18th Jul 2011 | 10:14
It's progress from the Pre, but not without eccentricity
HP Veer: Overview, design and feel
In the beginning, there was Palm. The company created the handheld/smartphone category with the original personal digital assistants in 1996. Now, following an HP acquisition about a year ago, it's emerged with a new super-tiny model, the HP Veer.
The smartphone is priced at $99 with a two-year contract in the US, with costs yet to be announced in the UK. It's so light, at 103g, and small, at 84x54x15.1 mm, that it almost seems like a toy phone – something you would pass on to little Johnny Radar Jr in the back seat to keep him silent.
The HP Veer's 320x400 2.4-inch screen is tiny, like the Palm Pixi's, but feels smaller and looks a bit blurry. The Pixi is actually lighter, at 93g, and thinner, at 10.8mm. The overall sense with the Veer, however, is that it is a supremely pocketable phone.
In reality, the HP Veer is the first sign that HP has backed the platform and is serious about improving it. That's a good thing for those tired of total Android and iPhone domination.
In fact, we're excited about the upcoming HP TouchPad tablet, which will probably make better use of the card interface. WebOS always did raise the bar in terms of a logical, easy-to-understand next-gen interface. The Veer might not be the best start, but webOS is still an OS to watch.
At the small size and weight, the HP Veer is easy to misplace because you hardly know it's in your pocket.
Thankfully, the Veer feels well-constructed. Like the Pre and the Pixi, it only suffers from one hardware design trait that may cause you concern: while sturdy in a closed position, the Veer slide-out keyboard almost feels as if it could break off if you pulled too hard or cracked it against a table corner.
The touchscreen on the Veer is way too small for serious smartphone interactions. In our tests, the screen would sometimes stop registering finger swipes. There's an easy solution: you just press the power button once to turn off the screen (but not the phone). This makes the touchscreen work again - but is a real annoyance.
Even at the small size, the QWERTY keyboard is somewhat functional, depending on the size of your fingertips. There's a soft gel squishyness to the keys that speeds up typing because your fingers don't slip, and the keys are easy to press, although they're too small for anyone with larger digits.
In the US the Veer – like most AT&T phones – uses the HSDPA Cat 10/HSUPA Cat 6 network and is a quad-band (850/900/1800/1900) phone that uses GSM/GPRS/EDGE and offers adequate download speeds, although nothing mind-blowing.
One of the most remarkable accomplishments on the Veer has to do with packing the new webOS 2.0 operating system into such a small package. At times, it feels like overkill, the equivalent of putting racecar engine into a family hatchback. At other times, the interface is a welcome smart mobile aid.
The HP Veer's design fits somewhere between the Palm Pixi and the Pre in that the phone is more advanced technically – it uses a new search engine called Just Type, has an "exhibition" mode that shows the time or can play photos in a slideshow when you charge the phone or use the Touchstone dock, and now allows you to mix and match cards (the interface paradigm in webOS) any way you want.
However, the smaller size means we consider the Veer a stablemate of the Pixi or even a basic flip-phone or feature phone rather than the higher end smartphones on the market.
One new innovation in hardware is the magnetic power cord. To charge, you just place the cord into the near the side of the phone by the magnetic terminals and the cord snaps into place.
This is a smart idea for fast charging, but also means you can't use any other micro-USB charging cable. We also found the magnets would pull off a little too easily, similar to the power cord on the Apple MacBook.
The Veer comes with 8GB of internal storage which is annoyingly not expandable.
Surprisingly, there's no headphone jack, so to use earbuds you have to use the included headphone adapter, which also snaps into place on the side. (Yes, this means you can't charge and listen to Kings of Leon at the same time. Well, unless you use the Touchstone dock).
The battery cover is easy to remove with a fingernail should you need to access the rear of the phone.
HP Veer: Interface
The HP Veer uses an 800MHz processor, which is surprising since so many smartphones are now using at least a 1GHz processor and, in many cases, use a dual-core option.
That said, the webOS interface is now becoming a more mature operating system. Other than the bugs we had with the touchscreen, easily remedied, the Veer runs quite quickly.
We opened about a dozen apps, ran Angry Birds, played a Flash video and played music, and the Veer kept on going.
HP defines multitasking on the Veer in a new way. We can agree that the idea of having multiple cards open on the phone is similar to, but not true, multitasking. It's handy to open multiple email chats, text messaging discussions and keep the browser running at the same time.
