Review: AT&T HP Veer 198
The Veer '4G' is a good thing in a really small package
When the original Palm Pixi debuted on Sprint, we fell in love with the form factor and were then immediately turned off by nearly everything inside the phone. While Palm was able to fix it a bit by adding Wi-Fi to the Pixi Plus, the little webOS phone that could have been never really lived up to its potential. Fast-forward a year and a half to today and we now have the HP Veer. It's coming first to AT&T (and branded as the Veer 4G, thanks to AT&T's ever-changing definition of what constitutes '4G') on May 15th and so far it looks like it'll be exclusive to that network. The Veer packs the guts of a powerful smartphone in an incredibly small and attractive package.
The Veer is the first truly new phone out of the Palm camp in Sunnyvale since the Pixi. The Pre Plus and Pre 2 iterated on the design of the original Pre, and the Pixi Plus added Wi-Fi, but at their cores they were still the same phone, just better. The Veer is a new design for HP, and a departure from the modern trend of larger and larger phones. In fact, there’s going to be some interesting competition when the Veer debuts on AT&T, as the Samsung Infuse 4G with its mammoth 4.5-inch screen will be going on sale the same day on the same network.
The Veer is a small portrait slider phone, available in black and white (our review unit, as you can see, was white). The front of the phone is filled by a a 2.63-inch 320x400 18-bit color capacitive touchscreen – exactly the same size and resolution as the Pixi. Coming from the 24-bit screen on the Pre, the color depth drop on the Veer is noticeable (you end up seeing more gradient lines). Unlike the plastic Pixi, the Veer is faced with chemically-hardened Gorilla Glass - a welcome and more durable change. Under the screen is the gesture area and an LED light strip that lights up to confirm your gestures and give you notifications when the screen is off. Above the screen are the proximity and ambient light sensors (hidden behind the glass) and a small slit for the phone speaker. Unlike the Pre 2 (the first of the glass-faced webOS devices), the soft-touch plastic body curves in to meet the edge of the glass around the front, restoring the “river stone” feel of the original Pre phones.
Around back the Veer takes an even more minimalist approach than its predecessors. The Palm logo inlayed into the soft touch material is gone, replaced by a silk-screened HP logo. A new addition is the AT&T logo further down on the back instead getting engraved on the slider mirror. Speaker and camera have been co-located in the top left corner. A secondary noise-cancelling microphone has also found a home in this corner, housed under the dotted grille with the speaker. The speaker is surprisingly loud and clear for its size, and only distorts when things get awfully loud. It’s not going to replace your stereo system at your next party, but you’re not going to have strain to use it as a speakerphone or as a quick music player in a hotel or at your desk. Noticably absent from the rear of the phone is a flash for the 5mp camera.
The Veer is the first webOS phone that does not have a removable battery, as such the Veer is the first webOS phone that does not have a removable back. This was the first of several concessions made to make the Veer as small as it is. The Veer is at least fully Touchstone-compatible, and apparently has the hardware to make it Touch-to-Share compatible with an eventual software update. Seeing as you need a TouchPad tablet also to take advantage of the Touch-to-Share capabilities anyway, it’s not a huge deal that it’s missing right now. Come this summer when the TouchPad is released, it’ll be a bigger deal.
We received a white Veer as a review unit, and to be honest, I was a little put off by the press images released for the white version of the phone. It seemed almost like a riverstone-shaped panda. Thankfully, that’s not so much the case in person. The soft touch body is more of an eggshell white than pure white, and while the glass front is still black, all of the accents around the phone actually are not. The exterior buttons are all smoked chrome, the speaker grille and ring around the camera lens cover are metal gray, and the charging port on the side is a nice dark gray. In fact, the only black on the outside of the phone (when closed) is the SIM slot cover and the interior of the lanyard loop slot.
The placement of all the buttons will be familiar to any webOS user: volume rocker high on the left, ringer switch top and right of center, and the power button on the top right corner. As mentioned previously, all are shiny dark chrome, and as you might expect on a phone of this size, all are small. Unlike on its bigger webOS cousins, the Veer’s buttons deliberately stick up from the surface with defined edges all around. This makes them much easier to find and press, and when you do so there’s a nice satisfying click. While the power button’s placement does wrap up around the corner a bit, the travel direction is mostly from the side. As a Pre user, that takes some getting used to, but it works quite well with the way the Veer falls into the hand (or at least this blogger’s hand).
