I picked up one of the $150 refurbished 32GB Touchpads in the last firesale on Sunday. It seems like HP has done their very best to get as many Touchpads into the hands of hackers as possible, so whether or not it is well supported by HP, the community will do something fun with it. Besides, a $150 ARM developement platform that will boot Android, various Linux chroots, AND let me play with WebOS was too appealing to pass up.

It showed up Tuesday afternoon, and I’ve been playing with it all evening. I generally looked to this really nice guide put together by WebOSNation forum members for getting started, and did most of the things it recommends, although I haven’t been following it precisely.

Physically, it’s a ~10″ Tablet. Whatever Apple may be trying to claim, the Crunchpad/iPad/Galaxy/Touchpad layout follows pretty directly from the function. The Touchpad is noticeably heavier and a hair thicker than an iPad, but is otherwise very much similar. I find the form factor a little bit awkward in that it is too large to be literally joined at the hip like a phone, and less capable than a laptop, but it makes a fabulous consumption device (read “toy”).
I’m still waiting on my accessories – the promised bundle never appeared on ebay, but I found it elsewhere for the same as advertised after shipping. It seemed worthwhile because I’m going to hurt it if I don’t get a case, the inductive Touchstone charger/stand is just too EE cool to pass up, and the branded Bluetooth keyboard is apparently just a good compact keyboard in general and cheaper than most I’ve seen.

Software wise, WebOS is a fucking wonderland. It took me literally minutes to start preferring many of the WebOS interactions to the Android counterparts, and I have months of acclimation to those on my phone. The “Cards” program management metaphor is beautiful, and the OS’s ability to do what I want when I can’t figure out how and just perform a likely action is uncanny. Another nicety I appreciate having used iPads: not only is the meaning of the chin button consistent (to the card view!), but it lights up situationally – solid for “app active, go home?” and pulsing for “some other application wants your attention”. In-app “back” is handled by little pips at the bottom left of most folds, or a back button in the top left like a browser.
It is a bit less responsive than my phone… but I’ve only superfically tweaked for speed, and between various suggestions for software upgrades and the fact that it is built around an easily overclocked 1.5Ghz chip that ships at 1Ghz, I’m pretty sure it can be improved.

Almost better than the normal UX, they had the hackers in mind when they designed it. The rooting process consists of typing in the konami code, pressing the resulting icon, and agreeing with the dialog box. There is a curated Android-style market, but also a sideband store for homebrew called preware with all the fun stuff. To put things in perspective, the most awkward piece of the homebrew process is WebOS Quick Install, which is a friendly Java GUI that lets you punt packages or patches to the device from a host computer (sadly, not from Linux). Except for the initial addition of Preware itself, and a few patches that require a host computer, Preware can do almost anything in a slick on-device interfaces that Quick Install can do tethered. Preware is FULL of amazing Free toys – tools for building chroots, installing all the expected Linux goodies, and even adding an Xserver. The most important such thing for me – there is a proper OpenSSH daemon and client in preware, so with a few minutes of setup the laptop and Touchpad can swap files via passwordless SSH . Slight awkwardness in that the only account on WebOS is root, and applications run in jails, but no stranger than any other appliance.
I’m sure I’ll dual boot it pretty soon, since the process seems to be pretty non-invasive and a non-phone Android device was part of the point of the buy, but I’m honestly more impressed with WebOS than I’ve ever been with Android.

I still don’t think ANY of large tablets are worth more than about $200, but for that price I’m really enjoying the Touchpad. It also makes me really, really hope HP’s open source plan pans out, not because I’ve bought in, but because now I know that WebOS genuinely is much more to my liking than the other mobile platforms.

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