Palm Pre: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Noah Kravitz
 from Oakland, CA
Published: June 9, 2009

Four full days with a Palm Pre review loaner.  First was pick up and get to know you Friday.  Then came mess around with it all weekend Saturday and Sunday.  And then the first stress test: Use it all day while covering a press event Monday.

So what have I learned in my time with Palm and Sprint's new flagship smartphone?  I'll break it into three categories.  And maybe Aaron, Becca, and/or Tom (all of whom are playing with Pres of their own right now) will chime in with some points and counterpoints of their own.

The Good:

  • WebOS is insanely pleasant to look at.  Everything is colorful, rounded, smooth, and easy.  Doing stuff on Pre is kind of like slowly eating a steady stream of cotton candy.
  • Multitouch on Pre's display is at least as good as multitouch on any other mobile device I've tried.  Maybe just a hair better, even.
  • The device is small and light, and yet the display feels big and bold when I'm immersed in using it.
  • Multitasking on Pre is as good as advertised, relative of course to the limits of the hardware and software.  Flipping back and forth between IMs and SMSs, Twitter feeds, and Email is easier on this device than on any other I've tried.  The psychic dangers of being so hyper-connected aside, WebOS does multitasking in the most consumer-friendly of ways.
  • WebOS version 1.0 gives me a lot of hope for versions 1.1, 1.5, 2.0, and so on.  1.0 reminds me of Android 1.0, except way better.  Android 1.5 has me excited about the platform now, so I can only imagine how WebOS 1.5 will one day make me feel.  Squishy and warm on the inside, I bet.
  • Voice and data quality have been excellent thus far in my tests around the San Francisco Bay Area of California.  Voice calls on Pre sound great, and I've had strong EV-DO signal strength most everywhere I've taken the device. I got a Roaming indicator once while on the BART train, but it only lasted a few seconds.  Data has been nice and fast, too.  And WiFi works just fine.
  • Sprint's all-in voice and data plan offers great value as compared to AT&T and Verizon.
  • Flicking and gesturing through WebOS' cards is fun.  For now, anyway.  It might get old after a few months of daily use.  But I'm living in the Now, like Sprint's ads tell me to, and so I'll say it's still fun.


The Bad:

  • Pre's Web browser is solid but needs some work to compete with the big boys.  Text has a tendency to render out all squished up sometimes.  Where's the RSS feed reader?   Why can't I download and view mobile-formatted Web videos like I can on that other multitouch smartphone?  (Pre lets me start the process, and then gives me a file unsupported error in the video player)  Why can't I enter text into Web forms in landscape mode?  Why must I slide open the keyboard and rotate back to portrait mode to log into a site that I'd rather continue to browse in landscape mode?
  • Pre's autocomplete dictionary is small compared to those of its competitors, and there's not much in the way of feedback when it kicks into action.  Mis-type a word?  Pre will either correct it or it won't, but you won't see any sort of pop-up or underline to highlight the mistake.  Not a deal-breaker since there's a hardware keyboard and all, but I much prefer Android 1.5's autocomplete/correct system with its easily extendable dictionary.
  • You can't use cellular data while also conducting a voice call.  That's not Pre's fault - it's a CDMA thing.  But still.  You can, however, use WiFi data while on a call, so that's something, anyway.
  • The music and video players are kind of barebones.  Pre's music player looks cool, but it lacks an equalizer, the time elapsed progress bar is in a non-obvious place, and the Amazon MP3 shopping experience is lacking in the finer details that have made that other online music store such a juggernaut.  Don't get me wrong, you can preview, purchase, download, and listen to music on Pre just fine.  The experience just needs some fine tuning and finishing touches to be competitive in the current marketplace.
  • There aren't many Apps in the App Catalog.  That will change, and in and of itself doesn't matter so much.  Except that Pre's competitors, like Android and iPhone OS, have lots of apps available in their app stores.  And Pre doesn't ship with, say, a twitter app.  So I had to download one, and it doesn't support TwitPic uploading.  But that will change.
  • The keyboard is small and the buttons are grippy in a weird way.  I've talked to a bunch of Pre owners about this, and they seem to be split on the topic: Some care, some don't.  Everyone - me included - thinks the keyboard is useable.  But it's no BlackBerry or HTC QWERTY, that's for sure.
  • My Pre crashed super hard while charging over the weekend.  I had to pull the battery to reboot it.  The bright side is that the battery was fully charged once the phone restarted.


The Ugly

  • Battery life is bad.  Really bad.  I put my fully charged Pre into action at a little before 8 am today.  At 2:09 PM the battery had run out and the device shut itself down.  That's not okay.  Yeah, I used the phone fairly heavily today - Email, twitter, SMS/IM, and a little bit of background music and Web browsing - but I was not hammering on it relentlessly in hopes of killing the battery.  In fact, the phone sat totally dormant for just over two straight hours while I covered my press event.  Six hours of battery life under "normal hyper-connected usage" is not okay for a device meant to be hyper-connected.  Maybe it just had a bad day?  We'll see tomorrow.
  • The build quality of my Pre is suspect.  I've argued with a few folks about this via Twitter, and they swear I'm nuts.  Fine.  But my Pre has too much wobble in its slider mechanism - most noticeable when the phone is closed - and the keyboard tray feels cheap to me.  I also find the device hard to hold when its slid open - the top edges of the keyboard area are sharp and dig into my hands and fingers.  Maybe I'm a sissy, but I've never accused another phone of having too sharp an edge for my comfort.
  • Want to plug Pre into your computer via USB to sync some media?  Don't expect to receive any calls or messages while its in sync mode.  Seriously?  Really?  Not okay.
  • That Touchstone wireless charger?  It's slow and it's way overpriced.  Cool idea, though.


