Palm Pre Review

Palm Pre ClosedWell, I went out an bought myself a Palm Pre. It’s a really good phone, but the major deciding factor was the great deal I currently have with Sprint. It just made it too hard to jump to another carrier to get another phone (*cough* iPhone *cough* AT&T). I held out on renewing the account until the phone was released, and then waited a week or so before making the purchase. Also the fact that I couldn’t get one (without camping out or getting up early) on release day helped the decision. I got on a waiting list and was able to get my hands on a new Palm Pre about a week after they came out (which was one month ago today). I’ve been planning to do a write-up with my impressions of the phone, but wanted to be able to actually live with it for a significant amount of time before writing. I feel like a month’s worth of daily use has given me enough time to truly get to know the ins and outs of the device. I can safely say that I’m extremely pleased with the Palm Pre. It’s a great device, but there are a few rough edges. But I think most of them can probably be chalked up to being version one of the device, and will hopefully be fixed with future updates.

Good: WebOS
In one sentence: WebOS is great! I am extremely happy with the OS running on the Palm Pre. It is elegant, well thought out, and very easy to use. I’m a big fan of the multitasking, or the “cards” metaphor that it uses. You open an app by touching it, then simply swipe up and throw the card away to close it. The UI is really different than anything else out there at the moment. I found myself taking advantage of the the multitasking right out of the box when setting up my email accounts. It was nice to be able to have the mail application running as well as multiple web “cards” open to look up server addresses. The gestures have become ingrained, and I find myself trying to use them when my iPod touch before realizing that that they’re not going to do anything. The shining star of the Palm Pre is definitely WebOS. If you haven’t tried it out, go visit a Sprint store and give it a spin. There are a lot of nice little touches built in that are way too numerous to mention here, but WebOS is definitely a great OS to work with.

Good: Hardware
Before I bought the Pre, Ipre-open‘d seen quite a few photos and videos of the device, but you really don’t get a sense of how sleek it is until you hold it in your hand. It fits really well in your hand, and has a nice heft to it. The screen is a nice size, and the touch screen responds really well. The slide-out keyboard (another selling factor for me) works really well. I’m coming from a Treo 755p to this device, so I’m using to having a physical keyboard. The Pre is a bit smaller than the Treo, but I had no problem getting used to it very quickly. I like that there is a physical keyboard that I can slide out when I need it, but can leave it folded in when I’m just interacting with the touch screen alone.

Good: Browser
Apple set the bar very high for a mobile browser with the iPhone. Palm has taken most of the things that make Mobile Safari great and put them into the Pre. If you’ve ever used an iPhone or iPod Touch browser, you know what I’m talking about. Getting a full desktop browser feeling into the palm of your hand is probably one of the nicest features of the phone.

Good: Notification Bar
notificationsI honestly think this is one of my favorite parts of WebOS. When you get a notification for something, such as an email, or a text message, they show up really elegantly at the bottom of the screen in the notification bar. When they first appear, they pop up with a one-line description in the lower portion of the screen, keeping whatever application you have open. You can then touch it to make it larger (see more information about the notification), or you can swipe it away and go on with whatever you’re doing. If you get multiple notifications, they pile up in the lower portion of your screen, and show simply as tiny icons indication their type, allowing you to select later to go into the actual app, or swipe them away and ignore them. The notifications grab your attention, but don’t interrupt what you’re currently working on.

Good: Synergy
Synergy is the name that Palm gave their pull-everything-together-from-the-cloud-into-the-phone system. In a nutshell, what it does is pull contacts from various locations around the net (google contacts, Facebook, outlook, etc) and merges them together into the address book on the device. It sees that you have a Facebook friend named John Smith, and a Google contact named Jonathan Smith that share an email address. It assume they’re the same person, and makes one contact entry for them pulling all the contact data from either source. If that data changes, either on the device, or in the cloud, your phone is updated accordingly. This also works with the calendar, pulling all your calendars into one place, yet allowing your to split them up or view whichever you’re currently working on (i.e. home/work/holidays). It’s a really nice way to bring everything into one place, and keep it up to date. One area where it could improve (and I presume it will get added later) is more sources for data. Currently the Pre works with Google (docs/calendar/talk), Facebook, Microsoft Exchange, and AIM. I’d like to be able to hook in Yahoo and Microsoft (Hotmail/Messenger) as well, but I’m willing to bet that’s coming soon.

