Tablet deathmatch: HP TouchPad vs. Apple iPad 2

The first WebOS tablet tries to take on the iPad (and Android tablets), with a mix of cool innovation and underwhelming capabilities

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Deathmatch: Web and Internet
In compatibility tests based on the HTML5 Test site's scores, revised on June 21, the TouchPad scores 229 out of 450, whereas the iPad 2 scores 217, and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 scores 218. By comparison, Internet Explorer 9 scores 143, desktop Safari 5.05 scores 253, desktop Chrome 12.0.742 scores 327, and Firefox 5.0 scores 286.

For HTML and JavaScript performance, based on the Futuremark Peacekeeper benchmarks, the iPad 2 scored 808 versus 508 for the iOS 4.3 iPad 1, and 430 for the iOS 4.2 iPad 1. By contrast, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 scored 985, and desktop Safari on my 2011-edition MacBook Pro scored 2,812. Peacekeeper stresses media and JavaScript processing, so the indicated speed differences aren't apparent in more text-and-graphics-heavy sites. What did the TouchPad score? It didn't -- it could not run the test suite. I did find in subjective usage that the iPad 2's browser felt snappier than the TouchPad's browser.

Both browsers have persistent buttons or fields for Back, Forward, Bookmarks, and Refresh. When you have multiple Web pages in play, the iPad 2 displays an icon showing how many windows are open -- tapping it introduces a screen that previews all open windows. The TouchPad launches a separate instance of the browser, so you have to move to cards view and tap the window you want. It's a bit more work than on the iPad 2, which I can live with, but I prefer the iPad 2's approach because I can see previews of all open windows at once, whereas in the TouchPad I have to fool around with all those overlapping cards. (The Galaxy Tab 10.1 does it better than either the iPad 2 or TouchPad: Its tabs bar expands to show live tiles of all open windows, while keeping your current window visible.)

One of the TouchPad's claims to fame is that it comes with Adobe's (still beta) Flash Player 10.3, which the iPad does not and will not support. I found that the player did well with websites' videos and basic Flash animations, such as those that let you rotate views, open content via hotspots, and the like. Flash games worked sometimes.

The iPad 2's separate Search and URL boxes are less convenient than the TouchPad's unified URL and Search box; you have to be sure to tap the right box on the iPad. Both devices offer a .com button when entering URLs, which is a significant timesaver. Both devices pop up a list of alternative domains, such as .edu and .org, when you tap and hold the .com button.

Both browsers let you select and copy both text and graphics on Web pages, though only the iPad 2 can copy an image into its pasteboard; the TouchPad can copy an image only to its Photos library. On the other hand, only the TouchPad can open an email with the image already copied in for you from the contextual menu that appears when you tap and hold a website image, saving you a step compared to the iPad 2.

Neither the TouchPad nor iPad 2 handles AJAX-based Web forms well. Mobile Safari doesn't support attributes such as contenteditable (for editing within WYSIWYG forms) or the widely used TinyMCE AJAX editor, so you can't use many forms or must switch to their HTML modes if they have one. The TouchPad supports contenteditable, but not TinyMCE. The TouchPad also turns off its spell-checking in Web forms, unlike the iPad 2.

Google Docs is awkward to use on the iPad 2, though you can handle the basics. It's barely possible to edit a spreadsheet; the most you can do is select and add rows, as well as edit the contents of individual cells. You can edit a text document -- awkwardly. Partly, that's because Google hasn't figured out an effective mobile interface for these Web apps; the Safari browser is simply dealing with what Google presents, rather than working through a mobile-friendly front end. It's also because the mobile WebKit browsers don't support all the same capabilities as their desktop counterparts. I could not get Google Docs to work at all on the TouchPad. On both the iPad 2 and TouchPad, you can create, edit, and navigate appointments in Google Calendar in all four of its views (day, week, month, and agenda), pretty much as you can on a desktop browser. Most likely, you'd use the tablets' native calendar tools instead.

If you use a Web-based editor day in and day out, as I do, the iPad 2 is more able to cope, though it's hardly where it needs to be.

Both browsers offer settings to control pop-up windows, search engines, JavaScript, cookies, history, and cache, but only the iPad 2's Safari offers controls over form data, passwords, image loading, autofill, fraud warnings, and debugging. Note that many websites won't know about the TouchPad's unique identifier, so some may redirect the TouchPad browser to mobile-oriented sites rather than present their desktop- and tablet-friendly pages. I didn't experience this issue in my tests, but I've noted for other devices that they eventually get added to such redirect lists as website admins discover their existence. The iPad's browser ID (ipad) is better known to Web developers, so this redirect issue is less likely to occur for that device. (If you're developing mobile-savvy websites, you can use InfoWorld's User Agent Check tool to read the IDs of the various devices and, thus, optimize how your site works with them. Tip: hp-tablet in the user agent string means a tablet; hpwOS signifies any WebOS device.)

The winner: Although the TouchPad has a more HTML5-savvy browser and supports Flash, the iPad 2 beats it in almost every other respect.

Deathmatch: Location support
Both the iPad 2 and the TouchPad can triangulate your location based on Wi-Fi signals and GPS. Except for the different map backgrounds, the Bing Maps app on the TouchPad is nearly a pixel-perfect copy of the Google Maps app that comes with the iPad 2, with the same routing capabilities. Both are fine for looking up addresses and generating directions.

But for in-vehicle navigation, you'll want a real navigation app such as the $45 Navigon MobileNavigator for iOS, which stores its maps on the device, so you don't need a 3G signal for it to keep the map updated as you do with the built-in Maps apps. There is no equivalent app yet for the TouchPad.

Although both the iPad 2 and the TouchPad ask for permission to work with your location information, the TouchPad does not provide controls over location use by the device or individual applications, as the iPad 2 does.

The winner: The iPad 2 wins this round because it lets users manage their location privacy at a granular level.

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