The Palm Pre and Pixi marked a bittersweet moment for Palm. Even though the Pre and Pixi were critically acclaimed smartphones, which offered the convenience of a contemporary OS with exceptional functionality and true multi-tasking capabilities, sadly, they couldn’t prevent Palm from going under and eventually become absorbed by HP. Under HP’s wing however, Palm has consolidated its technologies with HP’s market presence and brought forward their latest device, the Palm Pre 2.
You can compare the Palm Pre 2 with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.
The Palm Pre 2 is well weighted with predominantly plastic construction. It fits nicely in the hand, and sits comfortably when held to the ear when being used as a phone. In turn, while ney-sayers may complain that the phone is too aesthetically similar its predecessor, and we wouldn’t necessarily disagree, it is still a well constructed, ergonomic portrait QWERTY device with a few incremental improvements, and in turn the design gets a general thumbs up from us.
The Touchstone Charging Dock
Interface and Functionality:
With HP webOS 2.0 on board (the new name for webOS 2.0), the Palm Pre 2 ticks along much faster than the original Pre and Pixi, and looks more refined in the process with some visual tweaks applied to the same core experience. In turn, what you get in the Palm Pre 2 is a slick looking multi-tasking champion with a real focus on productivity and connectivity.
With every touch of the Palm Pre 2 is a visual ripple effect on-screen, both looking cool and letting you know your touch has been registered. The bottom of the home screen has a five icon launcher. The far left is phone, the far right is menu and the middle three can be customized by holding an icon and dragging it in/out of the launcher. The launcher disappears when you enter an application, but can be pulled up within that app simply by sliding your finger from the bottom up the screen, creating an attractive launcher that looks like a wave of icons.
HP webOS 2.0 is full of gestures like this, most of which are very intuitive. Some are familiar to the average smartphone user, such as swiping the screen to switch between pages and pictures, others are more specific and may use the gesture area. In this area, the user can flick back and forth to move between web pages, or simply take a step back. Gestures make the Palm Pre 2 very easy to use, and given the improvements to the OS and the 1GHz processor in the Pre 2, webOS 2.0 presents the user with a generally smooth experience.
Palm’s approach to account management involves grabbing all your accounts such as email, Facebook and LinkedIn amongst others, and importing what you want onto your phone, be it contacts, calendar, messaging (Gchat for example) and email.
Activity cards occupy the home screen and support the Palm Pre 2’s multi-tasking experience, enabling the user to flip through them to quickly switch applications and create stacks of the same app, equivalent to having multiple windows open. They are easily closed by swiping them up and off of the screen. Notifications appear subtly in the bottom right of the screen and can either be expanded when selected or swiped down to be ignored.
Just Type is an evolution of Palm’s universal search. By simply typing into HP webOS 2.0, it will begin to match your input to phone content or search (like Facebook, contacts, a Google search or even a Palm App Catalog search). This performs very well and takes full use of the QWERTY keyboard.
Phonebook, Messaging and Organizer:
The Palm Pre 2 will aggregate contacts, messages and calendar data from sources of your choice and will sync as you see fit. It really is a pleasure to set everything up and watch all your contacts populate the device. Our one recommendation would be that the initial set-up should be done with a strong connection such as Wi-Fi, as the device tends to hang when syncing, and caused us a couple of problems when initially syncing over 3G.
The Dialler can be accessed in two forms, both of which are easy to use and intuitive. Your first option is to use the 10 keys on the QWERTY keypad, assembled to make a standard shaped 3×3 dialler with a ‘0’ below. Just type a number in and you are given the option to call, text or save it. The other option comes in the form of an on-screen dialler accessed through the phone shortcut on the quick launch bar. In turn, contacts can either be thumbed through, or accessed directly by typing in their name from the homescreen, a very intuitive and practical approach, omitting the need to go through a phonebook.
Text messages appear in conversation view which is great. Naturally, the form factor of the Palm Pre 2 lends itself to texting, and HP webOS 2.0 does a good job of backing the hardware up with a simple, attractive messaging system. Another great feature is the chat support. With the text messaging window having the title “Conversations”, to the right is a 2nd title, “Buddies”. Select this to open up your web chat contacts. Gchat was what we were using, though there is also support for AIM and it worked flawlessly, leaving us pleased with the varieties of communication integrated into the Palm Pre 2, and more specifically HP webOS 2.0. It nevertheless would have been nice to see new services natively offered that weren’t available in the original webOS such as Windows Live messaging or Skype.
Emailing is also a real forte of the Palm Pre 2. As mentioned, once our email accounts were set up, the phone soon populated with our emails and just required a username and password to do so for major providers. Additional mailboxes will require a bit more info, but worked very smoothly once set up.
The Pre supports IMAP IDLE, allowing for nearly instant email notification from providers (such as Gmail) which support the technology. The user can configure several email accounts and choose to see a unified inbox or view each account separately.
As with your contacts, the Palm Pre 2 brings all of your calendars together and offers a layered view. If you prefer to see them separately the phone allows for that as well. The calendar is as full featured as you would imagine, allowing for recurrences, reminders and everything else. Long appointments crumple like an accordion and expand when selected. There are even some neat extra functions, such as displaying free time in between appointments.
Camera and Multimedia:
The camera on the Palm Pre 2 is an improvement over the original Pre at 5 MP, however, it still lacks auto-focus and doesn’t shine when compared to other camera phones currently on the market. Colours tend to look dull and under-saturated, and detail is lacking, especially in close up shots or low light conditions. Exposure is generally good as is dynamic range, however, noise becomes a real issue very quickly as the sun sets or the indoor lights dim. In turn, night time shots are a no-no and indoor shots benefit monumentally from good lighting. While the flash does a pretty good job of lighting up subjects, it still doesn’t compensate for the sensor’s propensity to produce a lot of noise. In turn, the Palm Pre 2 delivers strictly mediocre imaging, however our biggest gripe with the device’s camera functionality is the inability to change any settings beyond flash function and capture mode.
