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Palm Pre

Sprint exclusive cell phone

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Palm Pre: Not a polished product, but shows a lot of promise

  • Jun 23, 2009
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Positives:  Beautiful phone with a small form factor, a functional and easy to use keyboard, and a screen large enough to be able to surf the web.    Good network connectivity and the standard features you would expect from a latest gen phone (GPS, multiple applications, etc.)
Negatives:   Observable and significant wait times in transition between different applications.    Few clues about what the phone is doing during the wait times, or that it is making progress at all.   Generally rough around the edges (examples below).   Burns through the battery every 2 days without heavy use.  Lack of developer applications.

I've only owned my Pre for 4 days, and I have a tremendous amount still to learn about it.    I like it significantly better than my old Palm, a 755P, but I don't feel it is a completely polished product.  It also feels much more like a computer than a phone, and not always in a good way.    A few examples:
  1. Loading applications frequently show unnecessary transitions.  So, for example, if I'm in one application, like google maps, and I click a link to make a phone call, it takes a while to load the phone call application, and it first shows the dial menu for a second or two before switching to call the number you originally clicked on.
  2. Rough around the edges:  With google maps, I was just getting a white screen with a GPS dot for a while, till I killed off all running instances of the google maps application and restarted it.
  3. Some features need further development.  For example, when I synchronized with my google contacts, it downloaded all 600+ people I've ever sent an email to, rather than just the people I've chosen to add to contacts. It also didn't update my google contacts with the various information already in the phone that had been transferred over from my 755P.

The upsides to the phone:
  1. The shape and surface of the phone are extremely comfortable and polished.  It fits easily in your hand and in your pocket, and is just more fun to use and to own because of that.
  2. The card based multiple application interface is a great concept, that works quite well for someone used to switching between applications.
  3. You get the feeling that the phone has many tricks, so even though there is a significant learning curve, it will become increasingly easy to use over time.
  4. The balkiness and weird behavior is very computeresque in nature -- the same tricks that work to make a computer application function appropriately work on the Pre (rebooting, trying alternative approaches, etc.).
  5. Both google maps and the web browser work brilliantly, taking full advantage of the screen and rendering in a way that made almost any website readable.
  6. It intelligently handled contacts in a way that earlier versions of Palm didn't.  For instance, earlier versions of Palm, including my 755P, would occassionally double up my contacts when there were sync problems.  The Pre took the doubled up contacts and consolidated them to a single contact per actual person (I'm assuming based on duplicate email or phone numbers).
  7. The network sync, where you back up your phone online, is a brilliant idea.  I hate the loss of control of having my data in the hands of a network I don't control, but the fact that you can have it sync remotely with either Exchange or Google removes a lot of that stress.

Update after using the phone for 2 months -- additional gripes and one positive revision:

1.  I would love to have back the simple gmail Treo client.   The one thing I enjoyed most with the gmail client was access to server side gmail search for quickly finding messages, and the threading.  I'd much rather have that then a pale simple IMAP implementation on the pre, even if it meant I had to open the client to download messages.   The web interface is just a bit too clunky to use effectively on the Pre, and right now that is my only option.

2.  With heavy use, you can burn through your battery in well under a day, which poses quite a problem when doing a day excursion.  The phone really let me down at Disneyland, when I was heavily using gmail, google maps, and the camera application.  My girlfriend's iphone held up without any sort of problems.  That said, I'm an extremely atypical user.  I use my gmail application for work, so I tend to get an average of 20 emails an hour, a few of which are huge inline emails (snapshots of production logs).  I could see this being a rare problem.

3.  Even some of the built in applications on the Pre, like Google Maps, are done much better on the Iphone.   For example, the auto complete features in Maps on the Iphone are much better if you are simply trying to get directions to an address you have previously entered.

4.  You have to nuke parts of the phone from orbit and start over occassionally.   I changed my gmail password, and the phone just wouldn't successfully reset.   In that case, removing the account on the phone, rebooting the phone, then adding back the account fixed it.   It also just stopped being able to download my gmail, so I had to disassociated the gmail account and add it back.  I'm not sure what action I took that provoked that failure.

5.  The OS fixes seem to have eliminated my white screen issue with the google maps client (the one positive change in the experience)

I'm still reasonably happy with the phone, but the lack of gmail client email and the battery issues have significantly impacted my experience.  I would never switch over to an Iphone because of the need to switch to AT&T, but I'm looking forward to trying out some of the new Android based phones.  I especially want my google voice application :)

Edit as of the end of September;
Additional WebOs upgrades are rare, despite the large number of fairly glaring issues.   They are apparently not doing a great job attracting third party developers, see http://jwz.livejournal.com/1096401.html. That could prove to give IPhone an insurmountable advantage:

Edit as of the end of January:
The battery issues have gone away with additional OS upgrades.  In addition, the Gmail integration is much better than it used to be, including much better contact integration.

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January 28, 2010
Thanks for this review. I'm also a Treo user, and it is annoying me to no end, but with your issues, it seems to be a consistent trend with Palm to annoy their users. I, like you, use email extensively for work on my phone, except I sync my phone now with my company's microsoft exchange server. I don't know if that would prove a different experience than yours, though I do have my Gmail account on my Treo as well for personal use. That said...I am still torn, but I have until next summer to decide, as Sprint is making me wait to get my trade in credit....those scoundrels! Thanks!
January 28, 2010
The battery issues have gone away with additional OS upgrades. In addition, the Gmail integration is much better than it used to be, including much better contact integration.
August 13, 2009
Thanks for this review! I am considering jumping two ships (AT&T and Windows Mobile) to possibly get on the Pre bandwagon. Need to see what the TouchPro2 on AT&T is gonna be and then I'll leap.
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Ari Miller ()
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I mostly write about my main obsession, tennis. When I'm not experimenting with new tennis racquets, I love to watch a good movie or read a great book. I'm a fan of both non-fiction (especially books … more
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The Palm Pre for Sprint Wireless offers:

Connected calendars and contacts
Pre uses the Palm® Synergy™ feature to bring your Outlook®,2 Google, and Facebook® calendars together for one logical view of your day. And if you have the same contacts in different places, Pre can link them together, making it easy to find the information you need.

Notifications bar
Things like text messages and calendar appointments appear as notifications at the bottom of the screen. You'll know what's going on without being completely interrupted or losing your train of thought.

Universal search
Simply start typing to begin searching your contacts, applications, Google, or even Wikipedia. Universal search narrows down the possible results as you type, so it's easier to find what you need.

Email, Wi-Fi, and GPS
Check email from Outlook® or personal accounts like Gmail, AOL, and Yahoo!. Take advantage of Wi-Fi hotspots.6 And look up directions or nearby points of interest using GPS. It's everything you need, everywhere you go.

Multiple activities
Keep multiple applications open and move easily between them—email, maps, photos, websites, whatever. Pre thinks of your applications as "activity cards", and lets you flip through them, move them around, or throw them off screen.

Web-connected applications
An incredibly fast browser brings you full websites the way they were meant to be seen. Plus, the applications on the phone are connected to the web and constantly updated, so you get the latest...

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