Custom Charging Port
Wrapping up this exterior tour is the contentious charging port. Unlike the big brothers Pre and Pixi, the Veer does not have a micro-USB charging port, nor does it have a 3.5 mm headphone jack. HP argued that the body of the Veer was simply too small to fit all of the bits needed for those ports. It's a little difficult for us to see why a micro-USB port wouldn’t have been able to be fitted into the Veer, but we can definitely see where the headphone jack could have pushed HP in the direction of this unique port. For the record, a micro-USB plug measures in a t 1.8 mm thick in comparison to the 3.5 mm needed for the headphone jack, which also includes bulky (for a small phone) bits like springs.
HP’s solution was a magnetic connector system that is both genius and frustrating. To connect to a USB charger or computer, the Veer is shipped with a five-foot cable with a male USB plug on one end and the magnetic adapter on the other. The concept is reminiscent of the MagSafe design used on Apple laptops: there is a row of five pins flanked by two magnets on the cable, with a matching five contact points and magnet-attracting ferrous plates on either side on the phone. The connectors start to attract each other at about a centimeter apart, at which point they latch together. Like with previous Palm cables, the Veer’s USB cable has a silver circle on the top side to help you keep it oriented, as well as a large shaped cowl to ensure that it connects in the proper orientation. The cowl actually makes it impossible to get a connection with the cable upside down, though the magnets will still pull themselves towards the contact plates.
The headphone adapter users the same magnetic connection system, attaching this bulky growth of an adapter to the side of the phone. The size of the adapter wouldn’t be so galling if the Veer itself weren’t so small (in which case it wouldn’t need the adapter), but it’s a penalty we have to pay for still relying on old fashioned connections like the 3.5 mm TRRS system (first patented more than a century ago). The adapter snaps onto the side of the Veer with an even larger cowl than the USB cable, this time wrapping up around the front of the device. This design places the port itself up towards the front, which we suppose was a design concession to make the adapter as low profile as possible; by placing the port further forward than the pin connection, they were able to orient the internals along the device instead of massing them perpendicularly. It also smoothes out the back side a bit, but it’s still very obvious when in hand.
As with the charging cable, the cowl on the headphone adapter ensures that it only attaches in one direction, and that direction is with the cable pointed down. It wasn’t immediately obvious at Think Beyond when we first saw the adapter, but now that we’ve got our hands on it and can plug a pair of headphones into it, we can say that it’s a pain. Those that type on their phones with their left hands will have significant difficulty with the adapter, as it and the base of the cable will run along the side of the keyboard where your middle and ring fingers grip the phone, and your pinky has to content with the cable itself. Right hand typers will have to deal with needing to maintain a loose grip on the Veer with a headphone adapter, as the pressure point against your palm becomes the base of the cable, which lifts the adapter up off the phone. If you’re using the headphone adapter, you’re going to want to use both hands to type, as that gets the adapter and cable away from any pressure points. If you were to ask us, just having the adapter point up would have solved all the problems discussed in this paragraph. Alas, the only way it’s going to happen is if somebody builds one that points north.
The headphone adapter isn’t all bad. The magnets are strong enough that it will take a good bit of force for the phone and adapter to separate, but not too much force. In fact, we’d say it’s right on par with the magnetic attraction you get from an Apple MagSafe connector. The Veer will hang off the adapter or cable by itself, but a sudden forceful pull will separate them, as will deliberate force. The best way to remove both is actually by angling them back. The headphone adapter is at least smart enough to play dumb: it acts just as if it were the headphone port itself. When attached without headphones plugged in, audio plays through the speakers. If removed with headphones plugged in, the audio pauses, just as if you’d unplugged the headphones alone.
Speaking of plugging in the headphones, the adapter was incredibly tight. We don’t know if that’s indicative of all the headphone adapters that will ship with the Veer, but we actually found it difficult to plug headphones in with the adapter on the phone (partly due to the fact that we were trying to plug in along the side of the phone instead of jacking straight in).
