Enter any wireless carrier retail storefront and you’ll see a wall filled with smartphones, most of which are touting big, bright displays. Enter the first HP branded webOS phone, the HP Veer 4G. It’s the anthesis of what we are seeing from the likes of Samsung, HTC and Apple. It’s the anti-smartphone, smartphone. All the capabilities of a smartphone, wrapped in a tiny package.
At first glance, there is a bit of amazement at how small the Veer is in real life. It’s roughly two thirds the size of the Palm Pre Plus. The build quality is improved over the Palm Pre and Palm Pre Plus. I found the sliding mechanism to be smooth and there was no give when twisting the two pieces. While I’ve never used a Palm Pre 2, it does appear the Veer borrows plenty from it with the front display flatter than with the Pre Plus and original Pre. The back is a hard plastic, which is a plus. Those opting for the Veer will likely carry this in their front pants pocket and the hard plastic will not make it difficult to pull out of your pocket. Finding it in your pocket is another issue.
There are certain hardware accoutrements you’d expect from a Palm (ahem, HP) phone. Ringer switch at the top, easy access to the power button at the top right corner and single up/down volume jog button. All of which are well constructed and designed with the user in mind, save for the headphones adapter which will touch on a bit later. Getting around the Veer 4G is easy.
This being a mini-Pre, sliding the display up reveals a QWERTY keyboard. The individual keys are sized similar to the Palm Pixi Plus. It feels more so like a Pre keyboard, but much smaller and cramped. I found the keys to easier to depress and less sticky than on the Pre Plus. The keyboard is reminiscent of the old Palm Centro keyboard. I don’t have huge hands by any stretch and at times the keyboard felt cramped. This is not a design that will work for everyone.
It’s not clear if HP was either unable to fit a microUSB port or simply wanted to introduce new technology form of the magnetic USB charging connector. Either way, it was a pleasure to use. Similar to how the first time you use a Touchstone, the magnetic USB charging makes you wonder why more companies haven’t taken this route. Cable to Veer connections were not an issue.
Another difference you’ll notice is the lack of a removable battery. In our experience, webOS devices have not been stellar when it comes to battery life. I found battery life on the Veer to acceptable. Given it’s size, I was surprised to see it was on par with the larger Pre Plus. If you are a power user, you’ll want to be sure not to stray too far from a power source. Leaving cards open over night resulted in battery drain.
The magnetic connection also doubles as the 3.5mm headset adapter with the included attachment. In order to use a headset, the adapter needs to be attached. The way it sits in the connector, you could plug-in headphones (pushing the headphone jack up) without worrying about pulling off the adapter. All the joy of this small device takes a bit of a hit when you attach the adapter. It’s a bit wonky and small enough that it would be easily misplaced or lost. The location (side right) is not ideal from a usability perspective when using the keyboard. Tip: Connect your headset to the jack and leave them plugged in.
On the back is a 5-megapixel camera that also shoots video. The camera was “snappy” and photo quality was fair as you’ll see in the samples below. Shot in optimal conditions, the images seem pixelated. Note: The images below were scaled down. I’ve included the larger shots in this forum thread. There is no flash, nor auto-focus. We did not test in dark areas, but suspect results would be less than great.
The display on the HP Veer is 2.6 inches at 320×400 resolution. Despite the small screen, there were few troubles while navigating through the OS. Multiple cards within stacks are one of the few examples where users would benefit from a larger display.
The Veer is powered by a Qualcomm 800Mhz processor with 512MB of RAM. On board is 8GB of memory, 6.1GB is accessible. In our view, this is limited, but is in line with competing models in the price bracket. The HP Veer 4G is the latest victim to AT&T’s 4G marketing misnomer. The Veer supports HSPA+. In our testing, we found the uploads came in consistently around 1.1. to 1.2 MBit/s. From what we understand, the Veer connects to HSPA+ networks, but those networks aren’t ready to provide true 4G speeds.
Software – webOS 2.1.1
On board is webOS 2.1.1. This being my first hands-on exposure to webOS 2.x, there are some notable changes which improve upon the user experience. Cards are by far the best implementation of multitasking of any phone OS. Palm’s use of stacks, whereby you can stack multiple related cards, takes the best feature of webOS and makes it better. Stacks are cards on steroids. It’s hard not to absolutely love it.
The second most significant improvement is Just Type. This allows you to easily search apps, contacts, email and the web. I travelled this weekend and wanted to find my confirmation number for my return flight. Typing ‘American’ offered the option to see two results within email. Within seconds, I had my confirmation number. Simply put, this finds anything on your phone or on the web and does it fast.
Thankfully, there is are massive improvements in the Launcher. You can create new sections, re-order apps and more. This seems like a Palm OS throwback feature and makes it easy to organize your apps from system utilities and so on.
The 800Mhz Qualcomm processor has some zip to it, but I found myself wishing HP would have opted for a 1Ghz processor. The Veer had not trouble keeping open several cards and stacks open, allowing to quickly move within apps. Like other webOS phones we’ve tested, the in-app speed could be improved. It is improved over the Palm Pre Plus, but still at times feels like it’s missing that next gear and that’s frustrating at this stage of the game. Despite the greatness of webOS, we’ve yet to see hardware capable providing the experience we’re hoping for from webOS. HP’s forthcoming Pre 3
A key part of any smartphone is certainly its ability to run apps. The HP App Catalog has some of the more recognizable major titles including Facebook, Angry Birds, Yelp, Flixter and Pandora. The selection of apps still remains limited when compared with iOS, Android and even Windows Phone 7. This will certainly improve if HP is able to increase marketshare for webOS. While not specific to the Veer, HP should offer webOS owners the ability to shop for apps through a website or desktop client. Although you can technically send apps through Palm’s developer site, there is no centralized website that acts as the gateway for webOS apps.
- Amazingly tiny, yet capable webOS phone
- webOS 2.1.1 improves upon an already great mobile OS with features like stacks, just type and improved launcher
- Keyboard reminiscent of Palm Centro
- Much improved build quality as compared to Palm Pre Plus and original Palm Pre
- Small display, keyboard
- Required attachment for 3.5mm headphone jack is not a very elegant solution
- In-app speed continues to frustrate
- Battery life is barely acceptable and is not user-replaceable
- No expandable memory
The HP Veer is impressive, eye catching and comes in either black and white. A timely visit to my three teenage nieces allowed me to get their thoughts on the Veer. While initial impressions were filled with ooohs and aaahs, they weren’t so sure it was big enough to use as an every day phone. At a time when HP is chasing the smartphone market leaders, they release an impossibly small phone, unlike anything on the market. Admittedly, I’m not the target market for this phone, but it seems to me the Veer could go one of two ways. Incredibly popular or by way of the Kin. In the past, a $99 smartphone would sell briskly due to the price. Even at $99, the Veer faces heavy competition from some excellent $49 phones including the Samsung Focus, iPhone 3GS, Samsung Inspire 4G or the $99 Motorola Atrix. Teens and perhaps even pre-teens might find the Veer cute and might select the Veer because it’s the antithesis of the phones mentioned above. A quick review of the cons I’ve listed above might not matter to the target demographic for the Veer. I’m not a fan of Justin Bieber, but he’s certainly popular. The Veer could be the smartphone world’s version of Justin Bieber. Wildly successful with some groups, but certainly not a phone for everyone.