Barely a year after buying Palm and making a splash about its entry into the smart phone market, HP has got out, several million dollars lighter and, it would seem, with very little to show for it.
The latest in the Pre series would have been the first phone to shed the Palm brand and more over to HP but it’s been cancelled even as it’s been released. Which is a shame, since it’s actually a pretty good smart phone.
Design and build
As with its predecessors, the Pre 3 is a well put together handset, with sturdy casing covered by rubberised plastic. It’s a little bigger than the Pre 2, stretching to 64x111x16mm and 156g from 60x101x17mm and 145g to make room for a bigger screen and keyboard.
On the sides are a volume rocker and a microUSB power/sync port, with a screen lock/sleep button 3.5mm headphone jack and a mute switch on top. Pushing upwards on the screen reveals the slide-out QWERTY keyboard which features 35 of those unique buttons made of that weird squidgy plastic material that Palm was so keen on.
Not everyone likes the feel of them (they can feel as though they’re sticking to your fingers) but they’re perfectly functional, with just the right amount of feedback, abetted by a distinctive click when you connect, and easy to distinguish under the thumbs.
The extra size makes it easier to use (not that it was particularly difficult before) and the number keys are laid out in standard keypad form, which makes them even easier to reach when you’re only using one hand.
The screen has stretched out from 3.1in to 3.6in, which doesn’t look like much on paper, but is easy to appreciate when the device is in your hand. And it’s not just bigger, it’s better, with resolution boosted from a so-so 320x480 to a beautifully sharp 800x480 pixels. It’s nicely sensitive too, distinguishing easily between brushes and presses.
Interface and OS
WebOS made quite a splash when it debuted, managing the trick of being easy and intuitive to use, yet looking distinctly different from its more established rivals. The trouble is that it hasn’t really evolved much since.
You’ll still flick the page up from within an app to show that app as a ‘card, and you can flick right and left to view other open cards. Usefully, you can also group related cards together to make them easier to find.
The Just Type feature is handy too – you start typing from within any app and you’ll be presented with a range of options, from searching the web to creating an email, as you type.
But with Android evolving every few months and Apple making significant improvements each time it releases a new iPhone, it would have been good to see a bit more development – not going to happen now though.
HP has said it will continue to support the operating system in future, though it hasn’t specified how long for.
The 5 megapixel camera doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of features, offering autofocus, digital zoom, LED flash and, er, that’s about it. But rather like the iPhone’s snapper, it makes up for a lack of gimmicks by delivering reliably good quality pictures, even when the light isn’t ideal.
Edges are sharp, colours realistic and there’s a fair amount of detail too. It starts up quickly in about three seconds, which makes it handy for quick snaps, and this latest model now offers 720p HD video recording, which looks good and blows up nicely when played back on a TV screen. There’s no HDMI connection to allow you to do this directly however.
There’s another camera on the front for video calls which you can use with Skype, which is built into the phone’s calling options – a nice touch.
Apps and browser
Apps are of course a big problem for the Pre 3, since there’s unlikely to be any more. The App Catalog is hardly well-stocked to begin with, though a lot of the basics are present and correct, including social networking apps such as Facebook, some business-oriented apps (there’s also QuickOffice and a PDF reader on the handset) and a smattering of games for fun.
Enough to be going on with in other words, but if you crave new and innovative apps on a regular basis, this won’t be the handset for you.
The browser renders most pages well and the screen’s pinch to zoom feature makes it easy to get around. There’s fast access via 3G or broadband over Wi-Fi too, which now includes 802.11n as well as b and g.
Media and connectivity
Like some of the recent BlackBerrys, the landscape orientation of the screen means it’s not ideal for viewing movies – they always seem to look a little squashed in comparison with handsets featuring full-length screen, though they certainly look sharper than they did on the previous version.
The music player is basic but easy to use with drag and drop functionality for adding your tunes and there’s an FM radio on board too.
Performance and battery life
The processor has developed some extra muscle with the 1GHz model (which was no slouch in the first place) upgraded to a 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon version. The result is a blisteringly fast phone that kept up the pace even with a whole bunch of applications open and running.
But the downside of that speed is battery life, which isn’t great. Even though the battery’s been expanded from 1150mAh to 1230mAh, it still barely delivered more than a day of use.
- Classy, curved casing
- Fast processor
- Fun, intuitive webOS
- QWERTY keyboard
- 5-megapixel camera
- It's been cancelled!
- Very limited manufacturer support
- Not many apps available (or ever likely to be)
Verdict: The smartphone market is tough, but it's a shame to see a perfectly good challenger bite the dust before it had a chance to really find its niche. Still, if you can snap one up for a bargain price, it's worth getting your hands on one.
More info: HP Pre 3 spec