HP Palm Pre 3 Review: The phone that never was

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It appears as though my time with Palm is drawing to a close. HP has killed off the Pre 3, the Veer, the TouchPad, and has laid off the employees responsible for the hardware. They keep making vague promises with webOS the software, but things certainly don’t look good for webOS, my favourite mobile platform, or for what was Palm. The company that popularized PDAs, pioneered smartphones, and then briefly had a run with the only compelling iOS alternative I’ve seen seems to have run out of steam. Nothing stays the same. If there was no change, there would be no hope of progress. Still, as someone who has followed Palm since it was part of 3Com and US Robotics, I will miss their innovation and attention to the user experience. (UX)

All of this said, I was unable to cut my losses with the HP TouchPad. When unreleased AT&T HP Pre 3’s started showing up on eBay, I had to bite. I ended up buying a 16GB version for $241 plus $30 shipping. At less than $300, I am very pleased that I made the purchase. webOS may be a dying platform, and the Pre 3 may be a dead-end device, but it’s a hell of a dead-end device.

The HP Palm Pre 3: End of the line for Palm

The Palm Pre 3 is the pinnacle of the form-factor that Palm developed with the original Pre. It features a 3.5″ 800×480 display, a 1.4GHz CPU, a slide-out keyboard with larger keys than the Pre 2 or Pre, 512MB of RAM, and webOS 2.2.3.

If you hated the original Pre, you won’t like the Pre 3. However, if you like a reasonably sized smartphone with a hardware keyboard and you don’t need a huge number of esoteric apps, the Pre 3 may still be a good bet.

The device is fast, fast, fast. It’s still not quite up to iPhone 4S speeds, but it’s certainly faster and more consistently so than any Android device I’ve used. As always, webOS is a lovely, elegant experience. Thankfully, 2.2.3 seems to have solved the niggling Google Sync problems I’d experienced with the Pre 2. The OS isn’t significantly different from the current release of the Pre 2’s webOS 2.1. I have been happy with the app selection in webOS for some time now. The App Catalog offers a surprisingly good selection of games and productivity apps. True, it’s nowhere close to what Android or iOS offers, but other than a lack of Netflix for the TouchPad, I haven’t really found myself missing anything from webOS. The browser has always been great. In my opinion, it is equal to iOS’ offering and far better than any Android browser. Moreover, I still think that webOS has the best mobile mail, calendar, and contacts experience of any platform. The calendar on the Pre devices in particular is so much more fluid and intuitive than anything else since Palm’s original PalmOS calendar. The attention to these details, the great multi-tasking, and the easy developer mode are why I stick to webOS even now.

The software experience is great, and so is the hardware. Closed, the Pre 3 is about the same size and width as my iPhone 3GS. It’s quite thin, considering the slide-out keyboard. The display is just fantastic. It has Gorilla Glass, so is quite tough, and the pixel density rivals the iPhone 4’s Retina Display. The screen is now the perfect size, and extra size allows the keyboard to be slightly larger, making text input that much nicer. I still prefer the horizontal keyboard of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro or the BlackBerry Torch, but the Pre 3 is close behind, and webOS puts it over the edge for me.

The Pre 3 retains the rear-facing mirror when the keyboard is open. I know that some people complain of the vanity of this, but why not? It’s useless space otherwise. Why not make it a mirror. To me, it’s little touches like the mirror and how the device feels in the hand that make the Pre 3 hardware feel so compelling. I like my little Sony Mini Pro, but it is boxy and awkward. I like the shape of the iPhone 3GS but find the 4 and 4S to be too angular. The Pre 3 “river stone” feel is natural.

If you’ve used a Palm Pre or webOS and like what you find, the Pre 3 is a great device. If you’re happy with an iPhone, stick with an iPhone. If you like Android, good for you. BlackBerry fan? Great! Me, I like webOS. With the Pre 3, the hardware has finally caught up with the elegant software. Yes, there are things that I would change (like adding an FM radio and Dropbox integration) but on balance, this is the best smartphone for me. I don’t imagine that I’ll be using it in two years, but I’d bet money that I’ll be missing aspects of it at that time.

Good bye Palm, it’s been a good run. I’ll stick with the Pre 3 and TouchPad for now. I wish all of the great designers and engineers behind webOS the best of luck in the future. I hope they continue to influence BlackBerry, Android, and iOS development in the future.

GoSaBe Blog - Oct 30, 2011 | Hardware