HP’s Palm Pre 2: nice but not necessary
by Alan Zisman (c) 2011
published in Business in Vancouver February 15-21, 2011 issue #1112
iPhone/iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows 7 Phone. Canada’s mobile phone
providers are offering their customers smartphones running all of these
platforms. Outside North America, Nokia’s Symbian platform is popular.
Are users ready to buy into yet another smartphone platform?
HP hopes so – last year the company bought Palm, whose Treo models were
among the first to offer capable web browsing on a phone and whose Palm
Pre was one of the best early iPhone competitors. Now HP has released
Pre 2, its first handset since the Palm acquisition. The company loaned
me a Pre 2 running on the Rogers network ($99 with a three-year
contract; $449 with no term).
When I reviewed the original Pre in 2009, I liked it a lot, and the
new-and-improved model still has a lot going for it. Like the original,
it’s a bit smaller and more rounded than an iPhone, with a usable
pull-down keyboard. (No virtual keyboard, though.) Both the processor
speed (now one gigahertz) and storage (now 16 gigabytes) are double the
original model, and the camera packs more pixels (now five megapixels –
no front-facing camera, though), and it still boasts what is perhaps
the best multi-tasking of any smartphone I’ve tried.
Like iPhone and Android, its HP WebOS operating system uses
multi-touch, and though new users will need to learn some new gestures,
they’re pretty straightforward: swipe left to right for back, swipe up
to minimize an application and open another. Drag a minimized
application up to shut it down. Simple – and there’s a tutorial when
you start using the device.
If you have multiple windows of an app open, say a bunch of web pages,
the new webOS version on the Pre 2 displays them as a stack of cards on
the home screen, simplifying navigation. The newly named Just Type
search function works very well. It combines on-phone content with
Google, Twitter and Wikipedia results.
Like its competitors, you can add apps. I had bemoaned the scarcity of
Pre-friendly apps in my 2009 review, and while there is nowhere near
the huge number of apps available for iPhone or Android, app quantity
(more than 5,000) and quality are more respectable now. HP’s App
Catalog has been cleaned up, making it easier to find what you want (a
problem for Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Market). Yes,
there’s a version of the mega-popular Angry Birds.
As with many iPhone competitors, the browser supports Adobe Flash, but
as seems to be universally the case, Flash support isn’t great. While
both the iPhone and many Android devices now offer higher resolution
displays, the screen on the Pre 2, at 480 x 320 pixels, is identical to
that of the original model – too low for a cutting-edge phone. And as
with the original model, plan on recharging it daily, though the
optional Touchstone accessory is neat, letting you just place the phone
on top of the charger.
The Synergy feature aggregates contacts from Gmail, Facebook, LinkedIn
and Microsoft Exchange accounts. HP is hoping that additional
third-party services will add support for both Synergy and Just Type. A
surprising lack given HP’s business-oriented product range: better
support for features such as Microsoft Outlook contacts or Office
2007-10 file formats is needed. Despite its slick operating system and
smooth multi-tasking, the Pre 2 is a bit of a placeholder for HP. On
February 9, the company announced a new Pre 3 version, with
higher-resolution screen (yay!), faster processor, and front-facing
camera, along with a 10-inch WebOS-powered tablet, the TouchPad – both
due next summer.
Nevertheless, unless HP really ramps up its marketing muscle, both of
these, along with the current Pre 2, may prove to be nice hardware that
get lost among the wide variety of smartphones and tablets on the