Review: Dazzling Palm software beats the iPhone

Jun 04, 2009 By PETER SVENSSON , AP Technology Writer
In this photo taken May 28, 2009, the Palm Pre is shown at Palm headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

(AP) -- Move over, iPhone. You've had two years on top of the smart phone world. Now there's a touch-screen phone with better software: the Palm Pre.

In a remarkable achievement, Palm Inc., a company that was something of a has-been, has come up with a phone operating system that is more powerful, elegant and user-friendly. The Pre, which goes on sale Saturday for $200 (after a mail-in rebate) at Sprint stores, makes it easier to do more things on the go.

With webOS, Palm's new operating system, you can keep multiple applications open at once. They're organized like a row of cards that stretches off the screen, and you flick the screen to switch between them. For instance, if you need to quickly check your calendar while writing an e-mail, you can bring up the calendar application, then flick back to e-mail, then keep switching between them as you try to work out your schedule.

On Apple Inc.'s , you can run only one application at time. To switch between calendar and e-mail, you have to go back to the main menu every time.

Also unlike the iPhone, webOS will notify you of events that need your attention, no matter which application you're in. Notification icons for e-mails, calls and over events appear at the bottom of the screen. If you tap on the e-mail notice, for instance, the message pops up.

So webOS makes the iPhone look clunky, which is stunning in itself. It also thoroughly shows up Corp.'s Windows Mobile. That operating system has had multitasking for years, but few users have appreciated that. Rather, Windows Mobile has been blamed for making phones clumsy and slow. Now, webOS comes along and does multitasking right.

Also very cool is that webOS aggregates contacts and calendar items from multiple sources, like Google, corporate Exchange servers, and even Facebook. You know how lots of phones have space for a photo for each contact? The Pre automatically pulls your friends' Facebook photos into your contacts list.

As far as the hardware goes, the Pre is well put together, but not exceptional. It's slightly smaller and chubbier than an iPhone, with softly rounded corners that make it look like a black bar of soap.

The screen diagonal is 3.1 inches, noticeably smaller than the iPhone's 3.5 inches. Less screen space means it's harder to hit the right area with your finger, but the Pre makes up for this a bit by making the surface just below the screen touch-sensitive. For instance, to go back one level in a program, you swipe from right to left in this area.

A keyboard slides out from underneath the screen. It isn't the best I've seen on a phone, but it does the job, and you'll find it much easier to use than the iPhone's on-screen keyboard.

When I first got the Pre, I was dismayed by its battery life. I got less than 24 hours of light use out of it, and it would lose nearly a third of its charge if left inactive overnight. It turns out there's a bug that drains the battery if your Google instant-messaging account is connected to your AOL Instant Messenger account. Palm says it will fix that. When I logged out of AIM, I got much longer life.

I extended battery life even further by setting the Pre to receive my personal e-mail instantly rather than checking every 15 minutes. That's counterintuitive - usually getting the e-mail automatically "pushed" to a device consumes more power.

I ended up with nearly two days of battery life, which I think is acceptable for a hardworking smart phone. But it would be great if Palm made it easier to manage power consumption.

That said, charging the Pre is almost half the fun, if you splurge on a $70 "Touchstone." You place the Pre on this small charging station, and it uses magic to radiate power through the phone's back. (The scientifically minded can replace "magic" with "electromagnetic induction.") It's a lot cooler than connecting a cable or a sliding the device into a dock, but it's only marginally easier to use than a cable, so consider this a luxury purchase.

The Pre's camera captures 3-megapixel images. That's not an amazing resolution, but I prefer the Pre's camera over the 8-megapixel one in the Sony Ericsson C905, and every other phone camera I've tried.

Why? Because other phone cameras have a big failing: It takes too long for them to take a picture after you've pressed the shutter button. They're impossible to use for action shots, or for capturing fleeting expressions. The Pre's camera has very little shutter lag. It's not as good as a single-lens reflex camera, or SLR, but it's better than a lot of digital point-and-shoots.

The Pre also has the now-standard array of smart phone features: Wi-Fi, Global Positioning System and an online store for applications. The Web browser is very fast, given a fast data connection. You can zoom in and out on Web pages by pinching and spreading with two fingers, just as on the iPhone. The Pre has 8 gigabytes of built-in storage, same as the cheaper iPhone model.

Uniquely for a non-Apple device, the Pre pretends it's an iPod when you connect it to a Macintosh or Windows PC with iTunes, so you can easily transfer your music library and photos to it. It won't play movies or TV shows bought from the iTunes Store, nor will it play songs that were purchased with usage restrictions.

So should you get a Pre? Despite the fantastic software, this isn't a slam dunk decision.

We don't know how software developers will take to the Pre. There are a lot of different smart phone systems clamoring for their attention, and webOS may not be able to replicate the success of the iPhone App Store when it comes to providing a wide range of useful applications. There are only about 20 apps available at launch. (With the help of one of these applications, the Pre can run tens of thousands of programs written for the older Palm , but these are mostly dated.)

We also don't know what else Palm has up its sleeve. Sprint Nextel Corp. doesn't have the same lock on the Pre as AT&T Inc. does on the iPhone, so we may see the Pre with other carriers early next year.

Palm has also said it plans to put webOS on a range of devices. We don't know when the next model will arrive, or what it will look like. Verizon Wireless' chief executive has said it will carry another model "within six months."

