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The HP Pre 3 is the Palm Pre 2 on steroids, offering a faster processor, larger screen and more spacious keyboard. HP has ditched the Palm name following its buy-out of the company, but the phone is still basically the same as its Palm predecessors, with a zippy, handsome user interface.
HP hasn't announced when the Pre 3 will arrive in British shops, but we had to wait months for the Pre and Pre 2 to cross the pond. The Pre 3 will be launched in the US in the summer, so we may have to wait a while.
The Pre 3 uses the webOS operating system. HP liked webOS so much that it bought its creator. We're also fans, because webOS is gorgeously designed and fun to use. It offers both the simplicity of the iPhone's user interface and the flexibility of Android, with home screens that you can fill with shortcuts and widgets.
In webOS, all the apps you're running can be seen on the home screens in their own window, known as a 'card'. To switch to a different task, you can swipe through the cards to find the one you want, and tap it to open it. To close a running app, you swipe its card off the top of the screen. This process is speedy and oddly satisfying.
We wish, however, that the cards acted more like live widgets. It would be good, for example, to be able to see tweets update live in the Twitter card, right on the home screen. But, overall, the deck of cards is a simple and intuitive way to move between tasks.
WebOS also handles notifications well. Incoming texts and emails show up at the bottom of the screen in a subtle notification bar. You can then quickly open or dismiss such missives.
Another area where webOS proves speedy is in its 'Just Type' feature. It lets you type and then figure out what you want to do with what you've written afterwards. When you've typed a word, for example, a pop-up screen offers you the option of searching the phone or the Web for that term, or starting an email or text message with that word.
The Pre 3 has the biggest keyboard and screen of the Pre family. The keyboard has square, rubbery keys that we found easy to use, although people with sausage fingers may find them less accommodating. Thanks to the Qwerty keyboard and support for an integrated inbox for all your email, the Pre 3 looks like it will be a good choice for messaging maniacs.
But the 3.6-inch screen and keyboard also combine to make the Pre 3 a chunky beast, measuring 64 by 111 by 16mm. In that respect, it's like the BlackBerry Torch, which also has both a touchscreen and a keyboard. Admittedly, though, we did see the Pre 3 together with the miniature HP Veer, next to which an aphid would look like an ox.
The Pre 3 supports apps, and there are a few good ones in the App Catalog app store. But its shelves are bare compared to the iPhone App Store or the Android Market. And, since none of the Pre phones made a big splash in the UK, the store isn't likely to fill up soon.
If the Pre 3 delivers the slick performance promised by its fast 1.4GHz processor, we think it's likely to be plenty of fun even without an abundance of apps. But, if you choose the Pre 3, you must be happy with life as a smart-phone outsider. Not for you the app banter that enlivens the chat of iPhone lovers and Android addicts -- you'll be a lone wolf on the smart-phone tundra.
Overall, the HP Pre 3 looks like a big, powerful upgrade to the Pre and Pre 2. It webOS software is slick and easy to use, too. But the lack of apps and fellow Pre users means that you'll probably miss out on some of the fun of brandishing a smart phone.
Edited by Charles Kloet