Touchpad Keyboard - Good, Bad, and Ugly

August 6, 2011
8 min. read

While there is no doubt that software for the HP Touchpad is in its infancy, it is hard not to see the great usefulness and potential.  There are a few good writing apps for the Touchpad, including those for WordPress blogging.  I’m composing this in the WordPress App for WebOS tablet.  Any of these are much easier to use with a hardware keyboard, than attempting to type quantity on a virtual keyboard. The HP Touchpad Keyboard is mostly a success.  My largest annoyances with it can be addressed with software fixes in future WebOS updates.

At first I expected the chicklet keys to be annoying, compared to a full sized keyboard.  It was surprising to me that they were not.  The keys depress quickly, to give a feeling of depth, before stopping.  I have no trouble typing as fast as I would on my laptop.

The Good

I am listening to music on the Touchpad as I type. When a song pops up that I’m not enjoying, I tap the FF button at the top of the keyboard and keep going.  This is more handy than I expected, as most media keys on desktop keyboards have gone unused by me. Possibly it is the feeling that the Touchpad is just the monitor and you want to do everything on the keyboard as you are working. It works for me.

I like the WebOS specific keys. In addition to being a very functional keyboard, it integrates well with WebOS for control of power, volume, playback, brightness, show/hide for virtual keyboard, immediate jump to Just Type, and dedicated “card view” button.  Of these, Just Type is amazing.  I’m typing something and think, “hmm, I wonder about subject x”.  Tap the magnifying glass button above the 1 key, type “subject x” and tap enter.  A web page with the Google search pops up.  (Before writing this, I had no idea that Subject X was a character in a Marvel comic book. Learn something new every day.)

This article will have many points in the Bad and Ugly category below. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good keyboard. For the most part these failings are software that I hope are addressed in future WebOS versions. The hardware is good enough to make this a great keyboard experience with the right supporting code.

The Bad

Two hardware design issues can be seem by just observing the keyboard before even using it.  These don’t detract terribly from the use of the keyboard, but if it isn’t intuitive or obvious, it is usually a design fail.

First, there is no indication of how to change the batteries.  Without reading the instructions, I did not know how to slide the battery cover.  A simple arrow on the cover would completely solve this issue.  The battery life is supposed to be good enough that batteries last for months. We won’t have the instructions by then, I hope I remember which direction to slide the cover.

Second, the power switch has two settings: black and slightly whiter black. It is difficult to know which setting is “on”.  This goes away with training of what is the right direction, but a product should be designed to be able to be picked up and used. These problems could be fixed with a new battery cover, adding a 1 and 0 icon for power and the cover removal arrow.

I’ve run into unintended key repeats twice in about 3 hours of typing. I was typing the word “most” and got mooooooooooost instead. This could be either a hardware or software problem.  It doesn’t really feel like the key contacts are sticking, but it would be possible under the key without me seeing it.  It would also be possible for the software to be hanging for just a bit.

The Touchpad has two styles of correction for words it thinks are wrong. First, if it is pretty sure that you are wrong and it knows what is right, it will do an auto correction. This replaces the word you typed with the “correct” one and underlines the word in gray.  The second method is when the correct fix is not known, so the incorrect word is left underlined in red. The user may tap that word and select the correction or enter it into the dictionary if the word typed was actually correct.

When a word is auto corrected and what you typed is correct, you press Delete and the original is restored. That is a great idea, but is only effective if you are a slow typist.  With the Bluetooth keyboard, you are into the next word before you realize that it made a correction.  After you have typed a new letter, you can no longer correct it quickly with Delete.  You must delete the letter(s) you typed, delete the gray underlined word, retype the word, hit space, hit delete to undo the auto correction which will happen again, hit space again and continue.  Optionally, you can tap the gray underlined word to restore the original word, but this takes you off the keyboard so it totally depends on the length of the word as to which is faster.  This restored word will be underlined in red, so tapping it and adding to the dictionary will eliminate the problem with this word in the future.  Otherwise the Touchpad will continue to replace it each time it is typed.

You do have the option of disabling Auto Correct in the Text Assist App in Settings.  I disabled it while typing the last two paragraphs and made enough mistakes it would have auto corrected, that I lost time over what I saved fixing “good” words.  I have it back on and will leave it that way.  As you train the dictionary to the vernacular you use, this will be less and less of an issue.

The Ugly

WebOS is an elegant OS.  That is part of what draws people into it.  The operation is intuitive and clean.  Sadly, this stops when a keyboard is introduced.  There is a card view button, but you can’t do anything with it.  It only saves you an up swipe.  Here is how it should function:

Tap the card view button.  Press left or right arrow to select different cards.  Tap Enter or Down Arrow to bring the card to full screen. Maybe Control+Up would close the currently selected card. Nice.  Elegant.  WebOS-like.

The Just Type search key is great. From anywhere, I can jump to a system wide search.  Then it fails to be like WebOS on the keyboard.  Here is how it should function:

Tap the Just Type button.  Type what you want to search.  Then the Up and Down keys allow you to select different options from the default.  Then press Enter to go to the one you selected.  This is a situation where two key taps on down would be faster than reaching over to tap the screen.  And to blow our minds with usefulness, how about Control+Left or Right to switch between All, Contacts, Content, or Actions.  That would be awesome.  Elegant.

The biggest of the ugly is the lack of expected functionality of the keyboard while you are typing.  I ran into this over a dozen times and it makes using the Touchpad for final editing a frustrating experience.

Selecting text should be possible by holding down Shift and using arrow keys.  This works exactly as it should when you are either in a text area that has less than a screen full of text in it or is scrolled to the top of the text buffer.  If you are in the middle of a multi screen document and try a selection with either Shift+Left/Right or Shift+Up/Down, you get a little highlighted and then the screen tries to scroll up or down with every arrow key push.

I just deleted 6 words and retyped them, because I couldn’t do a Cut and Paste quicker.  That is a big fail. It is unusable.  I must resort to the tap and hold, tap Select, drag edges to region and Cut or Copy, so I only do this for sentence length or longer text sections.

This leads me into the second problem with productivity while editing on the Touchpad.  Copy and Paste.  Why doesn’t Control + X, C, and V function?  It is inexcusable on a business class device that will be used for document editing.  I have used it over a dozen times editing this post and follow it up with having to use the slower methods of the touch screen, as I remember that it doesn’t work.  It is almost subconscious for anyone that has done editing on the computer.  It is THE WAY to copy and paste if you are using a hardware keyboard, full stop.  Fix this, HP.

So, there you have it, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of using the HP Touchpad Keyboard to actually do work on the Touchpad.  In its current state, it is great for getting thoughts down.  However, doing the final polishing is painful.  I forced myself to use the Touchpad for this entire article.  In reality, I will be switching back to the laptop for any final editing until the two major text editing issues are addressed, unless I don’t have a choice.

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