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My Palm Pre Review.
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Old 06/07/2009, 12:54 AM   #1 (permalink)
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I just want to start off by saying I have owned almost every mobile OS out there. WinMo, SymbianOS, Motorola's OS, Sony Ericcson's OS, mOSX, and the original PalmOS. I have also had a lot of use with Android. I say this, because I will try and make this review as unbiased and comparative as possible.

Here we go.

Btw, click on any of the pics to see a higher res version.



The Hardware
I want to start off on the Pre's biggest weakness: the hardware. A lot of reviews have been saying the same thing; the device just feels a little... low quality. When I pulled it out of the box, my first impressions were that it felt really good in the hands. And it still do love the feel of the phone in the hands. However, the plastic backing and the slide out keyboard leaves a lot to be desired. With that said, the Touchstone backplate for the Pre makes the device feel a lot better. The touchstone backplate is made of a nice, grippy, matte material. This really adds a lot to the feel of the device, and makes it feel much higher quality. If you plan on buying the Pre, I highly suggest buying the Touchstone Charger specifically to make the phone feel better.



The feel of the phone in your hands is awesome. It's noticeably smaller than the iPhone, and it is really easy to cradle in one and work the device. The power button is positioned very comfortably on the Pre's top right corner (as seen in the pic below), allowing your index finger to rest on it naturally. This makes the device really easy to turn on quickly, and is much more comfortable than the iPhone's power button. This is important, considering it is the only way of powering on the device, other than sliding out the keyboard. The center button near the bottom of the device does not power on the screen when in standby. This takes some getting used to coming from an iPhone.




The Pre also has a 3.5mm standard non-recessed headphone jack, so any headphones should work great. I haven't tested too much of the headphone jack, but from the Pandora stuff I was listening to earlier, the Pre has no problems driving my NuForce NE-7M's. I did, however, notice a slight lack of bass, with no EQ options. Nothing to really worry about though.

The volume buttons are pretty easy to hit and find during a call while the slide is closed, but once you open the slider, the buttons end up in the middle of the phone, causing you to search for them during a call. Nothing major, but slightly annoying as I am getting used to device. The Pre's volume on the speakerphone is decent, but once you raise the volume to a high level, the whole phone begins to absorb the vibration, and feels really weird to hold. I've never experienced this on any other phone before. Ring volume isn't very loud, and the vibration is somewhat soft. I haven't missed any notifications because of it, but I have been home all day with relatively low noise/activity levels. We'll see how this fares in real world situations.

The screen is very, very good. It has the same resolution as the iPhone, but is a bit smaller, which means the actual pixels are smaller, resulting in a very crisp and clean display. It is also very bright, a lot brighter than the iPhone, which leads me to worry about battery life. The screen responds to touch input very well. No sensitivity issues, and I am really used to the iPhone, which as we all know, has a very nice screen/touch input. I did experience Engadget's issue though, where stuff on the VERY edges of the screen are harder to hit. After experimenting with this though, I believe the issue is within the software, and not the hardware of the device. You wont be touching too much of the edges though, so it isnt a huge issue.

All in all, the hardware is decent and gets the job done, but is noticeably lower in quality when compared with the iPhone. However, with the Touchstone backplate, you'll feel that the phone does take on a much more solid and higher quality feel.


The Keyboard
This is where a lot of people have been debating back and forth. I have had a physical keyboard with my Treo and loved it. I also loved the iPhone's virtual keyboard, which I have gotten really used to and can type quite fast on. With the Pre, I cant type as fast as I can with my iPhone, but i notice I make a lot less mistakes. The iPhone does a great job at fixing my mistakes, but the auto-correct does get annoying sometimes. The keys are just too damn small though. I find i'll hit more than one key at a time, but interestingly, it only counts one of them, and it fortunately is usually the right one. Palm may have written in a very small timer to make sure near 2 key presses only count as one. I am unsure of this though, as I have repeatedly tapped a key and it has kept up with me.

