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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  • casteve - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    Palm has said that the Pre will work with old Palm OS apps...does this mean you can sync your Pre to Palm Desktop?

    Any info regarding security features? What's the level of crypto for password lock? What level of encryption is used for Palm's cloud/syncing?
    Reply
  • djc208 - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    I need one without a camera. I wish someone would look at non-camera phone options for those of us that can't take them to work. We're stuck with with the crap phones in the bargin bin or a very limited selection of Blackberries, and I don't really need the blackberry specific services, I just want a good phone without a camera.

    Since I'm on Sprint I'd seriously consider the Pre but the camera makes it a non-starter, and I have a moral issue with purposely breaking the camera on a brand new phone.

    Thanks for the review, but I guess I'll continue to stand outside the ride and drool.
    Reply
  • one1 - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link


    You forgot to note that you can start dialing/searching for a contact to dial by simply dialing at the launch screen, or typing out a contact name. This feature is also in Palm's treo devices.

    You can see this here: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2471/3641655962_577...">http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2471/3641655962_577...

    You missed some gestures as well, you do not need to press the home button to get to home. simply flick up from below the home button and you can get home. Flick up again, and you get the launcher. Flick up yet again and the launcher goes back down. I've rarely found a reason to press the home button.
    Reply
  • Kyusaku - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    "The iPhone also includes a Google search box and a button toolbar on the screen by default as well. There is no room for these on the Pre so they are all nearly absent."

    In the Pre browser you have no need to go to the address bar or a search box unless copy and pasting. As long as you're not in a text field, just start typing and the browser will either Google search or go to the address you just typed it.
    Reply
  • solipsism - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    Dear Anand,

    It appears you tested the iPhone’s WebKit browser engine from v2.x not from the latest v3.0. I know that it just came out about 30 hours ago, but I humbly request that you include the iPhone 3G v3.0 browser tests in the next article you are sure to do about the iPhone 3GS v. Palm Pre.

    Thank you for your time.


    PS: While no disk sharing is set yet they are allowing you to share your MobileMe iDisk in the future, according to this Apple Page (toward bottom)…

    http://www.apple.com/iphone/iphone-3g-s/more-featu...">http://www.apple.com/iphone/iphone-3g-s/more-featu...
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    The iPhone 3G tests were performed with OS 3.0, I just re-verified the results this morning after getting the 3GS.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • MultiCarrierUser - Thursday, June 25, 2009 - link

    Wow, nice to virtually meet you. I am siked to be able to converse with you on the blog. I am part of the Sprint Support team for the Pre when it was first released. I must say the device did very well. I gave excellent support and more of the support were help and how to's, nothing dealing with failures or wanting to return the phone. I demo the phone daily, I am even beginning to write the cool apps to add to the pre's App Store. I wanted to ask you if you could run the test between the iphone 3GS and Palm Pre' using AT&T internet and Sprint's internet only? My suggestion, wipe both phones clean and leave the programming, to ensure cache, cookies, histoy, saved, bookmarks are all deleted out of the phone. Major city test is fine, somewhere that has both At&T best and fastest data coverage and Sprint has it's fastest data coverage and time the sites being pulled up. I site that is rich www.msnbc.com; cnn.com disney.com (my son loves tht site) and just see what can they really do. Anand, do you agree that the iphone has so many apps to cover up that its quicker to click an app for almost any scenerio vs having to launch the web and browse to it? Reply
  • mjhorn - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    "The other thing that would be nice to have? The ability to start typing a name from the keypad screen instead of having to open up the contacts window to search for someone"

    This is an option. Go into the Phone App, click on the Menu and choose Preferences. Turn "Show Contact Matches" On. Then type away on the dialpad for names.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    Thank you!!!

    I've updated the article accordingly :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Cobra Commander - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    I just want to thank you for not swinging off of Jobs' left nut and being exceptionally objective and observant. Having just preordered my 3GS I do not expect to be disappointed as I'm jumping into the smartphone market finally but there's been WAY too many reviewers pussyfooting around stating direct, strong opinions on the finer details of Pre v. iPhone. They may have GENERALLY said the same thing from a bird's eye view but like I said: walking on eggshells, almost apologizing for commending Palm in any way. Reply

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