s already irrelevant (they’re still failing hard with the Pre 3).

What’s new in the update? A clock and a calculator. Seriously.

What’s fixed in the update? LOTS. First thing’s first, the lag that I was experiencing out of the gate is almost completely gone. There are minimal hiccups here and there, but webOS finally feels like the responsive multitasking beast it was born to be. The keyboard no longer hangs everything up. The typing and auto-correct are smooth as butter. The biggest letdown when I first started using my device was the Messenger app. It was laggy, glitchy, and borderline unusable. The update fixed all this (even though they really don’t mention it) and transformed it into a responsive app that I actually enjoy using. The animations are smooth, the web browser seems faster. Checking email is a joy, not a chore. Everything is awesome now.

Homebrew

The homebrew scene is already improving. There are already replacement kernels released that you can use to easily overclock your device up to 1.7Ghz (stock is 1.2)! Patches are available so you can modify your device’s core functionality. Be careful with patches though, I screwed mine up with a simple one and it wound up requiring a webOS Doctor visit. Restoring your device to a good state is easy though, the webOS Doctor has a reputation of repairing even the most screwed up software problems. If you wipe your device, HP remembers apps, contacts, and some settings for you, so you’re covered.

Conclusion

I’m even happier with my TouchPad now, especially since HP has shown that it is committed to supporting the device through marketing, meaningful updates, and keeping developers on board. They fixed some of the most major problems with the device, and I don’t see anyone having trouble using it now. If you’re not sold on iOS or Honeycomb, you should definitely give the TouchPad a try. Now would be a good time to act too ($100 off).

Also, if you need to see it, find someone who has one. I’m hearing the in-store demo models really suck.

Toying with Enyo – BeatThatBro 2.0

Some of you might remember my first attempt at webOS development. Since then, HP has released a new framework called Enyo, which enables better scalability between phones and tablets. They’re also deprecating Mojo. The TouchPad is a beautiful device that I would love to make something nice for, so I decided to practice using the SDK. I recorded the resulting disaster with my phone.

HP TouchPad first impressions

Back in about February or so, my Palm Pixi started misbehaving. Its headphone jack thought I was permanently in headset mode, despite any amount of cleaning and finagling. I had to finally retire it. Since HP had not yet released a current webOS handset for Sprint (still haven’t, and maybe never will), I got an HTC EVO Shift 4G. It’s a beautiful and FAST device (code-named “Speedy”), but Android still feels lacking compared to webOS in the usability department. Android has all the features, but webOS had all the polish, which I missed dearly.

Around the same time, HP announced the TouchPad. This was to be the HP webOS answer to the iPad and iPad 2. I was super stoked. After months of painful anticipation, the tablet finally launched on July 1st to some lukewarm reviews. In a nutshell, the reviews are concerned about lag and an immature app ecosystem. Coming from a Palm Pixi (with notoriously underpowered hardware), I wasn’t really intimidated by lag on a larger, much more powerful device. I already knew what kind of apps webOS has to offer, so that didn’t bother me either. Since I was still a fan, I took the plunge and got the 32GB model. I’ve been using it since Wednesday and have become pretty comfortable with it, so I think it’s safe to review it.

Hardware

Being over half a grand, I kind of expect great things from the hardware design. Everyone else complains about the weight of the device relative to the iPad 2. It weighs a pound and a half or so, but I don’t really have a basis for comparison. I don’t find it difficult to hold in terms of supporting it. However, I wish HP didn’t opt for a glossy plastic back because it tends to slip if I’m holding it one-handed. It’s a smudge-magnet too. A rubberized matte back would have looked cool, provided a good one-handed grip, and allowed for traction on a glass table for instance. I suppose a case can fix that.

The screen is pretty awesome. It’s an LED IPS display with the same resolution as both iPads. I’m pretty sure it’s glass, as it’s glossy and cool to the touch. The screen is bright, sharp, and vibrant. Full-screen photos look amazing on it (check out the USA Today app to see what I mean). However, there is a slight problem a number of TouchPad users (including myself) noticed. There is a slight backlight bleed on the left side of the display, but it is not noticeable at all unless the screen is entirely black. It’s not a big issue, a lot of LCDs inherently have this problem, but you shouldn’t make your initial boot screen black if your device does this! This made me freak out a little at first until the screen displayed something else so I could confirm I didn’t get a marred screen.

Sound is one of HP’s biggest bragging points for the device. The speakers are two small openings on the long side of the device (bottom landscape). Even though they are tiny, the sound coming from them is relatively full and clear. There’s a profound stereo effect, which is something you tend to lose on a lot of laptops and handhelds. Volume is adjusted via a rocker switch on the side opposing the speakers (top landscape). I have not listened to the device in any loud areas yet, but the volume is more than sufficient if you’re in a quiet spot. No complaints yet here.

At the top portrait side of the device, there’s a power button and standard headphone jack. There’s a micro USB port on the bottom for charging and file transfer. There’s a push button below the screen (portrait), that allows you to go into card view and open the launcher in that order (more on that later). Above the screen (portrait), there is a front-facing camera for Skyping (so far), which I have not tested yet.

