In a world where phone screens keep getting larger, the HP Veer dares to be small. So small, in fact, that it rivals many feature phones in size, yet manages to pack in all the power of HP’s newest webOS (which used to be Palm’s webOS). Nearly all of its downsides, however, tend to spring from its 2.6-inch screen size and tiny form factor as well, making it one odd phone to review. It’s hard to know exactly who HP is targeting with the Veer, but whoever they are, they must have good eyesight.
This is a small phone. The HP Veer is only 3.31 inches tall by 2.15 inches wide, with a depth of a little over half an inch. Though it hides a full-QWERTY keyboard that slides out, it still manages to be only slightly thicker than the iPhone 4 and most of the super-thin smartphones that ride its coattails. It also has a 2.6-inch, 320 x 400 pixel screen. However, compared to its 4.3-inch cousins, which now regularly sport 540 x 960 pixel resolutions, screen space is limited.
In its compact form, the Veer reminds us a bit of the Motorola Pebl so many years ago. It has a plastic finish that comes in all the colors you could possibly desire (black or white), rounded edges, and sits quite nicely in your hand. The keyboard slide-out function is easy to do with a single hand, which helps when making calls or responding to a text on the fly. The buttons, though tiny, can be used rather effectively once you get used to their small size. We give credit to Palm for always figuring out a way to make its compact keyboards usable.
Like everything else, when it comes to ports and features, the small size of the Veer doesn’t always work to its advantage. The power and unlocking button on the upper right is easy enough to use, but the volume rocker on the left side of the phone is a bit hard to press, and in a somewhat awkward location, especially if you’d like to turn the volume down on that Justin Bieber video. HP must have realized this too, as there’s actually a volume lock that mutes the phone when turned on. Good thinking, HP.
Audio lovers will not love the Veer, however. Unlike most smartphones these days, the Veer does not have a micro USB charging port. Due to its small size, HP has opted for a proprietary magnetic port. This means that if you don’t bring your charger somewhere, you won’t be able to bum a charge from your friend either. Sadly, this magnetic port also doubles as an audio jack. There is no stereo headphone jack on the unit. To listen to headphones, you have to stick a little black dongle on the side of the phone, which sticks on there pretty well, like a tumor on the side of the phone. In our use of it, the dongle tended to disconnect in our pocket and we had a hard time remembering to bring the little thing with us wherever we went. Audio enthusiasts: there are better phones for you.
Finally, the phone’s speaker is serviceable, but very weak, and since it faces rear-ward, the sound is heading away from you instead of toward your ears. Again, if you like audio, the small size of the Veer works against it in this respect.
The Veer isn’t what we’d call a slow phone, but it certainly isn’t going to win any medals for its performance. It runs on an 800MHz Qualcomm Scorpion processor with an Adreno 205 GPU. Compare this .8GHz processor to the dual-core 1GHz phones we are seeing, and you can tell that this phone isn’t meant to lift a heavy load. It does come with 8GB of internal storage though, which is nice provided you don’t need more – there’s no microSD slot. And for its processing power, the 512MB of RAM onboard does quite nicely. Like most modern phones, it has a built-in accelerometer and GPS as well.
The operating system
When HP bought Palm last year, it didn’t buy it for its hardware design, it bought the company for webOS. Most phones we review run on a variant of Google’s Android operating system or iOS (if it’s an iPhone). There are three other OS contenders still in the market, however, and HP’s webOS 2.2 is one of our favorites. So good that RIM completely copied it when designing the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, webOS is one of the most innovative, responsive, and useful phone operating systems on the market. At the heart of its design is a unique Card-based approach to multitasking that turns open apps into a hand of cards, allowing users to easily minimize and swap between apps with a few swipes of the screen. Like Android and iOS, HP’s operating system has an app store and most every basic function you’d ask of a smartphone.
With that said, webOS 2.2 is somewhat limited by the screen size of the Veer. The excellent notification system especially is hindered by how small the notifications are when they appear across the bottom of the screen. On a Palm Pre, these notifications would be large enough to tap with your finger, which then makes them grow to a size where you can read a bit about what they are referencing. Perhaps someone is poking you on Facebook, for example. You can then click to open or to swipe them off the screen.