Video is captured at VGA resolution and offers the same high and lowlights mentioned in the stills department as far as image quality is concerned. Again, you cannot adjust any features beyond capture mode, and despite the LED flash on board, cannot activate it as a video light which is a shame.
The music player itself is both polished and predictable. You can sort by Artist, Album, Song, Genre, or Playlist. It is very reminiscent of the iPod and BlackBerry interface function-wise, but with its own visual uniqueness. The player can of course be sent to the background, and from the notification area the user can control playback.
Video playback is very similar to touchscreen interfaces we’ve seen in the past. Tapping the screen will toggle on-screen controls, otherwise the video plays at full screen. Both H.264 and MPEG4 part2 format played flawlessly, delivering very good image quality. There is a YouTube app pre-installed, which is great and while the interface isn’t the cleanest out there, it’s still simple enough to browse through.
With full Flash support and multi-touch onboard the the HP webOS 2.0 browser, not only can you pinch to zoom until your fingers tingle, but you can also experience the web as it was intended. We had no problems opening any webpage quickly, and with dual band-3G (quad-band GSM) and Wi-Fi on-board, a fast internet connection should be available nearly all the time. Flash videos are nowhere near as playable as on Android devices, so don’t expect the smoothest experience of online streaming video services such as HULU or BBC iPlayer, but most other flash content was a pleasure to behold.
With a GPS on board and Google Maps pre-loaded, out of the box, the Palm Pre 2 is an all in one solution. Satellites found the unit in about 30 seconds and it kept our location pretty accurately throughout a 15 minute journey by car. One point to note however is the impact both GPS and 3G have on battery life in contrast to standard usage, so if you’re planning a long trip – bring a car charger.
The Palm Pre 2 is pretty good on the software front out of the box, with Quickoffice on board as well as a YouTube app and PDF viewer. There is also one of the best Facebook apps we’ve used on-board, with support for chat, very smooth operation and seamless integration into the HP webOS styling, taking full advantage of the OS’s cards system allowing you to open multiple instances at once and create a ‘stack’. It is a real standout point if you have a huge need for a well integrated Facebook device and want a physical keyboard.
Other apps are downloadable from the App Catalog which is much improved when compared with the original Pre’s line-up, with Evernote and Tweed (a Twitter client) working well for example. Nevertheless, our app experience with the Palm Pre 2 was hit and miss, with our music app of choice (Spotify) crashing the unit at the log-in screen (even after 3 reinstalls and trying it on two devices), and some key apps not being present (like an official Twitter client). In turn, app support gets a 6/10, though the rest of the Palm Pre 2 definitely pick this up.
As a phone, the Palm Pre 2 is pretty good. Callers were pleased with how we sounded as were we with the quality and tone of their voice, though at times there is slight muffling.
Battery life is okay, lasting a comfortable day, which isn’t too bad considering how connected the Palm Pre 2 ensures you stay. Quoted at 5.5 hours talk time and 18 days standby, our advice would be to charge it daily, or if you can, get a pebble for home and a pebble for work. They’re a fantastic addition and make the battery seem like a non-issue as it’s natural to put the Palm Pre 2 down on one.
Now onto speed and stability. Thus far, near enough everything about HP webOS 2.0 has been positive, and rightly so, but now we’re in the performance section, we get to cover our biggest issue with the whole Palm Pre 2 experience – frozen screens. We’re guessing this happens when the phone is pulling / pushing data online, which is understandable to a point, but what we don’t like is how the Palm Pre 2 just stops every so often for a good 10 seconds, and then starts up either by itself, or after we lock/unlock it. If we were notified the freeze was due to syncing, we wouldn’t have minded as much, but grinding to a halt for no clear reason is a pretty huge no-no. The irony is, the Palm Pre 2 will multi-task 10+ apps like a dream 98% of the time, so it’s just a huge contrast when it stops. Another issue is stability – at times, the keyboard wouldn’t register clicks and we had to soft reset the phone and at others, the screen wouldn’t register touches when closed, and had to be opened and closed a couple of times in order to re-activate it. As things like this happened 5-10 times in the week we had the unit, they weren’t enough to kill the experience, and wouldn’t dissuade us from getting a Palm Pre 2 if we wanted a great, different OS to the mainstream and weren’t hugely concerned about apps, however is certainly worth bearing in mind.
We like the Palm Pre 2 a lot, and while we aren’t convinced it’s going to be a market hit, would very much like it to be. It is a well sized, ergonomic handset with a great UI and an incredibly intuitive phonebook experience thanks to the Just Type functionality. It also offers enough fun to keep you entertained on a commute home and is very well connected. Our experience of it was let down by instability and a lack of apps that we use on a day to day basis, however, with fantastic onboard Facebook functionality it also has a huge advantage over competition such as Android. We can only hope that with future updates, the manufacturer will take care of those stability problems. If you’re not sold on the Palm Pre 2 and want a similar form-factor just with a BlackBerry experience, the BlackBerry Torch is the most obvious alternative to the Palm Pre 2, while perhaps less obvious choices might be the HTC Desire Z running Android or the Dell Venue Pro with Windows Phone 7 on board, all of which have physical QWERTYs on a different OS.
- Easy to call / text / email quickly with Just Type
- Superb at multi-tasking support and visualization
- Fantastic Facebook app
- Poor camera / camera options
- Occasional stability issues
- Limited app support
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