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Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Yes I did say at some point I'd have a review of the Palm Pre phone up on the site. And I did say it was going to be a video review too... However I would have been restricted to having to use my webcam to record the video and doing so would've been problematic for me to edit due to the format the video records in. So I had no choice to but to write out the review.
I consider myself an advanced phone user, and I also heavily rely on my Pre. In this review, I will be making some comparisons of the Palm Pre from other phones I have used in the past. Also keep in mind any negativity towards this phone are things that Palm can easily integrate/improve overtime through future software updates.
After owning the phone since the day it was released in the U.S. (June 6th 2009) I must say that this phone is definitely the best phone I have ever used.
You can read up on the Palm Pre technical specifications here.
The Palm Pre Design/Build
The phone itself is actually one of the most comfortable phones I've ever had. Holding it in my hand is kind of like holding a light polished rounded stone. There are no sharp edges on the phone when in the closed position. However that isn't the case when you slide up the screen. The bottom edge of the phone where the keyboard resides is rather sharp and can literally cut cheese. You can see a video demonstration below:
My primary complaint when it comes to this phones design is the phone is kinda top heavy when the keyboard is exposed. It's difficult to hold properly while laying down on my bed composing a message. The phone is meant to be held up right vertically when using it.
[caption id="attachment_2360" align="alignright" width="250" caption="This is an extreme case of the "oreo" effect."][/caption]
There have been many people complaining online about the build quality of their Palm Pre phones. A lot of people had to get replacements due to this "oreo" effect where vertical sliders would loosen causing the touchscreen to rotate (see picture). In most "oreo" reported cases, the screen would have this wobble where it was loose but not so much like shown in that picture.
There were other cases where hairline cracks would form where the USB port is on the right of the touchscreen. Overtime, it would spread over the screen. Others reported cracking appearing from where the orb button is below the touchscreen.
[caption id="attachment_2364" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Palm started applying foam pads to their phones from reports of the phone restarting when sliding the screen over the keyboard."][/caption]
I consider myself lucky as I haven't had any serious hardware issues with my phone. The only issue I've had is when I'd slide my phone down, it would unexpectedly shut off. This was due the battery being loose. Nothing that a small piece of foam tape could not fix.
The Pre has a beautiful vibrant touchscreen measuring 1.72 inches across, and 2.58 inches vertically, the screen is smaller then the iPhone, but has the same 320x480 resolution. The only differences between the Pre and iPhone is that the Pre touchscreen has a plastic overlay where the iPhone has glass. With the Pre having a plastic screen overlay, it's almost certain that at some point it's going to scratch. If you have a Pre, get a screen protector as soon as you can.
The phone's keyboard buttons have this awkward 'gummy' feel to it. After using my Blackberry Curve for quite some time, using the Pre's keyboard has actually slowed down my typing speed. The keyboard on my Blackberry would click when I pressed down on the keys confirming that the button was pressed, this isn't the case with the Pre. Overall, I think Palm should have used RIM's design when they designed the Pre's keyboard. Its taken me quite some time to get used to it.
Battery life on the Palm Pre isn't all that great, and to this day still sucks. When I first had the phone, after fully charging it, I'd get roughly 4-5 hours of life from the battery. Little did I know at that time there were a lot of things turned on that didn't need to be running all the time. The GPS was always on trying to acquire a signal, as was Bluetooth. Turning both of these off extended the battery life approximately 1-2 extra hours. A few online retailers are selling higher capacity batteries for the Pre, however with some of the higher end batteries, you end up having to apply a thicker back plate which adds bulk to your phone. You may want to consider investing in a some additional phone chargers if you're set on using the default battery (assuming you consider yourself a heavy phone user.)
Overall thoughts on the design: Other then the issues I mentioned in my review, the phone's design is pretty decent. I will admit I'm a bit disappointed when it came to the build quality of the Pre phones. Battery life isn't all that great but turning off the unnecessary features definitely helps. Again, I recommend getting some sort of screen protection on the phone. Best Skins Ever has a full body protective skin you can purchase for a cheap price of $7.99.
My experience with Web O/S
The operating system on the Palm Pre is the primary reason I bought this phone. When Palm announced the Palm Pre back at 2009's CES, I was on the internet everyday learning as much about this phone as I could about the phone (thank you PreCentral.net.) I was really excited when watching their video demo because the phone had a lot of neat features.
