The Palm Pre is likely one of the most anticipated smartphones to arrive this year. First announced at CES 2009, the Palm Pre has been called an iPhone killer, Palm’s comeback device, and Sprint’s savior. Needless to say, there are a lot of expectations for the Pre.
Two of the first things you’re likely to notice about the Pre are its sleek, clean design and its vibrant display. The Palm Pre also boasts of the ability to multitask, it has a new notification system, a physical keyboard, and a screen with multi-touch capabilities. All of these features combine to make a phone that appears to be one of the best iPhone rivals yet.
On the inside, the Pre runs Palm’s latest operating system, called webOS. This new OS has also received a lot of hype. Although it’s almost hard to believe, there’s been talk about a Linux-based Palm smartphone since 2004. Obviously, the Palm Pre and webOS have been a long time coming.
As a company, Palm has certainly experienced highs and lows. At the peak, Palm was synonymous with smart handheld devices. Prior to the Pre’s launch though, the company had lost much of its market share. Some users had even given up on Palm and discounted the company as a worthy competitor in the smartphone market. Given this bumpy ride, you can see just how much Palm has riding on this new smartphone and OS.
So how does the Pre compare to other smartphones on the market? And will the Pre and webOS be enough to save Palm? What about Sprint—will the Pre help this struggling carrier better compete against the likes of Verizon Wireless and AT&T? These are a few of the questions we’ll attempt to answer in our hands-on review in the following pages.
|Specifications & Box Contents|
The Palm Pre is available from Sprint for $199.99 after a $100 mail in rebate and two-year contract on Sprint’s Everything Data plan or Business Essentials with Messaging and Data plan. Sprint stores, Best Buy, RadioShack, and some Wal-Mart stores currently sell the Palm Pre. For the time being, the Pre is only available through Sprint, although there has been talk of additional webOS devices for other carriers in the future. Here’s a closer look at the specifications of Sprint’s Palm Pre.
The Palm Pre comes with the following:
One of the most unique accessories for the Palm Pre is the Palm Touchstone Charging Dock, which magnetically holds your phone and charges it. The Touchstone Charging Kit starts at $69.99 when sold separately.
The Palm Pre has a smooth, polished body that might remind you of a polished river rock. This handset is attractive to look at and is also very comfortable to hold. The outer casing has a smooth, black, lacquered finish that tends to attract fingerprints. Thankfully, we didn’t notice a change in performance, even when the screen had lots of fingerprints. All of the edges of the phone are rounded.
Like the iPhone, the front of the Pre has a single button, located at the bottom of the display. This button, called the Center button, will take you back to the Deck of Card view (more on this later.) Just above this Center button, you’ll find a Gesture area where you can perform a few functions using a swipe of your finger. Above the display, you’ll find an earpiece that is slightly raised.
The Pre’s screen slides up to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard. During my tests, the keyboard felt slightly flat and cramped. Especially since the Pre doesn’t offer an on-screen keyboard in addition to the hardware QWERTY keyboard, we would have liked to have seen Palm put a little more effort into making this keyboard more comfortable to use. That said, the keyboard is usable, and you’ll adjust after using the phone for a little while.
Finally, on the back of the device, you’ll find the camera, flash, speaker, and removable battery cover. Rather than a tiny self portrait mirror like you’ll see on some smartphones, the Pre offers a large mirror that’s visible whenever the screen has been slid up to reveal the keyboard. The entire upper back portion of the screen is a mirror.
When it’s closed, the Pre measures approximately 3.9 inches tall by 2.3 inches wide by 0.6 inches thick. It weighs about 4.76 ounces. Although the phone’s outer casing is made of plastic, it felt solid, not cheap or toy like.
The Pre’s sliding mechanism is pretty smooth, and the screen clicks securely into place once it’s pushed up. When open, you’ll notice a bit of curve to the phone. You’ll also notice that the Pre loses some of the smooth feel of the phone when it’s open because the edges of the keyboard and top back of the display are straight (not rounded).
|Initial Setup & User Interface|
When you first boot up the Palm Pre, you’ll be asked to set up a Palm Profile. This process takes a few moments and provides access to several services such as backup and restore settings, remote erase, and over-the-air updates. You’ll also be given the option to transfer data from your desktop client(s). If you already rely upon Google, Facebook, or Microsoft Exchange, this transfer process will be relatively easy since Palm’s new Synergy feature can pull your data as soon as you provide your account information.
If your information resides in iCal and Address Book, Palm Desktop, or Outlook, you’ll be required to set up a Google account and then you’ll need a third-party application such as Google Sync or CompanionLink to synchronize your data with Google and then to the Pre. If you want to sync the Pre over a Wi-Fi network, you’ll also need Chapura PocketMirror for Outlook.
For users who are migrating from a Treo from Palm Desktop, iCal and Address Book, or standalone Outlook, Palm provides the Data Transfer Assistant that will transfer data from your desktop to the Pre. After moving data to the Pre, Palm will help you select a web service supported by Palm's Synergy feature.