Other precise tasks are also difficult, but HP improves the experience by making the black portion under the screen into a gesture area, like the Palm Pre 2. When done right, universal gestures can really improve an OS and no one seems to grasp the concept better than HP. A swipe up will minimize an app; a second swipe will maximize it; a swipe to the left will go back; a pinch will zoom out. It’s all quite fluid and fun use. We praised the BlackBerry PlayBook for its use of universal gestures, but RIM’s product is a clear derivative of webOS, which is far more responsive (even the touchscreen responds fluidly) than almost any other operating system outside of Apple‘s iOS.
The problem with webOS is, of course, the problem with every smartphone OS outside of Android and iOS: it doesn’t have enough apps. HP has gone to good lengths to include a lot of social-networking and Web functionality in the Veer from the get go, but once you begin looking for a game outside Angry Birds or an app more complicated than The Weather Channel, HP’s App Catalog often shows its failings. As much as it tries, HP and Palm have not been able to drum up enough developer interest in webOS. Hopefully this will change, but until then, HP’s platform is not for those who want to play and use the latest and greatest in apps. The Veer’s small, low-resolution screen also means that many of the already few apps in HP’s App Catalog will not work on the small device because they were built for larger screens, like the one on the Palm Pre 2.
The Web, on the other hand, works quite well using HP’s browser. The only problem is, again, the size of the Veer’s screen. You’ll be pinching and zooming in and out of pages to read them. Worse, though this is marketed as a “4G” phone, it doesn’t even run on AT&T’s “4G” HSPA+ network. The Veer can only tap into standard HSPA networks, meaning its speed taps out at a theoretical 14.4Mbps, though we never achieved over 1Mbps in our download speed tests.
(We put 4G in “quotes” because AT&T’s HSPA+ network is more like 3G on steroids than actual 4G, which we consider to be a next generation technology like LTE or WiMax. Even AT&T has admitted as much in the past, before it decided to tack 4G onto all of its phones.)
If the HP Veer is not the phone for audiophiles, it’s certainly not the phone for those who value decent photography. The device has a 5-megapixel rear camera that lacks an autofocus and a flash of any sort. Most pictures come out lifeless and entirely with no depth of focus (everything is clear) because it’s a fixed-focus camera.
The Veer is also missing a dedicated camera button and video quality is poor and blurry, even for a phone. With that said, we can’t imagine anyone buying the HP Veer if they’re searching for a great camera phone anyway, so we’re not sure how much the cheap camera will hurt HP.
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Overall, the HP Veer is acceptable as a phone, but we found reception to be a bit harsh at times, and the Veer’s small profile makes it easier for a caller to trail off and get very quiet to those on the receiving end. We had no problem with reception, though we were only able to connect to AT&T’s 3G network here in uptown New York City. The speakerphone is also a bit worse than most speakerphones, and tends to sound a bit chopped up and garbled at times. With that said, we repeat, this phone does work decently as a phone.
The Veer may be small, but its battery is smaller. The device comes with a meager 910mAh battery, which is rated to have five hours of talk time and up to 300 hours (12.5 days) of stand-by time. We found the battery to be acceptable, but definitely in need of a charge by the end of the day. Those who use the device more frequently may find the need to charge by dinner time.
It’s great to see that the phone market is finally beginning to welcome odd-looking phones again. HP is brave to try something new, and we applaud the company’s courage, but the Veer is not a phone for everybody. Its tiny screen and keyboard will make it difficult to operate for those with large hands. And though we love HP’s webOS operating system, the small screen size of the Veer actually limits the already scant number of useful apps because many were built for larger devices like the Palm Pre 2. In addition, due to its noticeable deficiencies in the audio and visual departments, we can’t recommend it to those who like music, podcasts, audiobooks or those who wish to take good pictures or video. Finally, don’t think it’s a 4G phone, because it isn’t. This device doesn’t qualify as 4G even by the most lenient standards, because it cannot operate at HSPA+ (21mbps and higher) speeds.
However, for all its shortcomings, we like the HP Veer. We quite know what customer this phone is made for, but we can see it as a useful phone for those who want all the perks of owning a smartphone, but don’t often spend time digging into them. If you are performing basic functions or spend the time to get used to how small everything is, the Veer can be a great phone. For everybody else, we recommend waiting for the Palm Pre 3 or checking out Android or iOS.
- Small size is welcomed in a market of huge phones
- Refreshing webOS interface
- QWERTY keyboard is quite usable
- Screen is more responsive than any Android device
- Screen is too small for many users
- Proprietary charge port
- Audio jack requires a dongle
- Poor camera with no autofocus
- No microSD storage slot
- Screen whittles down webOS app selection
- Not a true 4G device