HP TouchPad joins the tablet race, but has some catching up to do

The webOS-enabled HP TouchPad features a 9.7-inch, LED backlit display, Wi-Fi connectivity, and a choice of 16GB or 32GB of storage space

The scoop: TouchPad, by HP, about $500 (for 16GB; 32GB costs $600).

What it is: HP's entry into the consumer-oriented tablet game, the webOS-enabled TouchPad features a 9.7-inch, LED backlit display, Wi-Fi connectivity, choice of 16GB or 32GB of storage space.

Why it's cool: The main selling point of webOS is its ability to handle multitasking -- with this device, you can open multiple applications at the same time, and then flick back and forth with your finger to go back to what you were doing when you started the new app, etc. The ability to close an app by just flicking it away like a playing card is also a neat little trick. The device supports Adobe Flash, so you can view Flash-heavy websites such as YouTube through the Web browser instead of a separate app.

BACKGROUND: Analysts lukewarm on HP TouchPad chances for success

For business users, the TouchPad offers support for Exchange ActiveSync and VPNs, as well as over-the-air management and data security features (remote wipe, for example). The sold-separately HP Touchstone Charging Dock is very nice, creating a stand that can be used to view the TouchPad upright, and still inductively recharge the unit (no cables needed for the recharge).

Some caveats: The TouchPad features a 1.2 GHz Qualcomm dual-core Snapdragon processor, but this seemed to make all of the apps run a lot slower than on other tablets I've tried, especially the dual-core A5-enabled iPad 2 (heck, even my older iPad ran apps faster). For example, loading and running the Facebook app via the TouchPad took several minutes (four-plus), and when my news feed did show up, it took longer to load up friends' icons and their photos. Even on a Wi-Fi network.

The TouchPad also suffers from fewer webOS apps available than on the Android Market or the Apple App Store -- and apps that are specifically aimed at the TouchPad are even more scarce. Sure, most of the basics are there, but users will have to be patient and hope that more apps will be developed for this device.

The lack of a rear-facing camera also is worrisome, putting it behind the iPad 2 and other Android tablets. The front-facing camera can be used for video calls, but you can't take photos or videos with it (at least, not easily). Other missing features include only 32GB of storage (compared to the high-end 64GB available with Apple), and no 3G/4G connectivity options -- it's Wi-Fi only.

Even connecting to the Wi-Fi network was tricky -- on initial setup, it wouldn't connect to my corporate Wi-Fi network, which requires additional authorization via Web browser. After going to my home network for the initial setup, the TouchPad could then connect to the corporate network, but specific apps still had a hard time detecting whether I was logged in or not. More often than not, an app would say that I wasn't connected and leave me hanging rather than bringing up a browser window in order to authenticate.

Bottom line: As HP's first tablet to the market, it's not a bad piece of equipment, but when you compare it with what's also out there, the cracks begin to show. If HP can ramp up quickly with a second model that surpasses what's out there in terms of hardware AND software (a tall order considering what's out there from Google and Apple), then HP has a horse in the race. If not, it's bound for the "just another tablet" pile.

Grade: 2.5 stars (out of five)

Shaw can be reached at kshaw@nww.com. Follow him on Twitter: @shawkeith.

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