I do miss the onscreen keyboard though. It was nice to make those quick replies via SMS. Having to slide out the keyboard for every text entry gets annoying, but I think it might just take some time getting used to, as i have been with the iPhone for so long.

In other words, the keyboard is decent, but could be much better. With a bit more space and slightly higher keys, it could prove to be a lot better than virtual keyboards. There is some talk going around though that Palm will release an onscreen via the next software update. We'll see.



The Software
WebOS. This is supposed to re-establish Palm in the mobile market and save not only their own company, but Sprint as well. Does it live up to the hype? Will it defeat the iPhone's mOSX? Well....... yes and no.

Let's start off with the bad. The first thing I noticed coming from the iPhone is that things felt a little... chuggy. Some of the animations stutter a bit, apps aren't extremely quick to open, and there are quite a few features missing. Scrolling large lists is definitely not as smooth as the iPhone, and moving between app page lists is not nearly as "quick." My first impressions left me with a little bit of worry.

Then I started using it.

Cards. This simple metaphor is genius for a mobile device. I'm serious. This is the most revolutionary concept in mobile modern interface design and is the best feature WebOS and the Pre have to offer. It makes multitasking on a mobile device... extremely usable. Android, WinMo, and other mobile OS's have offered multitasking, but it always felt... off. Sure, you could run multiple apps at once, but how do you stop them from running? How do you manage them? How do you know which runs are running and sucking up battery life and resources? WinMo was notorious for this. Apps never really closed. Hit the X button, and they were still running, just minimized. There were third party apps that eventually made the X button a real close button, but nothing never really solved the underlying problems of managing multiple apps on a tiny 3" screen. Until now, with WebOS.

The idea is simple, each app you run (and even separate screens in some apps) become a "card," in which you can freely toss up to close. By pressing the silver center button on the bottom of the Pre, all of your cards come into a smooth scrolling list, so you can see all of the apps you have open. Want to close one? Toss it up. Want to re-arrange them? Just drag them around. The best part is, with the gesture area below the screen, you can easily go back and fourth between adjacent apps at any time. It makes jumping back and fourth between apps a breeze, and allows for increased productivity. This ability to manage open applications is the reason to get a Pre and jump into the WebOS platform. I am serious. It's that good.



The Pre's gesture area also makes the device very useful and getting around quick. Other than aforementioned gestures to swipe back and fourth between apps, I really like the "Quick Launch" gesture as shown in the pic below. Simply start in the dedicated gesture area below the screen and pull up. You'll get a nice 5 iconed band that follows your finger across the screen, allowing you to quickly open your favorite apps at any time, within any app. It rocks.



Another cool, but seemingly odd feature, is that Palm resorted to gestures to move back inside of apps. Much like Apple's arrow nav's at the top of most of their apps, to move between screens, you swipe left on the gesture area. This took some getting used to, but becomes second nature after a bit of use. It is nice to have, since you don't take up any screen real-estate to show back buttons or the like. However, this is not intuitive at first, so people just learning the Pre will wonder how to get back to a previous screen from time to time. I like it though. The gesture area also has two little white LED's that give you feedback on whether or not you are touching the gesture pad. I haven't had any issues with responsiveness, but I like that they are there.

Another really, really awesome design concept is how WebOS handles notifications. It's simply brilliant. Every other phone OS i have used has had disruptive notifications, where you have to attend to the notification before continuing what you were doing. In theory, it makes sense: you should have to respond to notifications as they come in otherwise, you might forget about them. However, WebOS introduces non-disruptive notifications with context. For example, on the iPhone, when you get a text message, an alert pops up with content over your app. You have to hit close or reply to do anything else. You must attend to it. With WebOS, when you receive a text message, it shows up along the bottom 20 or so pixels of the screen and scrolls the content. It's very noticeable, but does not interrupt your app at all. You can finish your email, web browsing, call... anything, and attend to it once you're done. Clicking on the notification brings up the specific app in a new card, allowing you to respond to the text message. All of your other apps continue to run in other cards.

