HP Pre 3 Hardware Analysis

palm pre 3 hp webos HP's just-announced Pre 3 contains a notable list of improvements over its predecessors, as well as a list of notable "firsts" for a "Palm" device. Read on as we examine the nitty-gritty specs of this device and see how it compares to the competition and to its older WebOS stablemates.

The Pre 3 arrives with a 1.4Ghz "Snapdragon" 8x55 CPU, easily making it not only the fastest WebOS smartphone yet but also the highest-clocked single-core smartphone currently available or officially announced by any manufacturer. This definitely seem to be the most future-proof, cutting-edge aspect of this device, just like the TouchPad's 1.2 GHz dual-core CPU.

While no official reason for the lack of a dual-core processor in the Pre 2 was given, I would hazard a guess that WebOS 2.x, like Android 2.2, currently lacks the necessary optimizations for dual-core architecture. By necessity, HP's new WebOS smartphones are more legacy-oriented offerings than the new TouchPad, running WebOS 2.2 instead of 3.0. Therefore, a faster single-core CPU makes more sense in the short term, leaving the core-core parts to the heavier lifting done by the TouchPad and version 3.0 of WebOS. However, one thing that is certain is that the new HP-backed WebOS devices are going full speed ahead with Qualcomm Snapdragons and leaving the TI OMAP 3600-series processors behind.

While in no way a match for the 4"+ behemoths running various flavors of Android, the Pre 3 still gives WebOS fans cause for minor celebration. A WebOS device has finally broken through not only the 3.1" barrier but the 320x480 resolution ceiling as well. Pre 3 packs a 3.58" 480x800 screen atop an enlarged keyboard, somewhat mitigating nearly two years of small screen frustration by the WebOS faithful. This makes it the largest screen fitted to a "Palm" device since 2005's Palm TX. With its substantial boost in screen size, the Pre 3 finally eclipses the iPhone's LCD in size, though not in resolution. More significantly, HP has carved out a nice spot atop the rare portrait touchscreen smartphone pile, with the Pre 3 easily besting comparable devices such as the BlackBerry Torch (3.2") and the Droid Pro (3.1") in both pixel count and diagonal size.

HP is touting this enlarged keyboard as "the perfect balance of key size and roominess". The initial images posted by other sites from the HP event indicate that this keyboard is indeed wider with larger, more bulbous key caps than its predecessor. Seeing that Palm has made small but noticeable improvements to the keyboard in every minor iteration of the Pre line so far, this can only be a good thing. New smartphones packing physical keyboards are becoming something of a rarity in the Android world, so it is encouraging to see HP continuing Palm's trend and not abandoning this historical strength.

The Gesture area is still present, though this is one legacy WebOS feature that may be phased over the coming year as HP transitions to the gesture area-free WebOS 3.0 as seen on the TouchPad. With the Pre 3 looking dangerously close to being too tall and top-heavy with the slider extended, removing the gesture area as legacy apps are gradually updated to be TouchPad and WebOS 3.0-friendly seems like a natural move. Should HP choose to stick with the Pre line, this would create space for an enlarged screen without gaining any added bulk or sacrificing keyboard comfort, though it would likely require a change in aspect ratio.

Thankfully, a conventional microUSB and 3.5mm headphone jack are present on the Pre 3, unlike the risky new multifunction connector found on the Veer. While we will have to reserve judgment about the keyboard and build quality until a hands-on demo is performed, initial reports from individuals in attendance at today's event said that HP has definitely improved the slider and overall hardware quality by leaps and bounds over the previous Palm offerings.

hp palm pre 3 Finally, noise cancellation is a nice luxury on a modern smartphone, so the appearance of a 2nd rear microphone for noise suppression reasons is a small but welcome addition to the Pre 3.

On the video front, the device's camera retains the Pre2's 5mp sensor but how has an autofocus lens as another "Palm" first. This sorely-needed improvement may slow down the lightning-quick snaps of the previous Palm phones but it finally brings a WebOS to par with the competition, with the ability have various barcode-scanning and augmented reality apps as one major draw of the autofocus camera and its related APIs.

The Pre 3 also surprisingly is packing a front-facing VGA camera, still something of a rarity among modern smartphones, though it's unknown if its video calling capabilities will be restricted to wi-fi only. Digitally-stabilized, 720p HD-quality video capture is finally present, which is a nice boost considering that less than a year ago, the original Pre did not even have video recording capabilities until the WebOS 1.4 update.

