Palm Pre Hands-on Impressions

I’ve been playing with the new Palm Pre in its final form for most of the day now and there is only one word that defines this product and that is "wow". While last week we talked about their distribution and marketing efforts as being less than what is needed, this week I got the phone and the words "knocked my socks off" seem so inadequate at the moment.

This simply makes the current generation iPhone look and feel old and I expect (though I doubt many will admit this) that many will have serious Palm Pre envy, at least until the 3rd Generation iPhone comes out, and then they will likely feel totally screwed.

We’ll save the 3rd generation iPhone for another time and focus on the Palm Pre.

Inductive Charging

Why have we never had this before in a phone? I’ve never fallen in love with a cradle in my life but this inductive charging cradle is a sexy piece of art that I want on my desk and end table. No upside down little plug to find in the dark, no wondering if I plugged it in all the way and whether the darned phone will be dead when I leave in the morning because I didn’t put the plug in properly. With the Palm Pre you just touch it to the charging base, the phone beeps saying it is charging and goes into speakerphone mode in case you want to use it in the cradle. They even made the base sticky so it doesn’t move on your desk once you place it there. It’s a little thing but man is it ever appreciated.

Palm Pre Charging Cradle

Palm Pre and the charging cradle


Camera

Phone cameras are generally 1.3 Megapixels, have no flash and take marginal pictures. The camera in this phone is 3 Megapixels, the minimum I think you can actually live with in a real camera, and has an LED flash that actually works rather well. Not only do the pictures look as good (well almost no optical zoom) as my digital camera, I can actually take pictures at night.


Keyboard

I hate touch screen phones that don’t have keyboards. I’m sorry, but the iPhone is simply annoying to type on and the virtual keyboard takes up so much space there is little left to ponder what you are writing. The keyboard on the Palm Pre is a small, physical keyboard. Think similar to a Blackberry or one of the newer smaller Treo phones. It takes a little getting used to and is particularly handy for women with long fingernails but is so much better than a screen keyboard that I really don’t care. It even lights up when opened though the symbols above the letters could be bigger.

Palm Pre

The Palm Pre’s OWERTY keyboard slides out

Email/Browser

Email is a mobile version of Outlook tied to Active Sync which is arguably the best thing about a Windows Mobile phone. Setting it up with Exchange took a little longer (the next generation of Exchange server will fix this) because it was different than a Windows Mobile phone, but I didn’t need directions (I don’t believe in manuals) and it took me about 15 minutes. Calendar and email now sync like they do on a Windows Mobile phone and both Windows Mobile and old Palm Treo users should love this. Like the iPhone, Pre has a really good browser, pages were generally clear and you can open a whole bunch of them on your large virtual desktop and bounce between them.


Virtual Desktop

Unlike many touch screen phones where you can only open one thing at a time, the Palm Pre allows you to open many and then navigate through the open window much like you would with a big screen PC were you could only see a small portion of the screen.

Gestures

Like the iPhone it will take a number of hours to learn all of the gestures but, also like the iPhone, the learning experience is very pleasant and fun. I kept discovering new ways to do things the entire time I was using the phone and the discovery process was a great deal of fun. Like Apple did as well, the Palm folks really got the ease of use requirement and the phone is extremely easy to learn without opening the dreaded instructions which I only needed when I installed the inductive charger base (taking the back off the phone is a little tricky and you need to replace the back when you install the inductive charger).

Palm Pre

Front of the Palm Pre


Wrapping Up and What’s Missing

There is no Application Store yet and I haven’t yet tried to hook this up to iTunes but I’m told that it works flawlessly given the guy that drove this phone created the iPod. The phone lacks the depth of accessories Apple has and I’m not aware of any Palm Pre built in car adapters yet either. The application store should be here shortly.

In California on the coast Sprint has spotty coverage and a lot of events are on the coast and their building penetration has been historically bad (but I understand it has improved since they were my carrier of choice). I should add that I did try Sprint TV and navigation and both worked very well. Another nice thing is that you can replace the battery, which means you can carry a spare and avoid the iPhone brick problem when the battery either wears out or runs out. (If there is one thing I hate about many Apple products it’s the built in battery.)

This is hardly Palm’s first phone and it shows in this effort. Granted the 3rd generation iPhone will be with us shortly and that is where the real battle will be fought but no other Cell phone vendor has even come close to the iPhone let alone beat it. That makes the Palm Pre, at least for the moment, an amazing device. Palm did stunning work here, advantage Palm the ball is now in Apple’s court.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.