The Veer is the first webOS phone that lets you mix and match these cards. So, you can open a new Facebook window, start an email and open a new browser page. Then, you can slide these cards into one group. It's brilliant because it keeps you organised.
Say you want to discuss a new business plan with an associate. You can groups cards related to the discussion into one. Then, you can groups cards related to your kids, or your entertainment and leisure. It's a smart idea that works extremely well.
That said, the HP Veer isn't actually multitasking anything. When you leave a card open, it goes into hibernation: games wait for you to return to them and videos pause. The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet does true multitasking: apps continue to run in the background.
The HP Veer doesn't use widgets like the HTC Wildfire S and many Android models do. Instead, apps are housed in their own categories: Applications, Extras and System. To see the app icons, you just press the small up arrow on the lower left of the screen. You can also place icons on the taskbar below the screen.
Like the Pre and Pixi, there's a region below the screen where you can swipe up to view the app listings, or swipe from right to left to go back a screen. The screens are arrayed in a logical way, and the card interface works remarkably well for understanding what is open. You swipe a card upwards to close it.
The Veer uses a colourful interface, but there isn't nearly as much flexibility as you'll find with a phone such as the LG Optimus 2X, which lets you drop icons anywhere on the screen and place widgets in side panels. The Apple iPhone 4 is also more flexible in terms of grouping apps and multiple home screens.
Overall, webOS 2.0 is not as advanced as some mobile platforms, but it is remarkably easy to learn for new smartphone users. The card interface fits logically with how people think.
The HP Veer also adds some new OS features. The Just Type search engine is brilliant. On the main screen, you can start typing anything you want. You can then search for that phrase using one of multiple search engines, and even on social networks.
Or, if you start typing a status update, you can also select an option to post that update to Facebook. You can also start a new email or text message or schedule a meeting.
Palm told us that there is a beta version of a Twitter app that works with Just Type as well. They didn't send us the beta so we didn't get a chance to test it, but we hope it will be out by the tme the HP Veer hits UK shores.
HP Veer: Contacts and calling
Like the previous Palm Pre and Pixi, the HP Veer does a good job of aggregating contacts. Once you add your username and password for Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Facebook, LinkedIn and other services, the contacts are stored in one listing. That's amazingly helpful when it comes to searching.
Type in 'Bob' and you'll see all contacts with that name on every service you use. For browsing through contacts, there's no way to filter services (say, see only your Gmail contacts) so the mega-listing is not as helpful.
Contacts appear at every turn: when you create a new message, run the Facebook app (which you have to download – it's not included on the phone), or perform a search.
The phone dialer also shows contacts for multiple services, although we found that feature less useful because so few of our social networking contacts have phone numbers listed. There's also a Contacts app.
Adding contacts is incredibly easy. You start the Contacts app and select a small Add button. You can tap in all the relevant details, select a custom ringtone for that contact, and enter other details.
The biggest problem with all of this easy contact management is that it's easy to get overloaded. If you have thousands of contacts, you'll need to adjust your thinking about how to find them – it's always easier to search than to browse contacts, which means you have to know what you're looking for.
Calls on the HP Veer were quite good. We were impressed with the speakerphone – we could both hear the caller easily and, after several test calls, the person on the other end said we were loud and clear.
This is another testament to Palm and HP's way of packing a powerful voice-calling phone into such a small size. We never had any dropped calls or calling issues.
Because the phone is so small, you might have trouble actually dialling numbers. (The contacts integration is so good that you'll find it's easier to search for contacts and set speed dials.) The touchscreen dial pad works fine, but the digits are so small that you'll need to press slowly and surely.
Call quality sounded better than some other recent phones we've tested, including the iPhone 4. The HP Veer fits comfortably next to your ear, even if you might feel like a pre-teen using such a small and dainty phone. For those who prefer small phones, the calling features are quite robust.
HP Veer: Messaging
The messaging features on the HP Veer live and die based on your finger size. Those with larger fingers and fingertips will struggle to type even basic text messages, and obviously the smaller screen means an on-screen option would be awesome.
Our advice: take some time to check the Veer out in a shop or from a friend before purchase to make sure you can use the keyboard, as unless you've got a friendly network that allows returns you'll curse the next two years if it's too small.
However, make the keyboard work and the messaging capabilities are better than average. You can quickly set up your email by entering your Gmail, AOL AIM or Yahoo Mail login on the Veer in a few quick steps.
