For many years, Palm was a leader in the world of handheld information devices. Then it lost the lead to the iPhone and others. Now, in a dramatic comeback Palm has introduced the Pre, a mobile phone with a touch screen, a new innovative operating system, and some entirely new ideas. Everyone is trying to catch up to the iPhone. Is the Pre an iPhone killer? We decided to take a look and find out.
The Palm Pre comes in a white box covered by a thick black plastic sleeve, shown in Figure 1. The box itself is painted with a colorful of the phone itself, as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 1: The box in its sleeve.
Inside the box, shown in Figure 3, you will find an amazingly compact phone, a Getting Started Guide, a pair of ear buds, The USB charging cable, an AC adapter for the cable, and a small black case. The fold-out Getting Started guide has a good pictorial guide to the phone and its functionality. You will want to take a good look at this guide because although the phone is very easy to use, it is not necessarily intuitive. There are just some things that you have to learn by looking them up or having someone show you rather than figuring it out yourself.
The small black pouch that is provided with the Pre is made of a sueded material and is lined in orange. It is amazingly useful. The phone fits in snuggly, but is still easy to remove from the pouch. Because of the sueded finish, it may not be good for using in a tight pocket, but it offers good protection when you want to toss the Pre in a purse, briefcase, or bag.
At 2.3" x 3.9" x 0.67" (5.95 cm x 10.05 cm x 1.69 cm), the Pre is a nicely compact device. It weighs 4.76 ounces (135 grams). It has a glossy black finish and a very sturdy feel. The 3.1” screen is HVGA with a 320×480 resolution and 24-bit color. The screen is bright and clear and has excellent response to the touch. While the screen is smaller than the iPhones screen, the Pre itself is also smaller than the iPhone (shown in Figure 4). The Pre fits nicely in the hand and is more comfortable to hold to your ear than the bigger iPhone.
Like the iPhone, the Pre has an accelerometer that allows it to rotate the screen when turned sideways.
Figure 4: The Pre (on the right) next to the iPhone (on the left).
[nextpage title=”The Hardware”]
Every detail of the Pre’s design is well thought out. The front of the phone, shown in Figure 5, is simplistic in design. You see only the earpiece at the top, the screen itself, and the Center button which is used for basic functionality. The black area under the screen where the Center button is placed is called the gesture area. (More on that later.) Although this Center button looks like a metal ball, it is actually translucent. An LED inside lights the ball up when you perform certain gestures.
Figure 5: The front of the Pre.
The top of the phone, shown in Figure 6, has a standard sized headset jack in the middle. Next to that is the ringer switch the slides to turn the ringer and notification sounds on and off. At the corner of the top of the Pre is the power switch which you can press to wake up or turn off the screen. You can also press it and hold for a few seconds to turn the device on and off. You can also wake the phone up by opening the sliding keyboard.
The sliding keyboard is shown in Figure 7. Those who don’t like typing on a touch screen will love this feature. The keypad itself is a QWERTY keyboard is similar to those found on BlackBerrys. The keys are a bit crowded, but workable. The good news is that they are backlit. The bad news is that they have a plasticy feel. The number keys are marked with red letters, which is problematic for those who are color blind, but okay for the rest of us.
In Figure 7 you can also see a key on the left with an orange square and a Sym key on the right. These are used as shortcut keys for added functionality. The only problem is that some shortcuts require holding down both keys and touching something on the screen. For instance, when browsing the Web you can press Orange + Sym and tap on link to open a new window. You feel a bit like a contortionist when you try this.
Figure 7: The sliding keyboard.
The back of the Pre is shown in Figure 8. This is where the camera opening, flash and speaker are located.
Figure 8: The back of the Pre.
[nextpage title=”The Hardware (Cont’d)”]
Figure 9 shows the left side of the Pre. The volume control switch is on this side. If you look carefully you will also notice that the Pre is slightly curved. This is a good feature because when you lay it on a flat surface, you can still hear the speaker on the back clearly.
Figure 9: The left side of the Pre.
However, the curve is slightly problematic because it means that when the key board slides out, it is also slightly curved, as shown in Figure 10. In fact the sides of the keyboard are slightly raised. Which create a ridge that is slightly sharp. We thought this made typing on the keyboard a bit more difficult. We don’t think this will be a deal-breaker for many, but you may want to try the keyboard before you buy the Pre. As an additional feature the portion of the back of the screen that becomes visible when the keyboard slides out
is a mirrored surface.
Figure 10: The keyboard is slightly curved and the edges are raised.
The right side of the Pre, shown in Figure 11, has only one opening – for the USB connector. This has a cover that pivots open.
Figure 11: Right side of the Pre.
The battery life in the Pre is adequate. With moderate use, it lasted us an entire day. The one thing we noticed is that if you leave the wireless on, the battery may drain down in 24-hours with no other use. One solution is, of course, to turn the Wi-Fi off when you are not using it.
