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Countdown to Palm Pre: My Super-Quick Hands-On Review

The buzz around the much-awaited Palm Pre has started. The make-or-break device that will define the destiny of the iconic handheld maker will hit the market later this week. For Sprint (s S), the beleaguered mobile carrier, it is a highly anticipated device that will hopefully bring out big-spending smartphone buyers. I have been less than sanguine about Palm’s chances, mostly because it is a company running on fumes and is competing in an extremely crowded marketplace, where Apple’s iPhone, Blackberry and Google’s Android have all the attention.

This past Friday, by sheer accident, someone showed me the new Palm Pre. I tweeted about it. As I said, it is a pretty good-looking device, but it feels a little plasticky and is lower in build quality than a BlackBerry. It is squat, has a nice screen, and is easy to grip. It is round in the right places. However, the slide-out keyboard seems flimsy and cluttered. Let’s just say that after the Blackberry Curve 8900 keyboard, it didn’t quite cut the mustard.

Some Pre Facts

  • Palm Pre will launch on June 6 on Sprint
  • It will cost $199.99 after a $100 rebate
  • Best Buy, RadioShack and certain Wal-Mart stores will sell the Pre, along with Sprint’s online store
  • You will need to buy the Everything Data plan for $69-$99.

There are a lot of features — multi-tasking applications, for instance, that I didn’t get to play around with much. However, thanks to a rock-solid Sprint EVDO network, browsing on the device was really fast. Palm seems to have done a great job of developing a WebKit-based browser. Its implementation seems to be on par with the WebKit-based browsers from Apple and Google. It easily trumps Nokia’s WebKit-based browser.

I liked how Palm has turned WebKit into the user interface for the phone. The phone is good at integrating apps with a unified address book and syncing.

Now, let’s talk about the Palm WebOS, its new operating system. From what you can read on the web, it seems to be one heck-of-an operating system, that is oozing with smarts that include live searching (of the entire phone and the Web), Unified address book (Facebook, Outlook and any other address books), Unified calendaring and dozens of other such features. [From GigaOM Archives]

I wish I had more time to play around with it, but these are very early impressions. Despite all that, I am not ready to rush to the nearest Sprint store and buy the device. Current Sprint subscribers clamoring for a good smartphone will likely be the early adopters of this phone.

In the world of smartphones, there are currently five players — Apple, RIM, Microsoft, Google and Nokia — Palm can bring up the rear. One thing Palm will have going for it: its developer community. Community, a good browser, a decent web-centric (WebOS) operating system, along with the current hype around Pre, should help Palm sell itself to someone more desperate to get into the smartphone business — like Dell.

55 Responses to “Countdown to Palm Pre: My Super-Quick Hands-On Review”

  1. Open letter to Palm Pre product manager:

    I have been a palm user since its inception.

    I think you did a huge mistake by not including
    Palm Desktop and local sync. for Palm Pre.

    As a hardcore fan I suggest changing your plan and commit to support
    a desktop sync. mechanism for Pre (ideally with Palm Desktop).

    Then publicly announce the plan and quickly allocation resources
    to get that done as soon as possible.

    It will cost you losing the battle to rivals if you don’t act quickly.

    – A disappointed fan!

  2. abcyesn

    got mine!!! my WONDERFUL hubby didnt want me there by myself & my 8 yr old did NOT want to get up at 5 am & go, so he went by himself. I was surprised cuz he told me Monday he was soooo sick of hearing me talk about that effin phone!! lol – he got there at 6am there were 2 cars in the lot but nobody in line.
    at 7:30 i told him to go start the line – sure enough a few more people followed. Our BB had 10 & I (technically my husband) was first in line.
    BB rep came out at 9 and gave “line tix” and started the paperwork.
    The first one they tried to activate was defective so sorry to the person who was #10 and didnt get a pre!!
    I got mine and will be playing with it for the rest of the day (at least)!!!! Talk more at see ya there.