That’s nearly a thousand words on two magnets and five pin connections, but we haven’t touched on the worst part of the cable and adapter: third party compatibility. We don’t know if HP is planning to license out the magnetic connector to accessory makers, but you can kiss goodbye use of all your micro-USB cables. Additionally, if you’re ever out on the road, you better make sure you bring your Veer charging cable, because nothing your friends or family own is going to charge the Veer (unless they happen to have a Veer themselves, or a Touchstone). We wouldn't have spit on a third adapter that accepted microUSB-in for charging, either.
Case manufacturers are also going to have a heck of a time with the port. The way that the headphone adapter wraps around the front of the Veer will all but prevent snap on cases from protecting the entire right side of the top half of the phone, and will at the same time require a cut-out all the way down to the back side of the Veer to accommodate the rest of the cowl.
More than any other feature of the Veer, we can see this magnetic port being a massive deal breaker as soon as it’s explained to a potential buyer. Yes, it’s a concession made so that the Veer could be as small as it is and still maintain it’s smooth river stone shape, but it’s a massive concession that could in the long term greatly impact usability. In a world where smartphones are trending more and more towards universally-compatible connections like micro-USB, the Veer stands out like an Apple Dock Connector.
In short, if you’re considering getting an HP Veer, you should also give serious consideration to a Touchstone charger or two - Touchstone compatibility goes a very long way towards alleviating the adapter headaches. Of course, you’ll also have to get fitting micro-USB cables to go with those if you don’t have them already, as the Veer’s cable won’t work. You might also want to consider a set of Bluetooth headphones, though those two will likely require a micro-USB charger, so you’re stuck with two cables again.
Enough on the magnetic port, let’s talk keyboard. The Veer is small, and by extension, the Veer’s keyboard is small. In fact, it’s a whole row narrower than the Pre’s keyboard, but yet still has just as many keys. In fact, the Veer’s keyboard is almost exactly like a Pre keyboard that was squished in from the sides and the top and bottom: it maintains the same layout and almost the same curve, but everything’s just a touch smaller. And like anything squished from four sides, it rose vertically, giving the keys a very nice hump compared to the flatter keys of the Pre and Pixi. The taller humps make the keys quite usable, though we found ourselves using our fingertips and nails more of than we would have with larger phones. It’s also a side effect of the small size of the keyboard – it forces your thumbs to attack it from a higher angle, which is beneficial given the size of the keys.
The keyboard itself is surprisingly usable - as with the Pixi, the keys have a pronounced 'click' when you hit them and we found ourselves getting used to the size very quickly. Doubters should definitely give the Veer keyboard a chance - it's really good.
The edge of the slider is just as sharp as ever, and we care just as little as we did before. No reasonable typing style puts the sharp edge of the keyboard into your palm, and deliberately attempting to do so makes it impossible to actually type like a human.
On the inside of the slider is the main phone microphone. If you’re concerned about it being on the inside of the slider, don’t be. In our testing callers reported no discernable difference between having the slider open or closed (though having a finger over the rear speaker grille where the secondary noise cancelling microphone did cause some issues). In fact, callers reported that we sounded quite good, which we can attribute to being on AT&T’s 3G network. While it may not always be the most reliable network, it is fast and 3G calls sound great on it.
On the back side of the top half of the slider is a familiar sight to any Pre-owner: a mirror. Unlike on the Pre, however, this mirror is flat, and though smaller, delivers a nice clear and undistorted reflection. It’s good for more than just signaling planes overhead that you’re lost and can’t find a compatible charger cable. The slider itself has a slight curve, though it’s nowhere near as pronounced as the current Pre series phones. The curve isn’t as pronounced on the upcoming Pre 3 either, for that matter. Action on the slider is quite solid, with only minimal wiggle present on our review unit, and what wiggle was there required considerable force and happened without the loud clacking of the Pre. While this is just one phone, we’re hopeful that Palm’s slider quality troubles will be behind them as they finally move away from the Pre-series chassis.
You’ll want to use that slider when on calls. While having it open has no effect on the quality of the audio itself (though the microphone is moved a whole inch closer to your yapper), it does make the Veer significantly easier to hold. It’s actually a little awkward to use the Veer as a phone when closed, as I instinctively wanted to try and angle the phone so it was aligned between my ear and mouth, which led to wrist and elbow origami.