A better solution may be to check out the Touchstone Charging Kit. Although an additional cost accessory, this is fantastic. It is a small magnetic device that sits on your desk and charges the Pre wirelessly. You simply place the Pre on it and it not only charges without your having to plug it in, but if a call comes in when it is on the charger it will automatically switch to the speakerphone. It’s a very cool device that is worth a good look.
The Pre includes a 3-megapixel camera with a flash. Picture quality is okay but certainly far from spectacular. While you can’t take videos with the Pre, you can play them. Not only does it have a special YouTube app, but you can transfer your videos to the Pre and play them. Of course, it cannot handle DRM-laden videos and the number and/or length of videos is hampered by the Pre’s limited memory.
[nextpage title=”The Operating System”]
The most spectacular thing about the Pre is its new operating system called webOS. This was written from the ground up and it shows. Attention has been paid to every detail. Everything on the screen is well-designed. As shown in Figure 12, the windows and screen have visually appealing rounded corners, taking the harsh edge off of the Pre experience.
Figure 12: An open application in Card mode.
In developing this new OS, Palm really thought outside of the box. Certain portions are truly unique. For instance, the Pre uses what they call a Card for each open application. You can expand, contract, and switch Cards at will. So you can see and control everything that is running, which you cannot due in any other mobile operating system. webOS uses screen gestures similar to those used on an iPhone where you spread two fingers apart or pull them together on the screen to control the size of the text on the screen. Like the iPhone you can swipe your finger across the screen to go from page to page and perform other functions. To close an application you simply put your finger on its card and flick it off the screen with an upward motion.
The gesture area below the screen is used to navigate. For instance, you drag you finger across it to the left to go back a page. When you first pick up the Pre, doing things like closing an application by flicking it off the screen or using the gesture pad to navigate screens may not be intuitive, but once you learn how everything is done, it is both easy and fun.
This new OS, functions very well. In fact, it puts operating systems like Symbian and Windows Mobile to shame. It goes in direct competition with the Apple iPhone OS, and is some cases, comes out on top.
One of the most innovative features of the WebOS is Synergy. This OS feature consolidates information from all of your sources into one area. For instance, if you have information about a contact in your exchange email and have other information on him in your Gmail and he has a picture in Facebook, Synergy will grab the information from all those places and pull it into your contact file. Synergy works amazingly well and it is very useful.
webOS also has an excellent universal search that helps you find almost anything from any screen. So if you want to find an application you simply begin typing the first letters of the applications name and the results pop up. The Pre’s universal search doesn’t search email like the iPhone does, but this limits the search results making them more valuable for other areas.
After you use the Pre for awhile, you start to see how useful the integration of webOS, Synergy, universal search, and the Pre’s built-in applications is. For instance if you need directions to a friend’s office, you just dial the first few letters of his name. Tap the name from the list to open his contact card. Tap the address on the screen to launch the Maps application where you can easily get directions from your current location.
When you start your Palm you are asked to create a Palm Profile. This creates a copy of your basic information on the Palm servers. The Pre can sync data to and from the Palm Profile service, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft Exchange. This means that you will have a backup of all your contact names, telephone numbers, etc. It also means you will not have to tether your Pre to your computer for updates, so it is very useful.
The webOS includes just about everything you will need for the phone and applications to function, including cut and paste. Although we found the cut and paste to have a little less functionality and to be a little more difficult to use than the cut and paste on the newest version of the OS for the Apple iPhone, it is still useful.
Along the bottom of the screen in most views you will see the Quick Launch area which includes five standard icons: Phone, Calendar, Contacts, Email and Launcher, as shown in Figure 13. The first four are customizable. So you can place any often-used application there.
Figure 13: The Quick Launch area.
The Phone option takes you to the dialer, shown in Figure 14. From here you can dial a number, access your voice mail or see recent calls. In our testing the Sprint service was good, but this may depend on your location. The voice quality of the phone and the speakerphone is excellent.
Contacts and email work as you would expect, only better because of Synergy which really helps to consolidate information. Importing contacts and initiating email on the Pre is easy. It can handle multiple email accounts and types including POP, IMAP, Exchange, and AOL and other online services. The Pre lets you see them separately or together. It allows you to send and receive a variety of popular attachment types.
The Launcher icon lets you launch applications, which we will talk about in the next page.
The Pre has built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth. It also has many ways of conversing other than the telephone. It has support for IM, SMS and MMS. Once a conversation is
started you can easily switch between SMS and instant messaging, a feature that we’ve not seen on any other phone.
The Pre has 8GB of storage built-in storage, of which about 7 GB is user accessible. This is ample, but since you can also use the phone to play music, take photos, and play music, we would like to have to option of having more built-in memory.
The music player in the Pre is very good. It displays cover art and has good music management. When we tried, it also synched seamlessly with iTunes. Shortly after that, however, Apple changed iTunes to block out the Pre. The Pre countered by developing another work around for Apple’s block, and as we write this, iTunes is working with the Pre again. We can’t say where this will wind up, but we will say that this is a great feature on the Pre. We feel that Apple can only gain customers who might purchase music in their store if they were to open iTune to the Pre and other music players and would like to see that happen.
