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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  • nycromes - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    I think Anand did a pretty good job with the review, I was kicking around the idea of picking up a new Pre sometime soon and this review just pushed me over the top. I am going to get one ASAP.

    All that being said, I am somewhat disappointed in this review. I have to agree with other posters that the article was a confusing piece (Palm Pre Review or Iphone wish list). Certainly the Pre has some room to improve (hopefully software updates can address some of the issues Anand described). I know that the Iphone is a very popular phone and as such it will be one of the top comparison phones, but people still give Apple way too much leeway for cutting out features in the name of a simple experience. I am happy to see Palm doing what it can to put features back into a phone that gives a similar to the Iphone experience.

  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    Thanks guys. I see it this way: Apple set the bar very high with the iPhone, to take a step backwards in anything the iPhone perfected is bound to be disappointing. No visual voicemail? No full system-wide search? Slower app launches and choppier animations? These, in my mind, are unacceptable given that Apple already provided the market with a good blueprint of what to do.

    If Palm didn't force me to give anything up that the iPhone delivered, I would switch in a heartbeat. I either want Palm to perfect the Pre or Apple to adopt Pre-features, I don't really care which one happens, I just want at least one of them to happen :)

    Take care,
  • nycromes - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    The article makes more sense when you put it that way. Again, thanks for the great review. It helped me make up my mind on the Pre.
  • Lozil - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    Ya, Multitasking, Being cool, Physical keyboard. The Phone just seems Right.

    I don't understand why Anand is so inclined to iPhone..! Even when the Pre is better, You Just doesn't want to agree on that, Just wants Apple to give those Features...

    Man i got confused... It's a Palm Pre Review or iPhone Enhancement Request... :P
  • bigboxes - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    Thanks for this timely (and in depth) product review. Sounds like Palm has a lot of optimization to do with the OS before I'd ulitmately consider it for my next phone.

    My quick research shows that this device does not have an expansion slot for memory. Does the Pre allow you to install additional codecs? It supports MP4, H263 and H264, but not the XviD codec. Although I encode my videos using the X264 codec these days, I have a lot of DivX/XviD files in my collection. Does it allow users to assign an mp3 as a ringtone or does it require users to use a specific format? Palm's website lists "Bluetooth tethering" as a feature. Any chance that you tested that out? Speaking of bluetooth, how is this device's performance with other bluetooth devices? The security setup? How is the call quality when using the phone with no headset? The microphone? Does Palm have any plans on upgrading the Pre to a metal housing or even offering one in the near future? I'd also like to see support for MSN IM or maybe offer a Trillian-like app (or something like that).
  • cjb110 - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    A lot of the Pre reviews have mentioned the keyboard being ok, but not great. None of them mention the bonus of actually having all of screen space available while you type. Yea the iphone and android's have bigger screens, but so what if you loose half every time the keyboard appears.

  • prophet001 - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    absolutely hilarious "dude i just took the biggest poop. wanna see?"
  • strikeback03 - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    Didn't he use that in his first iPhone review? Which didn't have picture messaging?
  • Rolphus - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link


    On the browser performance page, I couldn't spot any mention of which version of the iPhone OS you're using for comparison? I've found 3.0 to be much faster, having benefited from the updated WebKit builds including the "Nitro" JS engine and general render speed improvements (I assume the Pre has this build as well). Would you mind clarifying or pointing me toward the answer?

    Many thanks,

  • ltcommanderdata - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link">

    Well the first teardown of the iPhone 3G S seems to confirm that Apple too uses a ARM A8 Cortex SoC with PowerVR SGX as predicted. I wonder if the hardware similarity between the Palm Pre and the new iPhone will put pressure on Apple to implement multitasking. They could argue hardware limitations for the older models, but it's difficult to hold back now that the Pre has shown it can be done well on newer hardware. Sadly, it'll probably be the major new feature of iPhone OS 4.0 next year.

    On a hardware note, I wonder what version of the PowerVR SGX is in the new iPhone. The SGX520 as Anand predicts or the SGX530 as the Palm Pre. I'm guessing the teardown wouldn't be informative on this and we'll have to wait for driver analysis.

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