World travelers will be glad to see that the Pre 3 is the first truly global WebOS device, with support for GSM HSPA+ as well as EVDO Rev. A. Previously, all of Palm's smartphone offerings were only offered in CDMA or GSM versions, with some past devices not available in the other format at all. This should simplify things for HP from a distribution standpoint as well as make the device more appealing to a wide variety of carriers. Right now, it looks like Sprint's relationship as a staunch Palm supporter is becoming a distant memory, with AT&T and Verizon anticipated as the likely domestic carrier partners for the Pre 3. This speculation is fueled not only by the support to Palm shown by AT&T and Verizon throughout 2010 and into 2011, but some now-removed HTML code found on HP's Pre 3 page, as discussed here.

Wi-fi, long a very sore spot with Palm's user base, has taken a giant leap foward with support added not just for 802.11n but for both the 2.4 and 5Ghz bands, rivaling the very latest offerings from rival manufacturers in this regard. With global WWAN and dual-band 802.11n, the Pre 3 will definitely not lack for connectivity options. An integrated compass makes a long-awaited appearance on a WebOS device, again opening the door for many new types of apps and added capabilities for existing ones. A compass is a nice surprise for the Pre 3, as some users have speculated that a compass could not co-exist alongside the Touchstone inductive charging capability.

USB 3.0 as well as Bluetooth 3.0 are only starting to trickle onto the PC market, so their absence here is nothing to fret over. HP has really taken a liking to the Touchstone concept and will naturally be pushing it on all three of the new devices announced today. The Pre 3 is expected to remain compatible with the existing, still-brilliant Touchstone dock, thankfully, with a new vertical-oriented Touchstone 2 dock for the Touchpad also on display today.

While the Pre 3 and its smaller WebOS siblings will not work on the TouchPad dock (and vice-versa), there is no inherent risk if a user accidentally places smartphone on a tablet dock. Presumably, the existing Touchstone docks will still work for charging and Exhibition mode while new location--aware intelligent docks may be required to unlock some of the more advanced capabilities HP is set on adding to dock mode. The Pre 3's next-gen Touchstone has capabilities to "tap to share" links, files, and even handle phone calls with a TouchPad. This looks to be a heavily-touted feature from HP, though like the stillborn Foleo concept from 2007 and RIM's upcoming Playbook tablet, users will be required to own both the smartphone and the larger device to achieve full functionality.

Judging from the initial consensus amongst the online Palm community, there are a handful of disappointments for the Pre 3, mostly centered around its configuration of storage and RAM. The Pre 3 is set to be offered in 8GB and 16GB versions, which is actually a step backwards from the Pre Plus and Pre 2, as those came only in 16GB form. No 32GB was mentioned during today's presentation and the trend of no expandable storage slot in WebOS devices continues. With the just-announced Veer in tow, the need for an 8GB Pre 3 seems questionable, though perhaps HP will only release this version in certain markets to reach a target price point. At any rate, with the iPhone 4G maxing out at 32GB and some Android devices now offering 32GB internally + 32GB via microSDHC, Palm's flagship smartphone will ring in halfway through 2011 with the same level of internal storage as the Pre Plus had in January of 2010. That's a definite (and deliberate) lack of progress, folks.

Device RAM is still stuck at 512mb, which was superb a year ago in the Pre Plus, but now is only mediocre, with competitors now on the market or arriving soon touting 768mb or even 1GB. With WebOS' multitasking prowess alongside the additional pixels to push around, the Pre 3's 512Mb could become an Achilles heel of the device as the dreaded "Too Many Cards" error appearing more frequently or some 3D games having reduced performance.

Another long-time complaint of the existing WebOS devices has been the 1150mAh battery, a feeble carryover part from Palm's corporate parts bin that has lasted from the Centro in 2007 all the way to the Pre 2. The good news is that the Pre 3 boats an enlarged battery capacity from its predecessors. The bad news is that this is a minuscule 80mAh bump up to 1230mAh. While as yet unconfirmed, this is likely the same physical size battery as seen on the previous WebOS devices, the Centro, and the last two Treos, albeit with a minor capacity bump. Higher-capacity replacement solutions have been available for years now, so a higher-capacity OEM-size aftermarket battery may still be a possibility down the road.

With the substantially faster processor, and larger high-resolution screen, it's entirely possible that the Pre 3's battery life could be worse than the its older siblings, especially when the Snapdragon's GPU starts pushing polygons around in 3D games. HP has not made any statements on expected battery runtime for this device, so there is the ray of hope that a more modern, energy-efficient Snapdragon CPU (past versions of this CPU have been known to be relatively power-hungry) combined with improved power management routines and the CPU throttling inherent in WebOS 2.0 has been further refined and will alleviate some of these concerns. Right now, this is an area to watch as it may become a giant issue in real-world usage scenarios.

