Last Thursday, HP announced that it would "discontinue operations for webOS devices, specifically the TouchPad and webOS phones." The surprise announcement came less than two months after the release of the TouchPad and the company subsequently slashed its price, prompting a stampede of customers looking to snap up a tablet bargain. But just how much of a bargain is it considering there won't be any future updates to webOS from HP and developers aren't likely to produce many new apps for a discontinued device? Having spent some time with a TouchPad recently, I'd have to say, like most things, it depends.

When first playing around with the TouchPad - pre-discontinuation announcement - it was hard to see how it could compete against Apple's all-conquering iPad or even the multiple Android challengers to the tablet throne. Sure, the TouchPad itself seemed built well enough - albeit a bit heavier than the iPad - and webOS worked nicely on the tablet - though with a few noticeable and lengthy stutters despite the dual-core 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and 1 GB of RAM under the hood.

But there was nothing to really set the TouchPad apart and it was hard to see how it would gain a foothold in the tablet market with its limited selection of apps. It seems HP had the same reservations and decided to cut its losses, which are likely to be substantial when you take into account the US$1.2 billion price tag for the acquisition of Palm in 2010 with webOS cited as a major motivation for the purchase.

So is it worth snapping up a cheap Touchpad? First here's a quick refresh on what's inside the box.

Hardware

Coming in 16 GB and 32 GB models with Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n - there are no 3G options - Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and A2DP, GPS, 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, and a 6,300 mAh battery, the HP TouchPad is a decently specced device. Like the iPad, it also boasts a 9.7-inch multi-touch display with 1,024 x 768 pixel resolution.

The device weighs in at 770 g (1.69 lb), making it heavier than both the 680 g (1.5 lb) original iPad and 600 g (1.33 lb) iPad 2. This is despite it measuring 190 x 230 x 14 mm (7.48 x 9.05 x 0.55 in), which makes it shorter in height in portrait orientation than both the iPad and iPad 2 (13 mm/0.51-inches and 10mm/0.39-inches respectively). While the width of the TouchPad is the same as the original iPad, it is 4mm (0.16 in) greater than the iPad 2, and its depth is 1 mm (0.04-inches) greater than the iPad and 5.4 mm (0.21-inches) greater than the iPad 2.

The volume rocker, power/lock button, 3.5 mm headphone jack, micro USB charge port and home button are all in the same location you'd find them on the iPad. The unit's stereo speakers, which include Beats Audio technology, are located at the top and bottom of the left side of the device when held in portrait orientation, which allows for greater stereo separation when not listening through headphones.

The casing of the TouchPad is high gloss black plastic on the back and sides and glass display on the front. While it doesn't compare to the brushed aluminum finish of the iPad, the gloss finish looks slick enough when you first pull the TouchPad from its packaging but within a couple of minutes both the front and rear of the device will be covered in very visible fingerprints. A case is the obvious solution if you're looking to protect your device not only from unsightly smudges and smears, but also knocks and scrapes.

Lack of Apps

HP was similar to Apple in that its acquisition of Palm in 2010 allowed it to both make the hardware and own the software that runs on its TouchPad and webOS smartphones. But a year is a long time in the tech world and HP entering the tablet market with between 300 and 400 TouchPad optimized webOS apps - along with the more than 8,000 webOS apps for the Palm Pre that will run on the TouchPad in compatibility mode - paled in comparison to the more than 90,000 apps currently available for the iPad through Apple's App Store, which doesn't count the more than 425,000 iPhone apps that will also run in screen doubled mode on the iPad.

Current and future capabilities

So with a limited selection of apps - the lifeblood of any tablet - and the likelihood of that list growing significantly being pretty much zero, why has there been a rush to snap up the TouchPad at the discounted price? A lot of people simply love the idea of a bargain and a saving of $300 on the 16 GB model and $350 for the 32 GB certainly qualifies. And for browsing the Internet - with flash capabilities - , checking email, Facebook and Twitter, watching videos, viewing photos and reading eBooks, the HP TouchPad is more than capable.

While HP has said it is looking to license webOS to third-parties, offering hope that webOS isn't completely dead yet, others are pinning their hopes on hackers coming up with a way to run Android and Ubuntu Linux on the TouchPad. With various projects already underway to replace webOS on the TouchPad, and developers already having success with getting Ubuntu Linux up and running on the tablet, such efforts will likely breathe life into the TouchPad and extend its current capabilities.

To buy or not to buy?

So if the existing capabilities of the TouchPad suit your tablet needs, or if you're willing to pin your hopes on replacing webOS with another operating system in the future, the TouchPad is definitely worth considering - ironically that's something that we would have been reluctant to say last week when the 16 GB model was retailing for $400 and the 32 GB was going for $600. The trick will be to find a store that still has stock as people have been snapping up the TouchPad like hotcakes since it was reduced to $99 and $149 for the 16 GB and 32 GB models respectively. If, however, like those who purchased the TouchPad before last week's announcement, you were considering a purchase based on the device's potential with the expectation of a steady flow of new apps and webOS upgrades from HP, it's definitely time to reconsider.