  3. browser

    Browser on par with iphone and BB. Oh. My take on this is that the browser easily tops Both BB and Apple. People who got their hands on pre, reporting loading speeds of atleast 2x faster than iphones. On par, no, more like an EAGLE.

  4. I am a current Sprint Customer and I planning on upgrading from a HTC Mogul to a Palm Pre.

    After reading countless blogs and forum posts. I thought I share what one non-fanatic, but more than likely Pre / Sprint customer looks like.

    For me, Sprint service has gotten much better in the last year or so and I already have the Simply Everything Plan. I’ve been happy with the quality, coverage and speed of voice and data here in LA, so switching carriers even though I am well past my 2 year contract isn’t a priority.

    After having a Mogul for a while I was pretty happy with HTC and I was going to jump to the Touch Pro. Then I got wind of Android and decided to see how things panned out. The G1 just wasn’t quite robust enough to get me to switch to T-Mobile, so I waited a little longer hoping Sprint would come out with an Android phone. No dice (yet). So by that point I figured I’d tough it out and save up for the Touch Pro II.

    For the record: I am not interested in an iPhone, because I simply didn’t like iTunes and I don’t do cults. I work in theatrical multimedia presentation, so I switch between platforms almost daily. Love/Hate them all.Win/Mac/Linux Gotta say though, Apple fanboys on these forums have got to be the worst.

    User zeal aside I do appreciate the tech and build of the iPhone. I feel they did an excellent job upping the ante for all phone makers on all levels. Kicked HTC right in the UI just as they were ready to take the market by storm.

    I don’t want or care about buying an iPhone killer. I just want a phone that is a truly interactive communication device. Simply stated: “It’s the web stupid.”

    That said, initially when the hype over the Pre began, I had no interest. A Palm please, no?

    However I was really getting tired of the WinMo UI and the Mogul had pretty much reached it’s limit. How much longer could I wait? I even took an appointment with the Verizon guy to see what they had coming. No sale.

    I really wanted something new and yes, cool. I still really like the HTC products and I was also still very interested in Android, but the G2 wasn’t heading to Sprint and the specs still seemed a little light for a switch and no one else seemed to be coming out with another Android phone worth waiting for.

    Then I finally started seeing more about the Pre. After reading countless blog and “leaked information” what has ultimately sold me was the WebOS and Synergy. From everything I’ve read (which is pert damn near everything) it seemed likea perfect fit for me personally.

    I work for a small company and integrating it into our lil IT system here will be no problem.

    My afterhours side project uses Google Docs & Calendars for organization and Gmail, Facebook & Twitter for promotion and communication.

    I hired someone to help me sort and merge all my contacts and it still only half done and needs constant updating. Having all those different contacts in one place is a dead sexy idea for me.

    Multitasking and the promise of few more solid apps like Pandora would almost makes it almost worth switching carriers for.

    I have faith that the physical keyboard while perhaps maybe not the best one ever will be as good as what I have on the Mogul. Possibly better considering it should be somewhat usable with one hand.

    If the Pre works out well I would probably spend even more for the next gen Pre if it comes up to Touch Pro II / iPhone 3 build quality. Right now the Pre seems to be just a step below.

    For Sprint to keep me they need to launch 4G here in LA and/or at least allow simultaneous data and voice.

    So this Saturday I am willing to get up early and maybe hit one or two Sprint stores to try and land a Pre and the Touchstone charger.

    I will not camp out and if supplies evaporate or I really don’t like the feel of it, I may very well wait for the Touch Pro II or a solid Android phone. However I really don’t think I’ll be joining the AT&T/ iCult anytime soon.

    I hope none of my graphic designer friends read this blog.

  5. Gargoyle

    If you’re actually wanting to learn something about the Pre, I would definitely spend some time at; the best place to learn about the Pre, good and bad. Frankly, I would not put much weight on someone who, by their own admission, has been very down on Palm and writes a review on what seems like 30 seconds with the device. For pete’s sake, how can you give a review of the Pre and not mention the cloud and synergy?

