The HP stand here at Mobile World Congress has been overrun all week. HP is giving stand demonstrations of its TouchPad 10in tablet, announced only last week. As the biggest PC maker in the world, there’s naturally an awful lot of interest in its take on a tablet device, even though it runs on neither Windows nor Android. Instead it takes the WebOS originally developed for the ill-starred Palm Pre.
HP is letting those lucky enough to secure a personal press demonstration get their hands on the HP TouchPad, however, and our first impressions were extremely favourable. The 9.7in display (the same size as the Apple iPad screen, which is also billed as a 10in tablet) is just the right size for comfortable viewing and bucks the widescreen trend of the Android tablet brigade. Nor is the screen prone to glare or overly bright. In other words, it lends itself well to prolonged viewer of detailed information and at-a-glance calendar and document viewing. The HP TouchPad is a more business-focused device than the iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab or any number of other Android-based tablets on show here at Mobile World Congress and perhaps more like a laptop computer in the way it runs. The email app on the HP TouchPad supports several windows at once, so you can easily see your inbox, plus details of appointments and other related emails without having to manually expand the email trail or to switch to a threaded conversation view. For our indepth first-look review, see HP TouchPad review.
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On the much smaller screen of the HP Palm Pre3, you instead get a unified inbox and searchable messages – a now standard feature on business-grade smartphones but one that Palm was first to introduce. The Pre3 email client works with Microsoft Exchange Server and supports direct push for Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo Mail and other POP and Imap email applications.
Connectivity extends to Wi-Fi n as well as 3G, Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP and an assisted GPS module for location services. The Pre3 also has a proximity sensor, accelerometer and compass. In addition, it can be used as a mobile hotspot thanks to support for up to five other devices.
Under its new owners, the Palm Pre has been slimmed down from its former pebble shape. Its sleeker design accentuates the entertainment possibilities of the WVGA widescreen display. As on the HP TouchPad, the screen is more muted than on some smartphones, but demonstration video clips we viewed on the Pre3 showed it’s more than up to the task. In fact, we were surprised to learn that the 3.8in screen has a resolution of only 480×800 pixels.
The Pre3 has more firepower under the hood than the original Palm models. It sports a nippy 1.4GHz Qualcomm MSM 8×55 processor and showed no signs of the occasional memory over-extension issues that the Pre came up against. As the first multi-tasking smartphone, the Palm Pre would launch lots of tasks – labelled ‘cards’ by Palm – sometimes to the detriment of usability.
HP has kept the card-based task launcher in its take on the Pre smartphone. As before, you tap on a task or app to invoke it and swipe it upwards off the screen to dismiss it and close it down. HP’s Sachin Kansal, director of software management, who worked on the original Palm Pre, explains that multi-tasking on the Pre3 and the HP TouchPad presents no real performance issues. Apps that are not in active use simply sit, open but dormant, while the active windows is the only one that actually draws on the processor to any significant degree.
One noticeable hardware change from the first Palm Pre models is to the keyboard. It’s still a slide-down keypad with discrete, raised buttons, but HP has managed to give each key more space and make the buttons slightly softer. Typing on the HP Palm Pre3 is more comfortable – and faster. The capacitative touchscreen is responsive and we found getting to websites we wanted straightforward enough on the Pre3’s web browser. Zooming in and out of pages is fast enough over a 3G connection, though our hands-on tests didn’t allow us time to check how well web-based media playback worked.
The Palm Pre3 now has a 5Mp on-board camera plus a front-facing VGA resolution one for video chat. The main camera has an LED flash and autofocus and is able to record video at 720p.
HP has yet to announce pricing or network operator details for the Palm Pre3 – its consumer-focused Palm Pre Veer handset, set for launch in April, may offer some pointers on this, however. However, if HP is right that the scale and distribution channels that it can offer will make the difference this time round for what was an already popular and well-designed smartphone, we think the Palm Pre may yet have its moment of glory.