Saturday, June 6, 2009

Palm Pre First Impressions

What a day June 6, 2009 has been! Today is the day that the totally new Palm Pre smartphone began shipping. The Pre is truly an amazing phone and it’s heart and soul is Palm webOS.

The Good

I’m not the first to say it and I won’t be the last. Throw everything you know about Palm the company, Palm OS, and the the old non-Windows Mobile Treo smartphones out the window. This is not your father’s Palm, Inc. There is an entirely new management team at Palm and it comes shining through with the Pre and Palm webOS.

The Pre is smaller than the Treo 750/755p, though the most recent Windows Mobile phone from Palm, the Treo Pro, is thinner and taller. The Pre feels great in your hand. I found it much easier to hold than my Apple iPod touch. When compared with my recently deactivated BlackBerry Curve 8330, the Pre is almost the same size when the keyboard is closed. (When the Pre keyboard is open, the Pre is about an inch to an inch and half taller than the Curve 8330.)

I was completely and totally blown away by the phenomenal screen on the Pre. When I picked up the demo unit this morning at the Sprint store I thought that it was one of those plastic display shells...until the Quick Launch bar moved! Even now, some 12 hours later, I’m still amazed by how bright and vivid the screen is! My Saturdays are often filled with lots of family activities and today I found myself outside for most of the afternoon. Direct sun light shouldn’t be a problem for most people. During a t-ball game, I was able to work with my recently imported Google contacts, read email, and review some Word document attachments. All in all, the screen is just fantastic and is every bit as good as the screen found on the iPhone and iPod touch.

The Pre, like some of it’s distant cousins the Tungsten T, T2, and T3, has a slider that reveals a full, hardware, Qwerty keyboard. The keys are very similar to those used on the Treo Pro and Centro smartphones. I found the keys on the Pre to be about equal size across the BlackBerry Curve 8330, Treo 750/755p, and the Treo Pro. I like the Pre’s keyboard because the keys are big enough for me to type on and they jelly-like keys keep your fingers or nails from sliding off the key caps. Some of the early reviews warned of a problem pressing the keys on the outside of the keyboard because of the ridge around the keyboard. I can see why some people have written that about the Pre. After typing out text messages, emails, and updating my address book, I can say that I’m not going to have a big problem with it. Results will vary, obviously. As for the sliders itself, I’m OK with it for now. The jury is going to be out on the slider easily for 6-12 months. The slider is firm and snaps open and closed. But the thirty or so times I opened and closed the slider is no indication on how it will work over the long haul of daily usage. For now, I’m satisfied with the slider and this is coming from someone who is not a fan of sliders.

The 3.0MP camera and speaker phone work well, however, I only played with them for a few minutes. Since I find myself spending at least a quarter of my work week in meetings, I’m glad to see that Palm has kept the ringer switch that has been so popular on the Treo and Centro on the Pre. Folks who like to use their phones as media players should also be happy to learn that the Pre uses a standard 3.5mm headphone jack which is located at the top of the device.

Palm webOS looks great! The graphical elements embody the user interface that Palm OS fans have been demanding for years. The fonts used in Palm webOS are stunning! The fonts are as crisp as you would expect on the printed page. Palm’s web browser is just as good as Safari on the iPhone/iPod touch.

People who have used the iPhone and iPod touch will be able to use the gestures built into Palm webOS with a minimal learning curve. The gestures that you are familiar with in Safari for the most part work the same way in webOS. Transitions from portrait to landscape mode is fluid and responds well.

Palm has paid tribute to Palm OS in webOS. One such way is the inclusion of the Quick Launch bar that I mentioned briefly already. People familiar with Palm’s older Palm OS handhelds and Treo smartphones will quickly realize that the the Quick Launch bar is the digital version of the old hardware keys. Since the Pre only has the center button on the face of the device, Palm felt it was important to customers to have a speedy way to access their most used applications. Like the old hardware buttons, the digital buttons are also customizable by dragging icons out of and into the Quick Launch bar. You are limited to four buttons; the fifth button, the Launcher button, can not be changed out.

There are lots of other cool features in webOS that I haven’t yet really played with including the Backup application, Bluetooth devices, Media Sync with iTunes support, and Palm Desktop data migration. (There is a one-time, one-way migration option for Palm Desktop and Outlook users to push data into their Pre phones. Stay tuned for more on that later on.)

The Not So Good

The Pre is Palm’s most eagerly awaited smartphone. But it is not without things that I find really annoying. First up is the case itself. This is probably the worst Palm phone of all time (at least of all the Palm devices that I’ve owned or used; and that is over 30) for collecting finger prints and other smudges. You will want to find a nice soft cloth to keep at home or in your office so you can clean down the phone’s display area. I’m going to seriously consider getting a screen protector for the Pre when they become available from third-party accessory makers.

The door on the microUSB port used to charge and connect the Pre to your computer as a USB mass storage device is really hard to get open the first few times. Once you do get it open, you will have a hard time getting the door to lay perfectly flush with the right edge of the phone. Pre comes with 8GB of on-board memory, After loading some data and a few apps from Palm’s App Catalog, I have 7.2GB of usable storage space left. There are no memory expansion slots on the Pre. I would have liked to seen the Pre ship either with more built-in memory, say 16GB, or have a microSDHC card slot. Now that we know that Pre will sync with iTunes in a similar manner as the iPhone or iPod, 8GB seems a bit cramped. I can easily fill up my iPod touch’s 16GB of storage space when I’m traveling for work with music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and applications. I think that for the demanding Palm user, 8GB of non-expandable memory is going to be a problem. To get around this, Pre owners should consider streaming their music or videos if possible. (This is an area of the Pre that I haven’t really delved into yet; syncing with iTunes and streaming media to the Pre.)

In Conclusion

To sum up the Pre, I think many Palm fans are going to be happy with it. Yes, Palm webOS is completely different from Palm OS 5 and the Palm Desktop and HotSync Manager software no longer work. I think that once you migrate your data to the Pre, those applications won’t be missed except to the die hard Palm Desktop users.

The Pre’s hardware is organic and modern. It looks and feels great in your hand. Personally, I would have liked it if Palm continued to use the soft touch paint that was used on the Treo 750/755p and the “enhanced” Sprint Centros. I liked the “gripability” of the soft touch paint and it would have helped cut down on the collection of fingerprints and smudges along the side and back of the device.

All-in-all, I think you will be happy with the Pre. If you have never used a smartphone before, you will definitely want to take advantage of Sprint’s in-store training on the device. Seriously, new Palm customers should take the 15 minute class. It is free and well worth your time if you want to get the most out of your new phone.

The Pre is available now from Sprint retail locations and select authorized resellers, including Best Buy. With a new or extended 2-year service agreement with Sprint, the new Palm Pre sells for $299 with a $100 mail-in rebate.

For more information, visit the Palm website.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Randall Stross said...

Thanks for a very nice review of the Pre. Sounds like webOS is a good thing indeed.

June 11, 2009 8:12 PM  
Blogger Alan Grassia, Staff Writer said...

Hi Randall,

Glad you liked the review of the Pre. It took me a day or two of fooling around with the device to get our of "Treo mode" and into "Pre mode" so I'd stop hitting buttons that aren't there.

So far, the Pre and I are getting along well.

Alan G

June 11, 2009 10:10 PM  

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