Another great feature of the notification bar is that apps can put icons there, like your windows system tray, and when you click on them, the screens moves up a bit to allow you to do things inside of the app, without leaving your current app (shown below in the pic). I was in the calendar app and wanted to change the song in Pandora. I hit the P icon, and pandora's controls appeared, without leaving the calendar app. This level of background app control is simply awesome. Any app can utilize this feature. Pandora does it beautifully by putting its controls and artist/song name there. Another GREAT feature of WebOS.



And honestly, these two features alone are worth the price of admission. These two features alone trump the usability of any other mobile OS out there, including mOSX (I am comparing this to mOSX 3.0 btw). Once more apps start to utilize the notifications more, things are going to get even more awesome. For example, I plan writing a weather app that puts a small little notification on my phone every morning with the current weather based on GPS location every day. It doesn't interrupt any app, and doesn't need attending to. Just a nice little info pane every morning so I can decide if I need to wear shorts or not. This would be annoying as hell on the iPhone, but with WebOS, its an awesome feature.

The web browser is one feature I really need to be awesome for my phone. I use it all the time. And I happy to report, the browser in WebOS is pure awesome. Because the Pre has a faster processor than the iPhone, web pages load a lot quicker, and you navigate around as soon as the web page begins to load. Multitouch gestures work just as well as they do on the iPhone, and zooming in with a double tap is present here as well. WebOS also seems to cache pages better, as returning to the same page after visiting is much quicker, something I rarely found with the iPhone. Simply put, the browser on WebOS is the best browser on a mobile phone. Period. Sprint's network has a lot less latency and much more bandwidth than ATT, and you can feel it. Pages load about 10 -20x faster on my Pre vs. the iPhone. One cool tidbit is that since the iPhone and the Pre have the same resolution, any web site that was formatted for the iPhone looks and feels the same on the Pre. Nice!



However, this leaves me to my overall biggest gripe about the Pre: the apps. They just don't feel finished. Palm had some really awesome PIM apps back in the day for calendar, contacts, and other apps to really help manage your schedule. But on WebOS, they feel pretty basic. I loved the "Today/Tomorrow" screens, but they are nowhere to be found in WebOS. This doesnt stop a developer though from making an app, I do plan to write a Today app once I get access to the SDK for WebOS.

I believe Palm spent a lot of time on their Synergy feature of WebOS, which is REALLY cool and has a ton of potential, but needs some work. Synergy allows you to link your Facebook, Google, and Exchange accounts to the Pre, which auto populates your calendar, contacts, and todos with all three sources. It does a great job at auto-merging the data as well from the different sources. If you have "Bob Smith" in Facebook and Google, synergy will merge all the data into one contact view. And the best part, if Bob updates his info, it gets synced to your device.

All of palms apps work with synergy in mind. For example, there is so SMS app. It is now a "Messaging" application. Where you have conversations with contacts, regardless of the platform they are on. So if you sent Bob Smith an IM, and then sent him a SMS, you would see both in the same view, chronologically. It's pretty cool, and very useful. Calendar also merges your Facebook-accepted events, your google calendar, and Exchange calendar from work. This works great, and is really cool to see all of your calendars at once. Another very useful feature.



Now, there is one major problem with Synergy. It grabs every single contact/calendar event from all of your data sources. You pick and choose. If you have 1,000 Facebook friends, you now have 1,000 contacts in your phone. This appears to be a huge problem, but with Universal Search, I actually kind of like it. Universal search makes it easy to find any contact in your contact list just by typing on the keyboard on the home screen. So this way, if you ever need a phone number for one of your FB friends for any reason, you have it. If you never need, oh well. You can set up speed dials, so managing a lot of contacts isnt too bad. It's also nice to know everyone's birthday, as it grabs that info from FB as well. I also believe Palm will update Synergy to allow for filtering, so I wouldn't be too worried about having a huge contact/calendar list.

