HP’s first product bearing the Palm and webOS brands improves upon its predecessor in many subtle, yet important ways and perhaps represents what the Palm Pre should have been when it first launched.
The HP Palm Pre 2 keeps the sleek and elegant style of the original Palm Pre, with minor touch ups that result in an even better presentation. The hardware specs have been upgraded, the most significant being a doubling of processing power from 500 mhz to 1 GHz – a change that makes the device’s well-advertised multi-tasking a better experience. With webOS, the mobile operating system that HP looks determined to give new life with some tablet releases this year, there are also some small tweaks that result in better overall usability.
When the first Palm Pre came out, it felt like an innovative smartphone compared to others on the market. It supported multi-tasking where the iPhone didn’t, and synced up with several Web-based services such as Google, LinkedIn and Facebook accounts to quickly add contacts and calendar information.
With the Palm Pre 2, there are less innovative features compared to other devices supported iOS or Android. The focus with this device seems to be on improving the execution of the first Pre, and upgrade the overall experience.
Design and style
At first glance it’s hard to distinguish the Pre 2 from its predecessor. But look closer and you’ll see a couple of changes to the device’s face that make for a sleeker appearance.
First, the one hardware button has been removed. In place of the round silver ball, there’s a thin white LED line behind the glass. It still has the same function as the hardware button, minimizing an app or maximizing it.
Second, the entire face of the device is now covered by a piece of Gorilla Glass, the ultra-tough material that refuses to scratch or break. It’s an improvement over the plastic on the first Pre.
The phone is still a vertical slider of course, the screen pushing upwards to reveal the QWERTY keyboard. The keys have a plastic, gel-like squishiness to them that is comfortable on the thumbs when typing those long e-mails.
A flap has been removed to allow for easier access to the microUSB port. The device comes in a small package without sacrificing too much screen size or typing comfort.
webOS 2.0 a pleasure to use
Using its gesture-based user interface, I’d argue the Pre 2 with webOS 2.0 does the best job at handling multi-tasking on the smartphone market right now. Simply sliding a finger up from the bottom of the screen presents your open apps as “cards” on the screen. Sliding your finger from left to right or right to left scrolls across them and tapping a card will maximize the app.
New in webOS 2.0 is card stacking. If you have several Web sites open in multiple windows, they will automatically be stacked together and presented to you like you’re holding a hand of cards. You can also manually drag a card into a stack to access later.
The Launcher feature presents all of the apps and system configuration tools available on the device. It can be customized by the user, allowing new screens to be added. For example I grouped all my social networking apps under a “social” screen.
The home screen consists of a quick access bar along the bottom. You can cram four icons into it, and replace the shortcuts there to the apps of your choice simply by dragging icons overtop of it. I’d like to see a bit more flexibility with the home screen, as it seems like there’s a lot of empty space that could be used for more short cuts or widgets.
A thin taskbar along the bottom of the screen notifies you of new messages as they are pushed to your device.
Palm’s App Catalogue
An easy criticism of the webOS platform is that its App Catalog consists of just hundreds of apps instead of the thousands, or tens of thousands available on other platforms.
Yet I found that many of the popular mobile apps that I normally use were available. There are official Facebook, LinkedIn and Foursquare apps, and a selection of Twitter clients (both free and paid-for). I added many free news apps from familiar publications like The New York Times, a QR code scanner, Evernote (multimedia note-taking on the go), and Grooveshark (music streaming).
With HP preparing tablet devices based on webOS, there is hope yet that developers might soon pay more attention to the platform and bolster the App Catalog.
Another plus of the App Catalog is it’s extremely well organized. It offers a search feature, one-tap access to view free or paid-for apps, and organization of apps into categories.
Productivity and multimedia support
The Pre 2 comes loaded with a free version of Quickoffice that allows you to view and edit documents compatible with Microsoft Office including word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. You’ll have to upgrade in order to create new documents.
The Pre 2’s ability to quickly connect online information to your device is one of the best productivity features. Once you authenticate your Google or Exchange account, your Calendar and Contacts are quickly up to date. The best part is you don’t even need to sync with your computer to keep them current, it all happens in the background via the Internet.
The Web browser in webOS 2.0 is very functional and can display mobile or non-mobile sites reliably. The pinch-to-zoom feature works quickly and it’s easy to juggle multiple Web pages thanks to the card-stacking feature. One knock against the browser is that the Flash experience, although supported, doesn’t always render the best quality. Some videos I played back were fragmented and had strange colouring.
Another quibble I had with the Pre 2 was authenticating my accounts. I can’t be sure it was related to the device, but I had trouble authenticating both my Gmail and Twitter accounts. Even after I finally got my Gmail passed, the device continually prompts me to check that my password is correct (it is).
Pre 2 specs at a glance
Processor: 1 GHz
Memory: 16 GB internal, USB mass storage support
Screen: 3.1-inch multitouch at 320×480 resolution HVGA
Communications: GPS, Bluetooth, HSPA, Wi-Fi
Camera: 5-megapixel with LED flash, video capture
Size and weight: 59.6mm wide x 100.7 mm height x 16.9 mm thick and 145 grams
The Pre 2 is a stylish and professional smartphone that offers a great user experience. It’s improved upon the first Pre, so the webOS experience no longer feels sluggish. With a faster onboard processor and now on Rogers Wireless 3G+ network, the phone is worth considering.
If having thousands of apps to choose from is important to you, then you may want to pass on webOS for now. But don’t hesitate to enter our contest to win one.