Round Table: The Palm Pre 2
Welcome to Round Table, which is in fact not a table at all. Round Table is a continuing series on PreCentral where we pose a question to the staff and they provide their thoughts and insights. The question could be something simple like “what’s your favorite webOS RSS reader?” or something a bit more complicated, like “where do you see Palm in a year?” Or maybe we’ll just end up chatting about how we miss the cartoons of our childhood. Today, however, we’re going to take a look at the latest hardware from Palm: the Pre 2.
Adam: First off, this is what the Pre Plus should have been. When the Pre was announced in January 2009, the hardware specs were on par or above most everything else that was out there. But a lot changed in the following 12 months, and when the Pre Plus was announced a year later, that phone was already starting to show its age even before it was released. All the upgrades from the Pre Plus to the Pre 2 (faster processor, better camera, more rugged design, etc) were already needed earlier this year. I have a feeling that the Pre 2 was supposed to come out four to six months ago as a replacement to the Pre and Pre Plus, but got hung up by the merger. That being said, it’s still a nice-looking device that I would love to own (it would be a great upgrade over my Sprint Pre Minus), and I am glad that we are getting something. It provides HP and Palm some publicity and should get people thinking about webOS again, as well as a device that will hopefully get out before the holidays in the US. But...
To the mind of the majority of consumers, this is the same device that has been around for the last 15 months and doesn’t appear to be anything new, nor is HP offering any details on any devices to come. We have no context to where they see this phone in their roadmap of devices. They have stated that they are planning a slew of different devices and form factors, but we don’t know where this fits into the equation nor the timing of those other devices. If this is their high-end super phone, we are in trouble. But I suspect that this is just a spec bump of the 3.1” screen and slide-out portrait keyboard form-factor that they want to keep alive (maintaining compatibility with many existing accessories) to be sold as part of a larger lineup of devices that will most likely be unveiled at CES in January.
I just wish that they would have a big event now and not wait until CES to announce, so we can understand that bigger picture, partly because I have to wonder who is going to buy this phone. In the US, this phone is destined for Verizon, where all of their current webOS users aren’t yet eligible for an upgrade (and the Pre 2 isn’t a significant bump over the Pre Plus). Unless HP gets Verizon to push the Pre 2, new customers will still be pushed to the Droid line. All remaining Sprint customers have held on long enough that they would probably wait until CES before doing anything and wouldn’t jump ship to Verizon, and that’s assuming that they haven’t already jumped the OS ship to any of Sprint’s impressive Android phones. So, unless HP and Palm see this as an opportunity to just get into new markets (Australia and Asia, anyone?), I don’t expect this to be a large seller before the holidays. Pessimism aside, though, this phone is actually comparable to what else is on the market and if you love this form-factor, it’s a great upgrade!
Derek: When the Pre 2 was first rumored as a “spec bump,” I have to admit that my reaction was less than positive. I still maintain that what Palm, HP, and webOS needs is more than a spec bump, but I do find myself desiring a Pre 2. Why? Simply put, it’s markedly better than my Sprint Pre. It’s twice the RAM, twice the processor, and twice the gee-bees of my phone. Plus a nice glass screen and what looks to be more solid build quality? Daddy wants.
But that’s where my desires end. Mostly because Sprint has admitted that they’re not going to be carrying this phone, and I’m not up for switching to another carrier just yet for an improved version of the phone I already have. Yes, I want the improved version, but not that badly. The Pre 2 boggles me, or at least the ongoing launch of the Pre 2 boggles me. For one, this is a device that should have been out somewhere between three to six months ago. In fact, I believe this device was supposed to have been out three to six months ago, but Palm couldn’t summon the finances to make it happen. Then it would have been a bottom-end of the top tier smartphones. Today the Pre 2 is already a mid-tier phone, and unless it’s very attractively priced I don’t see it getting the sales numbers Palm would like.
And there’s the oddball release schedule. SFR in France gets it right after the reveal, while Verizon and somebody in Canada will get it in the “coming months.” What’s with the vagueness and the apparent lack of commitment? Palm is not want for resources anymore and this launch is coming across as so poorly executed I have to wonder why it’s being done at all.
