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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  • mesiah - Saturday, June 20, 2009 - link

    Thank you Anand for your very in depth review. There were a couple things that came to mind while reading this review as well as the comments after.

    First, I really think the industry needs a new term for the iphones and the pres out there. IMO you have phones, their primary objective is making and recieving calls and text messages with some very light media duties. Then you have smartphones (pocket pc, blackberry, palm os) that are geared towards a balance of voice communication and business software with some light web browsing and media use. I think there should also be a 3rd category, call it superphone if you want. A superphone will make calls, but it browses the web, acts as a audio/video player, handheld game, remote control, and any number of other things just as well. In fact, our superphones have advanced to the point where most reviews don't even mention call quality at all.

    Second, for the first few years of the iphone there were two groups. Group 1 who loves their iphone for its simplicity and ability to run all their fun apps. And group 2, the hardcore and business oriented smartphone users who hated the iphone because it lacked so many things their blackberry/treo etc already had years ago (including apps which weren't allowed on the original iphone release.) I will admit that I am a member of the second group. I had friends that ran out to buy an iphone and I just couldn't understand why anyone would want a device that was so limited that you couldn't even install 3rd party software on it. Eventually the app store was released but by then it was too late for some of us. We had already grown to despise the iphone. The iphone faithful on the other hand fell in love with their new phones and quickly forgot about the things it didn't poses. Now that those features are being added, the fact that alot of iphone fanatics act like they are getting great features never before seen in the mobile world only serves to miff those of us from group two a little more. That being said, I hate reading reviews for pre and iphone because both the review and the comments are so heavily biased one way or the other that its of no benefit, it just turns into a big p!ssing match. One group ignores the polish of the iphone and its extensive apps, the other just wants to point a finger at the pres smaller screen, minimal 3rd party software, and reports of screen issues. Although, let me remind you that you are purchasing a totally new product with the pre. There are going to be some defects and you will no doubt hear about them as people are eager to jump on the net and let everyone know about their new product. No manufacturer can guarantee a 100% defect free manufacturing process, especially in the infancy of a product. Its not going to have 40,000 apps at launch and you shouldn't expect it to. Look at it like a video game system, when ps3 (or any other system) launched there were numerous overheating issues and it had a small library of titles. It takes a while for the programmers to get stuff out there. Noone says "I'm not buying a ps3 because there are WAY more games out for nes." and sony realized their overheating issues and corrected them quickly, fast enough that alot of people probably don't even know they existed. Except for those early adopters out there and people that saw all of the pictures online of store demo units freezing up.

    Either way, for the most part I don't think any review on the internet is going to change 99% of peoples minds. Iphone lovers will continue to buy iphones, ignore its drawbacks, and hate any product that attempts to build on their success. And iphone haters are going to buy anything out there that does all of those things that they need or want it to do, yet secretly wish they could have that cool app their friend does. But this is the first review / comparison I have read that was mostly unbiased and didn't have a full fledged iphone/pre war in the comments section.

    Thank you anandtech, you once again deliver a fair review followed by civilized debate.
    Reply
  • wifiwolf - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link


    "And I swear if Apple uses this as an attempt to push MobileMe..."

    I think you're going to get sued by Apple for stealing their idea.
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    My friends G1 still can't receive files via BT, though I heard they were supposed to have added it by now.

    Apple just did.

    What about the Pre? I hope it has some BT functionality beyond simple headsets.
    Reply
  • snookie - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    "Curious by Griswold, 13 hours ago
    But does the ringer switch fall off as easily as the one on my iphone? Personally, I dont care if some parts feel or look cheap, as long as they arent cheap - like the ringer switch on the iphone."

    If there was an issue with iPhone ringer switches it would be well known. There isn't one.

    The Pre would have been of interest a year or two ago but I think right now its too little too late. It is cheaply made and there are many reports of issues because of poor quality and users having to exchange for new ones. Personally I find the keyboard unusable as do many others. 8GB of ram is also a showstopper for me. I really have no interest in Sprint since they are even worse than AT&T. Palm as a company is in serious financial difficulty and the Pre is not going to change that given initial sales. The best they can hope for is a buyer who can provide the backing they need. The Pre also really needs to get on Verizon and some better 2nd gen hardware out. I had my iPhone 3GS delivered today and it walks all over the Pre. As much as I like the iPhone and Apple products in general I really would prefer the Pre was a stronger competitor. AT&T sure as hell needs the competition.
    Reply
  • Conficio - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    Thanks Anand for you excellent, detailed, while personal review.

    I have had an Apple Newton, a Palm IIIe and have a Treo 600. I love the Pre from what I have seen. I hate any exclusive carrier and any sort of locked phone.

    When Palm sells these things unlocked with quadband GSM I'm in. I would even buy a model that does not have a phone but WiFi only, if it comes with an application that calls the number in my address book and makes a connection to one of my three phone numbers (home, work, cell dependent on what Wifi network I'm connected to [home, work, other]). That would be a killer app and increase Palms economies of scale to drive the price down or the profit margin up. Palm I'm looking at you!
    Reply
  • canontk - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    "You do have the plug the Touchstone into a power outlet (or your computer) and you still need to plug the USB cable into the Pre to sync music/photos/movies"

    The Touchstone will only work plugged into the wall, you might want to correct that.

    I generally like your reviews but this one was mostly how the Pre isn't an iphone. Review the phone for what it is then compare later.
    Reply
  • szaijan - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    "...In fact, the biggest limit to how fast you can type is the fact that the Pre has no intelligent predictive text engine. It will capitalize new words for you and insert apostrophes when appropriate, but if you misspell a word it won’t correct it on the fly. Coming from the iPhone, this is a huge omission (Apple probably holds the patent on awesome predictive text input, Palm would probably have to clean Jobs‘ toilets weekly to get access to that one)."

    Actually, the BB Pearl, which I owned before my iPhone, had a far superior predictive text engine. I find the iPhone frequently making undesired "corrections", while I could actually type on my Pearl without looking at the keyboard or making any in situ corrections and the predictive engine got the words right almost all the time. I believe that engine probably predates the iPhone's, so I doubt Apple has a defensible patent on the technique.
    Reply
  • AgeOfPanic - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    I only see Gmail and Facebook mentioned. I don't really use either. What other options are there for synching? Why not Hotmail, is this a Palm choice or a limitation by Microsoft? I guess Itunes might work for managing your contacts, but who knows for how long. Reply
  • ViRGE - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    While Anand was gushing over it, am I the only person that doesn't want their information syncing over the ambiguous cloud? I'd much rather have it on my home computer, where I'm not subject to the whims of the service provider's uptime, where a mere hacker can't break in and steal any information, where the service provider can't turn around and data mine it or sell it, etc.

    When my iPhone syncs to Outlook, I know the information is immediately updated on both ends. I know no one else had access to it, and I know that I can easily take it and manipulate it in the future since absolutely everything works with Outlook or a CSV export from Outlook.

    The Cloud strikes me as handing over globs of important data to someone else, and praying that they don't find a way to screw up managing it.

    The only thing being done right here is that Palm isn't charging for this service like Apple is for MobileMe. Some features (primarily phone location and remote wiping) do need a service provider, and for just those services MobileMe is entirely a rip-off.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    I created a new e-mail address just for Facebook, and that is the only contact info I have listed there. I don't think many of my friends have their info out there for all to see either. Reply

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