Today was the day that Palm released the Pre, it’s hope for continued existence and Sprint’s hope to combat AT&T and regain some of the five million customers it has lost. So, how is the phone and how was the experience in purchasing the phone?
I arrived at the Sprint store around 7:20am, after stopping at a Starbucks for a Venti Pikes Place coffee, which, I might add, was nearly as expensive as the phone. I kid, of course. There were four others there, all in their cars. We all sat in our vehicles for nearly 20 minutes. During that time, three or four more people parked. Finally, someone decided to go up to the store, so that prompted the rest of us to stand in line as well. I was fifth in line of about ten people. One of the store employees came out and and us sign up. He told us there were enough phones for everyone. Promptly, at 8am, they let us in. I had been told, on Friday, that it would take about thirty minutes to process each phone. Since the store had three people processing orders, I knew I would not have to wait too terribly long and I was right. I waited about thirty minutes. I got my phone and happily left the store. I must say, it was the most pleasant phone purchase I have ever had. The employee, who really worked at another location, was very nice, kept apologizing for the wait-which I did not have a problem with anyway-and took care of me in about fifteen minutes. I was probably an easy customer since I already had two other phones with Sprint, already had a qualified data plan and did not need anything transferred from my Moto Q. I told him that I could that myself. All in all, I rather enjoyed the experience. I got to talk to some interesting people, had a decent cup of coffee and got a rather cool phone too.
So, how is the phone? In a word, awesome. The phone is much smaller than I thought, but that is OK. It fit the holster I had purchased for my Q, so that was one less thing I need to buy. The phone had a half charge, so I was able to play with it for quite a while before having to charge it. The first thing I did was set up the WIFI. When a wireless network is detected, the Pre will connect and use that for its internet connectivity.
Once I had WIFI up and running, I set out to discover what I had just paid $300 and stood in line to get. For the first time, I completely understand the Apple fankids and their love of the iPhone. I probably won’t make fun of it again…I suspect I will be just as feverish over the Pre.
Browsing the web is very nice. Unlike other mobile browsers, this one displays the pages as they should be displayed. Only a few that I have gone to returned the mobile version, most returned the same thing you would see in a desktop browser. The browser initially shows the entire page. Given the screen size, it is nearly impossible to read the page unless you zoom in. You can double tap the page and the browser will do its best to resize the content to fit the screen. Depending on the site layout, this can work really, really well. Some pages, however, require you to zoom in more. That’s fine, zooming in and out is pretty much the same as the iPhone: pinch in to zoom in, reverse pinch to zoom out. In fact, the gestures are really simple: swipes and pinch. Once you zoom in, the text is crisp and photos look great. Most sites render just fine, those that are heavily dependent on Flash, however, will have problems. Flash is not yet on the Pre, though Adobe says it will be ‘soon.’ No Flash, I thought, ruled out YouTube. Only, it doesn’t. As with the iPhone, there is a dedicated YouTube application that comes with the phone. It works decent enough. I prefer the web site more.
One of the things that has been touted, loudly, is the Pre’s ability to tie your various email, calendar, contacts and other such things together, seamlessly. It has been advertised as being able to work with Outlook. They are correct, but what they fail to mention, except in the literature that comes with the device, is that it works with Outlook in corporate settings where they push email via some server side magic. So, that means you cannot sync your stuff locally. This is a disappointment for me. My company is in the process of moving from Lotus Notes mail to Exchange and Outlook. I use Outlook and Windows Live Mail clients at home and, for the last couple of months, been able to sync my work and personal calendars. I will not be able to do that now. There is a third party desktop application that will, supposedly, sync Outlook directly with the phone. Holy hell, I just paid $300 for this thing, now they want me to pay even more for a function that was part of the oldest Palm devices. Really, Palm? C’mon. They do have a tool that will do a one time sync from your desktop applications to your Pre. Why the hell can’t they make it work on a regular basis? It is crap like this that makes you just want to scream. It is something I would expect from Microsoft, NOT Palm. I did create a Google Gmail account and will probably figure out out to get my calendar up there so I can have it on my phone. Having to use the cloud for something I used to be able to do locally is absurd.
Calendar and Outlook aside, there is plenty more in the phone to love. Media handling is another feature that has been touted for the phone. It does not disappoint either. Getting material on the phone is a breeze. When you connect it via USB, you have three options: media sync, USB drive or charge only. Selecting media sync will make the Pre appear as an iPod. Presumably, this is to allow you to sync un-drm’ed music using iTunes. It also allows USB drive access so you can drag an drop files onto the phone. It will play AAC, WAV and MP3 audio as well as MP4, h263 and h264 video files. Video looks nice and played smoothly. The media player is attractive and easy to use. You can even purchase MP3 tracks from Amazon’s MP3 store directly on the phone. You can play your tracks randomly, via playlists or in order, by category. You can choose from Artist, Album, Songs and Genres. Audio quality from the built in speaker is fair, it is OK for voice, not so much for music. Plugging in a decent pair of headphones, however, reveals a decent audio quality. Not quite as good as my Zune, but not too far off the mark. It needs an equalizer to make it better.
Other applications include a dedicated NASCAR application, which, if you are a fan of the sport, you will appreciate. You can follow your favorite driver, get all kinds of stats on them and the race as well as watch video. There is also Google maps, Sprint Navigation, Sprint TV and the usual photo viewer, memos, task list, etc. Typical stuff you would find on a Smartphone, it is all there. Google maps is very cool. It uses location information from the GPS to show your current location as well as the usual Google maps features. No street view, however. Everything else is there. Satellite view is included. I was able to quickly find and view my home from the satellite view.
There is a plethora of control panel type applets: ringtone, screen control, WIFI setup, Bluetooth, time, etc. I immediately attempted to install my own wallpaper. It took me a bit to realize that I had to resize the photo I wanted to use for wallpaper since the few I was trying to use were something like 1200 x 1600 and weighed in at 3.5mb. The phone can display a photo like that, but cannot use it for wallpaper. the wallpaper needs to be closer to 320 x 480 and under 200kb as far as I can tell. I had to crop the photo and then save it in a lower quality jpeg file. I never compress my jpegs, but you will have to do so if you want to use them as wallpaper. I may post something about this at a later date. Interestingly, I checked to see if there was an OS update, and there was! I downloaded and installed the update. It updated webOS from 1.01 to 1.02. As far as I can tell, it added a separate clock application and made the device feel a bit more responsive. I could not see any other changes. The download was about 68mb and took only a few seconds to download but took nearly 15 minutes to install. The phone rebooted afterwards.
All in all, I am very happy with the phone. I was concerned that it would show every finger print and smudge that was possible, but, to my delight, that has not been an issue. If I really look, I can see on the back of the device, but the screen is more resistant, seemingly, anyway.
Compared to my old phone-the Q-this thing is in a league all its own. I will not miss my Q, except for the Windows Live Search application, there is nothing about the Q that I wish were in the Pre. Windows Live Search was, by far, the best mobile application for Windows Mobile. Microsoft released it for the iPhone, so maybe they will do a Pre version as well.
Pre is going to be a hit. How big, I cannot say, but I think it will be hit for both Palm and Sprint. Palm did a really nice job with the phone. It looks nice, feels nice in the hand and is super easy to use. Ten minutes is all you really need to figure out how to use the phone. Just watch the little movie that plays after you set the phone up and you will see what you need to know in order to use the phone. Palm just shot a salvo over the bow of the other phone makers. They need to pay attention or get torpedoed by both Palm and Apple.