HP TouchPad available for preorder, starting at $499

Is this WebOS tablet the last stand against Apple among the iPad's struggling crop of competitors?

HP's TouchPad Screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

A tablet with something a little different is officially available today. Hewlett-Packard is now taking preorders for its TouchPad with WebOS.

With the sometimes baffling assortment of Android tablets and the lackluster debut of RIM's PlayBook tablet, the TouchPad could be the last chance that Apple's competitors have to mount a serious challenge to the iPad's dominance anytime soon.

HP has taken its time polishing the TouchPad since first unveiling it months ago--a far cry from the PlayBook launch, which seemed rushed and left BlackBerry fans with a shiny new tablet sans many apps to run on it. The TouchPad and WebOS's selling points include multitasking by visually "stacking" apps for easy switching back and forth, support for Flash and HTML5, and some pretty cool syncing of text messages and more with WebOS smartphones.

HP also promotes a few features that could be great, but still give me pause, like a single view that blends all sorts of messaging, e-mail, and social networking accounts. The very notion gives me nightmarish flashbacks to countless reboots at the hands of Motorola's Blur feature on its Droid line of phones. But if HP does it right, it could be a solid asset. Using the same concept, HP is also pushing the idea that to do whatever you want on a TouchPad, just start typing without worrying about what app you're in and select where to direct the text later. It's a novel idea that will again depend on proper execution. But with a Bluetooth keyboard available separately for the TouchPad, you have the attention of my fingers, HP.

The Wi-Fi TouchPad has a 9.7-inch capacitive multitouch screen with a 1,024x768 display and a Qualcomm Snapdragon APQ8060 1.2GHz dual-CPU. The 16GB model is available to preorder for $499.99 and the 32GB version for $599.99. It can be reserved now through HP and the usual crop of retailers, including Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Radio Shack,, Office Depot and Costco. It's set to ship July 1.