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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  • OCedHrt - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    My HTC has predictive text input (based on key locality) in case of a miss so I don't think Apple has a patent on it.
  • macs - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    Speaking of fast web browsing.... i use opera mini on my google Ion phone (android). It delivers full browsing experience and it's blazing fast. Opera mini loads over my 3g network in just 9 seconds. You should try!
  • imaheadcase - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    Thats how apple stays in business right there, everyone thinks throwing money at overpriced products IT will get better eventually.. ZING!

    I don't know why this review is comparing it to a Iphone, Iphone is outclassed by other smartphones as it is, why not compare it to a real phone like a HTC touch or the like? You know, a phone that is popular with regular people and not hollywood hipsters only..

    Downvote if you want, but the FACT of the matter is, the Iphone is a niche market, look at the top phones sold by At&T, the basic flip phone is still the best selling phone in the world, the HTC touch even outsells the iphone 10-1. Like I mentioned before, I know one person who has a iphone and he only got it because parents got it to him as a going away to collage gift.

  • jmaine - Saturday, June 20, 2009 - link

    Where are you coming up with these stats from? Please show me one reliable source that says the HTC Touch outsells the iPhone 10-1. Please leave the bs in your dreams.
  • ltcommanderdata - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    One thing I find funny about arguments that the iPhone lacks basic features found in other phones is that despite this Apple has still sold 21 million iPhones as of March 2009, which is quite a success for a company that wasn't in the cell phone business 2 years ago. The question other phone manufacturers should be thinking about is what happens when the iPhone incorporates many of these lacking hard features in addition to the fluffy pizzaz it already has? How much additional demand will there be for a full featured iPhone?
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    The reviews agree, the HTC Touch isn't in the same class of smartphone as the iPhone. Most phones will outsell things like the iPhone; lower prices and lower monthly fees will determine quantities, but the space the iPhone competes in is the high end smartphone market where the stakes/players are a bit different.

    Take care,
  • rudy - Monday, June 22, 2009 - link

    I cant find any provider which sells an HTC touch cheaper then an iPhone.
  • Stas - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    Same. I know 2 ppl that had iPhones. 1 was my techy friend, who took it to the shooting range and unloaded his rifle at it after 5 months of use. The other is my wife's friend who only knows how to call and text on it (not sure WHY she got it... oh, yeah, it's COOL).
    But I can think of at least 8 ppl that have a Blackberry... :)
  • anandtech02148 - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    Nokia N97, europe's answer to all american hyped up marketing trash. N97 unlocked, using Fring to escape that other american trash, US cellphone pre-nups.
    Voip, sip account, sweetness. symbian s60 5th is a bit shaky, but then again there isn't a perfect Os for new cellphone model that comes out every 3months, thanks to Taiwan,Korea and China new handset are out every 24hrs. the only win for Apple here is a lot of laid off engineers creating adobe flash games for the iphone, how else would you get 50,000 apps. my hope is Nokia's answer apple in the next 6month with dual cores Arm.

  • snarfbot - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    im glad you're happy with your 700 US dollar phone.

    dumb americans are happy to get a free phone and use the same carrier for a couple of years, probably because almost every network is essentially the same in terms of features/cost.

    on a side note, something needs to be done about the word american.

    america is a big continent, people commonly refer to those living in the USA as "americans".

    it would be more fitting if we were dubbed usa'ians our something so our neighbors dont get insulted by accident.

    which brings me to my last point, in response to the actual article!

    it is odd indeed how the messaging protocol varies regionally, i think the major reason most people in the US use AIM, is because we were all introduced to the splendor of the internet by aol in the 90's, then when broadband became available people switched over and kept their AIM screen names. Those that used a different isp just used AIM because everyone else was on aol, etc.

    Peoples elsewhere probably used icq, until msn/yahoo came along and freed them from oppression.

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