Despite having a plastic back, the device feels solidly constructed and not like a cheap toy. I don’t feel ripped off in the least.

 Software

This is where the Touchpad most often gets knocked, because there is relatively little native software available. The TouchPad is mostly backwards compatible with Pre and Pixi Mojo software via an emulator mode, where you get a phone-sized window with a gesture bar. Kind of lame, but I’ll take it for apps like Pandora, which aren’t graphically important. Old PDK apps (usually graphically-intensive games) get blown up fullscreen, thank goodness, but some can’t deal with the Touchpad’s differences without updates. They also look pixelated, since you’re going from a 480×320 resolution scaled to 1024×768. It’s to be expected, since you can’t go from little-screened to big without some growing pains.

HP went above and beyond to ensure that there would be some compelling native Touchpad applications at launch. For instance, their Facebook application is fantastic. You can slide between multiple panes, containing your notifications, feed, comments/likes, and more. It’s definitely the most clever Facebook client I’ve ever tried. You can even pull up linked web pages within the app (Flash video and all) without skipping a beat. I was blown away. The Facebook app is, in my opinion, the best demonstration of the new Enyo platform. HP also offers an on-device magazine called Pivot, which informs you about certain hand-chosen apps in a way that’s far more visual and engaging than a simple list.

TouchPad users are also treated to native full-screen games at launch. This includes the mobile staple, Angry Birds HD, which is free and also AD-FREE. You can grab Rio as well for a couple of bucks.

With the notable exceptions of e-mail, which gives you a nice multi-paned view (kind of like Outlook), and the web browser, I was not impressed with the built-in apps at all. Messaging, which is what I use for AIM, is particularly bad, with tons of freezes and glitches. However, I can rest assured that the webOS community, which is incredibly active and dedicated, will fill in the gaps soon.

Performance

I have heard a lot of complaints about the TouchPad’s performance. I both agree and disagree with the claims. There is absolutely no indication that the hardware itself is slow. You can definitely tell that the dual core chip and the huge helping of memory go a long way. The multitasking is no joke. You can run many apps at once, close/open cards, and switch in between without skipping a beat. The card system is silky smooth, even when you have Flash video playing!

I have to single out the web browser as one of the best-performing apps. Even when there’s Flash video playing (I’ve tested Youtube, Southparkstudios.com, Crackle.com, and a few others), you can scroll around and do other things without any problems. Flash behaves a little funky sometimes, I’ve had an AT&T advertisement start looping over and over ON TOP of the South Park episode I was watching. I’ve also had one random reboot closing a Youtube card. Glitches aside, it kicks the crap out of any other mobile implementation I’ve seen. Even without Flash, the web browser still impresses me. It handles Google apps, for example, without breaking a sweat. I can get around not having a webOS phone by texting through Google Voice’s full site.

I have not notice pauses at all within games. Old PDK apps, Angry Birds HD, and Robotek HD always felt smooth as butter. Granted, I have not played extensively.

There are moments where there’s lag time, and it’s obviously software-related. I’ve noticed about a  second of lag when opening the keyboard in Enyo apps. Sometime Enyo apps like Facebook pause for multiple seconds. I don’t think I’ve ever had the entire device freeze on me. Whenever it felt locked up, I was able to escape into another card. The device always frees up after you wait, though. Annoying, but it’s obviously something a patch can fix.

webOS Experience

The operating system that the TouchPad runs, webOS, was what ultimately drew me to the device. It has always been beautiful and intuitive on a smaller screen, but webOS is arguably the only mobile platform that would seem natural on a larger screen. There are a couple of big differences between the older 1.4 Palm devices and this 3.0 juggernaut, however. Firstly, they scrapped the gesture bar that the Pixi introduced (it’ll still be present on the Veer and Pre 3, don’t worry). Instead, they replaced it with a push button reminiscent of the original Pre and got rid of the back/forward gesture. Now if you want to go backwards in an app, you must find an actual on-screen button instead of simply swiping left below the screen. This kind of annoyed me, but it’s a small sacrifice. They also got rid of the ability to slowly drag up the launcher bar within an app. Now you must always return to card view to access the launcher. I was worried that the mechanical push button was the only way to get to card view. I didn’t want to wear it out! Fortunately, if you swipe up from the bottom of the screen, it duplicates the button’s functionality and takes you to the card view and launcher.

The card multitasking system has received a big improvement: Stacks. You can group cards into a stack for organization purposes. It doesn’t matter if they’re a homogeneous group of cards or not, you can stack them. For instance, this means you can have a stack of email cards, or if you feel like some other app is related to your emails, such as a browser, you can put the browser in the same stack. You can also take cards off of already made stacks and keep them separate. Stacked or not, you can flick apps you don’t like off the top of the screen to end them, and it makes that satisfying “whoosh” sound just like always.

