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Monday, September 12, 2011

Ruminations of an Old Goat

After only six weeks on the market, HP decided to give up on their tablet computer, the HP Touchpad. Prices for the 16GB model of the Touchpad were slashed from an original list of $499 to $99 ($149 for the 32 GB model). What followed was a feeding frenzy for geeks as millions of them, including many of my co-workers, scrambled to buy one of the suddenly-coveted machines.

Unlike many of my co-workers, I got one.

While I fully expect one of several groups to succeed in finding a way to install Android on the Touchpad, greatly increasing the available apps and making the unit much more useful, right now I'm going to review the functions I think most of you Challengers will be interested in. Primarily, I'm going to compare the Touchpad to my Dell Inspiron Mini 10 netbook for writing and to my Kindle for ereading.

Before I start, I'm going to provide a few vital statistics for all three units. I was tempted to add information on the iPad 2 since it's the most popular tablet on the market. Since I haven't used one of those, I decided to leave it out. If you're really curious, the iPad weighs .3 pounds less than the Touchpad, is thinner, and otherwise probably performs similarly to the Touchpad when it comes to ereading and writing.

Dell netbook - 3.1 pounds
HP Touchpad - 1.6 pounds
Kindle 3 - 8.5 ounces

Screen size (diagonal measure)
Dell netbook - 10.1 inches
HP Touchpad - 9.7 inches
Kindle 3 - 6 inches

Battery life
Dell netbook - 2 hours, 6 hours if you buy the nine cell battery (which I did)
HP Touchpad - 10 to 12 hours after I overclocked the processor
Kindle 3 - 30 hours with wireless networking turned off

Okay, time for some functional comparisons. This week, I'm going to do the ereader comparison. Next week, I'll compare word processing. I had hoped to do both in one column, but this one is already long enough.

I'm not even going to bother rating the netbook in this category. It's easily the worst of the bunch to use as an ereader. You can read from the netbook, but only if you're desperate.

Most of you already know how much a like my Kindle. The rest of you can find my review of the Kindle here. To sum up, the Kindle is easy on the eyes, holds an entire library worth of books (I have about 1000 on mine right now and haven't even used up half the storage space), is light and easy to handle, and only needs to be charged once every few weeks. Physically, the Kindle beats the Touchpad hands down (and would, I'm sure, beat the iPad hands down, too). The Kindle is so much lighter and easier to handle that there really is no comparison at all.

The Touchpad works pretty well as an ereader. It comes with a Kindle software installer already on it. The software installs in a few seconds, you sign in, and you're ready to go. The tablet syncs with your Kindle library easily, as well, so you can be up and reading in a matter of minutes if you already have a Kindle account setup.

Because the screen is much larger than the Kindle, you end up with considerably more text on the screen at one time. If you hate "turning" pages, you'll like this part. At least you will until the screen starts dimming. The Touchpad, you see, is incredibly needy. If you go too long without touching the screen it starts going into power-save mode. A quick tap on the screen and you're back in business. I'm sure I will find a time-out setting when I get around to looking, but I find the continual need to caress the screen a bit annoying.

Another difference between the Kindle and the Touchpad is that the Touchpad has a back lit screen. This is great if you want to read in low light or in the dark, but the back lighting comes with a price. The price is eye fatigue. Having a Kindle, I haven't spent much time reading ebooks on the Touchpad. I have spent a lot of time reading comic books on it. The color screen is absolutely beautiful, showing the artwork in comic books sharply and in vibrant color. A week ago, I settled in and read 10 or 11 comics on the Touchpad, all but one of them in one sitting. By the end of that first sitting, my eyes were tired and it actually hurt slightly to focus on the Touchpad screen. I did other things for five or six hours before returning to the Touchpad to read some more comics. I made it through one comic book and gave up on comic books for the rest of the day. I don't know whether the back lit color comic books were harder on my eyes than the back lit mostly bright white ereader screen would have been, but I definitely cannot imagine spending an entire evening reading ebooks on the Touchpad.

It does surpass the Kindle in two respects. PDF files are much easier to read on the Touchpad. There's no need to convert the PDF and a single page fits neatly on the full screen in portrait orientation. The type is a bit smaller than I'd prefer but perfectly readable. Second, the Kindle simply cannot read digital comic books. Even with the eye strain issue, the Touchpad is a good way to read comic books as long as I only read a few each day.

Unless you want to read digital comic books and lots of PDF files, the Kindle is easily the better ereader. The difference is even greater when you consider what your average tablet costs compared to what a Kindle costs. (Hint: I'd never have bought a tablet without the HP sell-off.)

One quick note: In my Kindle review I linked to above. I mention that I had heard the iPads built up heat with use. Apparently, I heard wrong. The Touchpad never suffers from heat build-up, even after prolonged use. I've been told the iPad is the same. This is not something I can about my netbook, but more on that next week.
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