    Regarding they keyboard, as anyone that has owned a phone with a full keyboard will tell you, no one can give an honest review of a keyboard until they’ve spent a little time with it. It’s like breaking in a new pair of shoes, uncomfortable at first, but not because the design is bad, because you’re used to your old phone.

    • Heffer

      Just wanted to second your thoughts.

      Great shoe analogy. I think I’ll wait till the real reviews come out–from those who spend their hard earned money for it.

    • browser

      Ive read the precentral forums and i agree your message. There is a memeber there who had the pre for few days and is answering questions about the pre. He reports about the real browser speeds, has posted photos taken with the pre etc. I think its funny that these “tech blogs” like BGR can’t get on “par” with their so called reviews to a guy who has never wrote anything on any blog. Laughable to be honest. Pre is the phone, palm is the company. Have issues with Palm, can’t judge the pre solely on that. Try the Pre with full features that open up after the release and you be stunned :)

  6. I have high hopes for the Pre. For me the iphone just doesn’t work (I’ve had one)…love the ipod functionality; but for email, etc…sucks. I’m now using a BB, but want just a little more out of it. Will the Pre be what I’m looking for? Don’t know, but I’ll be an early adopter and will find out.

  7. I’m waiting to try a functioning Pre myself. The thing that was so great about the Treo was the keyboard & one-handed usability. If the Pre is similarly usable, I will buy one. If not, then I won’t.

  8. FAIL!!!!!

    “I have been less than sanguine about Palm’s chances, mostly because it is a company running on fumes and is competing in an extremely crowded marketplace, where Apple’s iPhone, Blackberry and Google’s Android have all the attention.”

    how is the marketplace crowded when smartphones only makeup about 10% of the cell phone market?

    at a time when smartphones cost about as much as regular cellphones, i see nothing but room to grow. of course a fan boy such as yourself has views that are abit more myopic.

  9. As a current and longtime BB user I have been waiting for a new touchscreen smartphone. It seems that the 2009 iPhone, Pre and a couple Androids are the top contenders. From what I am reading it seems that Android could be a winner. iPhone is married to high-priced AT&T and the Pre looks like it could be too fragile and be a keyboard failure. With its open source OS, new form factors and better pricing at T-Mobile the Android could be the come from behind (at least hype-wise) winner.

    • Justas Anaside

      Since Palm/Sprint apparently are not going to advertise the device before launch, instead relying entirely on early-adopter sales who heard of it elsewhere, the “first impresion” when said early-adopters actually get their hands on one are very important.

      How many will say “Hmmm…this feels cheap.” and decide to hold off?

      • I am a Sprint customer and have been waiting on this device, but the whole keyboard thing has me a little worried. I was worried it was too cramped now I am a little worried about the stability. I currently have an HTC Touch Pro and it is a creaky piece of plastic. I have read many “fanboy” reviews in the past week, but do appreciate your point of view – particularly coming from an iPhone and now the 8900. I’ll have to see it before I buy it – and I might even wait on the new iPhone and the new CDMA BB or the new Touch Pro 2 before I pull the trigger on a Pre.

  10. Economyst

    Apple is the best device for browsing and the BBerry the best for email and corporate access. Where does the Android handsets fit in other than being nothing more than generic road kill. Android like Symbian offers nothing unique other than a vast variety of devices at numerous price points.

    Palm will take sales away from Android, Winmo and Nokia simply becuase it provides the functions these devices do in a more pleasing manner.

    The Pre aims at both the Iphone and BBerry but misses both targets as its web browsing/multimedia performance is slightly behind the Iphone and its email functionality is way behind the BBerry.

    BBerry lead in the corporate market is a great deal more entrenched than Iphone lead in the consumer market – it’s a lot easier to convince consumers than it is to convince businesses.

    • oneAwake

      “The Pre aims at both the Iphone and BBerry but misses both targets as its web browsing/multimedia performance is slightly behind the Iphone and its email functionality is way behind the BBerry.”

