HP announced today that it was discontinuing operations for devices running on WebOS, including its recently launched TouchPad and smartphones. The news was disheartening, though maybe not surprising, to WebOS fans who saw the operating system's promise early on. What happens from here remains to be seen, but it's clear that at last for the time being, we won't see another WebOS device. So on this sad occasions, we take a look back at the WebOS devices that have come and gone.
The device that started it all, the Pre debuted to great fanfare at CES 2009. Truly, it was nothing we had seen before and it went on to win CNET's Best OF CES award (to date, it's the only cell phone to do so).
Unfortunately, after that event, Palm did a bit of a retreat and kept the Pre very close. We knew the carrier was Sprint, but Palm had little to say about when we'd see it in stores or what it would offer. In fact, it got so bad that Palm even refused to let Bonnie Cha touch the device a few months later at CTIA. Yet, once we finally got it in our hands on June 3, 2009, we found that there was a lot to like. The WebOS interface offered "unparalleled" multitasking and notifications capabilities. The multitouch display was sharp, the Web browser and multimedia integration were excellent, and call quality delivered as well. No, we didn't enjoy everything--the keyboard was cramped, battery life was short, and the handset could be a bit sluggish--but it was promising start to what we hoped would be a long line of devices.
CNET review bottom line: Despite some missing features and performance issues that make it less than ideal for on-the-go professionals, the Palm Pre offers gadget lovers and consumers well-integrated features and unparalleled multitasking capabilities. The hardware could be better, but more importantly, Palm has developed a solid OS that not only rivals the competition but also sets a new standard in the way smartphones handle tasks and manage information.
Five months later, Sprint followed up with the Pixi (the same still makes us cringe). Though we were generally satisfied at the time, in retrospect we should have seen it as an omen of bad things to come. Yes, we understood what Palm and Sprint were trying to do by introducing an entry-level smartphone, but the trade-offs from the Pre were significant. We got a better keyboard, a sleek design, and an updated WebOS that brought new features, but we lost Wi-Fi, saw no improvement to battery life and processor speed, and we still missed video recording and editing options.
CNET review bottom line: While not as powerful as the Pre, the Palm Pixi offers first-time smartphone buyers a decent set of features in a sleek little package. However, to be really competitive, we think it needs to come down in price just a touch.
When the Pre 2 landed in the first half of 2010, Palm showed that it could take an already admirable device and make it better. It offered twice the RAM and storage capacity of its predecessor, an improved keyboard, and an inductive back cover for Palm's unique Touchstone charger. We had a couple of complaints such as a soft speakerphone, but on the whole it was pretty cool. AT&T and Verizon Wireless both picked it up, though Big Red offered a cheaper initial price ($49 vs. $149) and free Mobile Hotspot service.
CNET review bottom line (Verizon): The Palm Pre Plus earns its place as the top WebOS device, improving on the Pre with a better design and performance, and upgraded features. Verizon customers looking for a versatile smartphone to balance their personal and work lives will be well-served by the Pre Plus.
CNET review bottom line (AT&T): With the great capabilities of WebOS, the Palm Pre Plus is one of AT&T's better touch-screen smartphones, but its price tag may be off-putting for many.
Fortunately, Palm also did better with the Pixi Plus, its follow-up to the original Pixi. This time, we gained video recording and Wi-Fi and a more affordable price ($49 vs. the Pixi's $99 tag) while keeping a broad feature set and all the benefits of WebOS. It was still sluggish, and the display and keyboard were small, but it served its purpose as starter smartphone. You could get it with Verizon Wireless or AT&T, though here again AT&T's version didn't have the Palm Mobile Hotspot utility.
CNET review bottom line (AT&T): The Palm Pixi Plus isn't fancy or powerful, but it offers first-time smartphone buyers a nice range of features and ease of use at an affordable price.
CNET review bottom line (Verizon): While not a major overhaul, the Palm Pixi Plus adds built-in Wi-Fi and gives customers making the jump from a feature phone to a smartphone even more functionality without breaking the bank.
The Pre 2 arrived in Verizon stores only days after HP introduced the Pre 3, the Veer, and the TouchPad at a flashy media event in San Francisco (HP had completed its Palm acquisition the previous June). Though WebOS 2.0 brought feature improvements, we were more enamored with the new releases to seriously consider it.
CNET review bottom line: The enhancements in WebOS 2.0 make the Palm Pre 2 a very capable smartphone, but we think it's worth waiting for the HP Pre 3, which will offer hardware improvements to complement the software upgrades (sorry about that last part).
And here's where things took a turn for the worse. Sure it was cute and portable, and WebOS continued to shine, but the Veer's usability was pretty abysmal. It was way too small, AT&T's data speeds were slow, and the frustrating proprietary connector meant that you had to use a separate adapter for headphones. Truly, it was one of those "What were they thinking?" moments. Even worse, it was a sad way to end the operating system's run with U.S. carriers.
CNET review bottom line: The HP Veer 4G looks cute and packs in a good amount of features for the price and size, but ultimately the smartphone's compact design hinders usability and limits its appeal.
WebOS showed up beautifully on its first tablet even if it wasn't fully utilized. The TouchPad also delivered Adobe Flash-enabled Web browsing, Beats audio enhancement, and impressive compatibility with third-party calendar, messaging, and e-mail services. On the downside, it had a thick profile, a smudgy display, and it lacked a rear camera or HD video capture. What's more, it wasn't enough to really compete with the iPad 2 or the hottest Android devices.
CNET review bottom line: The TouchPad would have made a great competitor for the original iPad, but its design, features, and speed put it behind today's crop of tablet heavyweights.
Oh, Pre 3, we hardly knew ye. You promised so much including a 1.4GHz Qualcomm processor with 512MB RAM, a 3.6-inch (480x800-pixel) display, an improved keyboard, HSPA+ support, and a 5-megapixel HD camera, but now it appears that we'll never see you in stores. And even if we did, what would be the point?