The phone also lets you add a Microsoft Exchange account, and – for business users – there's even a built-in Cisco VPN client for secure messaging.
Once you add messages, you can view mail from all your services in one email app. This even trumps the Android OS because, on those devices, you'll usually have one email client for your non-Google services and then a client for your Gmail messages unless you're tech-savvy enough to have Gmail added twice and the correct account disabled.
However, Apple recently updated the iPhone 4 to use aggregated email as well, so webOS isn't doing anything that innovative; but make no mistake, it is a handy feature.
Since the HP Veer's screen is almost a perfect square, going into landscape mode doesn't help you read messages. And there's no soft touchscreen keyboard, so you have to rely on the tiny slide-out QWERTY keyboard.
Text messaging worked well on the Veer. As discussed, the fact that you can group disparate cards together into one category (an instant messaging chat with a new email) means that messaging uses a more logical approach than the iPhone 4 and even the latest Android phones, such as the HTC Flyer and the Samsung Galaxy S2.
HP Veer: Internet
The HP Veer is a 4G phone in the US, but don't let that fool you. In reality, the phone only runs at about 1Mbps for downloads and just over 100Kbps for uploads.
Also, the phone doesn't have a dual-core processor, so networking on the device, for both 4G and Wi-Fi, tends to run slowly because the phone is just not that fast. We weren't that impressed with the overall networking speed, and that really doesn't bode well for the UK launch.
The Veer's browser is good but not great. It does support Adobe Flash 10.1, but that's a bit hit or miss as it can be rather laggy at times, depending on which site you visit. We found that sites such as espn.com and ign.com worked well for browsing and appeared relatively quickly.
However, the small screen makes it hard to read text, and when you zoom in, you see the words but not much else. A full flash site such as Presonus.com, which has a large Flash animation, pulled up quickly and looked properly formatted.
However, the HP Veer didn't work for Hulu.com or YouTube.com. When you find a YouTube video, and want to watch it, the Veer actually pulls up a separate interface to play the video. We also had some page display issues with other sites that use rich formatting.
Text reflow on some sites was also erratic. In some cases, the font on the screen looked too bold or didn't format properly. In other cases, the text looked crisp and easy to read, at least when zoomed in, which we can only put down to the processor not correctly dealing with the tasks - so there's a chance firmware updates could rectify this, but don't bank on it.
The card interface of webOS comes in handy yet again for browsing. The browser doesn't support tabs, and even if it did, they wouldn't work well on the small screen. Instead, you can open multiple sessions where each one is a separate card.
It's great to open a favourite site and just leave that card open on the Home screen and access the site any time you want.
It's also easy to bookmark sites, share the link with other users and add one site to the main App screen. You access these options using the menu in the upper left corner of the browser.
HP Veer: Camera
The HP Veer's camera is a decided weak point on the device. Although it captures images in 5MP resolution and can switch to video mode (only in landscape), there are no settings at all. You can't add any effects, zoom in, set white balance or control the camera in any way.
All images are automatically geo-tagged, however. That's helpful once you move the photos to your computer because you can track where you took them. (As a side note, be careful with geo-tagged images, especially with kids, because security experts warn that hackers and deviants can figure out where you live or where you're using a phone based on posted images.)
There's no flash on the camera, the images tend to look blurry and the autofocus is just flat and doesn't work that well. Out of two dozen photos, only about two or three were even usable.
The small size of the phone also works against you when taking photos, because it's hard to hold the phone in a set position. You can't focus on one foreground object, and there are no scene modes.
DARK SHOT:Photos taken in dim areas tended to turn out blurry or too dark
INDOORS:Indoor shots also looked blurry and not that colourful
SHADOWS:Those with shadows were very dim but at least in focus
BRIGHTER: Only the shots with more natural light looked reasonably bright and colourful
HP Veer: Video
Shooting video with the HP Veer is almost as painful as shooting a still image. The small and light phone is hard to grip firmly for video, so most movies turned out a bit blurry and shaky. There are no settings available for zooming in on a subject, and no effects to tweak your scene.
Video quality isn't that impressive. The Veer is supposed to shoot in 720p HD but in our tests the video looked grainy. There may be enough pixels to qualify as HD but the colour quality looked more like VGA resolution.
There is no video light, so the best videos were those we shot outside on a bright sunny day.
Our indoor video of someone playing a piano looked dull and colourless, and the sound quality was also poor. In the video of a choir concert, the colour looked overly saturated as though someone was holding a light bulb right next to the phone.
