I’ve been using the Palm Pre as my only phone for a month now. Just to give a background, this review will be comparing the Pre to some other similar devices I have been using. My last phone was the HTC Touch that was running Windows Mobile 6.1. I also have a 2nd gen iPod Touch, so I’m familiar with most of the features of the iPhone as well. Additionally, I’ve used Palm devices in the past, owning a Palm m130 and a Sony Clie NX-60.
There are a couple aspects that need to be explored, first is the hardware. I love the size of the device. Based on the pics, I was expecting it to be a bit larger. It’s actually almost the exact same size as my HTC Touch which I feel is basically the perfect size for a phone. One thing I miss from the Touch is the rubberized case. Before the Touch I had a Motorola PEBL and both had rubberized cases and it gave a secure feeling grip when holding the phone. The Pre on the other hand is the exact opposite. It is super smooth. It’s not bad however and I’ll get used to it. The device is extremely light-weight. Much lighter than you’d expect it to be. The screen is completely amazing. Super clear, really bright. It’s right on par with the iPod Touch, but with an even higher DPI.
The keyboard has been an area of love and hate among a lot of people. It is in fact really small. I’ve only used two PDA’s with keyboards, those being the NEC MobilePro 450 and the Clie NX-60. The Clie’s keyboard was pretty hard to use for the most part. The NEC had an amazingly nice keyboard, but the device is also at least three times the size of the Pre and has the keyboard oriented the long length of the device. I don’t know if having the keyboard slide from the bottom up is the best idea. I think I’d prefer a keyboard on the side of the device like most other smartphones with keyboards. However, after the first day, I found myself getting pretty quick at typing on the keyboard. I’m already faster at typing on the Pre than I was on my HTC Touch which just used an on-screen keyboard.
The USB connector is somewhat annoying. I don’t really like the fact that it’s on the side of the device. The battery life isn’t insanely great by any means, so there does come times where the phone needs to be plugged in while on a long conversation. Talking on the phone with the cord coming out the of the side is not that comfortable. I also would have preferred a mini-USB connector as opposed to the micro-USB connector solely due to the fact that my last couple of phones have also used that connector and so does my girlfriends T-Mobile G1. Now all my chargers are useless. The plus side is that the micro-USB connector is being slated to become an official standard power connector for future cell-phones from a number of major manufacturers. Additionally, I’m not a fan at all of the cover over the USB connector. The first couple times I took it off, I was almost certain I was going to break it. It probably will break off in due time as the thing holding it on doesn’t seem that sturdy. I’m guessing this was placed on the phone for aesthetic reasons, and I don’t think it would have been as big a deal if the USB was on the bottom. This is one area where Palm decided to go with style over functionality.
When it comes to storage, I am really sad that there is no microSD card slot. With the ability to sync with iTunes, this phone could have possibly replaced my iPod Touch. However, with only 8GB of storage, I don’t really see that happening. The 8GB is probably plenty for using just apps and such, but can’t unseat the iPod when it comes to being a media device. With the Internet connectivity it has though, it may get more use as a streaming device as it already has Pandora, and hopefully we’ll see more apps such as Sling Player and a Hulu app.
There are a couple of hardware annoyances I have found. When the slider is closed, the top screen portion can pivot quite a bit. Having never owned a slider before, I’m not sure if this is normal, but it feels like the slider mechanism could break because of this. It feels pretty solid when opening and closing it though. Just not after it’s closed. There is a problem that comes up after charging the device for a while. The touchscreen loses it’s calibration. It doesn’t happen right away, but about 30 minutes into charging, I can’t use the touchscreen anymore. The clicks register in the wrong locations, and swipes show as numerous random clicks all over the screen. I don’t know if this is heat-related or what, but it seems to be corrected right away once the charger is disconnected.
Now on to more of the software end of things. WebOS is really amazing. It looks so good. The text is really clear and easy to read. All of the animations are really smooth and everything really seems to be generally user friendly. I can’t wait for more applications to come out to really show off what the OS can do.
I mentioned before, the keyboard isn’t great, but you get used to it. I’m already pretty quick at text entry. I like that there is a dedicated @ button and a period. The slider opens and closes really nicely, so it’s super easy to shoot out a quick text. There are a couple area’s where the text input is lacking. One is the lack of a suggestive dictionary. The Pre will do minor corrections like adding apostrophes and changed ‘U’ to ‘you’. It would be nice to see an on-screen selection of suggested words though as the Touch would get really good at choosing the most likely word and a simple press of a space would complete the word and be ready for the next. I’m a really bad speller, so this would also be a life saver for when I’m guessing at spellings. Another missing feature is a character count when sending SMS messages. I try whenever possible to keep my messages under 160 characters as it’s annoying to get multi-part messages, especially when they come out of order. And with Twitter being the latest craze, the 140 character limit is important to not surpass. I hope Palm adds something in a later update.
