Continued from Part I: Look, Feel, User Interface & Performance.
Lest we forget that the Palm Pre is, well, a phone. The phone interface on the Pre is simple yet effective. The Pre offers the usual, including a speakerphone, mute function, integrated conference calling, recent calls list and even a speed dial function that allows a contact to be assigned to each QWERTY key. Unfortunately, the Pre does not support voice dial (at least not yet).
The number of contacts you can have on the Pre is only limited by the device’s internal memory. Each contact entry has space for multiple phone numbers, email addresses, physical addresses, instant messaging screen names, birthdays, children’s names and more.
Palm’s innovation didn’t stop short when it comes to messaging and email. Email accounts and messaging functions are separated into two applications. The email application provides integrated access to all email accounts and folders, and Synergy also offers the ability to view mail from all accounts in one inbox. The pre also takes a unique but refreshing approach to text and instant messaging, integrating the two. The Pre breaks messaging down into two components – buddies and and conversations. I set up my AIM and Google Talk accounts, and contacts from both services were effortlessly integrated into the same buddy list. Instant messaging and text conversations were also integrated by contact, allowing a conversation to be continued in a different instant messaging client or by text message.
Setting up email accounts, exchange accounts, and instant messaging accounts is easy as pie on the Pre. In most every case, I just entered my username and password and was connected in seconds. After connecting to my Exchange account, the Pre immediately began synchronizing my calendar, email, and contacts in the background as I continued to familiarize myself with webOS. The device also seamlessly integrated my Google Talk and AIM contacts into my contacts list, making them easy to message whether I was scrolling through my contacts or in the messaging application.
The email client functions in much the same way as that of the iPhone. Tap to open a message. Swipe to delete a message. Frustratingly enough, however, there’s no way to delete multiple messages simultaneously. The ease with which I could attach photos, movies, music files or documents to outgoing emails, however, made me forget this slight inconvenience.
The Pre’s web browser doesn’t disappoint. Like the iPhone, the Pre renders pages in full desktop view (unless, of course, you choose to open the mobile version). Page loads were snappy, beating out the iPhone 3G and nipping closely at the heels of the 3GS when connected over the same WiFi network. Pages can be viewed in either portrait or landscape mode, but with no on-screen keyboard, you can’t search or enter a new web address while in landscape mode.
Instead of opening up multiple pages in tabs, the Pre launches a new card for each page, making it quick and easy to switch between websites from any application. Instead of a separate search box and web address box, Palm has merged the two. When typing a word or web address, you are also given the option to search for what you have typed in Google or Wikipedia. The Pre also has integrated an appealing visual bookmarks page that presents a thumbnail of all sites that you have bookmarked. There’s no support for Flash videos as of yet, but all things considered the Pre offers an excellent browsing experience.
The Pre offers a strong and well-integrated lineup of media capabilities. The device’s built-in media player supports music files in MP3, AAC, AAC+, WAV and AMR formats and video files in MPEG-4, H263 and H264 formats. Despite the relatively small size of the Pre’s touch screen, video viewing was impressive and movies appeared crisp and colorful. The media player offers the usual functions, including playlists (although a playlist cannot be made on the fly), shuffle and repeat. Of course, songs can also be broken down by artist, album, or genre. Similar to Cover Flow on the iPhone, you can flip through tracks by swiping the track’s album art.
Impressively, there are a number of ways to get music on the Pre. Perhaps most intriguing is the Pre’s ability to effortlessly sync with iTunes, tricking Apple’s wildly popular music software into thinking the Pre is an iPod. You can’t sync songs purchased through iTunes, but everything else is good for the taking. You can also have the Pre act as an external hard drive, and drag and drop files into the music folder. While the Pre doesn’t support Sprints Music Store, Palm has partnered with Amazon to provide the ability to purchase songs from Amazon’s MP3 Store. Unfortunately, while you can browse and purchase a song over the air on Sprint’s network, you must connect to a WiFi hotspot in order to actually download a purchased song (that’s no fun).
If you have even a moderately sized music library, you may find yourself disappointed with the Pre. With only 8GB of storage space, and no support for microSD cards or any other way to add additional space, you might have to pick and choose what music tracks from your library will have the privilege of making it onto the Pre.
When the first generation of iPhones debuted, they were revolutionary in too many ways to count. But if you asked me today, I would tell you that the iPhone’s true power now lies in its vast library of applications and army of private developers sending hundreds of new, innovative and highly profitable apps to Apple everyday for the company’s coveted seal of approval. Palm also has an app store. Yet, while the iPhone has more than 50,000 apps available that do almost everything but wash the dishes, the Pre at the time of this writing only has about 30 apps available for download. The Pre and webOS just came out, but Palm has a lot of catching up to do to reach the seemingly limitless functionality offered by iPhone applications.
Third party applications aside, the Pre comes loaded with Google Maps as well a YouTube application. The Pre was able to fairly quickly pinpoint my location, and I was then able to easily generate driving directions back to the office. The YouTube application offered fairly impressive and smooth streaming quality when connected over Sprint’s EVDO network with a strong connection. As is to be expected, the Pre also has an alarm clock, memo app, and tasks list. The Palm Pre also supports Sprint Navigation and Sprint TV.
When it comes to the Pre’s camera, Palm decided to adopt the mantra that simple is better. The only option offered on the Pre’s camera is the ability to set flash to on, off or auto. To take a picture, just tap the green photo button or press the spacebar key.
In the case of the camera, it turns out that simple may indeed be better (or at least effective). Image quality was impressive. Colors were bright and the camera quickly adjusted to new lighting conditions. Unlike many cameras of its ilk, the Pre takes your photo without delay, letting you capture something while it’s happening instead of two seconds later. Despite its small size, the flash is blindingly bright, and certainly capable of shedding some light on objects that aren’t too far away.
Unfortunately, the Pre is lacking a camcorder. Word on the street, however, is that Palm is working on rectifying this and a future version of webOS may grant the Pre a camcorder (software updates can be wirelessly downloaded to the Pre).
The Pre has integrated WiFi for access to a wireless internet connection. The device is also equipped with Bluetooth 2.1, supporting profiles including stereo Bluetooth, phone book, hands free, personal area networking, and audio/video remote control. Although the Pre supports it, Sprint is not currently allowing Bluetooth tethering.
If the Palm Pre came out before the Apple iPhone, there’s no doubt it would have revolutionized the Smartphone world in the same way the iPhone did – if not more so. The Pre obviously had the luxury of building on the successes of the iPhone as well as those of other touch screen Smartphones that came before it. At the same time, however, the Pre has also reinvented the wheel in a number of ways and pushed the bar for new Smartphone devices ever higher. The Pre and webOS offer a wealth of innovative features as well as unmatched multitasking capabilities that in more ways than one will make the iPhone question its superiority. There’s no question, however, that there’s a good deal of room for improvement in the webOS and feature set. Lets not forget, however, that the likes of the iPhone just got copy and paste – three years after it initially launched. To be sure, Palm has a long and hard road ahead of them, but they are cruising along.
In Part I: Look, Feel, User Interface & Performance.