Two Days With My Palm Pre

Two Days With My Palm Pre

Without a doubt, the Palm Pre is the best phone I have ever owned. Of course, that’s not saying much, since the previous best phone I ever owned was my Sanyo Katana that I’ve had for over 2.5 years, and it was just a plain ol’ phone.

Why Pre?

My wife and I have been getting along pretty well with each of us having a cell phone, iPod Touch, and a digital camera (of the Canon SD variety). We completed our latest 2 year contract with Sprint a little over 6 months ago, and we loved being contract free. We have been waiting for the iPhone to end exclusivity with AT&T and we both know that iPhones would be great phones because of our wonderful experiences with our iPod Touches (iPods Touch?). Texting has taken a bigger role in our lives over the last several months and, as you know, texting with a numeric keypad is a huge pain in the bum (does that make me sound English?). We really wanted our next phones to have a full keyboard – physical or otherwise.

In the last couple of weeks I became pretty excited about the Palm Pre. I was excited about how it would merge all of my contacts and calendars from my work, google and facebook accounts. It looked like the Pre has a great web browser and a strong app platform that would be usable by literally millions of capable web developers.

The main factor that drove us to purchase the Pre was the price, however. It looked like the Pre was a good enough phone that the money we would save over going with the iPhone would be worth it – even if it ultimately didn’t turn out to be as good as the iPhone.

The jury is still out for me as to whether I will stick with the Pre. I will give it a few more days before I commit to sticking with it or consider moving to the iPhone or elsewhere.

Rate Plans

As of today (I will note that this blog was published on June 7, 2009, the day before whatever announcements Apple makes at WWDC 2009 on June 8), Sprint far and away has the best rate plans available. Here is the minimum plan for the Pre on Sprint, compared with a comparable plan on AT&T for the iPhone and a Blackberry Curve on Verizon:

Sprint (Pre) $129.99/month 2 Palm Pre’s ($400.00) 1500 Minutes Unlimited Data Unlimited Text (and MMS) 25 (approx.) TV channels GPS with turn by turn directions Total 2 year price including purchase price: $3,519.76

AT&T (iPhone) $179.99/month 2 iPhones ($400.00) 1400 Minutes Unlimited Data Unlimited Text (presently, no MMS for iPhone) GPS Total 2 year price including purchase price: $4,719.76

Verizon (Blackberry Curve) $229.95/Month 2 Blackberry Curves ($99.99) 1400 Minutes Unlimited Data Unlimited Text (not sure of MMS) GPS (Verizon Navigator) Total 2 year price including purchase price: $5,618.79

The Phone Itself

I read in some reviews that the Pre felt plasticky and light. I don’t really share the same impression – perhaps because I came into it with lower expectations. I came into it knowing that the iPhone was the best damned phone out there, and expected this to be a phone not made by Apple. That said, I was not disappointed in the Pre. It feels pretty solid for a phone not made by Apple. It’s a wonderful size – definitely thicker than the iPhone, but shorter, more rounded and a nicer fit in your pocket.

The sliding mechanism feels fairly sturdy, but it is not always a snap to slide open. You naturally want to slide it up from the bottom, but you need to put your thumb pretty much right in the middle of the screen to get the proper leverage to propel the top up (or the bottom down, depending on your perspective).

Even though the slider feels pretty sturdy, the phone does creak when you hold and touch it – a consequence of having moving parts, unlike the iPhone.

Physical Keyboard

Over the last 1.5 years or so, I have gotten pretty used to using the virtual keyboard on the iPod Touch. Apple was right when they told us that once we learned to trust the auto-correct on the virtual keyboard, we’d move a lot faster. I wouldn’t characterize my typing on the iPod Touch as flying, but it is certainly manageable. That said, I still hate to write any more than a couple sentences on it.

The Pre’s keyboard has been criticized by many for being too cramped. I don’t really have a problem with it, and I have some pretty big hands (me being 6′3″ and 230 pounds, and all). I find that I do type faster on the Pre, and that I don’t mind typing more. I won’t be drafting any motions on the thing, I’m sure, but it’s easier to bang out a couple paragraphs in an email.