Okay, that's enough for now.  Got a Pre?  Agree with my assessment?  Think I'm an anti-Palm fool with weak sauce hands that aren't tough enough for Pre's plastic edges?  Chime in in the comments!

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Aaron's take on the Palm Pre:

For me, the strongest point of the Palm Pre is webOS.  Based on its ability to multitask, I believe that it trumps the iPhone in the OS arena.  That being said, there are obvious small improvements in the operating system that can be made.  Being the first serious competitor to the iPhone, the device is going to be compared with it on a regular basis, so forgive my constant contrasts between the two.

  • Build quality: Contrary to others, I have no qualms about the build quality.  I actually prefer it over the iPhone, as I'm no longer concerned about my phone not being able to take a fall.  It has less of a "fragile" feeling to me.  Based on Twitter comments I've seen, I think the sharp edges are drawn out of proportion.  The bottom lip is sharp, and granted, if I was to swipe my finger across it for hours on end, it might hurt.  But I have no problems with it in everyday use.  There is a slight wobble in my slide mechanism as well, but I've never owned a slider phone that doesn't do the exact same thing.  It still feels sturdy, so it's a moot point for me.
  • Music player:  Love it.  Lacks an equalizer and progress bar, but the seamless iTunes connectivity more than makes up for it.  Maybe I'm biased here; I don't continuously back up my music to listen to the same chorus three times, so again, moot point for me.  I imagine we'll see it in a future OS update.
  • Voice/data quality: Noah and I agree here.  Both are fantastic, and the data speeds are fast (and most importantly, consistent).  Keep in mind, the device offers MMS out of the box, which is more than we can say about the iPhone
  • Keyboard: Coming from a BlackBerry, I have been spoiled by devices that rely heavily on keyboards for continuous e-mailing and text messaging.  I'll admit, the Pre took a day or so to get used to, but in my speed tests, I'm back up to normal typing speeds.  There's no lag in typing, and the grippy keys make my typing more accurate.  It's inevitably going to be a love/hate thing, but I've been pleased with it thus far.  Points have been made about the autocorrect functionality, which is something that I hope they improve upon in future updates.  However, with a full QWERTY keyboard, I've needed it no more than once or twice.  I can understand the need for it on a touchscreen keyboard (iPhone or G1), but not as much on a physical one.
  • Battery life: One word - terrible.  Hideous.  Take your pick.  In the four days that I've owned the device, it's lasted no more than seven hours before it shut off.  In today's world, that's utterly unacceptable.  My job requires a great deal of e-mailing and calling, and I can't use a device that lasts for 5-7 hours.  Furthermore, I can't be near a home/car charger at all times.  In the 157 phones that I've either owned or tested, the Pre takes the gold medal for the worst battery life.  It makes the iPhone and G1 look like battery warriors.

Fortunately for Palm, I love webOS more than I hate the battery life.  But if this continues, I simply can't keep the device.  Which frustrates me to no end, primarily because I absolutely admire the device itself in almost every other way.  Hopefully, an OS update will fix the problem.  I'll warm Palm, though: it better come soon, or you're going to see a great deal of business people return the device.

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Rebecca's take on the Palm Pre:

For those of you that don't already know, the Pre is a big step up in the cell phone world for me.  For the last two years I have been using the Samsung Sync with AT&T.  I used the Impression for a week or so while on vacation and discovered the excitement of using a great messaging device so I couldn't wait to make the big switch to Sprint and the Pre.  With three full days under my belt, here are some of my early thoughts.

  • Build quality: There is a little more of a "wobble" to it then I expected.  I feel like I need to be very gentle when sliding it open.  I also am not enjoying how difficult it is to open the charging port.  Since I have to charge this thing so much I have a feeling that little plastic cover is going to break off soon.  Using the "very little" button that allows you to get to the battery is also difficult to press and at the same time open the back cover.  It literally took me five minutes because I was afraid I was going to break the back panel off if I pulled too hard.  But when it comes to Noah's complaint about sharp edges I have to disagree.  When I am typing on the QWERTY or just using the device in general, my hands don't even lean on or touch the sides so it is not an issue for me.   
  • Camera: Awesome.  Quick and dirty reason why, you take a picture, it pops up and the Pre gives you the option to delete, assign to contact, set wallpaper, share via email, share via MMS, or upload.  I have mainly been taking pictures of friends who aren't on Facebook so I can see their pretty faces when they call me now!  It also takes great quality photos.
  • Keyboard:  Being this is my first full time QWERTY device; I must say I have had no issues at all.  I think I have hit the wrong letter once or twice over these first few days of texting, twittering, IMing, and surfing the web. 
  • Battery Life:  Much to my disappointment, and Noah's, and Aaron's, and Tom's the battery stinks.  (We did just get an e-mail from our Palm rep so hopefully we will have some updates and tips for you very soon.) 

So in the early going for me, I give the Pre thumbs up.  My progress has been slower than the guys as I have only taken the time to learn how to access a few things.  But don't worry; making the switch from a standard flip phone to the Pre has me looking forward to learning how to use everything that the device has to offer.

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