HP Veer, TouchPad, and Pre3 first hands-on

After months of waiting, teasing, leaks and all the rest, HP has announced the launch of the HP Veer, the HP TouchPad and the Pre3. Pocket-lint was in San Francisco at the launch event to see whether the new devices are something to look forward to or merely a case of "nothing to see here please move on".

HP’s announcement of three new touch-screen  devices - in small, medium and large, no less - was as unexpected as the sunrise by the time 1,000 journalists, bloggers and assorted hangers-on had forced their way into the picturesque Fort Mason, a former military base in San Francisco with a great view of the prison island of Alcatraz.

Appropriately, the theme for the bum-numbing 2-hour presentation was freedom. Todd Bradley, HP’s executive vice president in its Personal Systems Group was the first to take the stage. HP, he explained, has a “long term strategy to establish us as the leader in enabling connected experiences”.

This strategy will from now on focus around webOS, the operating system that HP purchased in a $1.2bn deal last year from Palm, the much-hyped but underachieving maker of the Pre smartphone. 

And so it was that the first two devices were phones. The HP Veer (note the disappearance of Palm from the branding) is a smaller update of the Pixi. Credit card size, said Jon Rubinstein of Palm (or should that be HP?). Despite having a tiny 2.6-inch display, the Veer has a slide-out keyboard that feels solid and reliable in use. First impressions, in fact, are that build quality has significantly improved all round since the first Palms were launched. 

Like all the devices announced today, the Veer runs webOS, which - thanks to faster processors - is an all-round smoother experience.

It’s bright, it’s friendly, and it’s easy to understand. At the heart of the OS is networking. All webOS devices will sync with all others, either automatically, or via touch - simply hold one device to another, and they will sync. It’s an eco-system not unlike Apple’s, which makes more sense the more Apple devices you own, and the more money you give Apple for a Mobile Me subscription.

The second device today was the HP Pre3, designed with the professional user in mind, rather than the handbag of the casual Tweeter. The Pre3 has a 3.6-inch screen, a faster processor than the Veer and is designed to work seamlessly with other webOS equipped devices, including all of HP’s wireless printers. 

Then came the TouchPad, the latest iPad wannabe. Clad in sleek, shiny piano black, it looks beautiful, and the webOS facility with emailing and web-browsing (both, shall we say, reminiscent of Apple’s iOS4, though HP would say it’s the other way round) is married to true multi-tasking. Background notifications for new emails or messages pop up in the menu bar, and a quick prod will reveal who they’re from and whether you want to read them without switching apps. There’s also a - ahem - dock at the bottom for frequently used apps. 

Open apps in webOS display in what the company call cards - essentially miniaturised swipeable screenshots. Users can create stacks of cards to represent tasks from multiple apps.

All very neat.

So how did it feel? We wish we could tell you. In the demo lounge after the event, there were Veers aplenty, but only four each of the TouchPads and Pre3s, all of which were being demoed by HP representatives with instructions not to allow anyone to touch, which brought back memories of the Palm Pre launch (There we had to wait 6 months for the US launch, and a further 10 months for it to hit the UK). Ironic, for a touch-screen device, you might think.

Pricing was not announced, but the TouchPad should be available in most major markets in Wi-Fi form this summer. 

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