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.