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
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • Griswold - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    "Multitasking has been done by many smartphones before the Pre or iPhone, but no one has done it as smooth and as Apple-like as Palm."

    We're in the 3rd generation of iphones now and they still cant multitask. If palm does it perfectly, calling it "apple-like" is certainly inappropriate. Palms Pre is now the yardstick for multitasking on the mobile sector. Credit where credit is due, please.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    I meant it in a flattering way. That sort of praise is normally reserved for Apple; bestowing it upon Palm, not traditionally a recipient of such praise was intended to be an honor :-P

    Take care,
  • Johnmcl7 - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    "Shame on Nokia, Motorola and the established cell phone industry for failing to do what it took Palm two years to do."

    Ok, so this point is made followed by compliments for multitasking and the cloud syncing however Nokia have had a similar multitasking system implemented in S60 for years (hold the app button to get a list of all apps and change to them as you want). Background apps can have their own data connections without interfering with each other and if you do push them too far the phone will warn you it's running low on memory. I find it strange that the lack of multitasking which is really a requisite for a smartphone has been so overlooked with the Iphone. Nokia's Ovi product lets you sync your system remotely or you can hook your contacts directly into the likes of Facebook with the latest version of S60.

    While Nokia lack the flash of other companies however Apple still cannot match the featureset of the S60 phones that were out before the Iphone 2G and I find their core features to be extremely strong particularly signal reception - the 5800 can hold onto a signal where no other phone can which makes it considerably more useful given it is a phone after all.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    While Nokia has done a great job adding features to its phones over the years, on the UI side the innovation just hasn't been there. Both Apple and Palm deliver far more usable, simple and smooth UIs on their smart phones than I've seen from anyone else.

    If your cellphone UI has never bothered you then Nokia more than delivers capable handsets, however I believe (and I feel that a significant portion of the high end smartphone market agrees) that it's only been since the iPhone that we've seen real attention paid towards improving UI and user experience on these phones. Palm does a wonderful job of carrying the torch for the next leg imho.

    Take care,
  • Connoisseur - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    I totally agree. Everyone keeps harping on this article regarding the "features" and how they've been available for a long time in other phones. The feature-set aside, these phones just offer a level of smoothness and ease of use in the UI that 90% of the population is wowed about. Sure my old Treo offered a lot of functionality but it took an Apple to take the key components and make it such a pleasure to use.
  • jmaine - Saturday, June 20, 2009 - link

    Please define "genuine smartphone". Enlighten us to what the iPhone cannot do (and do well) that a Nokia smartphone would be a better choice for the masses? I switched to an iPhone after years of using Nokia, Motorola, Sony, Samsung and Blackberry phones. I even have a Treo 750 from work right now and I absolute hate it and all the former phones I've used and constantly switched between.

    TheProf, Connoisseur and Anand hit the nail on the head. It's the interface and usability, not the features that make a smart phone a commercial success. You can have a 12 megapixel phone with an OLED display, but with horrible software, support and application support. It will fail despite the strength of its hardware.

    I've been reading a lot about the Palm Pre's problems since launch - overheating, poor battery life, and software crashes. Don't forget that a smart phone's function is to be a phone first, and everything else after. If you can't use its features without affecting it's essential functionality as a phone, it's a failure.
  • Johnmcl7 - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    I don't see the point in having a fancy UI if there's nothing underneath it, I expect a lot of functionality from a smartphone (otherwise I would use a normal phone) and Apple still seems to be far behind where Nokia were years before. If you want a fashion phone then yes, a fancy UI is definitely a desirable feature.

    Also, I still fail to see why you 'shame' Nokia then praise Palm for a system which Nokia have had for many years.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    I believe that the iPhone and Pre do offer much more than a fancy UI, I believe they offer a good balance of features and good interface. Not holding phone makers to a high standard when it comes to UI is how we ended up in this mess in the first place, I don't believe now is the time to go back to our old ways.

    I'm not shaming Nokia for its multitasking support, I'm shaming Nokia for not producing a comparable Pre-like or iPhone-like UI in the years since the original iPhone's release. In my mind it should have been Nokia and Motorola who built the first iPhone, they had the experience; for Apple to come in and build such a successful smartphone indicates that there's something wrong with the way the established makers approach phone designs.

    Take care,
  • Johnmcl7 - Friday, June 19, 2009 - link

    That's because Nokia make genuine smartphones, not devices pretending to be smartphones just because they have a fancier interface - on the initial Iphone release it was missing features even standard phones had (such as proper bluetooth support). I honestly don't know how a phone as basic as the Iphone gets such a free ride on what is supposed to be a tech site - it's very slowly getting there but to me a device without multitasking cannot be considered a smartphone as that severely limits the device.

    Even on media features Nokia had Apple beaten hands down and still do in some areas, I'm waiting for the next release in the drip feed series of Iphones which will have a decent camera as at the moment they seem to be around three years behind on that front.

    Overall I just much prefer Nokia's approach to a mobile phone - pack as many features into a phone to make it a powerful device rather than Apple's approach of putting at little as possible to force people to upgrade constantly. I guess I'll never understand how tech sites can get so wowed by an interface they can completely overlook the lack of any substance underneath it.
  • Samus - Saturday, June 20, 2009 - link

    Yea... Nokia's smartphones are 'true' smartphones. Thats why Blackberry and Apple outsell Nokia smartphones like 50:1.

    Nokia makes sturdy dependable phones, but their IU has the elegence of a VW Golf dashboard. Boring. Boring. Boring.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now