This next point is more related to text manipulation than to the keyboard itself, but moving the cursor around on the Pre is a process that can be described as wonky – especially as compared to the iPhone. On the iPhone, you place your finger on the screen and hold it there until a bubble appears that zooms in on where your finger is and shows you the cursor that you can drag around and place anywhere with relative precision. On the Pre, you have to hold down the red/orange button on the keyboard and drag your finger on the screen. The wonky part is that the cursor doesn’t really follow your fingertip. It generally follows the direction of your finger, and in my experience thus far, is a little jumpy. This is a little disorienting because it’s a little like using a trackpad, where you move your finger on the pad and the cursor moves on the screen, only your finger’s already on the screen so you expect the cursor to be at your fingertip but it’s not. It’s workable, but not as effortless and smooth as the iPhone.

Copy and Paste works in basically the same way, only, instead of holding the red/orange button, you hold the shift button while dragging.

Multitasking

Frankly, I don’t find the multitasking to be a big deal. The speed with which apps launch on the Pre is about the same as with my iPod Touch (first generation). Certainly, when you leave apps running in the background, switching to them is faster than opening them up from scratch. Although, I will say that allowing things to load in the background is nice for when you don’t feel like waiting (web pages, contact & calendar syncing, emails, etc.). Of course, most of these occur in the background on the iPhone anyway – except web pages.

In practice, I tend to close out my apps when I’m done with them anyway because having a lot of open “cards” makes me feel disorganized, so, the ability to multitask on the Pre doesn’t really improve my life all that much. It’s a nice, but overhyped, feature.

Camera

The camera on the Pre is actually pretty good. It’s 3 megapixels and there’s no optical zoom (or digital zoom for that matter), so, you can’t expect it to completely replace your 8 megapixel point-and-shoot with 3x to 4x optical zoom and built in image stabilization. There is a flash, however, which makes it not only possible to take pictures in low light, but they actually come out pretty well – for a camera phone. It’s beyond dispute that the Pre takes far better pictures than the iPhone 3G. I am wondering how the next-gen iPhone will stack up.

Speaking of the camera in the next-gen iPhone… It’s a foregone conclusion that the next iPhone will take videos. The Pre’s camera does not presently take video, although, Palm has alluded that they could enable video recording with a software update. I won’t be holding my breath, however.

Even juicier rumors point to the 2009 iPhone as having a front facing camera that can be used to video-chat, as seen in these supposed spy-shots of the heretofore unreleased device here and possibly here.

For myself, however, I wonder if video isn’t one of those things that seems really awesome to have, but that you would rarely actually use it. I think the ability to quickly upload and share video would be the factor that determined how much I would use it.

… And speaking of sharing… The Pre does allow you to share the pictures you take – by email, MMS or by uploading to Facebook or Photobucket. I would like to have more options here – like Flickr and Picasa. And, as far as I can tell, there’s no way to upload pictures to short-url-picture-sharing services like twitpic or pic.im for use with Twitter.

Email

The email application for the Pre is actually pretty strong. I use three email accounts, primarily. Gmail for personal email, and Google Apps for My Domain for my work and EsquireMac email accounts – all using IMAP.

The one significant advantage Pre email has over the iPhone email app is that it provides a unified inbox view for “all inboxes.” A feature that Apple’s Mail.app has had for years, but strangely, the iPhone is missing.

Once you set the preferences properly with IMAP, you will receive your emails instantaneously. It works pretty much how you want it to work.

Apps

As many others have said, the App catalog for the Pre is very limited at present. I’ve downloaded Tweed (ok), Pandora (awesome), Accuweather (awesome), Spaz (don’t use it), LinkedIn (don’t use it), and FlightView (don’t use it).

The big deal, according to Palm, with its WebOS is that you can develop applications for the Pre using only basic web standards. I’m not smart enough to know this for sure, but the impression I’ve gotten from what I’ve read about WebOS is that the apps you can develop will be more powerful than the simple webapps the iPhone started out with, but not as powerful as the native third party apps that the iPhone presently hosts.

For now, there is no Fring or Skype on the Pre. I’m not sure if you could build a Fring or Skype client using solely WebOS, but I suspect you could. It would be nice to be able to make calls via WiFi that wouldn’t ding your monthly minute allotment.

The Pre does have a Tasks program that comes installed. It has a pretty nice interface, and supports multiple lists, but it has no sync capability. I suppose you could use something like Remember The Milk (of which I am not a big fan), but there are definitely no apps like Things, OmniFocus or the forthcoming The Hit List which all have excellent desktop Mac apps that sync with excellent iPhone apps.