      You know this, how?!? Even the biased BGR article and this article have said the web browsing is on par with the iphone. No one (including you) has used the multimedia on the Pre so that remains to be seen. A lot of developers who had the chance to demo the Pre as well, have said the email functionality at least rivals the Blackberry. The ability to have 7 exchange acct’s and direct push are huge. Not to mention how Synergy fully integrates email on the Pre. As to your last comment,”it’s a lot easier to convince consumers than it is to convince businesses.” That does not hold water, especially since Rimm was able to convince businesses to go with the Blackberry as opposed to the then dated PalmOS platform. Businesses can easily be convinced, my company alone will be switching out 67 Blackberry’s in favor of the Pre. I know of many realtors who are using the Blackberry Curve with the new bluetooth Supra lock box which is designed by GE, they will be switching to the Pre as well, once GE or a third party developer creates an app for the Pre.

    • Scott

      Apple has a sustainable competitive advantage on the media side and RIM has a long-term competitive advantage on the corporate email side. Neither have a sustainable competitive advantage with the browser/search, because everyone will get the touch screen and browser right eventually. This makes the discussion of WM, Symbian, Android, and WebOS more important considering the massive market RIM and Apple currently ignore. Getting the browser/search right threatens RIM because secure/cheap/widely/ available web-based email becomes possible and Apple because of the price points at which other devices will compete. Furthermore, WebOS and Android help pave the way for devices running real Linux, probably leaving Apple as its only competitor.

      • Well said,
        As far as BB is concerned , its a one trick pony i.e. email with a real keyboard.
        Om might disagree with this , but take that keyboard and email from BB , the device is almost useless. Web browsing is horrendous not to mention about third party apps.
        In the long run Linux based platforms with strong web under pinning stay alive.

        As a side note, few reviews said the accelerometer on the Pre is most responsive than iPhone.
        Which means the gaming apps will be ready once the WebOS SDK finalizes.

  11. miles

    I think you are missing the point of the Pre. Its a great option for all those people who dont want an iPhone or BB. Its the best of both worlds.

  12. I have had hands on time with the Pre and I did NOT think it was cheaply mande. It is plastic, but so are alot of phones. It still felt very solid. It also just feels and looks great. This phone is a solid player in the smartphone field.

  13. anonymous

    You couldn’t give me an iphone. I have a blackberry curve. Tried Storm. Horrible. The Pre is the phone. No more plasticy than my Blackberry. You are very wrong about the Pre.

  14. so my older son (9th grade) has been waiting anxiously for this phone – it’s a belated bday gift (an upgrade to his old handset) BUT now he’s on the fence…he was ready to sit at the store at 4am to get one, but after reading tons of odd reviews this past week, he’s very skeptical and is actually into waiting for an android handset from sprint (when??) or maybe a new ‘other’ smartphone…he’s concerned that it’s going to be a gadgety piece of crap that will break in his pocket when he’s skating at the park – unlike the old blackberry of mine that he has now, which has taken dozens of falls like a champ…

    • Dave

      Let him have a look at it first. You never know how kids are going to react. I think the problem is that iPhone and new Blackberries have spoiled us from a build-quality perspective. Apart from that Palm has a solid user experience. By the way, the new HTC Android Phone for T-Mobile (G-2) is pretty awesome too. You might want to have him try that as well.

      • browser

        What the hell are you talking about? Do you consider cracking cases, screens, unchangable battery and many is this thing you call build quality? Your insane. This kid gets the upcoming iPhone and will be crying when it’s dead after the first fall on his board. He gets the BB and can’t surf the net or do media stuff that these kids are all about. He get’s android and gets onboard to a not yet fully developed platform.

        I’d say try the Pre and it’s highly praised WebOs operating system for yourself. FOR MORE than 30 seconds that these reviewers of BGR and this blog has done. Keyboards always take more than 30 seconds. Also all the major features on the pre can’t be used before the launch date, that’s why all these new reviews have nothing to cover and are not to hold in any value.

