Plugging in a phone to charge it never bothered us. But having toyed with the Touchstone charger, it’s tough to go back to cables. The brilliant little pedestal allows the Pre to charge inductively just by sitting on top of it, with no electrical contact between phone and charger needed. Though we initially imagined using it bedside to lay the phone down to charge at night, it’s really handier in situations where you’ll be using it on and off all day from the same spot, like at a desk. After a full day’s use this way, it’s refreshing to pick up the phone and see it fully charged without any effort. While the stand itself does a great job clinging to flat surfaces with some sort of unnaturally tackiness, the magnetic connection holding the phone on could be a little stronger. As convenient as it is, also keep in mind that it’s a $50 accessory, not an included one.
WebOS & Software
WebOS remains one of the most finely tuned and polished operating systems we’ve yet laid eyes on. While the iPhone redefined intuitive with its own icon-based OS, sacrificing some flexibility and power in the process, WebOS restores much of what was lost without moving away from a concentration on ease of use.
For the most part, it’s all in the cards. Literally. WebOS treats every new item you open, be it an application, Web page or even system menu, as a card in a deck, allowing you to switch between them, rearrange them, and kill them without any hassle. Tapping the white LED strip from any point will show you an overview of the cards active. You can thumb through them, rearrange their order by dragging, click on them to open them, and slide them off the top of the screen to close them. The entire interface works seamlessly with next to zero delay, making it incredibly easy to pick up and quick to use.
The phone’s desktop, then, largely fills in as a placeholder without much purpose. You get an uncluttered background and five quick-launch shortcuts at the bottom of the screen, and all the usual status icons (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, battery and signal strength icons) in a narrow bar up top. The launcher icon – which can’t be removed from your quick launcher – brings up scrollable pages of icons similar to what you might find on Android or the iPhone.
Since users will seldom spend any time staring at the pretty-but-pointless desktop, Palm has made the quick-launcher instantly available from anywhere using the gesture pad below the screen. Holding a finger there, then gradually dragging it up onto the screen will pull up a wavy version of the launcher that moves around with your finger. Release it on an icon, and it opens. Clever. But the shortcuts don’t end there. You can also swipe from right to left in the same space to go back in any app, which could mean going to the last-visited page in the browser, or the previous menu when adjusting settings.
WebOS is loaded with these subtle but extremely well-engineered niceties. For instance, by entering your Google and Facebook passwords, the phone will import both sets of contacts, combine the overlaps into a single “contact card,” and even yank pictures to put faces with names. Calendars work similarly, allowing you to pull in external calendars from multiple sources, then layer them on top of each other to access everything without cobbling them together into one big mess.
Admittedly, some of the extra capabilities steepen the learning curve for the phone above the dead-simple iPhone. And we would sooner pick up one of them for Gram and Gramps. But the extra capabilities you’ll find here – especially multitasking – make it well worth the initial extra learning for business users, and other power users whose entire lives will flow through the phone.
Palm’s App Catalog initially disappointed us at the launch of the Pre – largely because developers had yet to really make any headway in developing interesting applications for it. While it still lags behind the iPhone by miles and can’t quite compete with Google Android, Palm did hit 1,000 apps around the first of the year. That’s a long way from the dozens we had to play with this summer, and we found no shortage of useful apps and games to dabble with on our review unit. Folks who need to play games every waking hour they’re with their smartphones might find the Pre lacking, but those who just want to get the weather, listen to streaming music or kill some time on the train with chess now and then will find plenty in the App Catalog.
Without a more powerful processor, the Pre Plus feels identical to the Pre in responsiveness, which is to say it lags a bit. Scrolling through lists or leafing through apps just doesn’t feel as fluid as an iPhone, although it comes quite close and some users may not notice the difference.
An extra 256MB of RAM definitely give the Plus a boost when it comes to juggling multiple apps, though. Although we didn’t push 50 apps as PreCentral did, we easily made it to 15 without any significant slowdown, and Slacker provided uninterrupted tunes over Wi-Fi in the background the whole time. As a multitasking phone, the Pre Plus is unquestionably a monster, and the WebOS card interfaces make it one of the easiest phones to actually take advantage of multiple apps with (you won’t hesitate to leave one because of how easy it is to return to it).
If you liked the Palm Pre, you will find even more to like – and fewer hang-ups to overlook – on the Palm Pre Plus. The sliding motion we originally criticized has been fixed, more memory makes it an even better multitasker, and doubled storage (without double the price) makes an excellent value proposition. That leaves occasionally sluggish performance and a limited app catalog as our two major remaining gripes. Frankly, we wish Palm had dropped a hotrod processor into this unit rather than another 8GB of storage, but we’ll take whatever polishing we can get on this already likeable phone.
- Full QWERTY keyboard
- Sharp-looking capacitive touch screen
- Multiple apps run simultaneously
- Slick, well-polished interface
- Speedy 3G connectivity
- Quick-shooting cam produces decent images
- Optional Touchstone charger
- App Catalog still lags behind competitors (but by less than before)
- WebOS feels laggy at times
- Slightly less intuitive than iPhone