HP/Palm’s WebOS – A couple months in…

I purchased a Palm Pre Plus a couple months ago for free* (*AT&T’s definition of free which is actually about $20 usually followed with paying much more a month).   So my somewhat vague, somewhat specific requirements:

  1. I wanted it to be “free”, so I purchased it knowing they might not back-port the newer WebOS that was going to launch in a few months (on the Veer for instance).  This was therefore accepted as a limitation.
  2. I purchased it because I wanted a phone that was relatively open and not locked down.  I don’t have time to “root” devices that I purchased.   (I was really hoping for a MeeGo phone)
  3. I never wanted to *have* to put contacts in my phone directly again.  (I wanted sync with web services)
  4. I wanted a keyboard.

Did the HP/Palm WebOS on a Palm Pre Plus deliver?

  1. This has nothing to do with HP really… Watch out for AT&T, sometimes they say it needs a data plan other times they don’t.  Oh, and it completely depends on who you talk to on the phone as well.  Great.  Made a FCC complaint about it (AT&T claims that they have made phone plans cheaper over the years, but with more than half of their phones requiring a dataplan not so) which may have helped get it resolved faster.  Your mileage may vary.. A lot.
  2. HP/Palm really deliver on openness.  It’s NOT completely open source.  However, they support their homebrew community, and be support I mean they have donated servers to them.   All the devices I looked at (haven’t looked at the Veer) ship with the ability to go to developer mode, which really does mean typing in “upupdowndownleftrightleftrightbastart”.  Which is just awesome.. The homebrew site even has (unsupported by Palm) instructions on how to upgrade a WebOS 1.4.5 device to WebOS 2.1 (the veer os).
    Part of the homebrew community is patches to change functionality.  About 500 of them or so, for instance changing how the date displays, adding alarm options, and a lot more.
    Oh, and Ubuntu is a supported developer environment
  3. Syncs perfectly with Google’s servers for contacts/calendar/mail and likely more that I don’t use.   (On a related note, Google Voice goes into “phone” mode in the web browser but I haven’t actually tried it.
  4. The keyboard is nice and easy to type on.  I just open the phone and start typing and it will automatically find a contact or give me the option to search google or wikipedia.

It really does deliver on my expectations, in fact in many areas it exceeds.  How the built-in keyboard really allows you to find what you are looking for faster is one of the features that really surprised me.   (It also surprised me just how slow this really is on other phones).

Where does it fall short?

I wish it supported more audio/video codes and maybe WebM too.  It has gstreamer underneath and some homebrew people have added support for some formats, but none that I want… yet. Too be fair about WebM, it wasn’t out when this phone was released.  The youtube app works flawlessly though…  (It doesn’t support flash, but I know the newer version does)

More chat networks in the built-in app.  You can add others by apps, but all I am asking for is Jabber :/.   Under the hood it’s using libpurple (pidgin’s im system) so again should be do able.

Needs more market share.  Some apps aren’t available for it, some websites fall back to a non-mobile browser.  However the browser can handle most pages fine.  If you were thinking about getting a MeeGo phone why not get a next gen Palm instead? I would love to see it become the true third contender in the smartphone market.

Finally, many of these issues may have been fixed in the latest release…  and the homebrew community does seem to be making the shift.  It would be really nice if HP/Palm would create an official way to switch, but if not, they’ve empowered the homebrew community to help me do it myself.

Oh, and best of all, it feels like it’s actually designed for the palm of your hand.

6 thoughts on “HP/Palm’s WebOS – A couple months in…

  1. I am an ex-Maemo/MeeGo user (still have my n900 but won’t be buying from Nokia any more).

    I had some question I was wondering if you could answer.
    1. How easy is it to get standard linux apps to run on it (like say sshd)? On the n900 terminal apps worked (almost) perfectly, GUI apps worked fine but required the UI to be downscaled so it would fit.
    2. The problem with codec seems odd. Why can’t you/someone just compile the missing plugins you need and put them on the device? (This was done on the n900 very easily)
    3. How well is the offline support? You say that everything is synchronised automatically with google (Which is great, better than the n900), but lets say I am offline (no 3g or wifi) and change some details about a contact then go online again? What about if there is a conflict with during the offline time the same contact was changed by google?
    4. How do you feel about the community in terms of “libre” apps? I don’t mind using closed source apps, but it is annoying to be in a community where every little useless gadget/game port/etc… is closed source and in conflict with the competing gadget that does the same thing just with a few different features.

    Thanks for your time, have fun with the Palm!

    P.S. would you consider buying a palm tablet?

    1. 1. I can’t really say how easy it is, many apps are prepacked up in homebrew, making them incredibly easy to install. Some of the packaged ones are simple utilities aka diff, zip, etc. SSHd is available to be installed, so is OpenVPN, some web servers and more. Based on the number it definitely appears to be easier to port non-gui applications. There is a port of Doom, but it doesn’t work so well. So that appears to be similar to what you had on the n900.
      2. I think it’s a bit more complicated than a simple recompile. An article about the one codec added to the 1.4.5 series (http://www.precentral.net/more-audio-codecs-coming-webos-unofficially). More may have been added to later versions.
      3. If you go online afterwards it syncs up, at least with Google. I have not tested conflict resolution. With Exchange, it appears you have to be on to search contacts, which sucks, but that might be an issue with Exchange or specific to that setup.
      4. There are a good number of truly Libre apps (in preware you can search by license) but there are indeed many paid apps that have very similar functionality. I haven’t bought any though…

      For the Palm Tablet.. I would consider it.. but I’m not sure I actually want a tablet.

  2. I’ve got the original Pre, which is essentially the same device with half the memory. I did the update to 2.1 a few weeks ago, and I am thoroughly impressed by the improvements. I bought the phone almost two years ago when it was first introduced in Canada. I chose it for the same reasons you did. Some features (voice dialing in particular) were “Coming soon” via an update that never arrived.

    2.1 surprisingly seems faster UI-wise than 1.4 did, although some features are a little slow (voice dial takes about ten seconds for first run, though there is no delay on subsequent runs if it is still in memory). Your mileage may vary due to having more memory available.

    I did have to increase some cache (some sort of swap, i suppose) to have the device remain usable with the original pre. I also installed a slightly overclocked kernel, though I’m not sure if that was even necessary.

    It took me about four hours to update the device, mainly because I skipped part of the instructions and had to re-flash 1.4 on the device to delete my palm profile.

    Your mileage on AT&T will also be different than mine on Bell Canada. When building 2.1 for the Bell CDMA version, it still identifies itself as 1.4, ortherwise apparently Bell would bump it off their network. This does not allow me to get any apps requiring 2.0+ from their app store.

    Also, it sounds like you have found it already, but if not: Check out PreWare.

  3. I love WebOS and I’m a lucky owner of a Pre 2.

    I agree with your points and would like to emphasize even more the home-brew community and the ability to patch the phone.
    Nearly all the source code (html/js) is sitting right on your phone, ssh to it and change it or just install one of the hundreds of the patches that the community already created for us.

  4. Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer the questions. It seems that WebOS isn’t as friendly as the n900 (for example, plugins for gsteamer, and most SDL games were a very simple 5 minute recompile away). But since I will not be buying another Nokia phone there isn’t much else to go by.
    Also it seems that WebOS is much more sleek and finished.

    Thanks! I will probably wait for the Palm Pre 3…

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