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10/19/2010
11:27 AM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
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HP Leaves Palm Behind, Intros Pre 2

HP on Tuesday announced the Pre 2, its first new handset since acquiring Palm earlier this year. The Pre 2 is also the first handset to ship with webOS 2.0 on board.

HP's Palm division has done an excellent job in developing webOS 2.0, which appears to be a huge upgrade when compared to the original version of webOS that hit the market in mid-2009. WebOS 2.0 takes into account all the market trends and developments since then, and wraps them up nicely in Palm's solid user interface.

WebOS 2.0 offers a slew of new features. First up is Stacks. HP/Palm has refreshed its multitasking software by automatically grouping together related app cards into stacks. This helps reduce clutter on the desktop and HP/Palm says it will help users switch tasks faster and easier. Stacked cards may group themselves automatically, but users will be able to manage them directly, as well.

Next, HP/Palm has renamed and reinvigorated its Universal Search function. The search tool is now named Just Type, and it lets users search or act within applications. HP/Palm explains, "Among the many Just Type enhancements is a powerful feature called Quick Actions. Start an email, create a message, update your status, search your favorite websites—all without having to launch an app."

Perhaps one of the neatest additions to webOS 2.0 is the new "Exhibitions" tool being offered to developers. It gives developers the APIs they'll need to access and make use of the TouchStone inductive charger accessory that is available to HP/Palm devices. Developers will be able to build functions into their apps that take advantage of the TouchStone and perform certain actions when webOS devices are charging.

HP/Palm revamped its Synergy contact application. The new developer tools will give application writers more access to the code buried in Synergy, and allow them to build their own apps into Synergy. HP/Palm says developers can access Synergy data and cross-pollinate it between other programs and services on the device.

HP/Palm has folded Yahoo's email and IM clients into Synergy, as well.

Other neat-o features include support for Adobe Flash Player Mobile 10.1, Skype Mobile, Bluetooth keyboards, text assist for better word prediction and spell checking, and support for enterprise-grade VPNs.

Last, HP/Palm has baked more HTML5 support into webOS 2.0. The biggest features are the ability to support Web-based storage, application caching, and geo-location features on Web sites.

That's all good stuff, but HP/Palm has stumbled badly with respect to the new hardware.

The Palm Pre 2 makes definite upgrades when compared to its predecessor, but fails miserably when held up next to any of today's top smartphones.

It uses the same basic form factor, which is a vertical slider marrying a touch screen with a QWERTY keyboard. The display measures a meager 3.1 inches, and offers a decidedly 2007-esque 360 x 480 pixel resolution.

Under the hood users will find an improved processor, which now ramps up to 1GHz, 16GB of on-board storage, as well as a 5 megapixel camera with flash and video capture. Other typical smartphone amenities, such as 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, GPS, accelerometer, and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR are included.

Those are all solid upgrades. The problem is the design of the hardware.

The first thing HP should have done upon closing its acquisition of Palm was to kill any hardware already in Palm's development pipeline. It obviously didn't. One of the chief problems faced by Palm has been its too-slow-to-evolve hardware designs. For HP/Palm to debut a phone that is almost identical to its 22-month-old predecessor is the wrong move to make. At the very least, HP should have wrapped it in a different shell so it could at least pretend to be offering a new type of smartphone.

I get that Palm and HP need to work together to create a unified design language for their smartphones moving forward, and that takes time. Still, the Pre 2 is too much like its forebears in basic appearance.

It also fails miserably to match the specs offered by the competition, which have displays ranging between 3.7 and 4.3 inches with 800 x 480 pixels. The competition is also moving forward to 7-, 8-, and even 12-megapixel cameras that can record HD video; can share HDMI video with HDTVs; and include 4G tech such as WiMax or improved 3G tech such as HSPA+ on board.

The Pre 2 has none of this.

According to HP, the Pre 2 will be available from Verizon Wireless in the next few months. It goes on sale with SFR in France this week.

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