The Gesture area just below the screen provides easy access to some commonly used functions. By swiping your finger from right to left in this area for instance, you can go back one screen. Two small LEDs and the center button illuminate white whenever the Pre registers a gesture command. Palm documents the gesture commands in an opening tutorial on the phone as well as in the Get Started guide.
To open more than one application at a time, you can use the Quick Launch feature by dragging your finger from the Gesture area upward or you can press the Center button and open an application from the tray. When you’re in an application, tap the upper-left corner of the screen to open any relevant menus for that application.
At any time, you can switch to another open application using the Pre’s Deck of Cards feature. To do this, press the Center button and swipe your finger left or right to view open applications. Tap once to bring an application to full view. You can also rearrange the cards by pressing and holding a card and then dragging and dropping the card to the position you prefer. When you’re finished in an application, flick its card upward to close the program.
The Pre also provides fast access to the connection manager – simply tap the upper right corner of the screen and you’ll have access to the Pre’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings as well as the Airplane mode.
In general, the Pre’s interface is easy to use and provided smooth transitions. As with any new phone, it will likely take you a little bit of time to adjust to the user interface of the Palm Pre, but this learning curve should be relatively short.
The Pre’s 3.1-inch display might be a bit smaller than some of the other touchscreen smartphones on the market today, but what the display lacks in size, it makes up for in quality. The 24-bit color HVGA display supports a resolution of 320x480. This display is vibrant and sharp and was easy to read even in direct sunlight. During our tests, Web pages, images, and text all looked excellent.
The Pre’s capacitive touchscreen responds to touches from the pad of your finger, not from a fingernail or stylus. The Pre doesn’t offer haptic feedback to let you know when you’ve pressed a button on screen. Instead, white rings will appear around an icon or menu item to let you know the screen has registered your touch.
Because the Pre has a built-in accelerometer, it will automatically rotate the screen orientation as you rotate the handset when viewing photos, videos, and Web pages. The phone also offers a proximity sensor that will turn off the display whenever you put the smartphone close to your ear for a phone call. Both the proximity sensor and the accelerometer respond quickly during our tests.
You can scroll through lists and Web pages by simply dragging your finger across the screen. If you want to zoom in or out of a Web page or photo, the Pre’s multi-touch screen lets you use the same pinch-like gestures as you’ve seen on the iPhone commercials. To give you an even better feel for how the Pre responds to some of these tasks, we’ve included a short video below.
The Pre’s phone interface is easy to use and call quality during our tests was excellent. The Pre’s speakerphone was adequate, and the people we spoke with said the quality was acceptable as well.
Palm Synergy is a new feature found on the Palm Pre that can combine information from Microsoft Outlook, Google, and Facebook. With Synergy, you can view layered calendars and linked contacts, making it easy to find the information you need in a single location. The Synergy feature also links IM and text conversations with the same person in a chat-style view.
The Pre supports multiple e-mail accounts, including POP/IMAP and Microsoft Exchange. All of the accounts can be found using the E-mail card. From this card, you can view all email in a single view or in separate views by account. Whenever you receive a new email, miss a call, or another notification appears, you’ll see it at the bottom of the screen. If you receive a call while working in an application, an alert will appear in the lower portion of the screen. You can choose to answer or ignore the call without leaving the application you are working in. This alert system provides a nice, unobtrusive way to let you know a call is coming in without being too distracting.
The Pre’s multitasking capabilities will be a big attraction to many people. We were able to open over 15 cards without any complaints from the handset. With this many apps running at the same time, there was a slight lag when launching new applications, but overall the smartphone was still very responsive.
The Pre’s Web browser renders pages just as you would see them on your desktop. When you bookmark a favorite site, it will show up as a card on the main page of the browser window. You’re most likely to notice the Pre’s lack of an on-screen keyboard when browsing the Web: Anytime you want to enter a new URL or other text in a relevant field, you’ll need to switch to portrait mode and type using the hardware keyboard.
Palm claims you should expect up to five hours of continuous talk time on the Pre’s user replaceable battery. Overall, we were satisfied with the Pre’s battery life and were generally able to get a day’s worth of use from the phone while performing a variety of tasks including making calls, surfing the Web, etc. Of course, your experience may vary depending on how aggressively you use the phone’s capabilities.
The Palm Pre may not be perfect—it’s missing a few features that we would have liked to see—but it is still a very good device that should give the iPhone a bit of competition. Among the features we missed most were an expansion card slot and an on-screen keyboard. We also wished Palm would have done something to make the Pre’s hardware keyboard feel a little less cramped. The Pre also lacks video recording and voice dialing capabilities, which are starting to become more and more common these days.
All that said, the Pre’s multitasking functionality and the webOS interface make it a unique device that’s fun and easy to use. The Deck of Cards functionality and notification system definitely help to set the Pre apart from other smartphones as well.
While the Palm Pre probably won’t kill the iPhone (that’s a pretty tall order to fill), it is a worthy competitor that offers some very cool features and puts Palm back in the smartphone game. Overall, we ended up impressed with the new webOS and Pre smartphone and look forward to additional webOS devices and handsets from Palm in the future.