A Week with the Palm Pre

It’s now been a full week with the Palm Pre, and thus it’s time to report on initial experiences with the device. I’m coming from an HTC Touch Pro on the Sprint network, and so it’s it’s been most relevant for me to consider how the Pre compares to this device. I’ll probably never leave Sprint given over 10 years of great service (from both the network and customer service), and so Android and the iPhone aren’t options at this point.

This is going to be quick and probably a bit disjointed–lots of other priorities at the moment. For those with even less time than me, here’s a synopsis: the Pre is a remarkable smartphone that is perhaps the best V1.0 device I’ve ever used. It’s been mostly solid with only a few bugs, is missing features but what it does have works splendidly, and simply using the Pre is a joy.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give the Pre an 8.0. I imagine that future bug fixes and feature enhancements could lift this to a 9.0, while some hardware concerns limit the ceiling a bit.

Without further ado, and very much in general:

Performance: The Pre performs admirably. It’s quicker at opening most applications than my Touch Pro, and that’s saying something given how graphically rich is the WebOS. Some applications have a few seconds’ lag, but that becomes irrelevant given the Pre’s mutitasking performance, which is flawless with a reasonable number of cards open. Certainly, things start to get a bit choppy with too many open cards, but that can happen with a PC. Considering that Apple prohibits multitasking because of its potential impact on performance (and battery life, discussed in a bit), Palm should be commended for creating a mobile OS that allows multitasking with such aplomb.

The bottom line is that while opening applications might be slower than on some other devices, such as a Blackberry, the ease and speed by which one can switch from one application to anther more than makes up for it. Opening applications on an iPhone might be fractionally faster (although, I’ll be the difference is measured in milliseconds), given the iPhone’s lack of multitasking this advantage is quickly lost since each non-Apple application must be opened over and over and over again. On the Pre, you spend a few seconds opening applications in a given session, but you keep them open and then moving from one to another is almost instantaneous.

I give the Pre a 9/10 in performance.

Phone: I love using the Pre as a phone, in part because of how terrible the Touch Pro was (for me, at least). The phone app opens almost instantly, the keypad is very responsive, calls go through quickly, and sound quality is good both incoming and outgoing. Bluetooth works great, and I love how easy it is to switch from audio modes between internal, speakerphone, and Bluetooth. I remember leaving my Bluetooth headset in my bag in the trunk, receiving a call while driving, and wanting to throw my Touch Pro out the window because there was no easy way to turn off Bluetooth and pick up the call. With the Pre, just hit the audio selector and make a selection. For that reason alone, I love the Pre as a phone where I absolutely despised the Touch Pro.

For some heavy phone users, I’m sure there are limitations. But for me, I give the phone functionality a solid 8/10. I honestly can’t think of much I’d change, except maybe to add voice dialing (something I’ve really only used in the car, and my car actually handles that for me) and visual voicemail to the mix.

Data Entry: The Pre’s keyboard is small but usable. I have medium-sized hands and fingers, and while I’ve not yet achieved my typing speed on the Touch Pro, I’m sure I’ll catch up as I become more accustomed to to the keyboard’s layout. The keys do feel good, however, with a nice grip provided by the rubberized keys. Accessing the number pad and special characters is easy, and even uncommon symbols are quickly accessed via the dedicated Sym key. I doubt that I’ll ever write a novel on the Pre, but for light texting and notetaking, the keyboard’s fine.

If you throw text manipulation into the mix, such as selecting text for copy/paste, then the Pre needs some work. The idea of holding the orange key (and yes, that’s what Palm calls it) and scrolling around the screen with a finger seems fine in theory, but in practice I found it to be lacking in precision and ultimately difficult to use. The same goes for selecting text, which is the same concept except holding the shift key instead. Entering information in forms is made a bit more difficult by the lack of a d-pad, and I’m hoping that this functionality receives a nice tweeking in upcoming updates.

Overall, I can’t give the Pre more than a 6/10 in data entry.

