Palm Pre reviewed


7 Oct 2009

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Gadgetrepublic.com has been testing Palm’s answer to the iPhone for the past 24 hours. While we think it’s a beauty and user friendly, we have one demand: show us the apps!

The most obvious thing about the Palm Pre is the brand new user interface. The Palm OS has been replaced with the WebOS, which, as the name suggests, is all about using the Palm Pre as a mobile web device for happy, shiny connected people.

Navigation

This works well on many levels and also has an intuitive user interface with touch gesturing for navigating from application to application.

You see, the whole screen is a touchscreen, including the bottom half, which has a single home button with touch-sensitive areas to the left and right.

On this premise, it becomes quite natural and easy to swipe from place to place and get at what you want easily. First off, a side swipe to the left will bring you out of an application to a "deck" of all your open apps.

Swiping upwards on either side will bring up the main navigation menu and one more upward swipe will close it. If you slowly drag your finger upwards from the bottom toolbar (which has room for five apps) and let go on the one you want, it will launch for you.

There are a few ways to get at an app and find your way around, but none are confusing and all are intuitive. This is one phone I found natural to use, from the unboxing onwards.

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The WebOS

So it might be easy to navigate, but is it any good? Well, Palm is trying to make it as relevant as possible to the multi-messaging generation with their integrated address book named Synergy.

When you sign in first using your Google or Exchange mail account, it will pull in all your contacts, and similarly for your Facebook friends. All of these will be listed together in one universal address book where you can also see if contacts are online.

One disadvantage is the duplication of names and contacts. There is no easy way to weed out duplicates and contrary to Palm saying the software was clever enough to connect a Facebook account and a Gmail account from one person under one entry, I found that ones spelled identically didn’t seem to merge at all, bar a few.

So the duplication annoyed me slightly but when you do have a person’s email, phone number, Facebook, et al, under one contact, the threaded messaging is great: you can reply to a text with an email and get a Google IM in return and it is all gathered under the one conversation. Something I have been waiting for. Just let us add Twitter to Synergy and I’m sorted!

I would also like if I could have synced it with the address book on my iMac, as well as numbers from my old phone, but as fellow journalist Joe Drumgoole pointed out, this is a universal problem for all phone manufacturers.

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Despite these glitches, I do see the social web/phone address book with live presence becoming ubiquitous in the next few years. It won’t be long before other phone manufactures or OS developers begin incorporating it as standard in the same way they are beginning to embrace mobile apps.

QWERTY keyboard

I’m quite happy with the touch/QWERTY combo. The QWERTY keypad is compact and highly useable one or two-handed, and its addition is no reflection on the touch interface, which can be sluggish or downright rubbish on some combo handsets.

I think the touch is as responsive as the iPhone, and there is no other handset out there that can honestly say that.

App catalog

Other tech companies probably hate when you begin a sentence with "X company’s answer to the iPhone App Store" but this is the best (and competitively speaking "only") comparison.

Right now, all apps are free to download, but following an announcement made yesterday, Palm wants to work closely with developers and make it easy for them to bring paid apps to market without too many hurdles getting in the way of submission, like, say, another large company does from time to time.

My first impressions of the app catalog is it seems quite sparse, but if the developer announcement is anything to go by, we know Palm is now taking this space seriously and there will be plenty more coming down the line.

The Twitter app, Tweed, is quite good, but I couldn’t find a Flickr, ebay, WordPress or Qik app and these are ones I would use regularly on the iPhone.

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Media Sync

Until recently, the Palm Pre synced with iTunes but the latest update has prevented this functionality so no direct iTunes syncing for me. When I connected the Palm Pre to my iMac it prompted iTunes to launch but nothing else happened.

After a bit of rooting around online I found doubleTwist, a piece of free PC and Mac software that allows you to drag and drop iTunes content onto your Palm.

You can also use the Pre as a USB drive and drag in files. It has 8GB of memory on board.

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Touchstone

Maybe a tad gimmicky, maybe not. The touchstone charging base is sold separately and doesn’t have a retail price for Ireland just yet. It is handy not to have to stick in the USB cable and simply drop it into the base, but if you position it too high it won’t register.

Automatic updates

This I don’t like. I don’t want a mobile device to update its software without asking me first. The Palm Pre doesn’t install without asking but it does download the update without doing so, and then keeps asking when you want to install every time you connect your phone to a power point.

I would prefer if I was alerted before the download began because I might be watching my battery reserves or data-usage limit closely.

Camera

The 3-megapixel camera may not have video recording, auto focus and macro-focus, but it does well in most lighting conditions, has a flash and allows you to upload straight to Facebook. I haven’t played with it much but it seems decent enough.

Verdict

The Palm Pre is beautifully designed and compact, the user interface is great and typing out emails and text messages is a pleasure. The ability to have up to 20 live apps open and running in the background at once is great, as is the little email alert that scrolls across the bottom of the screen.

My only complaints are the automatic updates and the (current) lack of apps to play with. Having said this, I could definitely see myself using this phone, in fact, I was playing with it for hours.

The real test, I suppose, is living with it for a few weeks so Gadgetrepublic.com will be reporting back with updates soon.

By Marie Boran

Photos: The Palm Pre.