Lastly, Apple is expected to fire back by announcing an upgraded iPhone model, perhaps as soon as Monday. It won't be able to do everything the Pre can do, but it might have other novel features.

Whether you get a Pre or not, its brilliant software will leave its mark on the phones you buy in the future, just like the iPhone did after its debut.

---

Got a technology question? Send an e-mail to gadgetgurus(at)ap.org.

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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User comments : 12

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Johannes
2 / 5 (5) Jun 04, 2009
"Now there's a touch-screen phone with better software: the Palm Pre."

You mention only one software feature thats "better": being able to switch between applications with one touch (or a swipe and touch worst case) versus two touches. Apart from the fact that switching between applications isn't a frequent event (not even on a normal PC), switching between applications on an iPhone is no hindrance at all. And thats a true measurement of "better" not the fact that a relatively non frequent action sometimes takes a touch less.

If you compare different user interfaces, you have to look at the total experience; that means the efectiveness of the visual clues and input gestures and responsiveness of the device.

I know already from other reviews that that isn't the case.

Another misconception is that the iPhone isn't multitasking; it is. A full version of Unix is running on the device. It couldn't be non multitasking.
Only user applications have the restriction that only one can run at the time.

And this is done for good reason; as you can see from the ultra short battery live one the Palm.

The title of your review is misleading, maybe on purpose. Better software means better applications. And no other device has the Application store Apple has.

So, you should rectify the title of your review. And stop misleading readers.

J.
Arn
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 04, 2009
Johannes, you're so predictable and pathetically funny along with the hordes of Mac fanboys. Don't you have anything else to do but keep watch of every online forum, vigilantly monitoring articles and reader's posts that might possibly sound offensive to your lord and savior Steve Jobs?

Last thing I heard, it's a free world. The iPhone may be the coolest smartphone, but it doesn't necessarily follow that it is the best. So, what are you Macboys gonna do about it?

Flame everybody who says anything against Mac products out of the Internet?

Pathetic.

Linux rocks!!!
Smellyhat
2.7 / 5 (3) Jun 04, 2009
"...charging the Pre is almost half the fun!"

Okay, the quality or bias of the tech review aside, WTF is this article even doing on the PhysOrg site? Do you people never screen the articles?
SincerelyTwo
2.5 / 5 (4) Jun 04, 2009
The physical design of the device looks fat and bulky, which doesn't help the delusional BS they're shoveling out in their marketing. This is crap, crap, crap... crap... crap.

... and yea, what the hell is this doing on physorg?
finitesolutions
3 / 5 (2) Jun 04, 2009
take a look at this: http://www.youtub...GZq3EnJY
El_Nose
not rated yet Jun 04, 2009
its in the consumer gadgets section -- it belongs here SmellyHat

-- and when using a phone as a smart phone it is often neccesary to look up dates i find that a big hinderance -- and the Iphone is not a business phone its a luxury toy if you wanted an ipod and a new phone at the same time
Johannes
1 / 5 (1) Jun 04, 2009
Ha ha Arn,

Funny. My arguments pissed you off, did they.
Your falling back to very predictable rethorics instead.
Look who's pathetic.

Have a nice live.

J.
MorituriMax
not rated yet Jun 04, 2009
I actually didn't mind johannes first post, then again, the responder "Arn" who accused johannes of being pathetic and predictable, a fanboy, etc, was even more predictable as someone who just can't go a day without slapping down someone as being a macboy, etc.

As Arn said, its a free world.. oh, oops, unless you post a critique that tries to show the apple product as not being smashed by the new thing out.



Arn, its a free world, some people have opinions other than your politically correct and redefined world. Take your own advice.
daqman
not rated yet Jun 04, 2009
Johannes, you're so predictable and pathetically funny along with the hordes of Mac fanboys. Don't you have anything else to do but keep watch of every online forum, vigilantly monitoring articles and reader's posts that might possibly sound offensive to your lord and savior Steve Jobs?
I'm sorry but there is no reason for personal attacks. Johannes is right. This is the ONLY article that shows the Palm device in a positive light.
Arikin
not rated yet Jun 04, 2009
Is this an advertisement or an article? Oh well.

They say imitation is the greatest compliment. But of course you can't get away from imitation when Palm was hiring every ex-Apple engineer employee it could. :-)

But seriously, Apple pioneered this touch screen and had more time to get it right. But the Palm Pre will have a harder time against an established market. Wait and see if third party developers get on board to add software and value.
Haus
not rated yet Jun 05, 2009
Arikin, I agree palm will have a hard time competing with apple but only if the iPhone becomes available for other providers.
btw, the HTC Touch (Elf) was being developed before the iPhone but Apple, obviously, has a larger budget and more notoriety. Plus some people will buy anything shiny that starts with an I. ;)
John_Doe
not rated yet Jun 07, 2009
Johannes, you're so predictable and pathetically funny along with the hordes of Mac fanboys. Don't you have anything else to do but keep watch of every online forum, vigilantly monitoring articles and reader's posts that might possibly sound offensive to your lord and savior Steve Jobs?

I'm sorry but there is no reason for personal attacks. Johannes is right. This is the ONLY article that shows the Palm device in a positive light.


I've been a software developer working with microsoft products for over 10 years (including windows mobile). I started developing software for the iPhone about a month and I think iPhone is much better (and the company got me a mac too, and it is great).

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