The keyboard, for instance, is exceedingly cramped, and we found ourselves longing for a virtual counterpart
on more than one occasion. The buttons themselves, though delightfully sticky, lacked any appreciable travel or impact, making the learning curve for touch typists quite steep. In fact, we found ourselves surprised at how little room we had for two thumbs -- though the Veer 4G's keyboard is markedly smaller, this one's not large enough to make a noticeable impact in comfort or precision. Palm aficionados probably won't mind, but those coming over from a BlackBerry or one of the many virtual options could easily find themselves in a displeasing situation.
It's not all bad news, though. The rounded, soft-textured back is lovely to hold, and it manages to both stick firmly whilst in-hand while sliding effortlessly out of one's pocket. It's the best of both worlds. The rear casing, however, proved to be quite the bear when time came for removal -- thankfully, you probably won't be tasked with such a thing too often after the initial SIM insertion is complete. The conventional micro-USB socket was a welcome change from the Veer's magnetic abomination, and the stock 3.5mm headphone jack was well-positioned for everyday listening. It's worth noting, however, that HP doesn't toss in any earbuds, so it's on you to provide the missing link.
Much like that of the Pre 2, the edges here are curvaceous and clean, with a solid volume rocker, mute switch and power button rounding things out. Around back, there's an absolutely lackluster 5 megapixel camera (which manages 720p movie captures), an LED flash, a chromed HP logo, a non
-chromed AT&T moniker and a rear speaker for alerts and ringtones. The WVGA capacitive touchpanel is flanked by a gesture area below it, which allows folks to swipe to and fro within webOS -- again, just like the Veer 4G and Pre 2 before it.
All things considered, the Pre 3 is a joy to hold and touch, and it's equipped with a subtle flair that makes it darn near impossible to leave alone for any extended period of time. Perhaps it's the gliding mechanism that brings the keyboard to life, or maybe it's the desire to see webOS on a smartphone panel with a respectable resolution. In a way, we wish the Pre 3 were slimmer, longer and wider -- if only to provide a marginally bigger screen and a substantially larger keyboard. HP stuck to its guns here by just barely polishing the Pre 2's form factor, and in a world dominated by sleekness, churning out a third (or fourth, if you toss in the Veer) pebble while attempting to grab even a sliver of market share never did feel like the best approach.
Display / audio / connectivity
Let's go ahead and get this out of the way: the 3.6-inch WVGA touchpanel is the best display yet on a Pre. Colors pop from edge to edge, viewing angles are on par with any Super AMOLED Plus display we've seen and sharpness is superb. Granted, cramming an 800 x 480 pixel matrix onto a display this diminutive amps up the pixel density, but still -- there's no bad-mouthin' this guy. The touch sensitivity was largely on point, though we did encounter a few instances where presses were visually recognized, but didn't actually do
anything. Hard to imagine that a 1.4GHz Snapdragon isn't powerful enough to manage webOS, but we definitely had to re-tap commands on a higher-than-average basis.
The gesture area beneath the panel is the same as it ever was, though we did notice a bit of insensitivity at times. We also couldn't help but longing for a button or two on each side of the middle gesture area -- sure, we're spoiled by the home, menu, search and back buttons that have become commonplace on Android handsets, but keeping up with the Joneses should probably apply to more than just lake houses and motorcars. We also found it frustrating that we couldn't activate the display with a long-press on the gesture pad; reaching for the power button is awkward at best (the location, that is), and sliding the keyboard out wasn't always preferred.
Audio-wise, the Pre 3 measured up to any other modern day smartphone in terms of ease-of-use and sound quality. Mercifully, there's a 3.5mm headphone jack right up top (hear that, Veer?), and while audiophiles won't get Cowon
-like precision here, the average city commuter will be more than happy with the volume range and overall output. It's also worth pointing out that the built-in external speaker on the Pre 3 is well above average, making a quick YouTube showing a pleasant experience for all involved -- even aurally.
We had no qualms whatsoever connecting to local WiFi networks, but we can't help but point this out -- webOS should allow you to search for and connect to a network right away, before setup truly begins. Instead, you're forced to get your SIM settings situated before your phone will fully load webOS, which is completely unnecessary. Enabling a WiFi connection right off the bat would hasten that whole process, anyway. Neither here nor there at this point, but still -- seems an obvious oversight.
As for AT&T service? Solid, if you can believe it. We roamed around our usual haunts to test out both data and voice services, and the phone had no issues whatsoever with either. Snagging an HSPA+ signal was a breeze, and while pages didn't render quite
as quickly in webOS as they do in Safari or on our Galaxy S II, it was brisk enough that all but the sticklers in attendance wouldn't notice. Voice quality was particularly fantastic, with the earpiece speaker being astonishingly loud while maintaining clarity and keeping distortion to a minimum. We also have to give Palm props for nailing the call design -- after months of using gargantuan Android phones, having something like this makes us remember when phones actually fit upside your head. The Pre 3 is totally anti-Sidetalkin', and if we didn't have to rely on an undersized keyboard, we'd be strangely okay with that.
The 5 megapixel camera on the rear of the Pre 3 is perhaps the most shameful part of the whole ordeal. Much like the Veer 4G, the camera here is just outright lousy. Colors are lifeless, bokeh isn't even in the dictionary and grain is impossible to avoid. It's good for capturing splotches of hues that vaguely remind you of something you did in your life -- other than that, it's totally forgettable.