For me, Palm was the one that got away. I don’t exactly remember what made me buy my Palm V but for the life of pocket organizers, nothing ever supplanted it. After a year and a half long stint with the Palm V I tried moving to a bunch of Pocket PC based organizers. The iPaq was the most recognizable of them all, and it seemed like as functionality went up, usability decreased.

I went through a ridiculous number of PDAs but none ever came close to being as useful for me as my old Palm V. I could play music and movies on the newer ones, but I never used them as religiously as I did the old V. I’m not sure what it was, but Palm got the UI right for keeping my notes and calendar organized. As cumbersome as the handwriting recognition seems to me today, back then I was very fast with it - it just made sense.

To be honest, it wasn’t until the iPhone that I ever truly got over my Palm V. When I heard that Palm was brewing an iPhone competitor, it seemed fitting.

This is the Pre:

And while it won’t destroy the iPhone, it will land more than a few blows to the smartphone posterchild. In my opinion, it’s the first real alternative I’ve seen since the iPhone launched.

The Pre is unlike any device Palm has ever produced. Sure it delivers the same functionality as many Palm products, but it shares more in spirit and soul with the iPhone than any other Palm product or than the iPhone does with any other smartphone.

The Apple iPhone 3G (left) vs. The Palm Pre (right)

Palm created a brand new OS, which I’ve often said is the right way to approach a brand new device; one size fits all just doesn’t work outside of hats. It’s Linux based and is called webOS. It’s designed to be controlled via a touch screen using gestures and is ultra lightweight. Sound familiar? Did I mention that a former, kind of super important, Apple guy spearheaded the effort behind webOS and the first phone based on it?

Minimalism for the Masses

When the iPhone first hit, the fact that it only had four buttons was huge for a smartphone. The Pre echoes Apple’s design philosophy and features a similarly simple approach. When closed there are only 4 physical buttons on the device (5 if you count the volume up/down buttons separately).

At the top of the device you have a ringer switch and a sleep/wake button, just like on the iPhone.

The left side of the Pre has a volume up and down button.

On the face of the Pre, near the bottom, you have a home button.

On the right side is a micro-USB port for charging and syncing the device.

Everyone says the Pre is plasticky. Well, it is made out of plastic. The build quality isn’t great, compared to the iPhone that is. Compared to most other phones the Pre is quite good.

Part of the problem is that Palm (and most other companies) isn’t as good at making things feel indestructible as Apple. The other part is that the Pre has a slide-out keyboard; it’s difficult to make a lightweight product with moving parts feel solid. The Pre is decent in this respect, but the part that houses the screen and the part that houses the keyboard will wiggle a bit, independently, when the Pre is closed.

Even the individual buttons on the Pre don’t feel as good as those on the iPhone. The ringer and sleep switches both feel cheap.

The Pre also doesn’t seem like it would take a fall too well. Granted I’ve seen cracked iPhone screens, but the construction of the Pre doesn’t feel all that sturdy. A tough Blackberry, the Pre is not. For Palm, this is most likely a learning experience as well as a cost balancing act. Palm will get better at making these things, but the cost side is difficult to deal with.

Overall the Pre looks good but it just doesn’t feel as good as it looks unfortunately. Again, if your comparison point is the iPhone you’ll be disappointed. If it’s any other phone, you won’t be.

The Keyboard, it’s so, Real
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  • palmpre - Sunday, June 21, 2009 - link

    Thank you for this great article / review !!

    The Pre isn't available in France, but many wait already for it !">

  • JC Strat - Sunday, June 21, 2009 - link

    Hi JMaine, it seems like you have been reading a lot lately.

    Just to quote from some of your messages here:
    I've been reading a lot about the Palm Pre's problems since launch - overheating, poor battery life, and software crashes. Don't forget that a smart phone's function is to be a phone first, and everything else after. If you can't use its features without affecting it's essential functionality as a phone, it's a failure.

    I've been reading many reports about battery issues with the Pre. Multi-tasking implemented poorly is far worse than not having multi-tasking at all. I feel this feature add a level of complexity not many mainstream users will appreciate and is an unnecessary waste of battery life, which contradict the primary purpose a smart-'phone' is there for.

    It sounds like you have been trolling for reasons to put down the Pre. I think the multitasking on the Pre is pretty brilliant. I like having 5 apps open. Currently on my mac I have iTunes playing, this web page open (with other tabs as well), a Finder window open, MS Word is open so I could cut and paste your comments, Xee is open from some recent picture work, etc. I think it's not all that complex, anyone with a PC or a mac understands how to have several programs open. The Pre's cards accomplish switching elegantly.

    Now, you seem to have been looking around carefully for stories of people who had problems with their Pre so that you could cast them as general problems in forums such as this one. Why? A strong competitor will make Apple develop a better iPhone. It is in your interest for the Pre to succeed!

    Palm has innovated with this phone. As Apple did before it, Palm has implemented ideas that will shape the direction phones go in. Innovation is a good thing. Using FUD to sabotage and stifle it as your comments seem to do is not cool.
  • The0ne - Sunday, June 21, 2009 - link

    If the comments doesn't shout "trolling" then I don't know what will :D
  • jap0nes - Saturday, June 20, 2009 - link

    I think this is one of the worst reviews I've ever seen, and never expected to come from Anand in person. Why do I think that? Basically, because it's not a review, it's a comparison: Palm Pre vs. iPhone.
    On every single page Apple/iPhone is cited. Okay, they're competitors and all, but when Pre has an advantage, there are comments like 'Apple should do that'. That's ridiculous. I've never seen an review with comments like these. Pure fanboyism.
    Please, change the title of the article to: 'Can Palm beat my Iphone' or something like that.
  • The0ne - Sunday, June 21, 2009 - link

    I have to agree with you. I'm not entirely sure why so many users are applauding the review because they think it's an "in depth review." It's not. It's a "got a new phone to compare to Iphone and have to get a general review out ASAP fever/syndrome.
    I'll be waiting for the "in depth review" of the Pre from Anandtech soon.

