Palm Pre review
Mood: cheerful
Posted on 2009-08-10 14:27:00
Tags: reviews palmpre
Words: 1009

I've been using my new Palm Pre for just over a week. My old phone was a Nokia 62xx something and was pretty terrible, so I'll mostly be comparing it to David's iPhone 3G. (which of course I don't have a ton of experience with) Here are my thoughts, roughly in order from good to bad:

OS: WebOS is really pretty wonderful. One of the big advantages is being able to run multiple applications at once - you can get by on the iPhone without this, but the way I'm used to doing things it feels much more natural. In WebOS open applications look like cards, and you can switch between them with a flick of the finger, or close them by flicking them up off the screen.

Another nice thing is the way they do notifications - for example, when I get a new mail message, a little banner pops up in the bottom of the screen with the subject, and then it shortly collapses to a small icon in the bottom right corner which I can later touch to see the subject. It does the same thing for voicemails and calendar alerts, and it's a very slick way of letting you know something happened without totally interrupting you.

There's a menu you can open by touching the top right that shows you percentage battery life, and lets you configure WiFi, Bluetooth and Airplane Mode. Whereas the iPhone has a modal popup every time you get in range of a WiFi network, for the Pre you'd have to go to the menu to connect to one. I think I like the Pre's way better as I found the popups annoying on the iPhone.

Calendar: Integrates nicely with Google Calendar, which I use - I get notifications on the phone and it's easy to browse. Yay!

Email: I get push email from Gmail which is awesome. The mail client itself is decent - I can see my labels, and clicking on a link opens the web browser like you'd expect.

Browser: The browser is generally fine. Has the same pinch/unpinch for zooming as the iPhone does. Sadly the scrolling (both here and in other apps) just doesn't feel as smooth as the iPhone's. I also really wish there was a way to open a link in a new card - there used to be an arcane key combination (orange button + space + click, maybe?) but it got removed in the WebOS 1.1.0 update.

Keyboard: The physical keyboard is small but functional. I like it a little better than the iPhone's keyboard - the tactile feedback is really nice to have. On the other hand, you can't really use it in landscape mode, since obviously it rotated with the phone. The keys are pretty small but I've gotten used to them and can type at a reasonable rate.

Having extra keys (orange, symbol, shift) is nice, but it means it can be a bit of a crutch. For example, to delete an app from the launcher, you have to hold the orange button and click it. Apple can't do this with the iPhone, so they had to find a more intuitive way of allowing this, which in the end benefits the user.

Contacts: They have this neat system called Synergy that can download your Google, Facebook, and AIM contacts (and Microsoft Exchange, but I didn't try that). The good news is that this is pretty neat and it tries its best to merge contacts that are actually the same person. The bad news is that, at least in my case, there were still a ton of contacts (AIM in particular) that didn't get merged, so I had to go through and manually do that. Which was kind of a hassle.

But still, the nice thing is that since it knows the merged contacts are all the same person, you can continue conversations you were having over AIM and switch to SMS or email fairly seamlessly. I haven't had a chance to actually try this but the demo I saw looked neat. Also, it downloads Facebook contact pictures which is a nice plus.

Launcher: The launcher is kinda OK. There are only 3 screens with apps on them which mean they can get kinda long. One nice feature is that you can start typing while the launcher is open and it will search through all your apps and contacts (this mitigates the 3 screen limitation somewhat). If you type something that has no matches it will bring up options to search on Google, Google Maps, Wikipedia, and Twitter which is nifty.

Messaging: I haven't done this much at all (it's really annoying at work getting my IMs on my phone) but the times I used it it worked fine.

Apps: The App Catalog currently has only 32 apps - they haven't really opened the door yet, but what's there is decent. There's Tweed (a nice Twitter app), Pandora, a stock ticker and a few others. Happily, their SDK is now available and it's pretty easy to install apps on the phone, so I'm looking forward to testing it out with a few simple apps.

Other apps it ships with: Google Maps (works about the same as the iPhone version, including builtin GPS), the requisite YouTube app, Amazon MP3 (yay!), and PDF and Office file viewers.

It comes with some Sprint apps, too, like Sprint Navigation (provides turn-by-turn directions with speaking!) and Sprint TV which I've only played with a little but seems to have a decent selection of TV shows (most require payment) and radio stations.

Battery Life: The battery life is honestly pretty bad. Usually I end the day at around 50% battery life which is reasonable I guess. Leaving the phone on in areas where signal strength is low seems particularly hard on it. (i.e. inside the Austin Convention Center) It was terrible the first few discharge cycles but things have gotten to a point now that I can live with it.

I've been happy with my Pre, and I'm looking forward to developing apps for it!


Comment from spchampion:

You can disable the iPhone's Wi-Fi modal popup and just select networks via the settings menu. Under the Wi-Fi menu, set "Ask to Join Networks" to Off.

Comment from gregstoll:

Ah, good to know! Since it's not my iPhone I don't generally play around with the settings...

Comment from djedi:

I think the comparisons I've gathered so far go like this:

Pre Advantages: multitasking, (real) notifications, more open app store, contacts sync.

IPhone Advantages: older tech (so smoother experience, better battery life, more apps, etc.), apple ui

I'm vaguely tempted by the Pre once another version/some OS updates come out and my iPhone dies...

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