06/07/2009, 12:54 AM
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.