Pre and Zune HD: are they still worth it?

Palm Pre shot from Mobile World Congress.

Image via Wikipedia

During 2009, I managed to snag a few nice gadgets, namely my Pre and my Zune HD.  The Palm Pre I’ve had since June 6, when it was released and the Zune HD I’ve had just a few weeks. So, is my enthusiasm the same as when I got them, am I less enthused or am I more enthused?

Well, it depends on the device.  First, both devices are far and away better than what they replaced.  The Pre replaced my lackluster Motorola Q Smartphone and the HD replaced my now aged 30gb brown Zune.  Both devices served their purpose and both still have a lot of life in them.  So, why replace them?

Why, indeed.  In the case of the Q, I found my needs (and wants) not being met by the device.  It has a crappy browser, a difficult to use interface (Windows Mobile 5) and was a barely usable phone…it’s primary function.  The Pre, on the other hand, was sleek, had a more modern operating system, an easy to use interface and a dynamite browser.  Plus, it has WiFi. 

So, after six months, what do I think?  Am I still excited about the phone?  Did it live up to the hype?  Answers:  Love it, yes and no.  First, I love the Pre.  It is an elegant and very usable device.  It’s shiny black pebble like appearance and wonderful touch screen coupled with a very nice and user friendly interface make for a wonderful device that has lots of potential.  But, unfortunately, it does not live up to the pre-release hype.  Shoot, the way it was hyped up, I don’t think it could have lived up to that hype.  That said, there are problems with the device.  Said problems are mainly to do with the fit and finish and the architecture of the webOS.  First, webOS.  webOS is, essentially, a set of API’s and a shell that lives on top of an embedded Linux.  Palm was a bit short sighted with webOS.  The application partition is too small, capped at 256 mb.  It’s heap or temporary storage is also, apparently, too small.  Some web sites return an out of memory condition when it is the only thing running.  The GUI can become unresponsive at times and the browser sometimes fails to render pages completely.  The fit and finish of the early devices-mine included-is not quite up to par.  A common problem was referred to as the OREO effect because you could actually twist the screen in the opposite direction as the bottom of the device.  The degree of twist varied with some people claiming to go 35 or more degrees.  Personally, I think that is an exaggeration.  While I have some play in my Pre, it does not move much.   Overall, however, I love the device and it is night and day when compared to the Motorola Q and quite a few other smartphones.  Of all the new phones on the market, I think the only one I’d want to replace the Pre is-oddly enough-Moto’s Droid.

The Zune 30 is still a pretty competent, albeit ugly, media player.  Lacking many of today’s ‘standard’ features, it still beats, in my opinion, the iPod Classic and other such iPods.  The user experience is still top notch and I like the physical buttons.  It lacks a touch screen and a browser, but you can buy and download music right on the device as well as stream songs from the Zune Marketplace.  The HD, however, is a far better device and experience.

Zune HDThe Zune HD features WiFi and includes a browser, though it is based on Internet Explorer 6, a browser that hopelessly outdated when the Zune 30 came out.  It is ancient now.  The HD also features hybrid-digital (HD) radio.  HD Radio, like digital television, offers the broadcaster the oportunity to multicast several ‘channels’ as well as improved audio and program information.  I love the feature and use it more than the FM radio in my old Zune.  Also included are the Social, applications and a vastly improved user interface.  Oh, there is also the high definition video output, movie rentals/purchases and great video.  The screen, like the original, is fantastic.  The device itself, like the Pre, is gorgeous.  Sleek, thin and SMALL.  Really small.  You can stack three of them and have the thickness of the original Zune.

So, what’s not to like?  Well, there are a few things.  First, that browser.  Better than nothing and way better than what was on my Moto Q (hell, Opera is better) but it is still built on IE 6, which means you run into standards issues and the fact that many sites are now pretending that IE 6 is not around.  Also, there is no Flash support and, I don’t care what Apple says-or iPhone owners-Flash is an integral part of the web and ALL portable devices should have Flash.  Period.  Also, the touch interface could use a bit of an overhaul as the browser often mistakes the touch input.  Those issues aside, it is still pretty usable and better than trying to lookup something or check a site on the Kindle, Moto Q or pretty much ANY cellphone browser.  Other issues with the HD:  those physical buttons are gone.  Yeah, I know it is a touch device, but when I am playing a podcast or listening to music, the last thing I want to do to pause is: touch the bar to wake up the screen, press the little side button to bring up the ‘play’ screen and THEN press the PAUSE icon in the center of the screen.  Really, Microsoft?  That’s the best you could do?  UGH.  The other nagging issue, for me, are the apps.  The few that are there are very nice.  Turns out, the Zune HD is a terrific game playing device and, I”m sure, can handle non-gaming apps just fine.  The problem is that Microsoft is not pursuing this avenue.  No, they’d rather continue down the damned Windows Phone path.  Please.  Throw one or devs our way.  Open it up to third parties.  Allow someone to create a ‘Zune Store’, or, better, do it yourself!  The Marketplace is a fine place to do this.  I don’t even mind the short ads at the beginning.  Wake up, Zune team!

The fit and finish of the HD is very nice and the hardware is top notch.  I love this thing.  Sounds great and looks great.  The ecosystem needs some work, though.  Overall, I’m still excited about this thing.  I’ll report back in six months and share my longer term thoughts.

Of the two devices, the Pre I am less enthused about, but still love it.  There are, no doubt, better phones, but they cost more or are not available on my carrier.  I have yet to find, though, a phone that is so good, I just have to switch carriers. NONE of them, not even iPhone, are enough to make me switch three phones to a new carrier.  No, I’m staying with Sprint until a knock-my-socks phone comes along OR Sprint goes out of business.

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