The Apple iPad has hundreds of thousands of apps, and they cover an incredibly vast array of content, and between them they do just about everything you could ever want a tablet to do. The HP TouchPad, on the other hand, doesn’t have this enormous quantity of apps, but as some argue, the fact that the browser has both HTML 5 and Adobe Flash built-in means that the need for the user to have so many apps is limited.
However, there is one important web service where the TouchPad shows it has the strength to do both; Facebook.
On the iPad, aside from a smattering of fairly decent third party apps, you have the choice of using the official iPhone Facebook app, or using Safari to view the full Facebook site.
Neither option is particularly mouth-watering, with the iPhone app looking either horribly blocky or ridiculously tiny on the iPad(although the option of two screen sizes is at least available, HP), and the browser making an awkward substitute, particularly when you consider the lack of Flash makes playing the popular Facebook games impossible.
The TouchPad does have Flash in the browser, so the games will work just fine, as well as Facebook chat, but the overall experience of using Facebook in the browser for general use is still not ideal.
That is where HP plays its trump card, an excellent Facebook app, designed by HP specifically for the TouchPad and available at launch. The fact that the Facebook Flash content, such as games and videos, works within the app is a fantastic bonus.
The app is a really beautiful implementation of Facebook, and builds on the already great webOS smartphone version. The app has two main views, one is a list view that lets you slide elements and screens left and right, much like the webOS 3.0 E-mail app. The other is a less useful, but more visually stunning screen of panels made up of pictures, statuses and other Facebook sources, and it really is a sight to behold, and manages to scroll and update quickly and effortlessly. I would like the option of a button to filter between pictures and other content, but it’s a minor complaint.
The list view is where the main part of the app is, and it is structured in a similar way to the Facebook Website, with options on the left hand side panel for what to display in the centre panel. There are options for News Feed, Messages, Events, Places, Friends and Photos.
Touching the News Feed button bring up the latest News Feed from all your friends, and then touching one of the items displayed makes the third panel pop up and give you related options. So if you touch someones status, you get the option of ‘liking’ that status or posting a comment, as well as viewing other comments. You can also add friends, view profiles and send messages to any commenters you find.
The news feed can be customised to filter different types of news, such as status updates, photos, videos etc.
A really exciting part of the app is that both videos and Facebook games can be played from within the app itself, they just play in a Flash window, and the games actually work a little smoother than they do in the browser.
Places works as you would expect, but is obviously limited by the TouchPad’s lack of GPS, although the WiFi based location service worked well enough for me.
Photos and pictures displayed really quickly and with a nice level of detail. But it’s not all good. The app is prone to the occasionally pause, usually when switching between many things in a short time. The app stalls for a couple of seconds, while you try to press things to kick it into action, and although this may not be the entire fault of the app, as I have noticed the TouchPad doing this here and there across the system, it is still annoying.
Hopefully, when HP drop the first system update in the next couple of weeks this issue can be resolved.
The other thing missing is a lack of Facebook chat. It isn’t cooked into the OS like many had assumed it would be, so the only option is to use the browser for chat. It’s not a huge miss, but having it would make this the complete Facebook app. Coupling chat with the already built-in Facebook games and video would be awesome, let’s hope HP do this soon. The homebrew community had a patch to enable Facebook chat in the messaging app, so there is hope there too.
Overall, this has to be considered the very best Facebook app available. It is slightly buggy, but the great user interface, ability to play Facebook games, watch video and do almost everything else you can do with the Facebook site, bar chat, make this free app an essential download and will surely earn more than a few envious glances from owners of rivals tablets.