Review: Palm Pre

Now that everyone has had their say about the Palm Pre, I thought it wise to say a few words about the oft labeled “iPhone killer” that Sprint and Palm hope will bring each back from the edge of the dreaded deadpool. It seems as though every touch-screen device to launch since the first generation iPhone has faced an uphill battle and the Pre is no different. It’s unpolished, sure, but Palm’s webOS has managed to slip in right behind Apple’s iPhone OS, which is something the other smartphone operating systems have failed to do. But it’s not perfect and, let’s face it, nothing is ever perfect on launch day.

Having been left off the initial list of reviewers was irritating, sure, but now there’s no stress to rush a review out. In fact, I’m thankful for that because I’ve had time to really dig into the device and get over my own fanboyism. The Pre is a stellar device and I’m 80 percent sure that I will pass on the iPhone 3G S (iPhone fanboy I am not) and ditch my BlackBerry Curve. The only downside would be the lack of usefulness outside the US, which happens often enough throughout the year that I’m apprehensive about locking myself into a two-year contract with Sprint.

Giving a fully vetted and thorough review seems pointless, so I’ll share my thoughts on how the Pre does in real life, like walking down the street, on the subway, around little kids, etc.

Hardware has never been Palm’s strong suit and the Pre is evident of that. Is it horrible? No. Rough around the edges? Yes, both figuratively and literally.

The lip around the exposed keyboard could easily cut through cheese or my delicate flesh, but I don’t rest my thumbs on it. Who does that? As Joel pointed out, the plastic cover on the microUSB port was the worst thing Palm could have done.

Placing the 3.5mm jack in the center of the device is puzzling as well. I don’t like that the iPhone’s jack is on top either. Maybe I’m crazy, but if I pull a device from my pocket I don’t want to flip it around so the screen is oriented correctly. Am I being too nitpicky?

Now onto the keyboard that everyone seems to be lambasting Palm over. It’s not that bad, but the keys are too tacky. The width is comparable to the BlackBerry 8900, but the length is much, much smaller. It’s cramped, yes, but I can tap out messages just as fast as I can on my BlackBerry. Typing with one hand is easy, but a major roadblock comes up when you have to type numbers. Hard plastic keys would have been a better a choice, IMHO.

Every device should have a touch-screen going forward. I immediately try to swipe the screen of any device I receive for review these days including the Kindle DX that I received yesterday. I know it doesn’t have a touch-screen, but I do it anyway. The implementation and cohesiveness of the touch-screen with webOS is flawless. Gestures are immediately recognized and the speed of scrolling (up and down) is on par with the iPhone, but when you try to slow that motion down the Pre doesn’t know how to go from 100MPH to 5MPH. Is that a dealbreaker? No. Have you ever used the other highly touted touch-screen device available through Sprint? You know, the one made by Samsung.

With such a small screen, the gesture area reduces the impulse to throw the device against the wall. It’s my hope that Palm will better utilize the nipple that rests in the center of the gesture area in the Pre 2. An optical nub would better serve users. But that would negate any such gesture to go back even though an on-screen icon is available for such things.

It’s inevitable that all 3G devices with features like GPS, Wi-Fi and Web browsers (that are good) are going to have horrendous battery life. Pre owners and potential Pre owners might get lucky like G1 owners and get an update to correct battery life issues, but for now, it stinks. A normal day of use will kill the battery by dinnertime. The argument of “lightly” using the device is garbage. Who buys a device like the Pre, Bold or iPhone and doesn’t use it? I hear Seidio is selling an extended life battery, though.

The camera is nothing fancy and takes fairly good lowlight images, but you’re limited to turning the flash on, off or on auto. I’d love to be able to correct the WB, but maybe a future firmware update will allow me to do that. Video would be nice, too.

Synergy works as advertised, but the syncing of every single individual I’ve ever emailed from my Gmail account is appalling and obnoxious. The initial sync takes a while rendering the Pre useless. Regular application use isn’t quite as appalling, but it’s not as smooth as we’re lead to believe. WebOS puts a beatdown on the processor and while it’s unclear which applications strain the Pre, it’s probably best to flick each card off the deck.

The iPhone is without a doubt the best iPod ever made. iTunes may recognize it as an iPod, but the comparison ends there. Every single video file I’ve tried to copy over to the Pre simply will not “work on this iPod” or something of that nature and it’s become a chore so I’m simply not going to use it. Playing music, however, is simple and I enjoy being able to flick through tracks with my finger rather than tapping an icon. That’s the one area where Palm trumps Apple. Oh, I can’t transfer approved image formats either and I refuse to go through the process of using iPhoto on my Mac just to sync images through iTunes. I want to drag and drop my content, so sue me.

E-mail on the Pre? Gmail (IMAP) is perfection (to a certain extent), but there’s no search and that’s an issue that needs to be resolved ASAP. But lengthy e-mails that might be truncated on the BlackBerry don’t appear to be on the Pre and everything you would see on your desktop is replicated on the Pre. This is where the BlackBerry gets trumped. E-mail on the iPhone stinks and it will always stink. I was never a fan of the way Android went about Gmail, so I tip my hat off to Palm.

Woe is me. The App Catalog is a blunder and needs to be filled immediately. The simple fact that there isn’t even a Facebook app is shocking. I loathe the web page that comes bookmarked on the Pre. But lest we forget that the iPhone went an entire year before Apple launched the App Store. That’s not an argument I’m going to use here because that was two years ago. Palm and everyone else needs to get their act together. Apple’s App Store is the only reason I use my iPhone 3G. Otherwise I’d just go and pick up an iPod Touch. For those curious about Twitter applications, Tweed is the better of the two available apps, but it doesn’t support Twitpic and has zero notifications.

Palm, please open up the SDK and let developers make future webOS devices the best it can be.

If you take anything from this review let it be this: don’t buy the Touchstone and always plug the Pre into a direct power source.

Now let’s get onto why I may or may not dump everything for the Pre. AT&T has me hooked if only because of the App Store. I realize I can just get an iPod Touch, but I want to be connected at all times. T-Mobile is the only network to support UMA and I travel enough overseas that my BlackBerry keeps those nasty roaming charges at bay. Verizon has nothing to offer me, so I won’t be going there. For now, I may have to carry three devices until I decide what’s best. That is the plight of a high profile tech blogger like myself.

My iPhone 3G is currently on the fritz and I haven’t been able to secure a Genius Bar appointment. I wonder why that is? Aren’t Apple products supposed to just work? If so, why do I have to wait more than a day to get an appointment? Are people just stupid? Anyway, I have the luxury of having multiple devices and I refuse to pick just one. As Gilly would say, “Saaarry.”