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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Although the iPad 2 offers a front-facing camera for videoconferencing and a rear one for taking pictures and capturing video, the quality of still photos and movies are not that good: The camera seems to be the same, poorly regarded model used in the latest iPod Touch. The iPad 2's camera also lacks a flash and support for high-definition range, both of which the iPhone 4's camera does support. Apple hasn't released the camera's megapixel rating, but my photo-editing software pinned it as a measly 0.7 megapixel; by contrast, the iPhone 4's camera is 5 megapixels. The iPad 2's camera does perform better for motion video, taking decent 720p, 0.9-megapixel video -- fine for casual videos but no more.

The TouchPad has only a front-facing, 1.3-megapixel camera for use for videoconferencing (via enabling Skype in the TouchPad's Phone & Video Calls app). It too is adequate.

The TouchPad and the iPad 2 are equivalent in quality when it comes to audio output, despite the fact the iPad 2 has a single speaker and the Galaxy Tab has two. To get stereo-quality audio, connect either tablet to a stereo using the audio jack or, in the case of the iPad 2, stream music wirelessly to an AirPlay-compatible device.

The winner: The iPad 2 is clearly a better piece of hardware than the TouchPad. Its design is more elegant, it's lighter, and above all it's faster. In terms of peripherals, the TouchPad's inductive charging is nice but not essential, whereas the lack of rear camera and options for video-out are clear disadvantages.

The overall winner is ...
The differences between the iPad 2 and the TouchPad matter, with the TouchPad offering several innovative WebOS capabilities such as Synergy, Just Type, and Touch-to-Share, but falling short in its workaday apps, which cover just the basic reqiurements in many cases. The iPad 2 has more capabilities overall, and they're mostly well designed and well integrated into a strong ecosystem of product and services that is really hard to match. As a result, I can't imagine anyone choosing a TouchPad over an iPad.

Overall, it appears that HP designed the TouchPad to compete not with the iPad 2 but for second place in the tablet market. In that competition for second, the TouchPad is a strong alternative to the two best Android tablets, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Motorola Xoom. (The RIM BlackBerry PlayBook is a dead end that should be on no one's list.)

[UPDATED 08/10/2011: HP, in a bid to stir sluggish sales, has cut the price of the TouchPad by $100, giving it a $100 discount compared to the iPad and Galaxy Tab 10.1.]

So how to choose?

Android has enjoyed strong momentum in the smartphone world, which tablet makers are hoping will translate to the tablet market (though it has not done so thus far). But HP is a strong brand that has acquired through Palm's WebOS a good platform on which to build a credible mobile business. My fear is that HP's bark is bigger than its bite. Although the TouchPad is a good product, it is not a leading product, and it shows little innovation beyond what the Palm team already had in progress before the HP acquisition closed a year ago today. Google's prowess is also questionable, given its uneven set of Android releases over the last four years that continue to trail Apple's iOS and a history of uneven execution by its hardware partners.

In terms of what you can actually do today, a Galaxy Tab 10.1 or Xoom is a better tablet than the TouchPad. In terms of longer-term potential, I have a tad more faith in HP's WebOS team than I do in Google's Android team, but I don't see either company as aiming to be the best. Neither has puts its money where its mouth is.

All this hand-wringing reminds me of a fundamental reality: There's a reason Apple is outselling everyone else by such lopsided margins. Simply, it has the best product available and demonstrates a clear commitment to making it even better every year. Why settle for second? The iPad 2 remains the clear choice.

Hewlett-Packard TouchPad vs. Apple iPad 2

 PriceSupported U.S. networksBottom Line
Hewlett-Packard TouchPad
$500 (32GB); $400 (16GB)None (Wi-Fi only)
The first WebOS tablet has several innovative capabilities, including its Just Type feature and its Touch-to-Share inductive sync. The user interface is clean, using WebOS's well-liked card metaphor. But it falls short in many of the details, offering just basic capabilities in its apps and core services and lacking video-out. The final result is a decent third-place product that would strongly benefit from a second run at its services and software.
Apple iPad 2iPad 2 with Wi-Fi: $500 (16GB), $600 (32GB), $700 (64GB); iPad 2 with Wi-Fi and 3G: $630 (16GB), $730 (32GB), $830 (64GB)For 3G models: AT&T, with no-commitment data plans of $15 for 250MB and $25 for 2GB; Verizon Wireless, with no-commitment data plans of $20 for 1GB, $35 for 3GB, $50 for 5GB, and $80 for 10GB. For both carriers, the use of tethering adds $20.The revamped model of the device that created the tablet phenomenon continues to be the best tablet available, with a cohesive, elegant UI; lots and lots of apps; and a solid, well-designed enclosure. Its new inclusion of cameras and ability to mirror its display to an external monitor erase the major deficits of the original iPad. But note the camera produces mediocre still images and merely adequate video.

This story, "Tablet deathmatch: HP TouchPad vs. Apple iPad 2," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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