Hands-on with the Palm Pre 2 webOS 2.0 smartphone

The Palm Pre 2 is the first device to launch with the new webOS 2.0 operating system. There are some good hardware improvements and lots of software improvements in the device.

Regular readers know that I have a very long history with Palm devices, having started using them in 1997. Like many folks, I was very excited after seeing the webOS announcement at CES 2009 and stood in line to buy my own Sprint Palm Pre later in the Summer of 2009. I returned it after a couple of weeks because I just did not have great Sprint coverage in my area at the time (this has improved significantly over the last year). I missed the functionality of webOS and switched from a MyFi to a Palm Pre Plus on Verizon in early 2010. Sprint then released the EVO 4G and I gave my Pre Plus to my sister-in-law and dropped Verizon because the Pre Plus hardware was problematic, Sprint was much cheaper than Verizon, and the EVO 4G had everything I wanted in a single device.

I have to admit that I have been missing webOS and became even more interested in the platform after seeing the new features in webOS 2.0. Palm announced that the new Palm Pre 2 would coming to Verizon soon (likely early 2011), but I have no plans to leave Sprint and go back to Verizon. I was surprised by a Tweet last Thursday that a GSM SIM-unlocked version of the Palm Pre 2 was for sale at the HP store. I jumped over to the HP site on my Nokia N8 and ordered one for myself because I wanted to try out webOS 2.0 and also did not want to switch carriers. My Pre 2 arrived the next day and I have been using it with T-Mobile since then. Check out my image gallery and thoughts below on why I am pleased with my new Pre 2, but think HP still has some work to do when it comes to the hardware.


Image Gallery: Check out product photos and some screenshots of the Palm Pre 2.
Image Gallery: Palm Pre 2 in hand
Image Gallery: Stacks in webOS 2.0

In the box and initial impressions

Ever since the first webOS device, the packaging has been in a tilted compact box. The Pre 2 comes in a typical rectangular box with that same outside clear plastic sleeve. When you first open the lid you see the Pre 2 with the Quick Start Guide and underneath of it. In a lower compartment you will find a USB cable, USB A/C charger, and wired stereo headphones.

When I first looked at the Pre 2 in the box I thought it looked the same as the Pre Plus and for some reason I was expecting something more. I then took it out of the box and immediately saw there was flatness in the display and it had a MUCH more solid feel. The Pre 2 comes with a Touchstone compatible soft touch back and feels pretty much the same as the Pre Plus. If you like the compactness of the Pre Plus, then you will like the Pre 2.

Specifications and differences between the Pre Plus

The Palm Pre 2 looks very similar to the Palm Pre Plus and at first glance you might not notice many differences, but there are some key design features that do make the Pre 2 a better device. First, the display is now made of Gorilla Glass so the cheap plastic feel that bugged me on the Pre and Pre Plus is gone. I can tell immediately that the display is better with a nice smooth feel and a quality that I see on my Nokia N8 as well.

Other new improvements include a bump up to a 5 megapixel camera, from 3 megapixels, a bump up to a TI OMAP 1 GHz processor, from an underclocked 500 MHz, and the removal of the door from the microUSB port. You can check out more thoughts on these hardware improvements below in my walk around the hardware section.

Full specifications for the Palm Pre 2 include:

  • Quad-band GSM/EDGE:1900/1800/900/850 MHz
  • Dual-band UMTS/HSDPA: 850/1900 MHz
  • HP webOS 2.1
  • 1 GHz processor
  • 512 MB RAM
  • 16GB integrated Flash drive
  • QWERTY keyboard
  • Integrated GPS/A-GPS receiver
  • 802.11 b/g WiFi with support
  • Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP support
  • 3.1 inch 320x480 pixels
  • 5 megapixel camera with flash light
  • 3.5 mm headset jack
  • 1150 mAh battery
  • Dimensions: 3.96 x 2.35 x 0.67 inches and 5.1 ounces

Walk around the hardware

As I mentioned earlier, the first thing you will notice is the flat Gorilla Glass display dominating the front of the Palm Pre 2. It is still only a 3.1 inch display though and honestly it does feel a bit cramped after using 3.5 inch to 4.3 inch displays for the past several months. I would love to see at least 3.5 inches on a webOS device, but the display is fairly bright and crisp. There is a large gesture area below the display and the slick glass panel does make it easier to slide left, right, and up to activate the gestures. There is no physical home button and it is located as a backlit slit in the gesture area. You will find openings on the bottom for the mic and the top for the phone headset.

