Announced back in October 2010, the Palm Pre 2 is finally available from Verizon Wireless for $149.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate. On the one hand, it's wonderful to have another WebOS product on the market, especially with the great enhancements of WebOS 2.0. On the other hand, the timing of the release is rather unfortunate since HP just announced the Pre 3, which is due out this summer and has a faster processor, better hardware, world phone capabilities, and more. Given that a bigger, faster Pre is on the way, is the Palm Pre 2 still worth it? Let's have a look.
The Palm Pre 2 doesn't stray far from its roots, sporting a design very similar to the previous versions of the Pre. It retains the attractive pebble-like shape, but it's not quite as round since the smartphone's display is flat instead of curved. Still, it's comfortable to hold and has a soft-touch finish on the back and along the outer edges. It's also compact and pocket-friendly at 3.96 inches high by 2.34 inches wide by 0.66 inch thick and 5.1 ounces.
As we just noted, the Pre 2's display is flat but remains at 3.1 inches with an HVGA (320x480-pixel) resolution, just like the Pre Plus. Admittedly, it feels small compared with the bevy of smartphones we've tested lately with 4-inch-plus displays and it's not the sharpest, but it's still clear and bright and the multitouch screen is responsive.
In addition to the touch screen, you can navigate the phone using the gesture area below the display. Though there are no physical buttons, tapping the middle of the area will bring you back to the home screen and the deck-of-cards or stack view. You can also do a long press and sweep your finger upward toward the screen to bring up the application launcher, so you can simply launch another program without having to exit the current one. Swiping from right to left will take you back to the previous page.
Sliding the screen upward reveals the Pre 2's full QWERTY keyboard. (The slider mechanism, by the way, is smooth but still a bit rickety when closed.) The buttons and layout are pretty much the same as on the Pre Plus. The small size and cramped layout of the gel-like buttons will give users with large thumbs some problems. With some time, one can learn to adjust to the keyboard. That said, we're definitely looking forward to the HP Pre 3, which features a roomier and easier-to-use keyboard. There is still no onscreen keyboard option.
On the top of the device you will find a power/lock button, a silent ringer switch, and a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack. A volume rocker sits on the left side, and a Micro-USB port on the right side. The latter no longer features a protective cover, which we think is a good thing since it was a bit cumbersome. Finally, the camera and flash are located on the back.
The Palm Pre 2 comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired stereo headset, and reference material.
Though the Palm Pre 2 doesn't reflect a lot of design changes, there are some nice improvements behind the scenes. The smartphone ships running WebOS 2.0, which brings a handful of enhancements to some of the operating system's already impressive functionality.
The first feature is called stacks. It expands on the awesome multitasking capabilities of WebOS by grouping together similar tasks in the deck-of-cards view. For example, a stack can consist of your e-mail inbox and a new message you are composing. 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 idea behind stacks is to help 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. We had at least a dozen cards open and didn't encounter any memory problems.
Another area of improvement is universal search, now called Just Type. You can simply start entering a search term and the phone will search through your contacts, e-mail, apps, the Web, Google Maps, Wikipedia, Twitter, and the Palm App Catalog.
But wait, there's more. The reason it's called Just Type is because you can also simply start typing a note, such as, "On my way to the movies," from anywhere in the phone's user interface and then use the menu of Quick Action functions to create a text message or an e-mail or post a Facebook status update with a single tap of a button. There are also quick action buttons for creating new calendar appointments, memos, and tasks, and this is open to third-party developers, so you can expect to see more in the future.
Developers will also have access to other WebOS features, including Synergy and Exhibition. Synergy is the existing contact, e-mail, and calendar system and syncing was limited to Microsoft Exchange, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and LinkedIn for a while. Now that third-party developers have access to Synergy, the list has already expanded to Skype, YouTube, and Photobucket.
We were able to link up our Exchange, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube accounts with no problem, as WebOS pulled in all the information from these accounts to the Pre 2. We also created new appointments both on a PC and on the phone, and the events synced on both sides.
Meanwhile, Exhibition is something that will come in handy for those with a Touchstone Charging Dock, as it will allow you to continue using apps or access information when the smartphone is placed in the dock. Unfortunately, we didn't receive a Touchstone dock with our review unit to test out Exhibition with, but a couple of examples provided by Hewlett-Packard and Palm were viewing a slideshow of your Facebook photos, stock, news, and sports tickers, and interacting with a virtual pet.
