Back in February, Hewlett-Packard introduced three new WebOS devices in three sizes: small, medium, and large. For this review, we're looking at the smallest gadget, the HP Veer. Heading to AT&T on May 15 as the HP Veer 4G, the WebOS smartphone sports a ridiculously small but cute design, packing in a good number of features for a wallet-friendly price of $99.99 with a two-year contract. As smartphones are getting bigger and bigger these days, there's certainly an appeal to such a device, but HP might have shot itself in the foot by making the phone too small. Read on to see why.
The HP Veer 4G may just be the cutest phone we've ever come across. Evoking memories of the Kin One but with a much more attractive and streamlined design, the small, pebble-like Veer catches your eye immediately. The petite handset measures just 3.31 inches tall by 2.15 inches wide by 0.59 inch thick and weighs 3.63 ounces, in line with HP's claims that the Veer is no larger than a credit card and no thicker than a deck of cards. It sits comfortably in the palm of your hand, and at that size you'll have no problem slipping it into a pants pocket or purse. However, at that size, the question is whether its diminutiveness hampers the phone's usability, and unfortunately the answer is yes.
The first issue is the 2.6-inch touch screen. It's not so much the 320x400-pixel resolution--sure, it's not the sharpest or brightest display on the market, but we weren't expecting either in a device of this class. Plus, the display is still clear enough that we had no difficulty seeing and reading what was onscreen. No, the problem is that the limited screen real estate makes it difficult to view and interact with a lot of things, particularly Web sites and maps. For such tasks, pinch-to-zoom will become your best friend, and even a simple task like reading e-mail requires a lot of scrolling since you have such a small viewing window.
Thankfully, you don't have to rely on the small screen to enter text, as you get a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. Much as with the Pre models, you simply push the screen up to access the keyboard, and the Veer's sliding mechanism is smooth and sturdy. When it's closed, there's very little give, so you don't get any of that rickety movement while you're holding the phone up to your ear. That said, we preferred to keep the phone open while on a call, since it felt weird to hold such a small device up to our ear.
The keyboard itself might surprise you. It resembles those of previous Palm devices in its look and feel, with gel-like, rectangular keys. Obviously, with less space to work with, the layout is a bit more cramped than on the Pre. Though the buttons are small, with some practice you can learn type on it pretty quickly. Basically, it's not ideal, but it's not completely unusable.
One other area where the Veer's small size becomes a problem, and it actually might be our biggest point of contention, is the connector ports. The Veer's tiny chassis apparently precluded putting in a headphone jack or a Micro-USB port (though we have to wonder about this; the Kin One had both), so instead there's a magnetic connector where you can attach the headset adapter or the charging cable. Where do we even begin with this one?
The headphone adapter is flawed for several reasons. It juts out from the side, making it an eyesore, and though the magnetic connection feels strong, if the adapter were to get caught in anything it could easily be ripped off. In addition, the accessory is so small that it could easily get lost. In fact, we misplaced it numerous times during our review period.
Now, the magnetic charger seems like a cool idea, until you realize that the proprietary port means you always have to carry a special cable. If you're ever in a situation where you're running out of battery, you won't be able to just grab the nearest Micro-USB cable to charge your phone, so don't leave home without the Veer's cable. Of course, you can also use HP's Touchstone dock to juice up the battery, but that's an extra $50 accessory.
The rest of the Veer's design is pretty standard. Above the magnetic connector is a power button. There's a volume rocker on the left side, and you'll find a silent ringer switch on top and the camera on back. As on the previous Pre models, there's also an area below the screen where you can use touch gestures to return to the previous page or bring up the app launcher.
The HP Veer 4G comes packaged with an AC adapter, a magnetic charging and sync cable, a 3.5mm headset adapter, and reference material.
The Veer ships running WebOS 2.1.2, so you get the platform's excellent Synergy contact, e-mail, and calendar management system. With Synergy, you can sync content from multiple accounts, including Microsoft Exchange, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and LinkedIn. In addition, with the release of WebOS 2.0, HP opened up Synergy to third-party developers, so now you can sync up even more accounts, such as Skype, YouTube, and Photobucket.
WebOS 2.0 also brought several other wonderful enhancements, including Stacks and Just Type. Stacks expands on the impressive multitasking capabilities of WebOS by grouping together similar tasks in the deck-of-cards view. Some tasks are automatically grouped together, but you can also manually stack cards together or reorder them by doing a long press and dragging one on top of the other. The feature helps you better manage your tasks, and we certainly found the organization to be better. Before you had to swipe through individual cards, which could get a bit unruly if you had a number of apps open, but stacks help reduce the clutter.