HP TouchPad Review: A Tablet For Productivity?

The Adreno GPU: An AMD Bloodline

AMD is a big name notably missing from the smartphone and tablet scene. And there's a good reason for that, even if we're not particularly confident in the company's strategic decision. Former AMD CEO Dirk Meyer statedin a Fortune interview:

I do not foresee that day [when AMD competes with ARM] coming in the near term. First of all, when we consider which areas to approach, we look at markets, we look at the technology capabilities we have, and we try to find an intersection point that really represents really big opportunities. By far the biggest business opportunity we have got is in PCs and servers. The market for silicon processing content is bigger than the smartphone market. [...] The other thing we really like about our core market is that there aren’t that many competitors [...]. I would rather focus on the big market, where there’s a small number of competitors.

Meyer's response shouldn't have come as a surprise, since AMD didn't have the technology to develop smartphones in 2010 anyway. It sold its handheld business to Qualcomm the previous year. And while AMD is back on track to cut power and improve performance through integration in its Fusion-based APUs, those things are nowhere near as lightweight as they'd need to be for a phone or tablet. As we all know, Meyer was forced to resign earlier this year, reportedly over his inability to carve a foothold in the mobile market.

In the meantime, Snapdragon’s GPU architecture, dubbed Adreno, is the closest thing in the handheld world that’s remotely AMD-flavored. Adreno is Qualcomm’s rebranding of AMD’s Imageon product family, from which it traces its lineage. Even to developers, information on the newest Adreno products is hard to come by, making a full analysis difficult. We do know that, since Qualcomm took over, the only major improvement has been the implementation of a unified shader architecture.

While we can’t go into much depth on the graphics architecture, we can still evaluate performance. GLBenchmark continues to be our favorite tool for this, since it uses code similar to what you might find in games. Indeed, in a recent conversation with an Imagination Technologies engineer, we were told it’s also the company's favorite benchmark for measuring end-user performance. The problem with GLBenchmark is that it only runs at a native resolution, complicating comparisons between different hardware architectures.

However, it is possible to make a direct comparison between the third-gen Snapdragon and Tegra 2 because the HTC Sensation (MSM8260) and Motorola Droid X2 (Tegra 2) both natively run at 960x540 with Android v2.3 (Gingerbread).

Based on the benchmarks, Snapdragon’s Adreno 220 easily beats Tegra 2’s ULP GeForce in the Egypt and Pro tests. But it's even more notable that Adreno supports FSAA, while Tegra 2 does not. Adreno enjoys a big advantage by supporting the MSAA spec outlined in the formal OpenGL ES 2.0 standard. In comparison, Tegra 2 only supports CSAA. However, even that capability is not guaranteed, because the vendor must include a library extension to enable it on Tegra. For the moment, it’s hard to tell if a game support CSAA or FSAA. Programmers adhering to OpenGL ES 2.0 are more likely to support MSAA though, which is great for Snapdragon-based devices.

  • obarthelemy
    I have faith in the QuickOffice port coming through: datawiz have been woking in the mobile space since Palm days (actually, they started on Palm I think, so they know their stuff, and the platform. It works well on Android.
  • obarthelemy
    I don't understand why you use the Xoom as the Android yardstick though, it's been upstaged long ago, by the Asus and Samsung tablets at least
  • compton
    I'm certainly glad the TouchPad has a decent display -- a good trend to say the least. Apple deserves much of the credit for setting the quality bar in consumer devices like the iPhone/iPad. Happily, if you are looking around for a new phone or tablet, good displays are easy to find. If consumers as a whole get used to using good screens in tablets/phones, why don't more laptop manufacturers capitalize by upping their game? HP may have realized that the TouchPad needs a good display, but most laptop (theirs, Dell's, Asus, ect.) displays are shamefully terrible. Perhaps the laptop as we know it needs an injection of what makes modern tablets so appealing -- and at (or around) the top of that list is a bitchin' screen.
  • I've probably read at least 20 reviews of the touchpad. This is the only one I would actually call a review. This was balanced and in-depth. Thank you for your efforts.

    The one thing lacking in this review, which is also lacking in everything being written about webos, is the mention of what I consider one of the standout features of webos: The openness of the platform. With preware installed (free), you have access to thousands of patches and homebrewed apps as well as linux applications. It is possible, for example, to run a full Debian Linux in a chrooted environment (without any cracking or jailbreaking), giving access to OpenOffice, and all other x-server Linux software out there. HP/Palm is the only tablet OS developer that actively encourages the homebrew/open source community in its efforts. As a developer, it is not only the ease of development that is compelling but the huge amount of expressive and creative freedom you get. With the Apple appstore, the walled garden may protect consumers well, but also creates a completely controlled and often repressive and capricious environment for a developer. This openness is the secret sauce behind much of the loyalty of webos users. The os is a joy to use, a joy to explore, and a joy to create new code in. And unfortunately, most reviewers can't or won't take the time to understand this extremely compelling aspect of the OS.

    Thank you again for the best review of the touchpad I've seen yet.
  • DjEaZy
    ... nVidia work's with ARM... now AMD does it too... so where is intel at?
  • Well done review!...most thorough and in-depth of any I've seen thus far. As a user of about 3 weeks, I learned several new things I'd not discovered before. I second klktrk's comment about the homebrew community at PreCentral. I've taken advantage of several patches to customize my TouchPad (overclocking to 1.5 GHz, increased volume setting, etc)
  • HP really invested a lot of time and effort going into this tablet, and it is most definitely going to be an Apple killer and an Android killer one day. The potential it has is remarkable. Maybe not in this model, but in the next. As for right now, the card system in ingenious, the notification system is perfect, wireless charging is perfect, tap to share is perfect, and many many other things, including it's up to par with Apples A5 processor chip and Android Nvidia Tegra 2 Duo Core processor that evens out the fact that all these tablets are roughly the same speed, except for Apple, who lacks flash content support browser-wise. HP really leveled the playing field on this one, especially with the HD screen, and the Beats Audio, And also with their immense advertising. I don't know about you guys but I see the TouchPad on a lot of commercials and on ads everywhere! I'm thinking about buying one for school instead of the regular laptop.
  • absoluthunter
    LED Pixels? Pretty sure this is an S-IPS LCD screen with LED back light. Sure wish people would understand the difference, specially when reviewing in technical forums.
  • BlueFireAngel
    Thanks for a solid review! I'm not a Palm/HP owner yet but I hope to be someday soon. I've been impressed with Palm since I got a PDA 10 years ago. And since I've seen the Palm Pre I've been excited about the potential of webOS. I hope it catches on and that people begin to realize how powerful a tool webOS can become.
    Thanks again, Andrew!
  • Honis
    Very nice review.

    HP just announced the $100 off sale from this last weekend is now permanent.

    "Effective immediately, the HP TouchPad 16GB Wi-Fi will now be available for $399.99 and the HP TouchPad 32GB Wi-Fi will now be available for $499.99"