And that gets down to the final point on the hardware. It’s tiny. All these compromises are to get down to a stupendously small phone. In this time of smartphones that are bordering on tablet-sized, the Veer takes us in a new direction: smaller. And despite the small size, there’s not a lot of skimping on the specs. The Veer contains a speedy 800MHz Qualcomm MSM7230 processor that was able to handle everything we could throw at it, thanks to the assistance of 512MB of RAM (the same as the Pre Plus and Pre 2). The Veer does disappoint a touch with only 8GB available for storage, but in reality HP’s target customer for the Veer isn’t going to be using most of that, though heavy users like myself who sometimes lust after a smaller phone would certainly like more. And no, it’s not user expandable.
The Veer measures a scant 54.5mm across, 84mm from top-to-bottom when closed, and is just 15.1mm thick. And at 103 grams, it’s 10% heavier than the Pixi, but we suspect that the Gorilla Glass accounts for a large portion of that weight and it's a tradeoff we're happy to make.
It keeps coming up because it's true: the Veer is sit-and-gape-at-it-over-and-over-again small. Don't worry about the small size. Even with so much more packed inside, we can tell you assuredly: it’s all muscle.
The camera itself is a fixed-focus 5 megapixel shooter with “enhanced depth of field” technology, which really is just a way of trying to make up for the lack of autofocus by digitialy-sharpening and enhancing photos taken on the Veer. Unfortunately, there’s no way to turn of this EDF tech, but by and large it produces satisfactory results. We’d prefer an autofocus camera to take sharper photos and video, but here we are again talking about concessions made for the tiny package.
A concession for size we’re at a loss to explain, however, is the complete omission of a camera flash on the Veer. All Pre and Pixi phones have had a camera flash, and almost every modern smartphone has a camera flash these days. A single LED and a clear lens don’t take up that much room, and most smartphone users aren’t expecting DSLR-level miracles out a camera flash. I’m going to try to not harp on this too much, but it’s just strange that the design team couldn’t find room for a little LED somewhere on the back of this phone.
Quality-wise (flash aside), the Veer’s camera is mostly comparable to the Pre 2. In fact, on close inspection they appear to be exactly the same (at least from the outside). Photos are still bright and colorful, but due to the EDF processing, some detail gets lost when you zoom way in. Pictures on the Veer are taken at 2592x1952, while video is recorded at 640x480. Video is okay as long as your lighting is good. If it’s not, it’s not going to look so good. The camera has basic automatic white balancing, which is not so great for recording videos that are dark but have a bright subject. Things get a bit washed out and colors blown out of contrast.
Even though the Veer has two microphones (one in the front at the bottom of the keyboard and the other hidden inside the rear speaker grill for phone noise cancelling), it only uses one for audio recording. You might think that since generally what you’re trying to record will be somewhere in the range of the camera that’s on the back of the Veer, the phone might switch to the rear microphone for picking up audio. Nay, it does not; the front microphone is used for your video recordings. That’s not to say that the front microphone doesn’t do a bad job of picking up audio from the other side, you just have to be sure that you don’t cover up the pinhole if you’re recording with the keyboard out (which we wouldn’t argue against, as the extended position adds some much needed stability to the small recording platform).
As has been said many times, especially since the camera phone revolution, the best camera is the one you have with you. While the Veer’s camera isn’t the best smartphone camera out there, and it certainly can’t compare to any but the absolute cheapest consumer cameras, it’s still not a bad camera. It’s not fantastic, but it’s okay.
There’s really only one complaint we have with the camera (excepting an almost-always-useless-but-we’d-still-like-to-have-one flash), and it might be a holdover from all the time we’ve spent with Pre phones: the flush-with-the-back placement makes it far too easy to lay your finger on the plastic lens cover, leaving behind a photo-ruining fingerprint in the process. It’s something we’re just going to have to get used to with the Veer.
The Veer ships with webOS 2.1.2, a minor point bump over the version of webOS available to unlocked Pre 2 phones and some European Pre Plus owners. Right when we pulled the Veer out of the box it was wanting to download the latest App Catalog update to enable promo codes and carrier billing. We couldn’t find an notable differences between this version of webOS 2.1 and that on the Pre 2. Excepting that it’s running on a 320x400 screen. If you’ve used webOS 2.X on another device, it’s exactly the same on the Veer, just smaller.