Another video outside looked reasonably bright and clear. However, we shot the same scene with a Canon 1D digital camera and there's no comparison – the video on the HP Veer is just not at a quality level to make this smartphone one you would want to use consistently.
We also had a fairly major bug: for some videos, the HP Veer would freeze up and reboot. In one case, we thought we'd shot a video at a paintball tournament, only to discover later that the video file was corrupted.
The Veer provides a simplistic editing mode where you can trim a video.
Once you do shoot a video, it is reasonably easy to email the final result as an attachment. In fact, this is the one area where we had no problems: uploading videos. The Veer connected quickly and reliably to a computer for copying media files to and from the device.
The camera and video recording on the Veer is lacklustre, and even at the lower price we were expecting something a little better - even the INQ Cloud Touch outperforms it. Photos looked blurry and there are no settings or effects at all.
If you're looking for a phone with any kind of camera ability, we suggest you look elsewhere.
HP Veer: Media
We're not going to discount the HP Veer as a video phone, but the screen is just too small to watch videos, even if they are of skateboarding punk gerbils.
There is a YouTube app on the HP Veer, but we found that it integrated only occasionally on the phone. The app opens when you click a YouTube link in the browser, and when you rotate the phone you can watch videos in landscape mode. YouTube sound quality was quite poor even through our own headphones.
The 8GB of storage is adequate for just a few albums and movies. There's no way to add more storage for music or videos, though as one again HP (like its Palm predecessor) has eschewed a microSD slot for expansion.
WebOS certainly shows promise with its somewhat limited multitasking – you can start a movie or TV show and then minimise that card and come back to it later.
There's an Amazon MP3 client for buying songs but no way to rent or purchase movies unless you do so beforehand on a computer and copy them over.
Like all of the apps on the HP Veer, the music player is functional and works well, but offers no real surprises or innovation. The webOS platform hasn't attracted too many big name developers, but at least there's a Pandora client for playing music.
Unlike most Android phones, there's no widget architecture to drop the music app onto a home screen, although you can place the music app icon on the app bar below the main screen for quick access. The player supports common formats such as MP3, AAC and WAV.
Playback on the Veer is another beast entirely. Sound quality was distorted and lacked power no matter which external player we tried – including playback in a car and an MP3 dock.
The video player worked well, but again has a limited value on such a small phone. There's no way to run an HDMI cable from the HP Veer to your HD TV for movie playback - although we doubt the demographic HP is aiming the Veer at would really be hankering to do this.
The main point when it comes to media is this: the small screen makes movie watching something you would do only when you're extremely desperate.
The Photo app is just passable – the one new feature with webOS 2.0 is that you can set photos to play in a slideshow when you dock the phone or charge it. Swiping through photos works well, but the 800MHz processor did introduce some lag compared to a faster, more powerful phone, such as the Samsung Galaxy S2.
There's no FM radio option on the Veer, and we found no options for DLNA streaming - merely higlighting how the Veer is not really a phone designed for the media aficionados out there.
HP Veer: Battery life and connectivity
You'd think the 910mAh battery on the HP Veer would last for many hours, given the small size and small screen, even though it's a tiny power pack. Oddly, the device only lasted for about four hours of occasional use that involved playing a video clip, listening to music and browsing the web.
That's close to the rated time of five hours of continual use. When we made a few phone calls and checked the web during a second test day, the Veer actually lasted about eight hours, but for a good percentage of that time the Veer was just sitting on a desk.
We used the Veer in a car for a long drive, playing Daft Punk records one after the other, and the phone only lasted three hours before we needed to hook up a charger.
The battery life is not that surprising given the size of the battery. Serious HP Veer owners might consider getting an extra back-up battery, and the case is easy to remove. The smaller the battery, the easier it is to carry a second or even third one around all day.
Yet, even the iPhone 4, which isn't known for superbly long-lasting battery life, easily outlasted the Veer in roughly the same activities during the day. The Veer is not really an "all day" phone, which means you'll need to think about bringing a charger along at all times - although we're struggling to think who might be willing to accept such poor battery performance.
The Veer supports Bluetooth stereo for music playback, can connect up to an 802.11n router for very fast Wi-Fi access and runs at 1Mbps 4G speeds. Those higher-end networking features are surprising on such a small pocket device, and these extra wireless features all contributed to the less than stellar battery life.