[nextpage title=”Additional Applications”]
Tapping on the Launcher icon takes you to the applications area. There is a noticeable lag in opening apps. It’s not terrible, just noticeable. There are three pages of applications, each represented by an icon. You can easily scroll between pages by swiping your finger across the page. This work seamlessly on the Pre, just as it does on the iPhone. However the Pre is limited to three pages of icons. This means that once you have more than three pages of icons, which can happen very quickly, you will have to scroll both horizontally and vertically to find the app you need. If you look at Figure 15 closely, you will see two white lines on the right indicating that there are two more pages in that direction. You will also see a small down arrow above the quick Launch bar that shows you that there is more to look at if you scroll down. This scrolling in both directions is confusing as well as aggravating. Luckily, as long as you can remember the name of the application you can also type in the first few letter of the apps name and have universal search find it for you.
You can only search for and download applications for the Pre on the phone itself. At this time, there is no online store like there is with some other mobile phones. Although currently the Pre App Catalog is sparse compared to the Apple App Store, it is sure to grow. You can search through the App Catalog easily and can often jump to the website of the manufacturer for more information. The only thing that we had trouble with was in trying to figure out how much any given app costs. Although there is almost always a try before you buy button, you are often not clearly told how long the trial will last or how much the app will cost when the trial is over. We tried several apps, but didn’t actually purchase any. Our assumption is that you pay each manufacturer for each application. If that’s true, it is a far cry from the ease of purchasing an app from the Apple App store.
On the Pre, you can also make an often used contact appear as an app. This is a useful feature. In Figure 16, you can see that I have created an App called “Sandy Berger” which appears in the upper left corner of the screen. Tapping on this icon will take you directly to the Sandy Berger contact page where Synergy has collected all the information about Sandy Berger.
The Pre’s browser is excellent. Most pages are rendered just as you would see them on the computer screen. The small screen does make browsing a bit more difficult than on a larger screen, but you can zoom in and navigate easily.
The Pre works with Google maps, just as the iPhone does, but the Pre does it much better. The Sprint navigation system is much better. The Pre gives you turn by turn instructions and has voice instructions that even include text-to-speech, so the directions tell you to turn not just at the next street, but include verbally giving the name of that street.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
Palm Pre cell phone main specification are:
- Dimensions: Width: 2.3" x 3.9" x 0.67" (5.95 cm x 10.05 cm x 16.95 cm)
- Weight: 4.76 oz (135 grams)
- Network: 3G EVDO Rev A
- Operating system: webOS
- Display: 3.1-inch touch screen with 24-bit color 320×480 resolution HVGA
- Keyboard: Slide-out Physical QWERTY keyboard
- Email: Microsoft Exchange email with Microsoft Direct Push Technology, POP3/IMAP (Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, Hotmail, etc).
- Messaging: Integrated IM, SMS and MMS
- GPS: Built-in GPS
- Digital camera: 3-megapixel camera with LED flash and extended depth of field
- Sensors: Ambient light, accelerometer and proximity
- Audio Formats Supported: MP3, AAC, AAC+, AMR, QCELP, WAV
- Video Formats Supported: MPEG-4, H.263, H.264
- Image Formats Supported: GIF, JPEG, PNG, BMP
- Wireless connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11b/g with WPA, WPA2, WEP, 802.1X authentication, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR with A2DP stereo Bluetooth support
- Memory: 8 GB (7 GB available to the user)
- Connector: Micro USB 2.0 connector
- Headphone jack: 3.5 mm stereo
- More information: https://www.palm.com
- MRSP in the US: USD 750.00. Sprint offers this phone starting at USD 200.00, but you need to read the fine print: this price is after a USD 100 mail-in rebate, two-year contract and without the cost of a data plan, which is required.
The Pre is a well-designed piece of equipment. Although we felt that the keyboard could be improved, it was useable and we thoroughly enjoyed the combination of the touch screen, the gesture area, and the keyboard.
The new webOS operating system is excellent, especially for the first version of an OS. The Synergy feature is very useful and the OS handles multitasking better than any other phone OS. Some functionality, like the integration with Google maps and the turn-by-turn directions, is exceptional.
Although the Pre App Catalog is in its initial stages, it has a lot of potential. If Palm can keep the access to iTunes working, it will be a real feather in their caps since this is also a great feature.
Sprint is the current American cellular provider for the Pre. However, they have already announced that the Pre will be available from Verizon and possibly others in the near future. If the Pre can give us a choice of cellular providers, it will be more appealing to many than the iPhone which is currently married to AT&T exclusively.
Palm has done a great job of creating a phone that is quite capable of competing with the iPhone.
- Excellent crisp and responsive touch screen
- Excellent webOS operating system
- Handles multitasking applications beautifully
- Synergy consolidates information very well
- Very good universal search
- Excellent email support
- Slide-out keyboard
- iTunes sync
- Palm Profile for online backups
- Keyboard slightly cramped and plasticy
- Difficult to navigate through the Apps
- Lack of Apps and App Store
- Apps do not readily show their price
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