Carrier billing is not enabled by default in the App Catalog; you must set it up on the phone. Set up is handled via the App Catalog preferences screen: the only thinking required on your part is remembering what state you live in (for tax purposes).
It took a few days into this review for HP to work out some issues with the carrier billing system, but it’s now up and running just fine. It works just as if you were using a credit card (assuming you’ve set the carrier billing as your default preference), the Purchase button in the App Catalog simply charges your AT&T account and you pay when your bill is next due. Purchase authorization does take several seconds longer than when buying with a credit card, but once it goes through the app downloads and within a few minutes you’ve got a receipt in your email. It just works.
The Veer is capable of running practically every app that worked on the Pixi. The vast majority of Mojo apps will scale perfectly down to the smaller screen of the Veer, though PDK apps have to be rewritten for the smaller screen. As such, there are fewer PDK apps available on the Veer, though standards like Angry Birds are obviously present. We wish that HP had tried a bit harder to get more developers on-board with Pixi/Veer compatible apps. The webOS App Catalog already feels small compared to other platforms, the extra culling for the small screen resolution doesn't help.
Thankfully, unlike the Pixi, the Veer is more than capable of handling these intensive apps and more, all at the same time. It’s amazing what robust hardware can do for the experience.
As we saw with the Pre Plus, having 512MB of RAM on hand significantly improves the webOS experience. The Pixi and original Pre had just 256MB, and both would randomly throw up “Too Many Cards” memory errors with a single – or zero – cards open. Double the memory on the Veer doesn’t double the capacity for multitasking – it increases it immensely. Before, where the Pixi would lock up to the point of requiring a battery pull and reboot, the Veer moves along like a champ. Which is a good thing, as you can’t pull the battery on this phone. Like the Pre Plus and Pre 2, we were able to launch dozens of apps before the Veer started to exhibit any serious signs of lag.
In fact, we were able to launch every single app that comes on the phone and a few more we downloaded all at once. That amounted to 42 apps total, and then we realized there was nothing more to launch without downloading something new. Included were some heavyweight apps like AT&T Navigator and Angry Birds, and while the phone felt slower, it was still light-years ahead of the Pixi and was definitely capable of handling more.
This being a webOS 2.1 device, there aren’t many surprises to the Veer. It has Exhibtion (which works fine on the smaller screen), it has the new launcher, it has Just Type search with Quick Actions, and it has voice dialing. It’s a webOS 2.1 device. As an AT&T webOS phone, the Veer does ship with AT&T Navigator, Mobile Hotspot, and YPmobile preinstalled. Both AT&T Navigator and Mobile Hotspot require a corresponding (and pricey) plan from AT&T, and both work exactly as you would expect. AT&T Navigator gets you from A to B using maps continually downloaded from the server, but also includes real time traffic data to keep you on the fastest possible route. Mobile Hotspot shares your speedy HSPDA and less-speedy HSUPA connection with up to Wi-Fi connected five devices, and rapidly drains your battery in the process.
There are two AT&T customizations to note. The first is during the boot process the AT&T logo screen is displayed on a bright white screen, a departure from every other webOS phone that showed just the Palm or HP logo on black. Second is the default ringtone, which is AT&T’s supremely annoying and overused ringtone instead of any one of the custom webOS ringtones included. I hadn’t customized the ringtone by the time my first call came in, and the last thing I had expected to hear was the AT&T ringtone. It’s possible that these AT&T “touches,” along with the big AT&T logo on the back of the phone were concessions HP made to AT&T just to get them to carry the Veer. After all, the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus never sold incredibly well on AT&T, so it may have taken some convincing for the Veer to be allowed on Ma Bell.
In day-to-day use, the 800MHz processor inside the Veer is more than adequate. Coming from a 1GHz Pre 2, I was used to having a fast webOS experience, and the Veer didn’t disappoint. As noted above, the 512MB of RAM go a long way towards ensuring a solid multitasking experience.