The Veer also lets you create a mobile hotspot, and this worked extremely well – we found the signal from a laptop in a lower level of a home with no problems and the connection remained stable throughout.
The Veer supports drag and drop for sending files to and from a computer, but there's no DLNA support for streaming media over a wireless signal to a games console or set-top box in the other room.
HP Veer: Maps and apps
The HP Veer uses GPS for turn-by-turn directions in the Google Maps app, but only for text directions. Our US test phone included the AT&T Navigator app for voice navigation, although we're not sure which treats the UK version will offer up.
Unfortunately, the Veer turned out to be one of the worst mapping phones we've tested in some time, mostly because the screen is just too small.
The only scenario we found where it worked for navigation was either in the car using the dedicated app for voice directions (so we didn't have to look at the screen) or for walking (and squinting) at the phone for map directions.
Maps also pulled up rather slowly on the screen – especially in a crowded area with a complex intersection. The touchscreen is just not that responsive, so swiping around on the screen to see your location is difficult and almost unusable at times.
While the mapping features run too small on the screen, the GPS chip did lock on to our location quickly – as long as we placed the device near a windshield in the car or were walking around with a clear view of the sky.
The App catalogue on the HP Veer is packed with thousands of apps. The problem is that many of these apps are on the fringes of usefulness – there's no Twitter app, few compelling games and a lingering sense that Palm hasn't attracted any truly innovative apps.
Scanning through the catalogue, you'll see mostly unknown apps and wonder why iPhone developers haven't ported their wares.
In fact, the only few apps we found that seemed worth downloading included Facebook, Yelp, Angry Birds and about a half dozen other less interesting apps.
HP/Palm includes a few bundled apps, but there are just not enough to make the phone seem as if it can compete with Android phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S2, or the iPhone 4. As with the BlackBerry PlayBook, there are a lot of promises about apps coming up – maybe there will be a Skype client someday.
It's easy to download and install apps using the App catalogue, but the HP Veer has fallen behind the competition in this area as well. There's no way to find apps on your computer and easily send them to the device as you can now do with the Android Market.
Third party apps integrate onto the phone through Just Type, but this functionality is still not fully realised. We'd be more impressed if the Just Type feature recognised that you were typing a status update by parsing what you type and automatically suggesting a Facebook post. Instead, you can manually select an option to post what you type on Facebook.
Apps are organised logically into separate screens. The standard apps are not amazingly innovative, but social networking integration is handy. It's great to type in your Google account once and then see all of your meetings appear on the calendar app automatically, without any extra steps.
HP Veer: Hands-on gallery
HP Veer: Official gallery
HP Veer: Verdict
We still think the HP Veer shows promise, mostly because of the webOS 2.0 platform. This "promise" is a bit like the grand hope of Linux that someone will finally get the interface right, and devs will start making must-download apps (coincidentally, webOS is based on Linux - actually, it makes perfect sense).
The Veer is a step in the right direction, but this particular model is just too small to be taken seriously as an everyday-use smartphone. Some of the new webOS features are making us eager to test the upcoming HP TouchPad, which may finally show webOS as a major contender.
The card interface is logical and easy to use. There's something to be said for having cards grouped any way you want, especially if you keep an email open or stack up several videos you want to watch.
In truth, most of what we like about the Veer has to do with the intuitive interface - although we're impressed with the build quality for the most part, and the ability to play Flash Video is a plus, although we're not sure the processor can keep up.
What we don't like is the phone itself – it's too small and quirky. The keyboard is terrible unless you have small fingers. The camera and video recording options were major letdowns because it's so hard to hold the device steady, and there are no settings for improving the picture.
Every promising feature – mapping, aggregated contacts, the Just Type feature – is made less compelling by the small size. If you buy the Veer you will find yourself squinting a lot, and the battery life is simply terrible for any phone, no matter the cost.
In the end, the Veer is pointing in the right direction. We're not going to say "watch out Google" or "start counting your days Apple" – and we think even RIM BlackBerry has nothing to worry about – but we're also not predicting total failure. The Veer is just an early false restart for the webOS platform.
The main problem we have is working out who this phone is aimed at - is it teenagers with feasibly smaller fingers? They probably will want more apps and better messaging options. Media and camera fans need not apply, and the battery life rules out any kind of power user who might be interested in the newer OS.
The Veer is generally well-packaged, but unless it comes with a fantastic price point when it lands on UK shores, it's not going to be a winner for HP.