OK, this is not going to be a full on tech review - others more qualified and with more time have done that elsewhere (see entry here). Yet I wanted to drop my impressions here briefly after having the Palm Pre for two days. Mind you, I am a pastor so Saturday and Sunday did not afford as much time to play with technology but I have put it through its paces a bit.
Before I begin though, these links are some response in the press to the Pre and its launch:
- New Pre Apps Just Announced Today - Palm Blog
- Review: Dazzling Palm Software Beats the iPhone - Associated Press
- 8 People Palm Poached to make the Pre - MobileCrunch - this an interesting deal on the Helio and Apple people Palm hired away to team up for webOS/Pre
- Palm Pre sells out as Sprint customers line up for thin stock - Blomberg
- Bill Shrink’s Excellent Pre/iPhone comparison - the comparing apples to apples (sorry about that one) on device price, AT&T and SPRINT plans.
When I first grabbed the device in person on Saturday morning (yes, I am one of the nerds who waited in line) I was amazed at how small it really is. It resembles a smooth river stone and fits nicely in the palm of your hand. The screen is 3.1 inches and seems roomy as you never have the screen real estate used up by a virtual keyboard. It feels sturdy in the hand and has a glossy finish. If you pay the ridiculous high price for the touchstone charger (I must admit I did) the back panel is replaced with a really nice matte finished piece that grips nicely. To say the least it is attractive in person and I recommend those considering the phone to go by a store to see the demo.
The build quality is good and it does not feel like a cheap phone in the hand. There are dedicated volume button on one side and ringer/vibrate and on/off button on the top right. These are perfectly located for use with the index finger when holding the Pre diagonally in the left hand. The entire front looks like one black panel with a small pearl like button on the bottom. When the screen comes on it really pops and is as vibrant and clear as anything I have seen. In the past I have not been a big fan of slider phones, but the Pre has changed my mind here. The slider is quick and sturdy and makes the phone a nice curved shape that is nice when talking.
The keyboard has been a feature of some discussion as to whether it is too small, cramped etc. Let me preface my remarks in saying that I am switching from a Palm Centro that has an even smaller keyboard. So far I have had zero problems with the keyboard and it works really well. It is a big thin as it lives on the bottom of the slider, but I am adjusting to that fine. I have typed on virtual keyboards and I found no love for those - having the keyboard hidden away keeps all your screen available and it is accessible when needed.
The touchstone charger is just cool and works as advertised. It does cost too much but I had a 25% off discount as a long term SPRINT customer that at least brought the price down a bit. The phone just sits perched upon the angled hockey-puck like touchstone and charges inductively through the special back panel. Did I say this is just cool?
OK, here is where I am going to make iPhone fan boys angry. I find there is no comparison between webOS and iphoneOSX. I have nothing but superlative praise for the thoughtful design that went into this UI. The multitasking card metaphor just works fantastically and the handling of notifications (alarms, emails, texts, music playing, GPS nav running) is simply brilliant. The experience is way better than I anticipated. I will say that you do have to learn all the gestures and unlearn certain ways of doing things. If you are convince that you always have to “go to a home icon screen” to move around and switch applications you will waste time on the Pre. You can leave apps running, switch quickly with flicks and swipes, use quick launch, universal search etc. It is better on Pre but I have found myself going to the launcher when I don’t need to. Here is an example. If I want to Google search something on some phones, I would go to Home, launch Google and search. On Pre I just start typing search terms from anywhere and then click Google. Fast, simple - but something I need to learn to do more intuitively rather than always launching the browser.
The contacts, calendar and email apps are all great and they really “just work” in pulling in information from various sources on the web (Gmail, Facebook, etc). When the Sprint guy asked me “do you want to transfer your old contacts to the phone” - I said naw, I’ll just sync it with my Gmail contacts. Done. The web browser is fast works well on both WiFi and EVDO Rev A. I downloaded Tweed a twitter app from the beta App Catalog and it is awesome. The apps are thin now but I sense the developer world will show up more and more in the coming days. PC Mag plays with the apps here.
GPS nav from Sprint is robust and supports turn by turn voice directions as well as the animated interface. I will say that GPS drains the battery pretty quickly but this is the case with most phones. One last thing, the iTunes integration works great. I dropped about 2GB of music over to the Pre and it plays fantastically on the Pre’s media player.
The only concerns I have are battery life as if you are constantly surfing, emailing and enjoying the data connection the 1150mA battery can get chewed up. Yet because this is not Apple, you can have a spare battery - this is your choice and choice is good. I have heard that SEIDO’s 1350mA battery for Centro/800w will work but I have not ordered one yet. Will look for others review of doing this…
Also, the apps do have to load on the Pre as it is a smartphone and there is a tiny pause when loading applications. The response is instant though when you switch to an app that is already running. Multi-tasking is good friends and the Pre’s UI makes it much easier than other phones.
One final hardware issue that I will complain about. The center button on the front should also be able to turn on the device. I want to do this ALL the time. The button’s main use is to bring up card-view for switching programs and it is effective in that role, but it should turn the phone on.
All in all, I have enjoyed my first two days with Palm Pre. The team at Palm did a fantastic job with aesthetics, user interface design and did all the small things right. As a Palm user since 1996 I was stoked when Pre was announced and even more stoked to purchase the phone (saved my pennies from Jan-June :) I am also a SPRINT customer who has had zero complaints about the network and find its data connections robust and speedy. The customer service issues from a few years ago are also better (it was bad) and we are glad to continue with the company.
For those of you who are not religiously affiliated with Apple, Inc. the Palm Pre is a great smartphone and from the initial response it seems it has a bright future. As to whether or not it is better than iPhone, I will not say. I will say that I do not want an iPhone and after using my Pre I see no reason why I would. It just would be a clunky and disappointing user experience for me.
For all those out there who incorporate data from multiple sources, need to work on the go, want a device that merges personal/business functions (small biz owners, church planters :) I can think of no better device than the new Palm Pre.