It wasn’t until I pitted the Pre 2 against the Veer that I saw the difference between the two processors. Freshly booted with neither phone overclocked, the Pre 2 to proved to be marginally faster than the Veer at most tasks. We’re talking fractions of a second when firing up an app that takes two seconds at most. The difference wasn’t painfully obvious until we tried launching Angry Birds Lite. The Pre 2 had the game running in just under four seconds, while it took the Veer a full eight seconds to get to the point where music was playing and birds were chirping. For most users, that’s not an interminably long wait, certainly it’s better than I ever logged trying to open one of these games on my old 600MHz Sprint Pre. For what it’s worth, a few apps (like Music and Memos) actually opened faster on the Veer than the Pre 2, though it’s not entirely clear if that was because the Veer had fewer music files and memos to load. On the flip side of that coin, Email opened a full half second faster on the Pre 2, and that was with an extra Exchange account that the Veer didn’t have to deal with.
Heading into this review, what concerned me most about the Veer was the battery life. It has a 910mAh battery inside, and it’s not one you can swap out for a fresh one should it die (and as discussed above, you’ll need to be sure to have a charging solution on hand if you anticipate running low during the day). At 910mAh, the Veer’s battery is notably smaller than the 1150mAh batteries present in all Pre and Pixi phones, and those batteries can be replaced should they be drained while on the go.
Our fears proved to be unfounded. We don’t run any intensive battery tests when reviewing phones, because really they’re never indicative of most real-world use situations. Besides, we’re heavy smartphone users, our day-to-day use of the phone is intensive enough as it is. All that said, during our testing the battery proved to be surprisingly long-lasting, even in comparison to the larger battery found our Pre phones. Starting off in the morning with a full charge and using the Veer as my primary phone, I ended every day with some juice still left, generally somewhere between 30% and 40%. That’s definitely far better than my Pre 2 managed, it generally was knocking on 20% or lower by the time the sun dropped below the horizon. During the course of the average day the Veer handled several calls, close to an hour of web browsing (all over cellular), Twitter and news readers that were constantly checking for updates, a bit of Google Maps usage, and dozens of emails both received and sent.
We can attribute the longer life of the to a few things. The 800MHz Qualcomm processor is likely more than 20% less power hungry than the 1GHz chip in the Pre 2. The Veer is also a GSM device, which historically have proven to have better battery life than their CDMA counterparts (like our Pre 2). CDMA phones have a tendency to be fairly stupid when it comes to searching for signal – they’re like addicts and will search and search and search if they can’t connect, at great expense to the battery. GSM phones, like the AT&T Veer, will see that they can’t connect, shrug, and try again later. Lastly, there’s what’s generally the biggest battery hog on any phone during normal use: the screen. The Veer has 1/6 fewer pixels than the Pre phones, which requires both less energy and processing power to display things, and a smaller backlight. That backlight also just isn’t quite as bright as the Pre’s, proving to be dimmer at all settings.
The fun comparison to make, however is with the Pixi. Here the Veer blows its comparison phone out of the water, and to be fair the Pixi has just 256MB of RAM supporting a 600MHz Qualcomm processor. The Pixi’s also running webOS 1.4.5, so this really isn’t a fair comparison, but it’s still a telling one to make. As the Pre 2 was the phone the Pre should have been, the Veer, or at least its guts, is the phone the Pixi should have been. While compromises were made to get the Veer down to size, HP didn’t compromise on the chips like they did with the Pixi. The end result is that the Veer is supremely more capable than the Pixi in almost every way. In fact, the only area in which the Pixi wins is in thinness; it’s still 10.85 mm to the Veer’s comparatively chubby 15.1 mm. There’s also the form factor question – the thin candy bar slab or the thicker but tiny portrait slider – and that’s a matter of personal preference, though in my opinion the Veer’s form is the superior one.
The Veer proved to be faster and more capable than the Pixi (we tested against an original Sprint Pixi) in practically every way. Downloads happened faster over Wi-Fi, apps open and work faster (example: eight seconds for Angry Birds Lite on the Veer versus twelve on the Pixi), and by virtue of running webOS 2.1, apps can simply do more. That’s not even mentioning the power that having twice the RAM on the Veer has over the Pixi; as mentioned above we were able to open 42 apps on the Veer before we ran out of apps to open; the Pixi we tested against could manage four before putting up the two many cards error, and they were four rather lightweight apps (Contacts, Memos, Tasks, and Web).