Built-In Applications: The core applications are mostly just functional with some glaring weaknesses. The media players are very minimalistic, the PIM apps are downright weak, and configuration options are lacking. If one comes to the Pre from another smartphone, such as one using the PalmOS or Windows Mobile, then one might be surprised at all the things the Pre can’t do. You can’t sync tasks or memos, you can’t set a timed alarm for a task, you can’t change the sounds for various alerts, etc., etc. This isn’t an in-depth review, and so I’m not going to go into details, but let’s just say that one must adjust to the Pre because it certainly won’t adjust to you. It’s in the built-in apps that the Pre seems most like a V1.0 device, and if you live and die by the PIM functionality of Windows Mobile, PalmOS, or Blackberry smartphones, then you might have a difficult time using the Pre in its current state.

That said, if you don’t live and die by that level of PIM functionality, then you’ll find that the overall accessibility of applications makes up for their limitations. Yes, the calendar and tasks and media apps are limited in depth, but they’re just so darned easy to use–and to use together–that it’s easy to overlook the limitations and just enjoy the smoothness of the WebOS. If you can make a few adjustments and concessions, you’ll find yourself using the Pre in ways you might never have considered using other smartphones. And while this isn’t really saying much about the applications themselves, it does help to explain why Palm can be excused for thinking they’d get away with providing such basic apps in this first edition of WebOS.

I give the built-in applications a 7/10, given a huge boost from how WebOS lets you use them almost simultaneously. Palm doesn’t need to add many features to quickly boost that score to an 8 or 9.

Third-Party Applications: Not much to say here with less than 30 third-party applications available, but those that exist are decent to outstanding. I love Tweed as a Twitter client, if only because I can so easily open two Twitter accounts in separate cards and switch easily between them. Tweed will be an awesome Twitter client once they fully support background updates, a limitation that’s really almost unforgivable in a WebOS applications (but I forgive them nonetheless given how quickly Tweed does update when I do so manually). Most exciting for me is the Evernote client, which also allows opening multiple cards, this time with individual notes, and that enables editing of existing notes–something the Windows Mobile Evernote client can’t do. Once Evernote fixes the horizontal scrolling problem with notes including large images, the Evernote WebOS client might be perfect.

The other third-party applications are a mixed back, from a really good Fandango app to a very limited LinkedIn client. The most glaring ommission so far, however, must be the lack of a dedicated Facebook application. I can only speculate that there’s been some glitch in getting things working, because Facebook has been such a huge part of the Pre buzz since CES.

I give third-party applications an 8/10, largely on the strength of the Evernote client, which really provides a taste of how good WebOS applications can really be.

Email: The Pre theoretically supports just about every email protocol except for the Blackberry Enterprise Service. I say theoretically, because so far the Pre’s Exchange Activesync (EAS) support is broken. The Pre won’t support non-SSL EAS implementations, and even SSL is problematic if the server’s certificates aren’t perfectly configured. I simply can’t connect via EAS at this point, and that’s a real bummer. POP and IMAP email support is good, however, and the Pre connects to Google’s EAS with no problems. The ability to add multiple EAS accounts is unique to the Pre, and once they fix the implementation will be a tremendous strength of the platform.

In use, the email application is fine but lacks some basic functions. Most surprising is that there’s no scroll bar in the email listings, and so if you have a fair number of email in a list it’s easy to get lost. And, there’s no way to select and delete multiple emails, nor to empty the trash. Otherwise, the email application is fine, and the ability to open multiple emails is of course a huge advantage. In this respect, as usual, the Pre excels.

Email is a mixed bag on the Pre, and so I can’t give it more than a 7/10. Add some basic features and fix EAS, and I’ll give it a 9/10.

Web browsing: This deserves its own category simply because it’s such a differentiator between smartphones. I’d have to say that only the Pre and the iPhone make Web browsing useable. Opera Mobile on my Touch Pro was slow, the screen was way to small, and zooming was a pain. On the Pre, the Web is a pleasure to use, and I’ve found myself grabbing my Pre to perform some quick research even though I’m sitting at a PC. It’s really that good. I’m sure it’s just on a par with the iPhone, but that’s saying quite a bit. Before the Pre, I was always tempted to consider an iPhone because Web access is important to me. Since getting the Pre, the iPhone has lost even that little bit of appeal.