Good: Touchstone
Technically this isn’t part of the phone. It’s an accessory that you have to buy extra, but it is totally handy. The Touchstone is an induction charger for the Pre. So, you slap on a special back (battery cover), and drop the phone onto the magnetic touchstone, and it charges it for you. No messing with cables, just drop it on and charge. Even though it’s a great addition to the phone, I’d drop it in the “Bad” category for the high price tag. Luckily I had a gift card, so it wasn’t as painful of a purchase as it could have been. Ssuper-handy… but super-pricey.

Good: Quickies

  • Fast!
  • Screen is beautiful!
  • GPS and TeleNav (turn by turn navigation)
  • Email client is great!
  • WiFi/Cell data switching works well (FAST)
  • Good clear 3 mega-pixel camera (see photos from the Pre in my mobile gallery)

Bad: Battery
The Pre battery life ain’t that great. It isn’t unusable, but it’s not wonderful. I am probably a heavy user, and it gets me through the day… but just barely. The battery life is a tad bit worse than my Treo 755p (which wasn’t that great either). It gets me through the day, and I guess that’s good. There is definitely room for improvement (c’mon firmware update!!).

Bad: Note Sync
This one is really easy… notes don’t sync. You’d think with all the great synergy mumbo jumbo going on there would be some way I could enter notes (hello google notes?) without typing them manually into the phone.

Bad: Apps
The apps aren’t really that bad, in fact the apps currently available in the App Catalog are actually pretty good (woo hoo Evernote!). It’s the low number of apps that is bad. Again, the phone is young, and they haven’t opened up the SDK yet. I just need to have a little patience and wait a little longer. Palm has said the SDK will be released by the end of summer, so that will hopefully open the floodgates on the App Catalog.
UPDATE: The SDK has now been released – new apps added to catalog “sometime this fall.”

Bad: Bluetooth
There is bluetooth on the phone, but it can only be used for audio at the moment. It is stereo, and it does work with my bluetooth headset, but I’d really like to be able to transfer files with it… like I’ve been able to do with every single phone I’ve ever owned. This is nothing a firmware update can’t fix – the capability is there, it just need to be pulled out in the OS.

Bad: Video/Audio Player
The video and audio players do what they’re supposed to do, but are missing some polish in some certain areas. First of all, they don’t remember where you left off when playing media. I listen to a lot of podcasts (which the Pre can’t download BTW), and don’t want to have to fast forward (there is no scrub bar) to the place I left off in an hour long podcast. It is also missing a way to delete audio from the device from inside either player. I’d like to be able to remove a file without having to plug the phone into a computer. I think (hope) some of these features will come, but probably don’t use these apps as much as I would if they were there. I still carry around an iPod Nano when I want to listen to music of podcasts.

Bad: Quickies

  • Can’t search email messages
  • No data tethering
  • The calendar app is a bit sluggish

Everything considered, I think the Palm Pre is a great phone. Is it an iPhone killer? I don’t think so, but I do believe it raises the smart phone bar, and does a good number of things better than the iPhone. I think any sort of real competition is good, and the Pre is the first phone that has really presented a challenge. There are some areas that need a bit more polish, but fortunately most of them should be able to be taken care of with a firmware update. It’s really just a matter of Palm actually doing it, and bringing the Pre up to the level it can easily be. I think many of the items in my “Bad” category can be chalked up to rushing the device out the door. Like I mentioned in my last Pre post, it was do or die for Palm with this device. They couldn’t afford to wait any longer to get it out, and some things may have suffered a bit because of that. So did Palm hit a home run with the Pre? I think they came pretty close, and time will tell as the device evolves and moves forward.

One Comment

gravatar Troy Shehan

nicely detailed writeup. battery life will always be a problem with devices that allow background apps… everything is a trade it seems. i’ll be curious if the bluetooth issues changes – Verizon has a long standing class action suit against them for using the ‘Bluetooth’ name, but disabling the transfer. (so you are required to upload your files … Read Morethrough their network… which you have to pay to do) Wonder if it is a similar issue with Sprint.

I was enraptured for about 9 hours playing DOOM on my iPhone a few weeks ago. The first app I have truly enjoyed I think.

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