As a phone, the Palm Pre 2 offers a speakerphone, speed dial, conference calling, airplane mode, and text and multimedia messaging. Voice dialing still eludes WebOS, though. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS are all onboard, and the smartphone can be used as a mobile hot spot for up to five devices.
The hot-spot function will require Verizon's Mobile Broadband plan, which costs $20 per month and has a 2GB data cap (Verizon charges 5 cents per megabyte for overage fees). We connected the Pre 2 with our MacBook Pro and averaged download speeds of 1.06Mbps and upload speeds of 0.57Mbps, which was speedy enough to allow us to comfortably surf the Web.
The Pre 2 also ships with a number of personal information management and productivity apps, including Quickoffice for viewing Microsoft Office files, a PDF reader, a memo pad, a task list, an alarm clock, and a calculator, as well as Verizon's VZ Navigator GPS app. Of course, additional apps are available from the Palm App Catalog.
As for multimedia, the built-in media player supports MP3, AAC, AAC+, EAAC+, AMR, QCELP, and WAV music files and MPEG-4, H263, and H264 video formats. You can transfer music and video to your Pre 2 via USB cable and dragging and dropping your files onto the phone. In addition, you can download new music from your phone using the Amazon MP3 Store or check out YouTube videos with the dedicated app. The Pre 2 offers about 15GB of user-available storage, but be aware that there's no expansion slot.
Last but not least, there is the Pre 2's 5-megapixel camera. It offers an LED flash, video recording capabilities, and geotagging, but you can forget about any editing options. Fortunately, picture quality was pretty good. Photos came out sharp, and colors were mostly bright and rich, even when taken in low-light environments.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO Rev. A) Palm Pre 2 in New York using Verizon Wireless service, and call quality was OK. Overall, we thought the sound was clear, but we could hear some slight static during lulls in the conversation and voices could sound a bit muffled at times. On the other side, friends had mostly good things to say about the audio quality. There were a couple of mentions of some static, but they appeared to be isolated incidents and not enough cause to end a call.
Palm Pre 2 call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone quality was rather hollow, and there wasn't enough volume to hear callers in a louder environment. We had no problems pairing the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones and were able to make calls and listen to music with them.
We didn't experience any dropped calls during our review period, and we logged some good data speeds using Verizon's 3G EV-DO Rev. A network. CNET's full site loaded in 30 seconds, while the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN both loaded in 4 seconds. The Pre 2's Web browser now supports Flash Player 10.1 out the box. It took a few seconds to load, but the smartphone was able to play video correctly and without interruption.
The Pre 2 is powered by a 1GHz TI OMAP processor with 512MB RAM. General performance is certainly improved over previous versions of the Pre, as apps and menus launched slightly more quickly. Streaming media and game play was also smooth, and we didn't experience any crashes during our review period. However, there were still moments of sluggishness, with one instance where the delay was long enough to make us think the phone was frozen. Though the Pre 2 wasn't designed to compete with some of the higher-end smartphones, it does certainly make us wonder how much better the performance will be on the Pre 3, which will have a 1.4GHz Qualcomm processor.
The Palm Pre 2 ships with a 1,150mAh lithium ion battery and has a rated talk time of 5.5 hours and up to 14 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, we were able to get 6 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. In general, we were able to get a full day's use out of the battery before needing to recharge. According to FCC radiation tests, the Pre 2 has a digital SAR rating of 0.962W/kg and a Hearing Aid Compatibility rating of M4.
First off, it's been a while since we've had a WebOS device in for review, so it was really great to have one back in our hands. It reminded us how much we love the mobile operating system for its multitasking abilities, data management, and search functionality, and the new enhancements only make it better. That said, it's really a shame it took so long for the Palm Pre 2 to land with a U.S. carrier given that the HP Pre 3 is just a few months away.
Due out this summer, the Pre 3 brings a faster processor, a larger touch screen and keyboard, world roaming capabilities, and a front-facing camera, among other things. It's not just about specs, either; we were genuinely impressed by the Pre 3 when we got some hands-on time with it at the launch event and at Mobile World Congress. Sure, there's still uncertainty about carrier support, ship date, and pricing, but if you can afford to, we think it's worth waiting to see how the Pre 3 plays out. At the very least, the price of the Palm Pre 2 might drop by the time its successor comes to market.