    However, if reviews use the Iphone as the criteria in the first place you will have reviews such as this one. Unless the Iphone really does set standards I would have to say it's not going to change until people find standards to test phones too. For example, if battery lasts 3hours+ than it should qualify as being a good phone. It shouldn't be said that the Pre is "lagging" or "isn't better" than the Iphone. That's just really giving a bad impression to those that actually do testing in real life. If anything it makes the author look bad IMO.
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, June 23, 2009 - link

    And I'll disagree with you both. :) While a traditional review focuses primarily on the product at hand, this one works for a very good reason that Anand restated over and over. The iPhone has been the dominant force in the "smart" phone for several years now with really no direct competition. There were products that had more functionality, more horsepower, but none that had the complete package. The iPhone didn't and still doesn't but it came the closest. So it makes total sense to compare the Pre directly.

    It is very similar to the cpu market where you have basically 2 competetors. Could you imagine a new AMD cpu coming out and having no comparisons with the i7? Of course not. The current "best", be that from performance, functionality, or the package deal of all aspects, should always be directly compared to give the reader the best information to making a buying decision.

    Now cpu's are easy and objective decisions. You run 10 benchmarks, compare hard data, and declare a winner. Obviously a phone is a different beast. It has an OS, and this makes for subjective issues. What I like you may not like. What I think is functional you may find annoying. But the fact is that Anand, who many of us highly respect for honest and detailed articles/reviews, seems to have a good grasp on the smartphone market, and is ACTIVELY looking for an upgrade option to the iPhone.

    Just like we are always looking for a gpu/cpu upgrade by comparing how much better the new part is than our current part, Anand is saying the Pre is coming out years after the iPhone, so it had better damn well match or exceed in all areas that the iPhone already "perfected".

    And I think most of us saw through the article to the underlying message, which was to inflate the level of competition between Apple and Palm so that we, the consumer, benefits in the end.
  • jap0nes - Tuesday, June 23, 2009 - link

    I understand what you say and I agree with you, but that didn't happen in the article. I partially understand when you say that "And I think most of us saw through the article to the underlying message, which was to inflate the level of competition between Apple and Palm so that we, the consumer, benefits in the end", but in the end the "review" sounded ridiculous, towards fanboyism.
  • jmaine - Saturday, June 20, 2009 - link


    Thanks for a really well written comparison between the Pre and the iPhone. A few comments:

    "The multitasking ability of the Pre is honestly one of two features I really, really wish my iPhone had. Multitasking has been done by many smartphones before the Pre or iPhone, but no one has done it as smooth and as Apple-like as Palm. "

    I've been reading many reports about battery issues with the Pre. Multi-tasking implemented poorly is far worse than not having multi-tasking at all. I feel this feature add a level of complexity not many mainstream users will appreciate and is an unnecessary waste of battery life, which contradict the primary purpose a smart-'phone' is there for.

    As you noted in the article, Apple built up it's UI and feature set, gradually perfecting each with every successive update. Do you think battery life is a strong reason for them not adding multi-tasking beyond the ipod music into the iPhone? I personally feel push notifications is a better implementation than true multi-tasking on a phone.
  • Doommidget - Saturday, June 20, 2009 - link

    Had to create a login to address something that made me laugh...

    Thank you for a great review, although I don't hold out much hope of the Pre hitting the UK in the near future. I also think it is right to heavily compare the Pre to the iPhone given that it is the only credible competition for a very user friendly and fairly feature full phone (and by features I don't mean crammed with hardware I mean the services).

    I just have to say, to anybody trying to mention Nokia as producing better phones than the iPhone with S60 having more functionality and the handsets having better hardware... this may be true but Nokias implementation is waaaay off. Every new flagship N series phone is plagued with software issues... N95, N96, expect the N97 will follow shortly. 5800 is also terrible for software problems. The list of handsets with poor reliability extends further back than that and will no doubt carry on into the future. Irrespective of whether the hardware in the Nokia phone is quicker, or the camera is better, or the handset is more open, if you have to have your phone replaced or repaired 5 times within a few months of purchasing then to be honest it really isnt worthy of comparison. And I know not everybody has had issues before I get flamed, myself being one of them as I moved from an N95 8GB to the iPhone 3G, but working in the mobile phone market, I can tell you that there are no end of Nokia software problems and virtually no issues with iPhone OS or the hardware.

    So iPhone > N series pretty much every time; it may not have 2 processors, open bluetooth, great camera etc, but at least it works.

    On a side note, I bet Nokia don't have a 5 day turnaround for fixing or replacing a handset that comes back to them.

    Its all about the ecosystem that surrounds the handset, people in the top end of the market are becoming less impressed with pure hardware these days and are looking for more out of their phone with regards to web integration and services, and Apple have pretty much got everything down to a T as it currently stands.

    So yes, compare the Pre to the iPhone, the Pre looks potentially worthy as an alternative, but not quite there.

    And don't ever try to compare a Nokia to an iPhone, not even in the same ballpark as the iPhone ^_^

  • finbarqs - Saturday, June 20, 2009 - link

    YES! Now I can sync with my Exchange!!!!

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