I recently test drove a Palm Pre for a week. My goal was to shut my iPhone off and configure the Pre to connect to Outlook, grab my mail, connect to my online contacts, etc. – basically to set it up to be my only device for a period so I can see how it would function around a typical week. Here are are few highlights that stood out for me:
- The WebOS is sweet. After a few hours I got very used to having multiple apps open and being able to switch between them on the fly. No closing one app to open another as with my iPhone. This really stood out when running Pandora while doing other things. To me (and I think to a lot of people) multitasking is a biggie that sets this device apart from the competition. After using the Pre for a few days my iPhone felt kinda old and simple, like it was last year’s model. One usability element that really stood out to me was the use of the touch-sensitive area under the screen – brilliant. It basically supports additional “swipe” gestures that translate into a back button and application switching. I got used to this very quickly and found myself trying to do the same thing on the iPhone a few days later.
- Notifications are cool. This is a feature I remember standing out on the Danger OS (i.e. Sidekick) – notifications that show up on part of the screen but don’t take control. On the Pre you can continue doing what you are doing while being notified. And a simple thumb gesture allows you to dismiss the notification or you can tap on the notification to find out more. Very elegant. I think some of the interaction still needs to be worked out though – multiple notifications seem to get hidden and become difficult to track. Still better than the iPhone notifications though.
- The keyboard was tough. I know a lot of people complain about the iPhone virtual keyboard, but I had a hard time getting used to the tiny keys on the Pre. For how much room they fill up, they are not bad. But compared to the range of mobile device keyboards out there, the chicklets on the Pre were just OK. It didn’t help that I have big hands, so the keyboard might be great for many other people.
- The Sprint all-inclusive plan was quite good. When I went into the Sprint store holding my iPhone, one of the first things the store rep asked was if I had a corporate account. I said I wasn’t sure and they immediately offered me a 25% discount off my monthly service – so 1500 family minutes with unlimited data came out to under $100/month. Much better than a comparable AT&T family plan for the iPhone. And Sprint doesn’t jerk you around and charge you separately for text messages, navigation, video – they (rightly) just count this as data.
- Sprint network was pretty good. Very fast in Seattle, with very good coverage. Voice calls were very clear.
- Battery life was not so great. I think this is due more to the 3G/4G network than to having multiple apps running simultaneously. The device did get hot when using data – not unlike the iPhone 3GS.
Overall, I think the Pre has a lot of potential. The WebOS is amazing – I like it better than the iPhone’s version of OSX. I was less impressed by the hardware itself, but I think this will improve over time. For a first gen device, I think the Pre is great. And I’m really excited to see the next improvements of the WebOS.