Last night, HP hosted a party for press and analysts. It featured good beer, better wine, lots of finger food and- most interesting of all- an HP TouchPad. This was my first look at the inaugural webOS slate, and I walked (staggered, thanks to the Estrella) away extremely impressed.
UI: Oddly enough, the TouchPad's closest relative would have to be the RIM PlayBook. Both devices use quite a lot of edge-to-edge swiping. The TouchPad also organizes applications into windows in much the same way as the PlayBook. With one neat addition: You can "stack" certain applications (like the browser or a document) for a less cluttered display.
And then there's Synergy. This app pools all of your data from email and social networking sites, as well as images and videos you've taken, and puts it all together on one accessible screen. The goal here is to eliminate the tedious act of switching between browser windows and file folders, correlating all of your social data into one simple window.
Web Printing: Every network-enabled HP Printer shipped within the last five years will be able to print wirelessly via the TouchPad. One of the web-printing reps even said that HP's goal was to "free" printers from "the tyranny of the operating system".
Palm Pre Data Sync: The TouchPad will be capable of exchanging data with the Palm Pre at a simple tap. The rep demoed the feature and it worked just as advertised. As it stands, this is a pretty cool feature. If it were to work with other phones, there would really be cause for excitement.
Feel: I spent most of the demo trying to get HP's PR guy to let me hold the tablet. He steadfastly refused for minutes on end. Until the battery ran dry. He was on his way to replace it with a fresh one, but I managed to convince him that letting me hold it now couldn't possibly damage things. Finally, he yielded.
The TouchPad is roughly the iPad's weight- 1.5 pounds. It has smooth shiny back and a sturdy display with comfortably rounded edges and a healthy bezel. It feels a great deal like the iPad, and quite a bit more refined than any of the Android offerings. It is obvious that Palm drew their design inspiration from Apple.
Can it Compete? WebOS is an extremely productive operating system. The UI allows for easy app switching and the dual-core 1.2 GHz processor can handle a lot. If you like the idea of the PlayBook, but want a larger display, look into the TouchPad.