Pricing, as always, remains up in the air, though I do not see how this device can possibly hit the market any higher than $100 to $150 on a 2year contract. With the near-universal price ceiling of $199 in effect across all of the major carriers, subsidized hardware cost has become something of a moot point in comparison to ever-increasing data service charges. HP could attempt to stir the waters a bit by continuing the tactic begun with the Pre 2 by offering the Pre 3 initial in unlocked GSM form prior to a subsidized, carrier-supported version or even undercutting the competition with full retail pricing on the CDMA version, hopefully picking up some sales to users who are still under contract and not eligible for promotional pricing on a new handset.

HP is being vague on the Pre 3's release date, only suggesting "planned availability this summer" on their website and press releases. This is the single most worrying aspect of this device, as my comments below indicate.

With the majority of the industry's upcoming smartphones moving towards dual-core processor offerings, it will be interesting to see if HP and Qualcomm act like Intel circa 2004 and continue to ratchet up their CPUs to increasingly higher frequencies. Or the Pre 3 may very likely be the fourth and final "perfected" iteration of what is essentially the same form factor launched over two years ago at CES 2009. If that is the case, then expect HP's next smartphone release to be be a major rethink of both hardware specifications and industrial design.

While all of the Pre 3's specs are quite solid, especially the CPU when compared to the rest of HP's lineup, it make a nice higher-midrange device only when viewed against the currently available competition. If the device indeed does not hit the market until later in the summer, a flood of Android 2.3 or 2.4-powered devices (many with 4G LTE or WiMax support in tow) will be clogging store shelves alongside Apple's annual iPhone refresh, with various and sundry new BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7 handsets picking up the scraps not gobbled up by Android or iOS devices.

Four to six months is an eternity in the smartphone industry. It was in 2009 and it certainly is so in 20011. PIC readers can certainly remember the interminable wait between the original Pre's announcement and its eventual arrival on Sprint five long months later. Fast-forward two years and the smartphone industry has become only faster-moving and more cutthroat, with early summer being a time for blockbuster smartphone releases out of a certain Cupertino-based company. While weak specs, dwindling developer support or disinterested carrier partners are always points of concern, I don't see these factors as the major roadblocks facing the Pre 3. Once again, despite the presence of HP, the same old delays between announcement and market availability may again prove to be the biggest hurdle for a new generation of Pre to overcome.

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Hopefully the apps will be there.

Tuckermaclain @ 2/10/2011 12:53:18 PM # Q
The Palm OS phones had some pretty nice apps making most of the Android apps look a bit like Hacks (in the Palm sense, not the crappy sense). If there are some workable apps when my Evo lock-in is up I'll be back to give it a try. Always a sucker for a Palm device.
RE: Hopefully the apps will be there.
jca666us @ 2/10/2011 4:30:45 PM # M Q
Keep hoping.
RE: Hopefully the apps will be there.
Gekko @ 2/10/2011 4:39:58 PM # Q

hope is not a strategy.

RE: Hopefully the apps will be there.
StrawMan @ 2/11/2011 3:16:37 AM # Q
"hope is not a strategy."

But continual disappointment is... and they have mastered that well.

Reply to this comment

I personally would have used Nvidia's Tegra

HellcatM @ 2/10/2011 1:46:05 PM # Q
Snapdragon is ok but you get good graphics and processor with Tegra, plus from what I read its better with power management.

We'll see what happens. I'm rooting for Palm, I like them and WebOS is pretty cool!

RE: I personally would have used Nvidia's Tegra
hkklife @ 2/10/2011 1:51:54 PM # Q
I agree, Tegra 2 is a beast and will be the reference platform for Google's Honeycomb platform. But sadly, HP saw fit to continue the trend of penny-pinching that Palm began long ago. Why root for a dead company? It's HP now, not Palm. WebOS would be even "cooler" if it was made available for older devices as promises. HP looks set to have major fragmentation for the platform:

legacy devices topping out at WebOS 1.4.5
Pre 2, 3, and Veer on 2.x (presumably updated to 3.x in the future but carrying around that useless gesture area in the future).
Right now, the only WebOS devices truly worth purchasing is the TouchPad. Like Android Honeycomb, the next generation of WebOS is being spearheaded by tablets, not smartphones.
Pilot 1000->Pilot 5000->PalmPilot Pro->IIIe->Vx->m505->T|T->T|T2->T|C->T|T3->T|T5->Zodiac 2->TX->Verizon Treo 700P->Verizon Treo 755p->Verizon Moto Droid + Verizon Palm Centro-> Verizon Moto Droid X + Palm TX

RE: I personally would have used Nvidia's Tegra
Gekko @ 2/10/2011 2:31:41 PM # Q

doesn't matter. sales would still be anemic.

