Palm Pre Sets The New High Bar for Smartphones

Rob Enderle

I've been playing with the Palm Pre for about a full day now and it is an impressive phone. In many ways, it is as if Palm is giving the single finger salute to Apple with a product by quite literally rubbing Apple's face in the things that should have been in the iPhone but weren't. Neither phone is truly enterprise ready, but that hasn't slowed the iPhone down that much. And while I expect the Palm Pre, due to its Treo roots, will move faster here (and starts out ahead), I wonder if it matters. Right now, this is the hottest market segment going. Here are my impressions of the phone that is so much better than the current iPhone.

 

Touch and Feel

 

The Palm Pre, particularly with the optional inductive charging back, feels good in the hand, just the right weight and nicely balanced. Like the iPhone, it is vastly different from BlackBerries, Windows Mobile, or Symbian phones, but is easy to learn. Once you've learned, you tend to wonder why you put up with the other, more difficult user interfaces. The iPhone and Palm Pre went down different paths to solve a problem with multitasking phones. The iPhone limits multitasking to downloads and cell phone functions, blocking multiple applications from loading to keep the experience simple and to keep the apparent phone performance up. The Palm Pre has improved the user interface so it is easier to move between open applications and shut them down if they degrade performance. Apple is rumored to be doing something similar in the next version of the iPod, due out shortly.

 

One of the best features is the inductive charging dock, which doesn't require a cable and turns the phone automatically into a speakerphone/desk accessory. I'm not missing having to plug the cable in at all and, so far, this has worked flawlessly. Overall touch and feel is in every way better than the current iPhone. One interesting aspect is that there is a touch bar at the bottom of the phone, which helps reduce the fingerprinting on the screen or the need to put your finger in front of what you are trying to look at. The phone trains you to use it initially when you first boot it up.

 

Battery Life


 

Battery life, as with most 3G phones, is far from great, but unlike the iPhone you can replace the battery. And with the inductive dock, at least when you are around the office, you shouldn't have problem. It will be nice when one of these firms goes to one of the newer, longer-lasting battery formulas but, for now, they are largely buying on price. This does create an opportunity for a better after-market offering.

 

Camera

 

With 3 Megapixels and a bright LED light source, you could probably live with this camera for most things. This is much better than the iPhone's 2 Megapixel camera, and the few pictures I took were very nice. It is easy to e-mail or transfer the picture to another phone from the device, though an application that would automatically batch them back to a computer or the Web, like EyeFi, would be an improvement. I expect an application like that, which exists in the iPhone's application store, to eventually show up for the Palm Pre.

 

Email-Enterprise Advantage

 

The Palm Pre uses a mobile version of Outlook and Active Sync, making it easy to set up with an Exchange Server (they've changed the menus a bit but this isn't hard for someone who had done it before). Exchange native support without going through an intermediate service like MobileMe is generally preferred because you don't have to worry about the security or reliability of the Apple cloud offering. With the setup, as it is with Windows Mobile phones, Calendar and Exchange contacts move to the new phone, and if you live on Exchange your phone is mostly configured this way. Tools for centralized management will undoubtedly come later as one of the expected applications.

 

Keyboard

 

What really causes this phone to stand out from the iPhone is the keyboard. It is tight, which means most will likely learn to type with their fingernails. When it slides down, it exposes a mirror for pictures you take of yourself and future video conferencing (not currently enabled in the phone). I can't live without a keyboard myself and this feature, or the lack of it, is what has kept me from an iPhone (or any screen phone).

 

Negatives

 

First, this is a young phone and will likely improve a great deal based on user feedback over the next six months; most of this will come to phone owners via updates. Same with the application store, which appears to be in beta. It will improve significantly over the next six months and those that have the phones will see those benefits as they arrive. Sprint remains one of the more risky carriers, but Verizon and others are expected to pick up this phone in the New Year, allowing you to use a non-Sprint preferred carrier.

 

Could This Be Your Next Smartphone?

 

If you really wanted an iPhone but found a number of things annoying about the device, like the built-in battery, lack of a keyboard, uncomfortable feeling when you had it next to your head, the fact you could only launch one application at a time, and particularly if you don't care for Apple and use Exchange and don't mind Sprint -- you'll love this phone. It is almost as if they built it with me in mind! Unless you want to be one of the first to have this phone, and it is a ball to be one of the first to showcase a device like this, I'd wait until after it shows up on other carriers so they are competing for your business and any initial hardware problems are fixed (there are always issues with the first run of any new phone).

 

You'll also want to check out the new Android and Apple phones due out shortly so you know what you are giving up. Having said all of that, this is clearly the best phone I've ever had the privilege to use and while there are critical parts, like the application store, still not cooked yet, I have no problem recommending it in its initial form to those that like to be first with cool products.



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