Notifications received a notable change. They appear at the top of the screen, instead of at the bottom, and they don’t take up any additional screen real estate when they appear. If you tap the notification icon(s), it’ll show you the usual series of bars you’re used to. It’s a small menu, so it’s not as disruptive as Android’s full-screen drawer. You have the ability to tap them to address them, or swipe them to the right to dismiss. You can dismiss multiple notifications in the same group as a group, or individually depending on where you swipe.

webOS phone apps were generally agnostic of how you held the device. They typically adjusted to the device’s orientation. The TouchPad cares even less about how you hold it. With the exception of full-screen (yes, only full-screen) Flash, I found that you could pretty much hold the TouchPad any way you want. It takes a lot of thought out of operating the device, and it’s kind of nice to not have to worry about.

The TouchPad is the first webOS device to sport an on-screen keyboard. I hate on-screen keyboards. Fortunately, webOS makes this less painful with auto-correct and an adjustable keyboard size. It’s as intuitive as an on-screen keyboard can get short of being…well, Swype maybe. webOS ripped off Android’s text selection method (sliders adjust the selection), which was a good choice. The original webOS method was ahead of its time (tap/drag to highlight) but still really sucked and was hit or miss. On the phones, you could hold the orange/white key (I think, it’s been a while), then drag your finger to adjust the position of the cursor. I don’t think there’s a way to do this on the TouchPad (please comment if I’m wrong). That’s a step back. Bring something like this back please!

webOS 3 has introduced panes, which neatly organize information on the large screen. Some panes are adjustable, so you can give more focus to certain panes, and less to others, depending on what you want to see at that moment. Facebook, WordPress, and the Mail apps are the most notable users of panes so far.

webOS has the reputation of being able to do whatever you want with it. Even more so than Android and their locked-down bootloaders and file systems. webOS keeps up with this reputation with the native ability to enable developer mode and install homebrew software. HP is doing something unique and is actually supporting the homebrew development community with donations, which makes me really happy.

Should you run out and get one now?!

Overall, I like my TouchPad, and over time I’ll probably like it more as fixes and apps start to roll out quicker. As to whether you should get one? Well…

Get it if:

  • You are a techie/early adopter and like to live on the bleeding edge, bugs be damned
  • You enjoy webOS, and haven’t been as impressed with Android or iOS
  • You enjoy having control of your own hardware
  • You enjoy homebrew apps, hacking, or development
  • You want a tablet that has a strong web browser with Flash and Facebook

Don’t get it if:

  • Most of your electronics have an “i” in front of their name. This will not convert you.
  • The idea of a software bug frightens and confuses you.
  • You’re obsessed with app counts.
  • You want a new gaming device. It games well, but you need games to play first.

Outlook

This tablet could take a strong second position behind the iPad 2 if they get some of the worse bugs under control and get more devs on board. Right now it’s a bit fresh and immature. There’s nothing seriously wrong with the hardware itself that I can see. It also appears that HP is serious about improving webOS and making it a dominant player in the mobile realm. HP has also been attempting to clean up the PR mess that Palm left behind. They have people on unofficial community forums keeping an eye out for bug reports. They have also been committed to supporting the homebrew hacking and development community, which is something you rarely see from Android manufacturers and Apple. So although things are a bit rocky for webOS now, the TouchPad is promising enough that I see things improving in a big way in the long run.

Sony’s Crimes Against Humanity

Most technologists have a company that they absolutely cannot stand, a company that they would go as far as to dub an entity of pure evil. For me, I decided that company would be Sony. Some of you might be surprised because I’m notorious for hating on Apple. However, even Apple doesn’t deserve as much scorn as this company (though they’re still pretty rotten). I have finally compiled a list of why I boycott Sony, and why you should too.

There are probably other major transgressions I’m forgetting, but I’ll remember them sooner or later. Also, Sony will reliably continue to add more to the list.

Hey! Who wants to guess how long this page lasts before they send me a C & D?

Google Chrome Privacy Issue

If you read Google Chrome’s privacy policy, it seems like pretty typical stuff. It appeared legitimate to me until I found that they omitted a feature explained in this blog post:

RLZ: When you do a Google search from the Google Chrome address bar, an “RLZ parameter” is included in the URL. It is also sent separately on days when Google Chrome has been used or when certain significant events occur such as a successful installation of Google Chrome. RLZ contains some encoded information, such as where you downloaded Google Chrome and where you got it from. This parameter does not uniquely identify you, nor is it used to target advertising. This information is used to understand the effectiveness of different distribution mechanisms, such as downloads directly from Google vs. other distribution channels. More information is available in the Google Chrome help center. This cannot be disabled so long as your search provider is Google. If your default search provider is not Google, then searches performed using the address bar will go to your default search provider, and will not include this RLZ parameter.

Make what you want out of this, but this is nowhere to be found in the current privacy policy. Also, it still sends this parameter in Incognito mode. I fixed the problem in my browser (you just craft your own search URL in the “Default search” settings dialog) and I sent Google an email requesting that they mention the RLZ parameter in their privacy policy. I encourage you to do the same.

Note: Chromium does not include this “feature.”

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