RE: I personally would have used Nvidia's Tegra
mikecane @ 2/10/2011 5:16:48 PM # Q
Eh. The flavor of the past moment, the made by India Notion Ink Adam uses a Tegra 2. Where's the huge sales? Where's the big hype after the initial ga-ga reaction over the Pixel Qi screen? It's going nowhere despite having Android, despite having many things other tablets don't have. Having a CPU that's gained favorable PR is meaningless. It's the damn apps that count and how snappy they are.
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The Pre 3 Looks Nice, But...

bhartman34 @ 2/10/2011 6:55:58 PM # Q
....where's the apps?

Unless there is a serious app infusion from the switch to Enyo, I don't see the Pre 3 competing well. And if the plan is to fragment WebOS between the large and small screens...well, that's the kiss of death.

It looks to me like HP is banking on people developing for the TouchPad and Enyo. If they get a slew of developers doing that, and the TouchPad can make phone calls, maybe I'll get that, when it's released. Otherwise, I'm going Android.

RE: The Pre 3 Looks Nice, But...
Gekko @ 2/10/2011 6:58:52 PM # Q

only a real dumb ass would buy any of these 3 products.

RE: The Pre 3 Looks Nice, But...
hkklife @ 2/10/2011 7:08:42 PM # Q
Apparently the TouchPad doesn't make phone calls in the conventional, stand-alone sense. Rather, it "handles" calls forwarded to it by a compatible WebOS smartphone.

Between the Mojo to Enyo changeover and the abandonment of all the legacy WebOS devices, I see the hobbyist and smalltime developers leaving WebOS in droves, with a few "big names" sticking around for at least at year or so after the TouchPad/WebOS 3 rollout.

So basically we have to develop for:

-Legacy WebOS phones on 1.4.5 w/ 320x400 or 320x480

-The "bridge" WebOS phones on WebOS 2.x w/ gesture area and 320x400, 320x480, and 480x800 running BOTH Mojo and Enyo natively (!?!) Presumably these will eventually be updated to 3.x as well

-The TouchPad on 3.x with no gesture area and 1024x768, running both Enyo native apps and Mojo stuff in emulation with onscreen buttons etc.

-Future new WebOS smartphone hardware running WebOS 3.x out of the box with no gesture area and a probable wide array of resolutions

Sounds like a near Android-size mess in the making but without the Android-size hardware options or market momentum.
Pilot 1000->Pilot 5000->PalmPilot Pro->IIIe->Vx->m505->T|T->T|T2->T|C->T|T3->T|T5->Zodiac 2->TX->Verizon Treo 700P->Verizon Treo 755p->Verizon Moto Droid + Verizon Palm Centro-> Verizon Moto Droid X + Palm TX

RE: The Pre 3 Looks Nice, But...
bhartman34 @ 2/10/2011 7:31:12 PM # Q
Gekko wrote:

only a real dumb ass would buy any of these 3 products.

I actually don't think the phone's that bad. If your needs are small (in terms of apps) the WebOS UI is nice, and it's a perfectly serviceable phone. Hell, my original Pre is a perfectly serviceable phone, if you're not that into apps. Trouble is, I'm looking with envy at the Android world. The Pre 3's size is adequate, but the app catalog is too sparse for my desires right now.

If a sudden plethora of apps hits the TouchPad or Pre 3, that might be enough to keep me on, but I'm not optimistic at all. Palm screwed up the marketing of the Pre too much, and the subsequent handsets never recovered.

RE: The Pre 3 Looks Nice, But...
ssid12 @ 2/11/2011 6:00:45 AM # Q
Hkklife, in theory it should be easier for developers to work in the Enyo environment as the software will be "resolution agnostic". For me that is a big step in the right direction. While the Pre3 and Veer are being released with WebOS 2.0 they will all move on to 3.0. Going forward there is only one platform to work on and that is Enyo. Mojo will be phased out very rapidly.

While I agree that it is tough on the early adopters who bought a Pixi or the original Pre as with most modern phones I think it is unrealistic to think that these phones will be supported forever. I had an iphone 3G and it of course does not have all the features of the current iphone4. When the next iphone comes out I doubt very much that I will get a software update.

If you want to talk fragmentation you should buy an Android phone. I am using a Samsung Galaxy S and am very frustrated with the pace of Android updates and some of the software is buggy and battery draining as hell....