The difference between the two phones is night and day even for the screen. If you look at the specs, the Veer and Pixi seem to have identical displays: a 2.63-inch 320x400 18-bit LCD. But compared side-by-side, the Veer’s display is notably clearer. The reason is that glass overlay on the Veer, whereas the Pixi has a plastic front.
Call quality on the Veer was quite excellent. The dual noise-canceling microphones worked well at isolating low-level ambient noise, and callers reported that we sounded quite good. All of the calls ended up being placed over AT&T’s 3G network, which provided surprisingly excellent call quality. Historically AT&T’s 3G network hasn’t been the most reliable, but thankfully that’s improved significantly over the past 18 months.
The phone speaker on the front is quite loud, as is the rear speaker. But you wouldn’t know it from basic alerts and system sounds. For whatever reason those are almost frustratingly quiet on the Veer, and turning up the volume to here the card toss swoosh results in alerts like ringtones coming in exceedingly loud.
A good amount of fuss has been dispensed over the Veer being branded by AT&T as a “4G” phone. We’re going to come right out and say that it is not a 4G phone. On AT&T, the Veer has HSDPA+ and regular HSUPA. What this translated to, at least in our Cincinnati testing area (with excursions to Columbus and Akron) was download speeds generally between 2.5Mbps and 3.5Mbps, and uploads stagnating between 0.3Mbps and 1.0Mbps. In several tests the fastest we managed was 4.96Mbps down, and 1.23Mbps up (using Speedtest.net’s Flash-based bandwidth tester). Fast? Yes. In fact it’s faster than many cable internet connections in the United States, and certainly faster than 3G on any carrier. But 4G fast? No. All you have to do is look at the speeds achieved by LTE phones like the HTC Thunderbolt on Verizon, which manages to average around 7-8MBps down and 3-4Mbps up. And while even Verizon’s LTE network doesn’t meet the standardized definition of 4G (100Mbps), it’s certainly more worthy of claiming to be 4G over AT&T’s HSPA+ network.
Not being 4G is only a bummer if you claim it is in the first place, which was a mistake on AT&T's part. Thought of as simply a 3G phone, the Veer's downloads are nice and fast. For all that speedy downloading, the phone is only good so long as it’s able to connect the network, and that’s an Achilles Heel for any phone on AT&T, not just the Veer. While I was able to get a HSPA signal in major metro areas like Cincinnati, Columbus, and Akron, as soon as I strayed to far from civilization (even while still on major interstates), I was forced down to EDGE data. It got even worse when I visited my home town of Mount Vernon, Ohio (population 16,990), where AT&T coverage was spotty at best. Sprint and Verizon, meanwhile, rocked 3G all over town.
So what’s it like to use the Veer as a daily phone? In the time I’ve been testing it out and just plain using it, I’ve got admit I probably smiled a bit every time I pulled the phone out of my pocket. The Veer is actually the first phone I’ve used in many years that I felt comfortable putting into a pocket instead of a nerdy hip holster like the hip holster-wearing nerd that I am (for what it’s worth, my first mobile phone was a Kyocera dumb phone that was literally the shape and size of a candybar, after that came Treo smartphones). Then again, I also didn’t have any nerdy hip holsters that didn’t also swallow the Veer whole like an exogorth devouring a Millennium Falcon.
The tiny size has forced me to adjust the various ways I grip my phone. It took some getting used to; I nearly dropped and juggled the Veer several times just trying to take the first batch of photos. The buttons, despite their smaller size, have proven quite easy to use, possibly more so than on the Pre that I’ve had nearly two years to get used to.
Transitioning to the Veer’s smaller keyboard has not proven to be a problem. I like to think I have rather average hands, and the Veer proved to be no problem to type on. Sure, the keys are smaller than on the Pre, be specific half a millimeter shorter and a smidge under a millimeter narrower (making for keys that are 3/4 the size), but the taller and more defined hump to the keys make them just as, if not more, usable. The keyboard is also quite clicky, a step up from the somewhat gummy feeling on the Pre phones. In essence, the Veer’s keyboard combines everything that was great about the Pre keyboard with everything that was great about the Pixi’s keyboard.
