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Sigh. No $99 TouchPad, yet again...

Another HP tablet fire sale leads to yet more heartbreak. Is it weird for a grown man to feel physical pain at the loss of a really good deal on a discontinued gadget?

Like the Loch Ness monster--but in a more convenient form factor--the $99 HP TouchPad remains elusive. Screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

On Sunday evening, HP put the (allegedly) final batch of its discontinued TouchPad tablets on sale for cheap on its eBay store. Less than 30 minutes later, they were all sold out, and I was left slate-less, yet again.

HP entered into its great tumult of 2011 in August--a drama that has been covered in great detail on CNET--and one of the final stages of the corporate carnage came when the company began selling warehouses full of TouchPads for as low as $99. What ensued was a digital crush of bargain-hunting nearly as ugly as a Wal-Mart on Black Friday, but without the pepper spray.

HP offered a lot here and a lot there of the bargain-basement tablets, while smaller batches would briefly pop up on the sites of retailers like Barnes & Noble and OfficeMax or subsites of eBay, only to sell out again in mere minutes. Inventory systems were unable to keep up with the pace of sales, and suddenly a receipt and confirmation number was no guarantee of actually receiving a fire-sale TouchPad. Big bundles of confirmed orders were canceled, and angry customers vented on forums and on Twitter, leaving one unfortunate HP social-media manager tweeting her pleas for compassion and patience.

For days on end, the quest for the cheap tabs was a global phenomenon, with thousands of people around the world constantly refreshing product pages and scouring forums for leads on where the price might drop next. Keep in mind that this was weeks before anyone had heard of the $199 Kindle Fire--a name brand tablet for 80 percent of what most name brand slates were going for was like crack for geeks addicted to gadgets. Geeks like me. I managed to confirm orders for a $99 16GB TouchPad first with HP, and then with Barnes & Noble. Both orders were later cancelled. I hadn't been fast enough.

Another chance...
So when I learned that the final bunch of refurbished TouchPads was hitting eBay yesterday, I decided to give it another shot. A few minutes after the deal went live, my cursor hovering over the "Buy it Now" button, I hesitated. The tablet landscape is different now than it was in August. The $199 Amazon tablet is pushing prices down fast, Ice Cream Sandwich is out, and that Transformer Prime from Asus makes me drool--another $99 tablet that can compete with the TouchPad's specs and doesn't run a near-dead OS must be just around the corner.

I wasted 10-15 minutes doing research. Finally, I decided that the open-sourcing of WebOS had some promise, and that getting this kind of hardware at this price really was a steal. That was it--I clicked "Buy it Now."

Error - Product no longer available.

Oh, crap.

A feeling of deja vu swept over me. I returned to the HP product page. There was now one less item on offer--the 16GB TouchPad was gone. I wasted another five minutes deliberating over whether to up the ante and plunk down 50 bucks more for the 32GB version, which was all that remained. Yes, still a great deal. Of course, I decided.

I clicked "Buy it Now" for the second time.


Is it too weird for a grown man to feel physical pain at the loss of a really good deal on a discontinued piece of consumer electronics?

As if to add some sort of sick insult to injury, the electricity went down in our neighborhood shortly thereafter and stayed out for nine hours. Perhaps it's for the better, as I'm sure that kept me from fruitlessly refreshing HP's product page hundreds of times in hopes of one more last--I mean really, really last batch of cheap tablets.

Clearly, I'm not meant to have a relationship with WebOS, but I still believe in love at first sight low price when it comes to certain devices. Whenever digital cupid's arrow strikes again, I'll know not to hesitate next time. So please, do my heart a favor and let me know if you come across a $99 Transformer Prime.