It's surfaced at Computex and sneaked around the world, but last night in New York marked the first time we've seen the HP TouchPad in its ready-to-go state, a mere week away from its July 1 availability in the U.S. HP had a table with two demo units a Pepcom event downtown, and we got a brief tour and quick hands-on feel of the unit.
HP is promising many of the same appealing page-style multitasking elements and content-consolidation in the TouchPad's version of WebOS that made the Palm Pre so innovative when it debuted. The TouchPad is sleek to the touch, smooth all around, and medium-weight to hold, an extremely different product aesthetically than the Windows-based HP Slate 500.
The demo of the TouchPad showed its easy-to-flick and rearrange windows, as well as its app windows. The experience seemed somewhere between the Palm Pre and a BlackBerry PlayBook. "Full flash" was demonstrated by opening a movie information Web site and interacting with it, but like all Flash-enabled tablets thus far, there are bound to be limitations as compared with the experience on a laptop.
Most impressive was the TouchPad's photo-browsing app, which consolidates local and Web-hosted photos from multiple sources, including Facebook and Flickr. All photos are gathered in a universal album, achieving the same kind of clever trick that made the Palm Pre's social contact consolidation so compelling. Photos seen from Facebook even carry over comments.
An Amazon Kindle app was also demonstrated with some pride. It's a good win to have on Day 1, but it's a standard-issue type of app for iOS/Android users. Page turning and the bookshelf layout looked crisp, and slightly different than the iPad Kindle app I use.
We were barely allowed to interact with the demo units ourselves, so further impressions will have to wait for the upcoming full review. The keyboard and dock were also shown, although they didn't seem significantly different than other tablets'--apart from the dock's use of Touchstone charging technology, which is easier than hunting for pin contacts.
Personally, I was more wowed by the HP TouchPad's adjustable-size virtual keyboard, a rather brilliant move for those who might find the iPad 2's well-sized keys a bit too screen-filling.
I'm not sure anything I saw would really persuade me to buy one--after all, the apps are the thing when it comes to tablets, and I'm still not clear how many the TouchPad will have--but one year after acquiring Palm, HP's WebOS tablet certainly looks ready to roll.