I give Web browsing a 9/10 on the Pre. Add the ability to copy text from a Web page, and that becomes a solid 10/10.

Camera: Simply put, the Pre is the first smartphone with a camera that I’ve actually found useful. It’s a very simple camera application, with no options other than turning the flash on and off. But, it takes pictures more quickly than do my point-and-click digital cameras, with decent quality for a smartphone. The photo viewer is a bit laggy, but I’d much rather have a fast camera and a slow viewer than the other way around. The pictures necessarily lack any depth of field since there’s no autofocus, but for the kinds of snapshots for which a camera phone makes sense, that’s just fine. And the autofocus on my Touch Pro was so slow as to render the camera useless even for composed shots. The lack of zoom doesn’t bother me, because the idea of getting a competent zoom function on a smartphone seems impossible to me. Maybe there’s a cameraphone out there that does it well, but I haven’t seen it myself.

For its sheer speed in taking pictures, I give the Pre an 8/10. Add video, and I’d bump that up a notch.

Battery Life: Oddly enough, my Pre’s battery life has improved fairly consistently over the last few days. Either the Pre finally caught up with all of its background syncing (which I do believed took a day or so) and now has settled into a routine, or the battery has more of a break in period than the typical lithium ion battery, or I’ve simply stopped playing with the thing every minute, I’ve noticed that while I was usually out of battery by the mid-afternoon at first, I can now squeeze out a full day. It’s not stellar battery life, but it’s at least as good as the competition’s and it’s good enough for me. It’s rare that I spend so much time away from a power source, and of course for those times when I do I can simply take along one or more spares. Palm could have designed around a larger battery, but what would have been the point? For myself, I’m glad they kept the form factor and left the battery decisions up to me.

I give the Pre a 7/10 in battery life, a few points of which are given for the fact that it’s replaceable.

Synergy: I save this for last because, really, Synergy deserves its own discussion. It’s a truly powerful concept that even in its current incarnation makes the Pre an incredily useful device. The ability to access so many different information sources and view them in single consolidated views is truly revolutionary. I simply love how all of my calendars–work, personal, family–are in a single calendar view but differentiated and user-selectable. I can really see what’s going on in all aspects of my life at once, letting me manage my time in a way that I simply can’t on any other device. The same goes for my contact information, and I’m looking forward to when tasks are integrated into Synergy in the same way. I think we’ve only seen the tip of the Synergy iceberg, and I’m really looking forward to where Palm takes this wonderful capability. That and the multitasking truly are what makes the Pre a simply remarkable device.

I give Synergy a 10/10 conceptually, and an 8/10 in its current implementation.

That’s all for now. I’ll update this post as I think of new areas to cover.

Comments

  1. Nice review. Thanks. Been wanting to get a Pre and this confirms it’s certainly worth a look. I just wish Sprint offered some deals regarding switching out of other carriers.

    It doesn’t look like most of the shortcomings you mention are hardware, so the experience should get even better as updates and apps come out.

    • Thanks!

      Sprint does offer a good deal to new subscribers, but if you have a contract Sprint can’t do anything about that, of course. And yes, a few good updates would make the Pre an even more outstanding device. The update to 1.0.2 fixed a number of things, and so I can’t wait to see 1.0.3.

  2. betogonza says:

    Yea still a few browser issues, scrollin all the way up when with iphone just double tap the top and it zips up. The palm pre is gonna be very strong piece of hardware if palm keeps up. And I sure as hell hope they wait at least two years before they make a palm pre 2

  3. Virginia Tanji says:

    Have had the Palm Pre for a little over a week. I am a long time Palm and then Treo 680 user…I had to switch from ATT. Agree a lot of nice features. But the battery has not lasted a day for me and this is with very little telephone use. Am wondering if it’s caused by Evernote. I particularly miss the Memo app in the Treo and was trying to see if Evernote worked. Have not yet gotten it to work and am also wondering if it’s causing my battery drain.

    Thanks.

    • Evernote has its issues, but for the most part works fairly well. I use Evernote religiously across all of my notebooks, my desktop, and my Pre.

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