Updating WebOS is also very cool. Every update for WebOS is done OTA (over-the-air). You never have to plug in the Pre to a computer. Ever. It downloads any new updates, installs them, and you have the new features/bug fixes. I hated updating my iPhone OS. Such a PITA. With WebOS, it is simple, quick, and painless. Awesome.

The App Store is very weak at launch. There are 25 or so apps, and most of them aren't very good. Pandora is fantastic though, and Fandago is pretty nice (if you buy tickets for a movie, the app auto adds the movie's start time in your calendar and adds driving directions if needed). For WebOS to actually be successful, more apps need to launch. Palm has not released their SDK yet to the public though, which is the reason for the low app turnout. Considering all development on the WebOS platform is done with HTML/CSS/Javascript, there should be plenty of developers creating apps for the platform, me included.


Overall
So, lets address the elephant in the room: is it better than the iPhone? Well, it all depends on what you use your phone for and how you use it. If you use your phone for games and a lot of media, stick with the iPhone. While the Pre does natively sync with iTunes, it is limited to 8GB (no external storage) and has an inferior music application. Games are also one thing the Pre and WebOS might always lack. Javascript is powerful, but no where near as powerful as natively compiled code. If you love gaming on your iPhone, do not buy the Pre.

However, if you're like me and use your phone for everything (web browsing, texting, media watching/listening, productivity apps, PIM management, etc), WebOS's new design concepts destroy all other mobile OS's with an extremely enjoyable user experience that allows you to manage many applications with ease. There are a lot of quirks and many things missing from WebOS, but as with any 1.0 device, it will only get better with time.










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Last edited by Kev1000000; 07/07/2010 at 10:06 PM.
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Old 06/07/2009, 12:58 AM   #2 (permalink)
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What, I cant most flickr images? =(
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Old 06/07/2009, 01:00 AM   #3 (permalink)
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You have to use the IMG tag so the pics will show up.
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Old 06/07/2009, 01:09 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Ahh, thanks. Fixed.
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Old 06/07/2009, 01:15 AM   #5 (permalink)
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You did not address battery life.

Any thoughts on that? Mine seems terrible so far compared to my 3G iPhone.
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Old 06/07/2009, 01:15 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Awesome review though I loved it, being in Software Development field I loved your perspective.
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Old 06/07/2009, 01:24 AM   #7 (permalink)
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I mostly agree with your conclusions, except I don't think the iPhone has a better media player app. Don't get me wrong, I agree entirely that for people who use their phones almost solely for music as you say, 8GB is not nearly enough, but from a slight bit of playing I've done with the iPhone's music app on my brother's phone, the only thing really missing for the Pre is something like cover flow, and I personally think that the Pre's method of doing it feels more functional anyway.
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Old 06/07/2009, 01:24 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Good review. Thanks! No tethering is the deal breaker for me. The hardware issues being reported is another sign for me to hold off for now. Pure shame. Palm needs better Quality Control and Sprint needs to let us tether the damn thing. =T
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Old 06/07/2009, 01:27 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by jsimon9633 View Post
Awesome review though I loved it, being in Software Development field I loved your perspective.
Haha, thanks. I, myself am a developer, so I am eagerly awaiting the opening of the SDK!
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Old 06/07/2009, 01:30 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Absolutely great review. I especially like how you advise that adding the touchstone back not only enables the cool charging, but also addresses some of the complaints about build quality. If I get the Pre I will absolutely get the touch stone if for no other reason than to have it feel better made in my hand.

Great job and we all look forward to your apps in the app catalog. If you ever need a beta tester or someone to just give you another perspective on an app in brainstorming, just PM me, I'd be glad to help.
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Old 06/07/2009, 01:32 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Kev1000000 View Post
Haha, thanks. I, myself am a developer, so I am eagerly awaiting the opening of the SDK!
You guys mind clearing something up for me? From what I understand apps can only be installed via the app store correct? Will the opening of the SDK allow us to install applications on our own via PC or will we be forced to work only through the app store.

