Would I be content with a (cheap) TouchPad for my ministry?

Perhaps you heard this week the news that HP has suddenly and without warning gotten themselves out of the tablet market. Earlier this year, the HP TouchPad had been touted by some as an “iPad killer” – that is, that HP’s device would be so good and so popular that no one would want an iPad anymore. Less than two months after the TouchPad’s launch, however, HP announced that they would not be selling them anymore and were scratching their work on the WebOS operating system that the TouchPad runs on. But what does this have to do with a blog that’s about pastors who use iPads?

First, I want to go on record as saying that I’m disappointed. I love my iPad, but I’m convinced that competition to Apple from other tablet makers will only be good for consumers in the long run.

But the real point of this post has to do with reports that the HP TouchPad has been found at drastically reduced prices online and at retail stores like Walmart and Staples. Apparently $499 (32 GB) or $399 (16 GB) for the HP slate was not attractive to many buyers. But $149 or $99 for the same devices has them selling like hotcakes. Retailers have seen them flying off the shelves (along with the dust that had accumulated over the last six weeks).

So, if I’m a pastor on a tight budget and I’ve been drooling over an iPad for a year but haven’t been able to justify the price (even with the help of this blog), should I jump on the opportunity to pick up one of these firesale tablets? Will it do for me what an iPad would do if I could afford one?

I had a chance to play with a TouchPad this weekend. My first impression is that the interface and performance were much better than I was expecting. (Maybe that reveals that I’m more of an Apple snob than I think.)  The apps were perhaps a tad slow to open at times, and the look and feel isn’t as slick as what I’m used to with the iPad, but overall I thought, “This is a nice gadget for $149.” Think of it this way: Amazon’s Kindle sells for just a bit less than that. The TouchPad not only has a Kindle app for books, it does quite a bit more besides, with a nice color screen.

For surfing the web (with Flash!), reading and writing emails, checking Facebook and other “couch activities” the TouchPad works quite well. The experience is very similar to doing the same things on an iPad. Maybe even a touch better at times, I dare to say. The Synergy setup, for example, does a nice job of pulling in multiple accounts (email, calendar, contacts, etc) into one place.

The problem is that most of the extra apps that make the iPad so incredibly useful for ministry just aren’t available in the WebOS store. Sure, you can find a dedicated Facebook app (which not even Apple has in their iOS store) and a handful of other semi-useful — or at least distracting — apps. But there is not a single word processor app available for the TouchPad. Not a one! The HP tablet came with an app called “QuickOffice” installed that had my hopes up, but it’s limited to merely reading Word, Excel and PDF files. You could certainly pull up your sermon notes from Dropbox to preach from on the TouchPad, but you wouldn’t be able to make any last minute changes or corrections. You’re stuck with whatever version you last saved on your computer at the office.

I can’t tell you if the TouchPad has a display-out feature (I couldn’t find it), but since there’s no PowerPoint app, it’s a moot point. There’s a front-facing camera, but no camera app. In the end, there’s lots of potential — and that, supposedly, is what a few thousand people expected when they forked out five-hundred bucks for one a couple of weeks ago. But now that HP is no longer supporting the WebOS, no designer is going to waste his time making the apps that would make the TouchPad a worthy second-place contender.

If you’re a pastor, you could do worse than to jump on one of these tablets at the new, reduced price (if you can find one anymore). A TouchPad could be used in the pulpit for preaching, in the meeting room for taking notes, in the car or office for listening to audio books or Pandora, in the Lazyboy for reading Kindle books, or away from your desk for cranking out a quick email or two. And as long as you don’t stray too far from wi-fi, you can always use a site like BibleGateway for Scripture reading. For $99, you could use a TouchPad in your ministry. Just don’t expect it to do quite as much heavy lifting as an iPad can.

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2 Responses to Would I be content with a (cheap) TouchPad for my ministry?

  1. Bob Schaefer says:

    My brother, who is known for his bargain-hunting skills, snatched up TouchPads for each of us before they completely flew off the shelves. I’m very glad he did! It’s a great device – HP just had no business trying to compete head-on with the iPad at an identical price point.

    As a pastor, here are some ways I already have used the TouchPad in my work, or could imagine it being put to use by others:

    * You’re right – it’s a nice device for preaching. The QuickOffice software has been updated so that it can now perform basic edits on a .DOCX file. I also like the free Typewriter Beta program, which has separate editing and viewing modes (so that you don’t accidentally make changes to your manuscript while trying to scoll it!).

    * The QuickOffice spreadsheet app works well for basic record keeping like mileage logs.

    * The free Facebook and Spaz HD (Twitter) app are really outstanding. If you use either of these social media sites for communicating with your membership, you’ll appreciate them.

    * The free WordPress app is helpful if your personal or church websites are built using that platform.

    * I’m able to access much of my Logos theological library using their web app, http://www.biblia.com. Although the native Logos app for iPad has better features (and offline reading), Biblia is a decent enough alternative for light study, as long as there’s a wireless connection available.

    * The web browser is quite capable, and there are many study resources online that can be browsed. I’m a fan of textweek.com

    * The built-in Adobe Reader will be useful for my notes when teaching confirmation class this fall.

    * Each TouchPad user is entitled to a free 50GB lifetime account at Box.net – that’s a $20/month value which pays for the cost of the tablet in less than half a year – and you can access that storage from any device, not just your TouchPad. Very good for keeping files in sync between the laptop, church desktop, tablet, smartphone, etc, and accessing your data on the run through a web browser.

    * The standard organizational, game and media apps are always useful in keeping a pastor on task, and entertained when not on task.

    Would I have paid $499 for this TouchPad? No. Then again, I wouldn’t have spent that kind of money on ANY tablet, iPads included. But a device that can do this much is definitely worth a look at $250 or less.

    Plus, it drew a crowd of half a dozen teens this afternoon at McDonalds – I suppose there’s some sort of ministry opportunity in that somewhere. 😉

  2. revguy says:

    Thanks for the insights, Pastor Schaefer. I’m especially encouraged to hear that the QuickOffice software was updated to be able to edit files and not just view them. That really makes the $99 TouchPad an excellent deal!

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