The camera is pretty decent, though the software is really lacking in extra features. Three things really stand out though. A big one being the background processing of the images. When you take a picture, you can take another one instantly. This is something that is usually only found in higher end digital camera. My Fujifilm 8MP camera isn’t even as quick to recover from a picture. The flash found on the camera is also really nice. It’s fairly bright and does a good job of allowing inside shots to look decent. The overall picture quality is probably average from what you’d expect from a 3MP camera phone. It really easy to take the pics and then email, send over MMS, or add to Facebook. I have had the Facebook uploading fail once in a while, I’m not sure if this is an issue on the Facebook side of things though. It works most of the time, but be ready to have to resubmit photos once in a while. The last thing I’m really loving is the geo-coding of photos. I’m not sure how many phones have this feature, it may be common, but this is the first phone I’ve had with it. It’s nice to be able to upload pics to sites that support the geo-coding such as Flickr and have the pictures automatically placed on a map where they were taken. Adds another dimension to picture taking.
The Google map app is really basic. It’s got the standard features of map view, satellite view, GPS and directions and search. But, that is about it. I’m sad to see things like Street View are missing and especially Latitude. The GPS on my HTC Touch took forever to startup, so I didn’t use Latitude much, I was hoping this phone would give a good experience with it.
Synergy is a great change in the way to handle contacts. Being that I have most the people I communicate with on Facebook, a big portion of my contact list was automatically imported when I synced up with Facebook. If you are already using Google products, the Google syncing is great too. I was already using them, but if you weren’t before, you’d want to if you have the Pre as your contacts and calendar are constantly up to date, both online and on the phone. The syncing with Google’s service is fairly quick. I’m not sure how often it updates, but it’s not too extremely long. Facebook on the other hand, I’m less certain on the update frequency. It doesn’t always seem to sync contacts right away. Some contacts can actually take quite some time to show up, while others show up fairly quickly. Otherwise, the Facebook integration is pretty slick. It’s nice having all the contacts images show up when interacting with IM, email and such. Pretty much ever camera phone has the ability to show pictures with contacts, but I rarely ever actually had pictures for my contacts as it’s a lot of work getting them and adding them. Now my caller ID almost always actually shows the person calling. It’s a really nice touch, and in the future my contacts won’t even need to inform me if they change phone numbers or email addresses. As long as they keep their Facebook up to date, I’m all set.
The IM software seems a little rough still. One thing I find odd is that the Synergy concept of combining contacts doesn’t translate over to the IM buddy list. Right now the IM client only supports AIM and GoogleTalk, but if you have contacts that use both, they show up separately on the list. This is another area I hope Palm touches up a bit in an update later. AIM contacts don’t really seem to be manageable either, so you will want to make sure to clean up your contact list before importing your AIM account. I have been using the same account for around 8 years or so, which means I have numerous contacts that I no longer communicate with and many I have no idea who they are anymore. The minute you add AIM to the Pre, all these names will show in your contact list though. And there is no way to remove them without removing the whole AIM account. I ended up doing that first, and then when through and deleted a bunch of contacts, then re-added AIM. I would like to see Facebook chat added in the future. Facebook is already integrated into the contacts, calendar, and photo app, doesn’t seem to be a reason to not have chat as well.
Other App Stuff
The App Catalog leaves much to be desired. Not much apps on there at all. There are only a few games. I was somewhat surprised to see there wasn’t at least one or two basic games included on the device. Also, the App Catalog states it is in beta. There is no prices on anything, they all just say ‘Try Me’, so it’s hard to see if apps are demos or free. The Classic emulator gives a message after you download it that it’s only good for 7 days. There is no way to purchase anything via the App Catalog yet though. You have to purchase the Classic app through the developers website. There are actually two Twitter apps though. I prefer the app Tweed. It now has notifications built in and has the ability to get your location and translate links into shortened URL’s. It would be nice to have integration into a picture service such as TwitPic or Flickr though. What really needs to be done is the SDK needs to be released to everyone so that people can get some better apps out there. The Pandora app is really nice and does basically everything you can do from the actual Pandora site. I was even using some headphones with a remote control built-in and I was able to control Pandora with the remote control, so at least Palm has built in some nice API support in that area.
I’m not planning to review all the apps. I think the rest of the apps work pretty much as you’d expect. I’m curious if there was an user manual that came with the Pre. Mine didn’t have one, and this is probably the first gadget I’ve ever owned that didn’t have a nice fat manual. Maybe it’s expected that you will download a PDF off of Palm’s website. I really feel that a lot of the apps were rushed to get the Pre out the door. I really hope to see that vast improvements in features in coming updates. Battery life, it’s pretty bad. If you talk on the phone a lot at least. I’ve been charging my phone overnight, and then also once in the middle of the day. I expect this to be less of an issue once the newness runs out and I’m not tinkering around as much. Much of this review may sound pretty negative. I don’t want people to get the complete wrong impression though. I love this device. Easily the best phone I’ve owned. All the main issues I have are all software related, so I really hope Palm spends some more time on the software and releases some amazing updates.
Written by Cameron