Palm Pre Review: A keg of potential, a pint of right-now

Noah Kravitz
 from Oakland, CA
Published: June 16, 2009

Clearly the onslaught of high-profile handset launches already foisted upon us this month has made me want a beer. But I stand by my metaphor: Palm's comeback device, the Pre smartphone represents not only one of the best high-end handsets currently available on the US market, but also a boatload of potential for the future of the onetime King of the PDAs and the mobile device market as a whole.

Is Pre, v1.0, the best mobile phone ever?  No.  Is it the best mobile phone currently available?  I'd also say No.  But is it an exciting and, I think, wise investment to make in the next two years of your mobile life?  Yes, and - depending on your personal needs and wants - perhaps even, Absolutely!

I won't get into the hands-on details of Pre's hardware or using Palms' new WebOS environment to perform various tasks on the device: You can get all of the nitty gritty you can handle via Aaron's excellent written review and my exhaustive (and exhausting, lemme tell you) hands-on video of the device ... including a dogfight with Apple's iPhone 3G.

I will however tell you this: Even in its minorly buggy, has a big battery life issue to overcome, state of being, the Palm Pre is a whale of a mobile device.  Pre handles myriad forms of communication almost as well, if not better, than HTC's excellent new TouchFlo 3D system, but Pre has the advantage of doing it as part of a modern operating system that's a joy to use (TouchFlo sits atop the decrepit Windows Mobile 6.1 OS).  While I wasn't crazy about Pre's hardware, many people love it, and there's no disputing that the multitouch display is gorgeous, accurate and responsive.  And the keyboard ... well, I kinda think it sucks but also was used to it after about two days' worth of pounding out tweets and IMs with it.  So it's usable, at least.

WebOS has a ton of potential.  A ton.  From what I can tell, the platform's silky smooth notifications system is accessible to developers via APIs, and the young, hyperconnected set is sure to love the way Pre tells them they have new messages and calendar events without getting in the way of the task at hand (a crime which iPhone is guilty of).  The "Cards" multitasking system is great, and does what Symbian and WinMo can only dream of: Combine robust multitasking with an intuitive, user-friendly way of managing multiple open apps.

And so long as you've got good coverage in your neck of the woods, a Pre on Sprint is a bargain as compared to an iPhone, G1, or other competing smartphone on AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon.  You've gotta look at the long-term here, people: Forget Pre's $199 sticker price and look at how Sprint's unlimited plan compares to those of its competitors.  Sprint will save you on order of $30/month, which adds up to over $1,000 over the course of a two-year contract.  That's a lot of cash.

I can't wait to see what Palm has up their sleeves next both for WebOS itself and in terms of new hardware.  Pre on Verizon or AT&T?  Eos/Pixie, the Centro-esque thin candybar running WebOS?  Something entirely different?  I gotta get myself an interview with a Palm product manager.

In the meantime, Palm Pre gets a big, but reserved, thumbs up from me.  The caveat, of course, is that it's a thumbs up in an age where mobile devices are rushed to market before all of the bugs are worked out.  Battery life is an issue and the Webkit browser has bugs, but Palm knows that and they're working on it.  Look for more-or-less monthly OTA firmware updates for the foreseeable future as Palm stomps bugs and rolls out new features sure to have long been part of the gameplan by now.

Is Pre "better" than iPhone or the Android-based G1 or a BlackBerry Curve/Bold/Storm?  That honestly depends what you want and need from your mobile device.  I can tell you that Pre and WebOS are more exciting than ... well, they're just as exciting as Android, anyway, and I'd say more exciting than iPhone OS 3.0 and the forthcoming 3G-S device.  If you're in the market for a new cell phone and aren't tied to a particular platform or carrier, take a trip to the local Sprint store and check Pre out before you make any decisions.  You may wind up with an iPhone or BlackBerry or G1 in the end, but it'll be well worth your time to give the new kid on the block a good, hard look first.

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