Before it's completely irrelevant I thought I'd post my thoughts about the HP Pre3, which with comical timing I ordered about 3 hours before the announcement that HP was giving up making phones and tablets for the webOS operating system. Does this mean the Pre3, and Touchpad, are completely pointless? Of course not. It does mean however that there will likely be a slowdown of developer support, a tailing off of app and game releases, and a limited time span on support and updates for operating system itself on these devices. The future of webOS is anyone's guess, even HP had not decided that much when they released the statement discontinuing webOS mobile hardware. As they seem unlikely to sell webOS off altogether, licencing it out seems the only viable option, and with Nokia and Motorola seemingly the preferred vendors for Windows Phone and Android respectively, HTC and LG are the manufacturers that have all been linked with webOS, with Samsung potentially able to fall-back on their fledgling Bada operating system.
The Pre3 follows in the same form factor as its predecessors the Pre and Pre2; a front facing touch screen with a vertical slide-out qwerty keyboard. The screen is 3.6 inches and has a 480 x 800 WVGA resolution. Default brightness was set at the halfway mark, although ramping it up to 100% gave very little extra. The TFT screen is nice enough indoors, but outdoors it suffered like many other TFT-loaded handsets. Apps with black or dark backgrounds in particular suffered outdoors, with apps using black text on white being much more visible.
The keyboard is the biggest yet on a webOS phone, but still felt slightly cramped compared to other physical qwerty phones in the house at the time, such as the BlackBerry 8520 and Motorola Droid Pro. The keys have a slightly rubbered texture and a nice amount of travel however, and once used to the placement of some of the punctuation characters I was able to type at a reasonable pace.
At 155g the Pre3 is on the slightly heavy side, but does feel solid in the hand in the closed position. One handed opening with the thumb feels satisfying, but you do end up pressing on the touchscreen itself to perform this manoeuvre, which can affect on-screen apps. This is fine if the phone is locked, but if you find yourself wanting to input text whilst the screen is unlocked you may affect (or even close) the app you were using as your thumb pushes upwards along the touch screen.
The Pre3 boasts a 1.4GHz Snapdragon processor with 512MB RAM, and movement around the operating system was very smooth with no visible lag, even with many apps open. There is 8GB of onboard storage on this model, accessible as an external drive when connected via the standard micro-USB port, but there is no SD card slot for further expansion.
Connectivity is pretty standard for a 2011 smart phone; Wifi b/g/n with range comparable to that of any other iOS or Android smart phone I've used; HSPA 3G on the usual European frequencies, and Bluetooth 2.1. The speaker is only mono but does pump out a reasonable volume, and the earphones are the usual bundled low quality in-ear design; you'll swap these out for your usual earphones if you have any kind of requirement for reasonable audio quality.
Onboard the Pre3 you will find webOS version 2.2, which was released specifically and so far exclusively for the Pre3, with the Veer on 2.1.2 and previous Pre and Pixi handsets on 1.4.5.
|Stacked cards in webOS|
(Evernote and web browser)
The initial boot up will guide you through another of webOS' key features, the gesture area. Just under the screen is a capacitive touch area where gestures are made to move around the operating system; for instance a right to left swipe along the gesture area is "back", and a swipe from the gesture area upwards onto the main screen takes you out of the full screen view of your app, and into the multitasking card view.
Like other mobile operating systems, you can start typing from the homescreen or card view and this will straight away start looking for your search term in your installed apps, your contacts and emails. Furthermore you can then send your search term to Google, Wikipedia, the App Catalog search, or simply use the text you typed it to create a new email or contact.
Speaking of the App Catalog, I did find I could see apps that were not available for my phone model, which started to become a little frustrating. The Facebook app was highlighted on the App Catalog's home page for the entire duration I had the Pre3 (just over a week) yet it was not available for this model!
Finally, there is a feature called Synergy, which collates all your accounts for popular web services under one roof. This is where you would find Google and Yahoo integration for email, contacts and IM; Facebook and Photobucket for uploading photos and videos; Exchange and POP/IMAP accounts; plus the very nicely integrated Skype functionality. Once your Skype account is hooked in, it links to your contacts and allows messaging and video calling right from the contacts app and is neatly integrated into the OS all round, with no need for a dedicated Skype app at all, very nice indeed!
Apps and the Ecosystem
It's no secret that webOS is missing apps in some key areas, and lacks numbers of apps full stop. Not that quantity counts over quality of course, but the long tail of the iOS and Android app collections must be one of the reasons why both are so popular.
|Excellent Twitter app: Carbon|
Some fails were the apparent lack of any sat nav apps, paid or free, no Lastpass, no barcode scanning apps (that worked), none of the popular cross-platform IM clients (Whatsapp, and Kik for example), no Sonos app, and the list goes on! As previously mentioned, the Facebook app was not available for the Pre3 at the time of writing, and to compound this the browser coped very poorly with the Facebook mobile site and desktop site too.
As a heavy Google services user I missed not having a G+ app, but not as much as the reduced GMail functionality through the webOS email client; you'll have no starring, no labels, and no message threading, although this is true of most non-Android operating systems of course. Google contacts sync well into the webOS contacts area, including contact photos, but you won't have access to your Google contact groups or favourites.
Camera and Video Capture
HP included a 5MP camera unit with LED flash, capable of recording video at 720p, though I have to say both photos and video were a little disappointing. There is no dedicated camera button, but the camera app does at least provide touch-to-focus to compose your shots a little more accurately. Photo output seemed to lack definition and really suffered in low light, as do many other mobile phone camera units from other manufacturers. Video capture seemed to lack clarity, and there are no focus options either, with audio volume pretty quiet. On the plus side geotagging was very quick and accurate! There is also a 2nd camera unit which is front-facing and works really well for Skype and other video calling apps.
All in all the Pre3 isn't a bad phone, it's just really hard to recommend! The hardware is the best we've seen on a Pre model, but that bar was pretty low, and the slider form factor and rounded pebble-like shape won't suit everyone. The operating system is very well thought out on the whole, but lacks the ecosystem of iOS and Android and arguably Windows Phone too at this point in time.
The uncertain future of webOS is the major reason the phone is hard to recommend at full price (£300 on launch) though rumours of a fire sale are rife. If it were to become available under £100 the story changes significantly to an affordable 2nd phone with a nice OS that makes a nice change from the relative boredom of iOS and dull copycat Android slabs, or even a nice upgrade for someone currently using a feature phone for their first foray into smartphone territory.
UPDATE: Also see my video review of the Pre3 in Phones Show 147