Do I want a Pre 2? You betcha. But what I want more is what comes next - the real 2011 webOS flagship smartphone. I want to be impressed, and the Pre 2 just doesn’t do it for me.
Jason: If you would’ve asked me a week ago what I thought of the Pre 2, you probably would have heard some negative comments. Looked like it was a Pre Plus Plus; just a spec update on the same device line-up. No doubt a lot of people were expecting a next-generation device, especially given the dated state of the current device hardware is, when compared to other top-of-the-line devices.
Lately, however, I’ve been turning around on the device. It’s not a next-generation, state-of-the-art device, but it is a substantial upgrade compared to the current off-network Sprint Pre I use for development and personal use. An updated camera, faster processor, glass screen, and undoubtedly improved quality would make it a nice upgrade for me.
It’s a shame that the developer devices are only going to be sold in the USA only. However, given HP’s global reach, I doubt it will be too long before that expands. Thankfully, if the Roger’s Wireless rumours prove true, I can just get a Pre 2 there, and actually have my first webOS device that I can use as a phone. It’s not a perfect device, but it’s definitely what will hold me over until the webOS tablet and 2011 smartphones debut. Now if only we had a release date.
Jonathan: I’m quite pleased with it for a number of reasons. The Pre 2 has allowed Palm to regain mindshare in advance of next year’s big webOS device blitz. It also provides a good, competitive low-cost choice now for those who want the benefits of webOS 2.0 and/or need to replace older Pres and Pre Pluses. The phone has boosted the morale of the webOS community and added excitement in advance of the NYC Developer Day. The choice to retain the form factor means existing investments in accessories (other than perhaps very formfitting cases) are not wasted.
My one major uncertainty about the Pre 2 is whether Palm has exercised its greater HP-enabled leverage to reject any effort by Verizon Wireless to carry over the GPS crippling from the Pre Plus. As far as I can tell, all the pre-production review units out there are GSM, so we don’t yet know what the Verizon functionality will be.
As for myself, I may well pick one up when it hits Verizon (pending GPS answers) using an existing upgrade on our account, and pass my Pre Plus to my wife. If there’s a superphone in the works for January, well, I’ll see if it would better fit my needs than a Pre 2.
Mahootzki: The happiest day of my Palm “fanboy” life since CES 2009 was the day the announcement came that HP has acquired Palm. Why? Because it was nearing a year since I got my Palm Pre from Sprint, and amazing devices started popping up here and there, and we hadn’t been getting much exciting news from Palm. Those of us on Sprint have that aged phone with no sign in the near future of any new hardware or a promise that it’s on the way.
Ever since the purchase of Palm by HP all we heard is “with the resources they have, we’ll see amazing hardware and more” and other bits along those lines.
Well, the Pre 2 is the first product we got from the acquisition and it’s very disappointing, it would have been a great device about six months ago, but not now. I am sorry to say, most of the people I converted to Palm in the past year and a half or so have jumped ship, and I don’t blame them.
If this is something that was in the oven when HP bought Palm and that’s why they had to release it, I say it was the wrong move; you spent $1.2 billion, spend a little more and start over with a bang!
Mark: First and foremost, like so many of you, I’m a longtime fan and user of Palm products. With the introduction of webOS and the Pre I’ve become one of Palm’s most ardent supporters. Considering my obvious bias and devotion to Palm and webOS my impressions of the Pre 2 are mixed. Here’s the good and not so good as I see it now:
Form factor - Mixed Good/Bad: I love the Pre form factor. Portrait sliders are where it’s at in my book. But giving us an identical device other than flat glass when absolutely every competing device is giving us more screen real estate seems a bit a misfire on Palm’s part.
1GHz processor - Mixed Good/Bad: Good for the masses who can’t or won’t overclock their Pre phones but otherwise a bare-minimum spec bump at best. True, battery life might improve but the jury is still out on this one.
512MB RAM - Bad: This is where I’d have loved to see 1gb of RAM. I know the conventional wisdom is that 512mb of RAM is plenty but webOS is like a wild horse that needs to be set free. How long will we have to deal with the specter of the “To Many Cards” notice and blame it on memory leaks? It seems to me 1GB of RAM alone would have been a real cause for rallying around the Pre 2.