Charging and Syncing

The Pre charges and syncs via a micro-USB cable and port that is on the right side of the device. Micro-USB cables are essentially ubiquitous, and you probably have a few laying around the house already, especially if you’ve ever bought a point-and-shoot camera or a portable USB hard drive. Although, if you’ve ever owned an iPod or two, you probably have just as many iPhone charger cables laying around, too.

The problem with the Pre in this regard is that the charging cable comes right out of the side of the device – making it very awkward to hold and use while charging. Compare this to the iPhone whose charging cable comes out of the bottom, making it much easier to use while plugged in.

Interacting with Your Mac

What you have heard is true: the Pre presents itself to iTunes as an iPod, and iTunes will sync with the Pre. It will not sync Apple DRM’d (that’s copy-protected for the uninitiated) files. It will sync playlists, podcasts, photos and videos (again, only non-DRM’d videos, though).

If you’ve taken pictures with your Pre, and plug it into your Mac, iPhoto will recognize that there are pictures on your Pre and will enable you to import them.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to sync bookmarks with the Pre’s browser. This is a big plus for me on my iPod Touch, and something of a downer with the Pre.

The Pre will show up on your desktop as a hard drive. In this regard, it is very easy to drag and drop new wallpapers and ringtones onto your Pre. Actually, as far as I can tell, you can copy any MP3 file to the ringtones directory and the Pre will allow you to select it as a ringtone – not too shabby.

Other than iTunes, iPhoto and the USB-drive functions I’ve described, I do not believe the Pre offers any further Mac-specific interactions.

Other Points of Interest

  • The EVDO 3G data speed is pretty good, and the WiFi works pretty effortlessly, picking up recognized networks automatically.
  • Voicemail still sucks, requiring you to call in and listen to them in order. Although the Pre does show you how many voicemails are waiting for you.
  • Reception seems to be a little worse than my old Katana, but not horrible.
  • Accessing the menu dropdown on the top left of the screen can be difficult, and often takes several attempts to hit the menu.
  • There are no good cases for the Pre. And by good, I mean (a) protect the phone and (b) leave the phone and its functions easily accessible. The vertical slider form factor makes this a particularly disconcerting engineering feat, I’m sure.
  • Battery Life is not very good. With moderate use, I have to charge it at least once, if not twice, per day.
  • Speaking of battery life, the cover does come off, but is non-intuitive and labor-intensive. You won’t be changing the battery while driving, that’s for sure.
  • Crashing and resetting: Each of our Pre’s have crashed once since we got them yesterday. There is no way to reset the power for a reboot without popping off the back case and removing and replacing the battery – a significant pain in the rear. Compare this with the iPhone’s ability to reset by simply holding the button(s) down for about 10 seconds.
  • GPS seems to work now, but it took about 24 hours before I could get the Pre to find itself.

Conclusion

All in all, I’m a little disappointed in the Pre. That said, I’m not completely discouraged. As far as it goes, it’s not a bad phone, it does a lot, and it has a completely unbeatable rate plan. I have faith that the app catalog will grow exponentially over the next several months.

My wife shares about the same sentiments with me – it’s not a bad phone, but we’ve definitely been spoiled by our iPods Touch (iPod Touches?).

What are we going to do?

Well, if I keep the Pre, I don’t want to carry around my iPod Touch anymore – there’s too much duplicate functionality, and one of the biggest advantages of owning a Pre (or iPhone) for me is the ability to converge my three devices that go with me everywhere and make my pockets much happier – phone, camera, ipod.

That said, I can’t help but to have this feeling that I will miss Apple’s App store and iPhone OS if I get rid of my iPod Touch and don’t get an iPhone.

The iPhone plan is just too expensive. I can’t justify spending almost $200 (after taxes and fees) per month on a cell phone. I predicted at the beginning of this year that Apple would end its exclusivity with AT&T at the two-year mark. I hope I’m right because there needs to be some competitive downward pressure on the iPhone’s rate plans, and the sooner the better.

If the Pre doesn’t grow on us, we’ll either be downgrading back to our Katana’s or we’ll downgrade to a non-smart phone with a QWERTY keyboard for easier texting and a cheaper plan.

I will be anxiously awaiting Apple’s WWDC announcements tomorrow, and I am genuinely excited to see what’s in store for the 2009 iPhone – even if I never end up with one. I’m just geeky like that.

Finally – Any Questions?

If you have any questions about the Pre, or would like to know if it can do this or that, please feel free to leave me a comment below.

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