Coming from a Pre 2 with a larger screen and more pixels, the Veer has proven to actually be an easy adjustment. Sometimes there’s a double take at how something has been cut off by the shorter screen, especially when notifications are in play, but by and large it’s been the same experience as on my Pre 2, just smaller. And as soon as I can use the same Palm Profile on multiple devices, then I’ll be getting one.
All of this leads to one final question about the Veer: just who is HP targeting with this tiny smartphone? It’s a hard question to answer, but after showing the phone off to a few feature phone owners that were resisting the upgrade to a new big-screened smartphone, the answer started to crystallize: they’re going after the Centro crowd. Contrary to popular opinion, not everybody wants an iPhone. For some that’s just too big of a phone, despite its svelte profile. The Veer, on the other hand, is just as capable (if lacking in the apps department) while still managing to fit into a small but useable package. To quote my mother (a marginally satisfied Sprint Pixi owner) upon handling the Veer: “It’s adorable. I want one.”
The phone is meant to succeed where the Pixi failed; it’s a smartphone for the dumbphone crowd, but not one that’s going to leave them disappointed. For all of my harping on the magnetic connector and non-removable battery, it’s important to note that things like a standardized connection and having the option to carry multiple lithium cells aren’t important to the dumbphone crowd. They’ve been living like that for years (though more dumbphones are adopting the micro-USB charger standard). To them, 8GB for storage is a revelation, and the ability to run multiple apps on a phone this size is mind blowing.
The only real sticking point for this potential Veer buyer is going to be the headphone adapter, but it should be a quick upsell to a Bluetooth headset for any salesperson worth his salt. It’s not immediately obvious when looking at pictures and videos, but once you get your hands on the Veer you can’t help but want one. It’s like the days not that long ago when each new phone was successively smaller than the last, and hailed as a technological innovation. There’s something about a piece of technology that seems impossibly small but yet still works so incredibly well that appeals to the masses.
Just as Apple has managed to sell buckets of MacBook Air laptops despite the fact that they don’t come with a disc drive, only have two USB ports, and don’t have user-upgradeable RAM or hard drives. The average user doesn’t care about those things, and the allure of “it’s so small” is almost always too much to resist.
To throw fuel onto the tiny fire, AT&T has set a most reasonable starting price for the Veer: $99.99 with a two-year contract. That’s the sweet spot for the starter smartphone; it’s where the Centro did incredibly well. On specs alone the Veer could very easily be a $150 smartphone, but it simply wouldn’t sell as well. Even though the price amounts to a mere pittance compared to the cost of the service plans you’ll have to pay for over the two-years of the contract, the draw of the $100 smartphone is strong. There will no doubt be numerous sales with the Veer going for $75 or even $50 on-contract, so long as the marketing campaign is good we can’t see any reason why the Veer wouldn’t sell well.
The HP Veer is a tiny smartphone that dosn't sacrifice power for size - though it does sacrifice some conveniences that smartphone owers usually take for granted. As a smartphone, it’s a full-powered machine. The 800MHz processor working in concert with 512MB of RAM to run webOS 2.1 prove to be a winning combination. I could go on at length (again) about the problems with the magnetic power connector, but in the end it’s not the biggest of deals (though it is the biggest potential deal breaker). Is the AT&T HP Veer 4G the perfect smartphone? No, but really there is no such thing.
It’s a matter of preference for choosing something like the Veer over something like the Pre 3 (or Infuse). While we as smartphone enthusiasts might be drawn to the next newer and bigger phone, the hope for the Veer is that there is an untapped market of users who want something much smaller. The Pixi failed in that it wasn’t a capable smartphone, even for its size. The Veer, on the other hand, would be a perfectly good smartphone if it were Pre-sized. I’ve said often that the Pre 2 is a great little phone, which it still is. The Veer is an awesome tiny phone. It’s not the most powerful phone on the market. It doesn’t have the best camera, and it won’t have the longest battery life. But it’s not pretending to be those things.
The Veer’s selling point is that it’s small but still lets you do everything you could do with a phone twice the size. With an attractive price point and endearing design, the Veer practically sells itself. Of course, that’s all dependent upon a good advertising campaign, which we’re hopeful HP and AT&T will be able to pull off. The Veer has rekindled this blogger’s lust for tiny technology. While I still find myself wanting something big and powerful like the Pre 3, I can still easily make a case to myself for getting a Veer. It’s just so darned cute.