Palm Pre³, Veer webOS phones outed at HP event

HP last night announced its plans to launch a new pair of webOS-powered smartphones, the Pre³ and Veer, which it hopes will help recoup the money it spent acquiring smartphone specialist Palm.

While the highlight of the press event was the HP TouchPad, a 9.7-inch webOS-powered iPad competitor, the smartphones announced also look pretty interesting - and the Pre³ in particular builds on an already reasonably respectable handset.

Featuring a 3.58-inch touchscreen - laughingly referred to as 'large' by HP during the event - with a 480x800 resolution and 24-bit colour, plus a vertically-sliding keyboard, the Pre³ looks remarkably similar to HP subsidiary Palm's Pre² predecessor. Look under the hood, though, and it tells a different story.

The system has had a significant upgrade to its hardware, packing a Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8x55 1.4GHz single-core ARM chip, along with a choice of 8GB or 16GB of internal storage. Connectivity is covered by 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR and A2DP support, and 3G high-speed mobile broadband.

On the rear of the device, you'll find a 5 megapixel autofocus camera with flash, capable of capturing 720p video, joined by another VGA-resolution camera on the front for video calling - a feature that appears to be enjoying a resurgence in the mobile industry after failing to catch on when originally introduced all those years ago.

The webOS 2.2 software powering the device includes Flash 10.1 support in the web browser, along with support for accessing corporate e-mail systems - including via an encrypted VPN tunnel. Add in the support for 'robust messaging' features, and it's clear that HP is hoping to take on the BlackBerry series for corporate use.

"In the suite of webOS products we’re introducing today, Pre³ is our premier phone, designed for the speed of business," claimed HP's Jon Rubinstein during the launch event. "It enables professionals to accomplish more of their important workday tasks while easily keeping their fingers on the pulse of their personal lives."

The Pre³ was joined at the press event by the compact Veer, a tiny little device which packs impressive webOS features into a credit card-sized body.

Featuring a Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM7230 800MHz ARM processor behind a 2.57-inch 320x400 display, it's certainly not as impressive as its big brother in terms of hardware - but the Veer does include the same webOS 2.2 software as the Pre³, and is likely to cost significantly less.

As with the Pre³, the HP Veer includes a 5 megapixel camera on the rear - but there's no sign of a front-facing camera on this cut-down model, meaning it's a no-go if you were hoping to try out the video calling support in the latest WebOS release.

Measuring just 54.5mm by 84mm in its closed state, and a mere 15.1mm thick, the Veer is a smartphone for those with small pockets - and with a battery-equipped weight of just 103g it's unlikely to weight you down, either.

Both devices include in-built support for the HP Touchstone, the company's induction charging mat. Simply drop the Pre³, Veer, or TouchPad tablet onto a Touchstone mat and it will begin to charge the battery - no cables required.

Induction charging isn't a new technology, but the requirement to use a special battery or casing containing the third-party hardware required to enable its use has resulted in slow adoption. With the technology built into its latest products, HP could be the first company to really make a go of the technology.

Both devices are due to launch in the spring, although HP has yet to confirm pricing. It has, however, stated that webOS 2.2 won't be coming to its older smartphones, meaning the Pre³ and the Veer are likely to be your only chance to get your hands on the latest software.