The other part found on the front of the Pre 2 is the QWERTY keyboard that appears when you slide the display up. The keyboard appears to be the same as the one seen on the Pre Plus, but so far I haven't seen the double and missing letter problem I had on my Pre Plus so hopefully they figured out the problem there. While the keyboard is tighter than a BlackBerry, I find it more functional in terms of having dedicated period, @, and comma keys. I like the keyboard and do find it useful for quick text entry.

The 3.5mm headset jack, ringer switch, and power button are found on the top. There is nothing on the bottom.

A microUSB port, without any cover, is found on the right side. Volume buttons are found on the left side.

The speaker, flash, and camera lens are all found on the upper part of the back. Under the back, the entire back comes off, you will find the battery and SIM card slots. The camera is an upgrade from 3 megapixels to 5, but there is still no auto-focus capability and I am not finding it to be that great of a camera experience. I guess I have been way too spoiled by the superb 12 megapixel camera on the Nokia N8 and am not sure any camera phone can make me happy again. In good lighting, such as outside, photos do look pretty good and the camera is extremely fast at taking consecutive photos.

The glass display does give the Pre 2 a higher quality feel and the small form factor does feel great in your hand. The soft touch material is nice to have for making the phone grippable and I never had the feeling it was going to slip from my hands.

There is some slight side-to-side movement of the display, commonly called the oreo effect, and I was seriously hoping that Palm had fixed this issue. Unfortunately, they did not and I am worried that the device may loosen up over time like the Pre Plus did.

webOS 2.0

While webOS 2 (currently 2.0.1 on the Pre 2) may not be a revolutionary update, there are several added and enhanced features that do make the operating system even better than it already was. I highly recommend you check out the detailed webOS 2 reviews on PreCentral.net and webOSroundup. As you can see in those articles, the main features and improvements include the following:
  • New Stacks multi-tasking interface
  • Just Type search functionality
  • New Launcher functionality
  • New text editing and spelling correction functionality
  • Support for Adobe Flash in the web browser
  • Bluetooth keyboard support
  • Confirm email delete option
  • Much faster reboot times
  • Improved Palm App Catalog
  • Exhibition mode for Touchstone functions
  • Favorites for Contacts
  • Custom searches
  • Quickoffice document viewer

The features I found most outstanding after the few days of using the Pre 2 are the new Launcher, Stacks, and Just Type search. The previous three displays in the launcher frustrated me quite a bit so I was very pleased to see the new launcher capability. You can now add launcher pages and reorder these launcher pages. I currently have launcher pages setup for Apps, Media, Reading, Games, Extras, and System. This makes finding and using apps a much more pleasant experience.

Multi-tasking rules on webOS and the new Stacks interface is quite slick and enjoyable to use. At first I could not figure out how to get these new Stacks working because I thought you could just control what appeared in Stacks. It turns out that Stacks show multiple cards for each specific type of application being used and thus you can open multiple browser pages and quickly navigate between them.

Just Type is not just a renamed version of the Universal Search, but actually provides you with some excellent functionality that I am sure will see you using this as much as I do. Just by simply entering text on your keyboard you have options for looking up your contact, finding the subject on Wikipedia, Twitter, and more while also being able to start up a Quick Action function such as SMS, Calendar Event, Facebook Status update, and much more.

I also LOVE the notifications on webOS and these continue to be as wonderful as before.

Pricing and availability

The Palm Pre 2 was available first in France through SFR. You can buy it now through the HP website for $449.99 with no contract. It is supposed to also be coming to Verizon in the "coming months".

Is the Palm Pre 2 for you?

I am personally a big fan of Palm and the ability to get a new Palm Pre 2 in a GSM variant as an unlocked device was worth the $450 to me. Keep in mind that it only works on EDGE with T-Mobile and even though it is unlocked it only works with 3G data on AT&T here in the US. I haven't found this to be too much of an issue so far because I have had WiFi connectivity around me and EDGE is fine for basic email and Twitter posts.

webOS fans will likely enjoy the Pre 2, but even though there are some very nice hardware improvements the device still has a rather small display and keyboard and has a limited selection of applications when you compare it to the other major smartphone platforms. It is nice to pop the Pre 2 on an old Touchstone and the device feels sweet in your hand. webOS 2.0 will be coming to the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus devices in the near future so if you already own one of these devices the best choice may be to wait until the update is released for your device.

I plan to spend more time exploring webOS 2.0 so please send in any questions you might have about the device or operating system.

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