Synergy was the focus of the Palm Pre, being able to wirelessly sync your data in the cloud (internet) without having to rely on a computer. This for me was the ideal setup as I believe you shouldn't have to keep remembering to backup your phones data to a computer. (Yes I'm lazy, but realistically there is no reason why this sort of thing shouldn't be automatic.)
[caption id="attachment_2483" align="alignleft" width="220" caption="Mitalis.com displayed on the Pre"][/caption]
The other reason why I went for the Pre is that it uses webkit, a layout engine in the browser. This means you don't get those crappy mobile versions of websites. You get the true intended layout of that website, just like as if you were on your desktop/laptop. The browsing experience is similar to the iPhone, double clicking on text will zoom in so that the text wrapping layout will fill the screen. See my example on the left. You can also hold your phone horizontally and the gyroscope will rotate the display for you.
Since I use Gmail as my primary email, the Palm Pre is a perfect phone (at least for me) as it automatically syncs my contacts with any changes made either from the phone or directly through Gmails interface.
It also works the same way with Microsoft Exchange, but I've never tested it as our company doesn't run an Exchange server.
[caption id="attachment_2371" align="alignright" width="200" caption="You can see that most contacts have a thumbnail image associated with their profile."][/caption]
In addition, you can link your Facebook account to the phone and it will extract your friends information (profile picture, emails & phone numbers) and merge the contacts together so that their information is consolidated.
I really dig that the Palm Pre pulls the Facebook profile picture and associates it with your contacts. It's nice because when you go to contact these people, that picture essentially becomes their avatar. So if/when you receive messages from them you'll see their avatar appear next to their message.
The only downside with the Facebook integration is you have no control of being able to manage your Facebook contacts once they're on your phone. So if you have that one friend on Facebook that lives on the other side of the country whom you rarely talk to, you're stuck having him/her appearing as a contact on your phone. That's the only downside to synergy. I'm sure a future update to the phone will allow better control of this.
So like more other smartphones, the Pre can:
- Take Pictures
- Text Message
- Browse the Internet
- Play Music
I must say I was rather surprised to find that the Palm Pre lacked a lot of basic features that any other smartphone would have out of the box:
- Lack of flexible options setting custom various notifications (Text, MMS & IM all share the same sound)
- Cannot attach video/audio to MMS messages (only pictures)
- Cannot capture short video clips
- Cannot voice record memos
- No voice dialing
It wasn't only until recently when Palm pushed out version 1.3.1 which FINALLY (after 5 months) allowed us to change the default notification tone. Now there are ways to get some of these other missing features. You can download software from PreCentral.net called "Web O/S Quick Install". Follow the instructions on their forums, and once you have Web O/S Quick Install setup, look for a program called "Preware." Once Preware is installed, you can run it as an application on the phone and apply these patches which will enable a lot of these basic features. But take note, these patches are not official. If you experience any problems with your phone, Palm is not responsible. If you have any problems, you can ask the good folks at webos-internals.org for help. You can always doctor your phone back to when you first got it, if the issue seems irreversible.
[caption id="attachment_2381" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="In this picture, 3 applications are open, the browser, messenger & the calculator."][/caption]
Another unique thing about Web O/S is how it handles multiple applications. Each application will display in its own card. This method allows you to easily swap back & forth between applications. Clicking on any of the cards will bring the application to full screen. When you click the silver orb below the screen, you'll see the card view display. Here you can easily pick and choose what applications you want to open or flick them away which closes the application.
Overall thoughts on Web O/S: The thing I have keep reminding myself is that Web O/S was built from scratch. I don't know off the top of my head how long Palm has been working on Web O/S as it's still very new. As I stated before, there are a lot of basic features that were overlooked and I'm sure down the road Palm will address the majority of user complaints. If Palm had a full time online community manager to address the complaints and questions their community has, I think the majority of those people knowing their questions/concerns have been answered/heard would stop bitching.
I knew what I was getting into when I decided to be an early adopter of a first generation device. Palm only recently stopped supporting Palm O/S and put 100% of their focus into Web O/S. This is a good thing as it means your phone won't feel out of date as long as Palm keep pushing out those updates.