        To all these new tech blogs that can NOT possibly do a real review, because they can’t truly access the features opened at release: STOP LYING!!!!

    • David G

      Mate, NO ONE has reviewed a production version of this phone yet, that are all pre production models. So how accurate do you think their reviews are?

  15. Justas Anaside

    Uh…but if a geek like you isn’t interested in The Pre, then WHO is!?

    Palm needs to sell millions upon millions of these guys just to REACH profitability. Is it realistic to think Dell or anyone else is going to buy Palm for billions upon billions of dollars if Palm’s only REAL competing device is a failure because it sells only to geeks who do NOT think internal to Sprint?

    (Palm is hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, there are about 200 million outstanding shares when one does not forget the (hidden) Preferred Shares, and the current stock price is about $12/share with contemporary acquisition premiums of about 40% – is there a company out there crazy enough to spend THAT kind of bucks!? Really? Short that company!)

    • oneAwake

      It was reported that Palm spent $170 on each device to make, then sold them to Sprint for let’s say… $350, how is that not a profit? Sprint buys the devices from Palm, not the consumer, the only ways Palm could be hurt are, if Sprint had to return a lot of defective devices, or if Palm agreed to take back unsold units.

      • Justas Anaside

        Palm has costs of doing business. Those costs are fairly large. Palm also has $400 million in debt that requires interest payments (and final payoff in a year or three). Estimates, perhaps even by Palm, is it’ll take until (mid?) 2010 under ideal conditions before profitability is achieved.

        So, yes, each Pre has 30% gross margins (or whatever number Palm mentioned in their last earning call). But that’s GROSS margin, not NET margin.

        The bottomline is Palm is going to be losing money quarter after quarter for a number of quarters. And if the Pre isn’t a complete smash hit, they’re not going to recover from it.

    • Palm is in a sector that values companies by year-over-year EBITDA growth, not just absolute revenue.

      If they can restructure their debt by EOY while their device sales point upward, they will be valued disproportionately in their favor.

      Add to this the strategic value of their acquisition by Dell or Nokia (or Motorola) and the bidding war that could happen……they are far from moribund.

    • Luis Smarter brother

      Yeah well millions of people do not lke APLE but that didn’t keep them from suceeding…..WELL actually they almost went bankrupt but their competitor came around in the end and GAVE them a life line IF not for Bill GATESAPPLE would have failed years ago as he gave them hundreds of millions to survive!!!

  16. cary Soriano

    The phone will be available at retail stores on launch day, but NOT online at It will be available online for ordering “shortly after” according to Sprint. Also, there are a lot of other “previews” out there so if you’re curious read around and don’t let one preview stop you from playing with the phone yourself

  17. This reminds me of the ad that IBM did a couple of yrs ago , Sprint wants some of Palms old Mojo and Palm has fans but they are from another life (quoting Star Trek). Tough road ahead for both of them and no deep pockets to support their ambitions.

    • Luis Smarter brother

      huh quoating STAR TREK??? from another life? I’m not a huge STA TREK fanatic but the phrase I rememeber is “It’s life Jim but not as we know it” there was even a funny song that used that line in it STAR TREKKING ACROSS THE UNIVERSE

      I wil get the Pre if i can get it and if not the Touch Pro 2.I am never one that has to jump on the IN STYLE cliche of APPLE so I wil get what work for me!!!

  18. WebOS is definitely the most interesting thing about the Pre.

    Sitting in the Google IO keynote the first day, listening to Vic Gundotra extol the virtues of HTML 5 and everything being done in the browser, I was left wondering why Google is pushing Java technology instead of web technology for their smart phone (Android).

    I like the Android phone we got, but frankly the software keyboard sucks and I see Google handing them out 4,000 of them as a sign of desperation to get developers on board. Maybe it’ll work, but so far there doesn’t seem to be any sort of viable developer ecosystem around the platform.