My concern is that if Sprint controls apps they will most definitely not allow a tethering application to be distributed on our devices.

My understanding is that it will be much like the iPhone where all apps must be installed via the app store and thus Sprint will be able to remove any application that we may install outside of the app store (via some jailbreak-like app)

I just realllly realllly want tethering on this device. For me, it's huge.
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Old 06/07/2009, 01:34 AM   #12 (permalink)
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One complaint about the Touchstone I believe is that it does not come with a micro usb cable so you have to use your original one for it. Which basically means you still only have 1 charger but you paid 70 dollars to make that 1 charger touchstone.

I would be way happier if It came with a second cable, so I could have the cable at work and have the touchstone at home.

I think one of the first things that most sites that have iphone optimized pages (the ones which check the User Agent to show that page) should include the palm web browser. Its a pain to not be able to directly access those pages which obviously look good for the Pre. Like Amazon, Gmail and such. You can access them but its not automatic.

Another thing I noticed that is a slight annoyance is that for form fields, the iPhone automatically zooms in to that field to give you more visibility. Pre does not.
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Old 06/07/2009, 01:43 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Great review - thanks!
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Old 06/07/2009, 01:52 AM   #14 (permalink)
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actually read the entire thing....

really good job. thanks given.
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Old 06/07/2009, 02:29 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Great review. I had a similar impression with the device although I liked the keyboard. WebOS interface is breakthrough and I can't wait to see more devices released with that platform. I want to ask one thing regarding the hardware:

>>The Hardware
>>I want to start off on the Pre's biggest weakness: the hardware.

Do you feel that the hardware in the device can supports WebOS well? In terms of memory, graphics acceleration, and processor?

I kind of walked away thinking that the lags and crashes were hardware related.
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Old 06/07/2009, 02:32 AM   #16 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by chymo View Post
Great review. I had a similar impression with the device although I liked the keyboard. WebOS interface is breakthrough and I can't wait to see more devices released with that platform. I want to ask one thing regarding the hardware:

>>The Hardware
>>I want to start off on the Pre's biggest weakness: the hardware.

Do you feel that the hardware in the device can supports WebOS well? In terms of memory, graphics acceleration, and processor?

I kind of walked away thinking that the lags and crashes were hardware related.
The CPU itself is strong and rumor has it the Pre has around 256mb of RAM. Those specs alone should provide a good environment for WebOS. I have no idea what is causing the lag issues.
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Old 06/07/2009, 02:39 AM   #17 (permalink)
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The thing that drives me absolutely crazy about these reviews is the bashing of the App Shoppe (since "App Store" is Apple's fruit stand) for not having 40,000 apps at launch as if it's NEVER going to get more than what it's launching with. How many apps did Apple offer when the original iPhone launched? Hmmm? (Hint: Less than what Pre has.)

The NY Times is launching an app in beta now and it's not unreasonable to expect that new and useful apps will be coming steadily. If the OP wants to write an app, multiply it by the legions looking to tap the potential of WebOS and things will be fine.
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Old 06/07/2009, 02:44 AM   #18 (permalink)
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If the OP wants to write an app, multiply it by the legions looking to tap the potential of WebOS and things will be fine.
He wants to, but he can't. He can't write an app yet. The device is fully launched and the SDK isn't available.
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Old 06/07/2009, 03:44 AM   #19 (permalink)
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Haha, yeah, I do have small hands... lol
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Old 06/07/2009, 05:29 AM   #20 (permalink)
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Welp I guess them 5 years just flew by, it seems to be only 3 years that a mobile os is on par if not equal to the iphone. Steve needs to get a better crystal ball cuz it aint working.

Last edited by LupeValenz; 06/07/2009 at 05:49 AM.
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