Other specs - Mixed Good/Bad: Other specs, namely, screen resolution and internal memory in the Pre Plus were okay and the least of Palm’s existing hardware woes. Spec bumps in either case would have been nice but for now I think the average Pre user can live with both as they are.
Finally there are a few things about the Pre 2 that I’d like to know. How much better is the build quality? How much better is the keyboard? Both improved together with webOS 2.0, glass screen, and 1GHz processor and then I’d say the “mixed” review becomes an unequivocal thumbs up. Palm had to release the Pre 2. I just wish we were having this discussion four months ago vs. today. Let’s hope that in the coming weeks we find out there’s more to like about the Pre 2 than what we currently know and we see it as something more than just a spec-bumped Pre Plus.
Nathan: Releasing the Pre 2 as a modified version of the Pre was like calling back a retired ball player, pumping him full of ‘roids and putting him back on the team. For whatever the reason Palm and HP have chosen not to release any new hardware, their decision has made them a forgotten has-been in the smartphone market. After all the dragged out anticipation for something new, and all the mockery of the Pre’s failings, the general reaction to the Pre 2 is going to be, “this was the best you could do?” Palm is going to transform itself from something that few people take seriously, into a laughing stock. It is going to be more of a detriment than a help to Palm’s mindshare, and will do nothing for its marketshare.
That said, I am still in favor of releasing the Pre 2 but in a different way. The Pre 2 should be used as hardware replacements for the Pre. This will help repair Palm’s relationship with its existing user base, which has been damaged by repeated hardware replacements. It would be hard to do this without the media treating it like disappointing new hardware and making a mockery of it so it might have been better to release it the same time as their next phone. Or at least at the same time as an announcement of a new phone.
In terms of hardware, the Pre 2 is what the Pre should have been and probably would have been if Palm had had the resources to do so. This hardware definitely competes nicely with the iPhone and just about about any other smartphone. It is a lower tier device for the price conscious and those who prefer that form factor. But it is not the next generation device and is almost an affront to the people who have been sticking with webOS all this time waiting for something better.
The Pre 2 does not go quite far enough even as an improvement, however. It has a higher megapixel camera but still no auto focus. Can it take better pictures in less than full sunlight? So what do I get, larger sized blurry and grainy pictures? My phone is my primary camera and I came from an HTC Touch Pro with a superb, fully featured camera, to a Pre that takes pictures like an old school dumbphone. What could have ever made Palm and HP think they did not need to improve in this area? Who ever said, “My Pre takes the best pictures ever.”? The Pre 2 is a great device, but releasing it before the next gen device was a questionable move.
Rene Ritchie, Editor, TiPb.com: The Palm Pre 2 is an interesting beast. It cures two major gripes I had with both the original Pre and Pre Plus. The first is superficial but once you've gotten used to capacitive glass, its very hard to be happy with plastic. This is what the screen should always have been. Second is the raw horsepower of the chipset. For whatever reason, some webOS apps have just never been as immediately responsive as I'd have liked, even on Pre Plus. Sure Palm was always optimizing it, but sometimes just throwing a 1GHz processor at the problem is most time and cost efficient way to go.
Ultimately, however, that's pretty much where the Pre 2 ends up for me -- as an iterative step Pre. The original Pre was first shown off at CES 2009, the Pre Plus at CES 2010, and now some 21 months and a buyout by HP later, I - like many others - was hoping for more. For different. But ultimately I'm not worried. Palm has HP bucks now. We've already heard rumors of 4 or 5 new devices in the pipeline and while the mobile space is accelerating rapidly and Apple and Google are still setting a breakneck pace, the market can and will change on a dime and then change again. Palm reinvented themselves once already with the Pre. Microsoft is busy re-inventing themselves right now (some three years apres-iPhone). RIM and Nokia are next. With the amount of muscle HP can put behind them, the Pre 2 doesn't have to excite, it just has to place-hold.
Dieter: Now that I've been using a pre-production unit, I can't really distinguish between what I think separate from my experience using it - and since it's preproduction, I'll let the excellent thoughts you see above speak for me until I have final hardware in-hand.
There you have it - that's what we think. We want to know, what do you think? To that end: a poll. Oh, and the comments too, if voting isn't enough for you (we like to hear from you, honest).