In terms of specs/form factor the Pre3 is in the ballpark for me, I am a big fan of webOS but my concerns were about the limited software availability. The big test will be HPs ability to get devs onboard and given how hard they are pushing in that direction I think they can pull it off.

RE: The Pre 3 Looks Nice, But...
LiveFaith @ 2/11/2011 6:28:52 AM # Q
... oops (use of bad character) here's the full story ...

Nacho dumps a ladle full of refried slop in a monks bowl ...

monk: There is no flavor

Nacho: Enjoy it my brother

monk: Where are the cheeeps?

Nacho: Someone stole them

monk: Did you not tell them, they were the Lord's cheeeps?

Nacho: (getting upset) I tried but, uhhh ...

Head monk nearby: (Interrupts argument) Silence brothers! (short pause) Theeese is the worst lunch I have ever had.

monk: Do you not know that I have had diarrhea since Eashters?

Nacho: (slamming bowl on table) maybe I am not cut out for these duties?

Nacho: (runs out)

** Anybody around here see the parallels? **

or this tells it more directly ... :-)

(warning: crude language)
Pat Horne

RE: The Pre 3 Looks Nice, But...
rpa @ 2/11/2011 5:19:48 PM # Q
bhartman34: I have an iPhone4 and hardly use any apps....maybe I am an exception but the 300,000 or so apps on iTunes is a pain to wade thru. I would be tempted to get a Veer as a back up phone if unlocked and the price is right as apps aren't important at all to me. A good phone with PDA functions suits me fine and the iP4 syncs with my MacBook Pro well enough.
RE: The Pre 3 Looks Nice, But...
bhartman34 @ 2/12/2011 8:31:48 PM # Q

My stepfather has an iPhone (although he has the 3G), and he hardly uses any apps, either. I don't think that's all that uncommon. I have a lot of apps installed on my Pre, and the majority I probably don't use, but there are some I find handy. And the thing that bothers me about the current state of WebOS is that there are some apps from the PalmOS days that I used a lot that never made the jump to WebOS (e.g., HanDBase, eWallet, and an editable Docs To Go). And it just seems like every time I turn around, I see different media orgs launching an app specifically for either iOS or Android, with WebOS nowhere to be seen. Hell, even Dominos has an iOS app now. It just gets a little frustrating to be left behind in the event that I'd want to run an app.

That said, there are things I like about WebOS (the multitasking, Synergy, the card metaphor) that I'll miss, so I'll probably at least wait to see in July if HP has made any headway, but I think the hardware and app advantages of Android are getting pretty formidable.

RE: The Pre 3 Looks Nice, But...
rb @ 2/12/2011 8:32:46 PM # M Q
I may consider the new Pre if Sprint sells it because I'm a Loyal Sprint customer! There's no way I'll go to AT&T or Verizon for any new phone!
RE: The Pre 3 Looks Nice, But...
bhartman34 @ 2/12/2011 8:44:06 PM # Q
Well, there are lots of Sprint phones. :) But I want to see the Pre 3 in hand. If it's considerably larger, that might be a good thing. :)
RE: The Pre 3 Looks Nice, But...
nastebu @ 2/13/2011 10:03:04 AM # Q
It's not the quantity of apps you use, or even, quite the quality. It's the specificity. What makes hundreds of thousands of apps impressive is not that everyone uses a lot of them, but that everyone can find exactly what they need.

My wife has an iPhone and uses maybe three apps regularly, a Japanese dictionary, an English dictionary and a conversion calculator. In getting these three, she had a wide range of choices of different, but similar, apps, each aimed at a slightly different audience. The result is she got (and paid quite a bit for) three apps that meet her needs close to perfectly.

RE: The Pre 3 Looks Nice, But...
bhartman34 @ 2/13/2011 1:00:42 PM # Q
That's a good point. I can think of a half dozen apps that if WebOS had them, I'd be pretty happy. And they're nothing fancy, either. It's just the fact that they're available on Android and iOS that kind of annoys me. WebOS needs to catch up if it's going to be successful. But I probably won't be waiting that long, barring something surprising happening.
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Will the new webOS devices have quality HARDWARE?

Fake Jeff Hawkins @ 4/3/2011 7:34:35 PM # Q
Show me a Pre 3 with hardware as good as the iPhone 4 or else go home, HP.

This is webOS' last gasp and it would be a shame to see it sabotaged YET AGAIN with third rate, plasticky, fragile hardware.

If these devices fail I'll probably buy a Veer on closeout for $50 and keep it as a momento of my 15 year of Palm devices...


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