The Palm Pre 2 is the first Palm branded handset to come to market since HP's high-profile takeover of the company earlier this year. But, unlike the big fanfare that was created when the original Pre launched in June 2009, the Pre 2 sneaked in through the back-door; appearing first at very short notice over in France and then landing, SIM-free, a month or so later here in the UK. So why the low-key launch? Surely HP would have wanted to make a big noise about the first webOS 2.0 device?
The reason is possibly that HP would have realised that the Palm Pre 2 is not the next-generation, innovation-heavy handset that we all hoped that it might be. That's not to say that it's a bad device, because it isn't, but spending time with the Pre 2 doesn't make you feel like you're partaking in a revolution, but merely witnessing an evolution of a familiar old friend. For the Pre 2 is not a game-changing sequel, but a re-hashed version of the Palm Pre Plus, albeit with a few extra features thrown in.
And that is why it is almost impossible to provide a completely new review for the Pre 2. It just doesn't feel like a new device. It's much easier to pick up on the differences between the Pre 2 and the Pre Plus, and so that's what we'll do.
The first thing you'll notice when you pick up the Pre 2 is that Palm has stuck to its guns with regards to the design. At first glance, it looks exactly like its predecessors. It's only when you take a closer look that you'll notice the improvements. And although the glass capacitive screen gives the Pre 2 a much more squared and modern looking exterior than the Pre models that have gone before it, it still looks a bit out of touch with what else is going on in the smartphone market.
The screen resolution is the same (320 x 480 pixels) but on the glass surface it looks crisper and fresher than the Plus. The screen size is, of course, the same at 3.1 inches and the dimensions of the Pre 2 are almost identical at 100.7 x 59.6 x 16.9mm. It does weigh in a little heavier than its older brother though - but only around 10g more at 145g, making it still a very lightweight and compact device.
The hardware's big improvement comes courtesy of a 1GHz Texas Instruments processor, which along with the same 512MB of DRAM as the Plus, provides a much more responsive experience. Multi-tasking has always been the Palm Pre's strong point and on the Pre 2 it is even better. It's smoother, faster and scrolling and text rendering is much cleaner. You've only got 16GB of storage though, which beats many of the new Windows Phone 7 handsets, but you don’t get the option to expand this memory.
The camera has also seen an upgrade, up 2 megapixels to 5, still with the lack of settings of its predecessors though, and video remains at 640 x 480 capture, at 30fps.
The main differences you will notice will be on the screen courtesy of webOS 2.0. Far from being a total overhaul of the previous OS, 2.0 brings with it a number of impressive new features, the pick of the bunch being stacks.
Stacks makes the card system of webOS even more user friendly, by logically grouping all of your open apps in a way that makes them more accessible. For example, you can stack a pile of contacts, or a pile of browser pages - or you can even create a stack comprising of mixed app tiles. So, you could be on a Twitter app and click a link, and the browser page would be added to this stack. You could then manually add a note to this stack, reminding you to do something related. It basically makes your work-flow easier to manage, and it works well.
Another addition with webOS 2.0 is Just Type replacing the universal search. At the top of the screen is your Just Type bar, which lets you compose messages, start search queries or launch apps without fiddling with the Launcher. You can even add to the Just Type options, such as increasing the search engines available or the messaging services composing to.
webOS 2.0 also brings improvements to Synergy (which integrates all of your web-based contacts into one place) Text Assist and the Launcher. The Launcher, in particular, has undergone quite an extensive re-jig. You are no longer constrained to three screens - you can add as many as you like and name them whatever you wish - and you are now in charge of the order your Launcher screens appear in. Vertical scrolling is still there (which many people disliked) but if you only have three rows of apps on each page, you can eliminate the need to do this (although three rows does leave a bit of a gap at the bottom, whereas four doesn't quite fit within the display).
HP is also keen to point out that you'll get Flash 10.1 beta right out of the box. And whilst this is true, don't expect it to work seamlessly. Sure, basic animations are handled within the browser without any fault, you'll find that video content, such as clips on a site like Daily Motion, are very choppy. YouTube clips default to open in the YouTube app, which is a much more pleasant experience.
The gesture area is still on board, not surprising as this is the one area that seemed to set the Palm Pre away from its rivals. And we're pleased to say that it works as well as ever, even if it does take some getting used to after being locked on with a full touchscreen.
Battery life on the Pre models has always been a concern, with previous devices often being criticised for not lasting even a full day. Thankfully, the Pre 2 doesn't suffer that problem, with there being enough juice on board for about a day and a half's use out of it, with loads of cards stacked and regular browsing, calling and playing Angry Birds (which is much trickier on a smaller screen).
The back of the Pre 2 has the Touchstone inductive material for using with the additional Touchstone charger, along with the big speaker grill that was also found on previous Pre models.
The Palm Pre 2 is a decent little smartphone which sticks to the trusted formula of previous models and adds some nice touches. However, it is hard to forge a new opinion on what is basically a re-hashed version of what we've seen before.
We still have the same hang-ups regarding the Palm Pre 2 as we did with the Pre Plus. And the focus of our criticism still centres around build quality. The Pre 2, albeit with more of the soft Touchstone induction material on board, and the glass capacitive screen, still feels very plasticy and very out of touch with the metal and glass heavy handsets that dominate the smartphone market at present. The slider mechanism does feel a lot smoother than the Pre Plus, but it still feels a tad out of date.
The keyboard is still very fiddly. It's a design that has barely changed since the original Pre's launch, and it is still not very easy to use - especially the top row of characters which are set very close to the bottom of the screen level.
If that sounds overly negative then we're sorry, but we were hoping for big innovations from the Palm Pre 2, especially with webOS thrown into the mix. We did like the phone, but in the same way we liked the previous models, there was nothing really new to get excited about.
Sure, the glass screen looks a lot crisper, and there are some nifty new features in webOS 2.0 (stacking is particularly useful), and maybe that points towards a bright future for the Palm Pre. But, if you were expecting big changes in the first webOS 2.0 model, then you're going to be disappointed.
Overall, this is a nice, slick little smartphone that performs well, and offers a number of unique features (such as gesture control and Synergy) that first got us excited by the Palm Pre back in 2009. The only trouble is, the excitement surrounding these features has somewhat worn off.