Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The EVDO Experts Give the Palm Pre a Whirl - and Return It

Sprint's latest attempt at competing with the seemingly un-beatable iPhone comes in the form of the Palm Pre, which aims to attract both iPhone and Blackberry fans with its full touch screen and slide-out QWERTY keypad. In addition to the intriguing combination of the touch screen and slide-out keypad, Sprint and Palm have also been heavily promoting the Pre's OS and app capabilities, hoping to set it apart from other PDAs on the market.

Reviews for the Pre have largely been positive thus far and demand has been steady, and the EVDO Experts at 3Gstore/EVDOinfo were just as excited about it as the rest of the community. We had high hopes for the Pre - particularly since it is a Rev-A model - but after using it for two weeks, we wound up returning it in favor of sticking with our Blackberry's and iPhones.

Why, you ask? That is an excellent question, as there is admittedly much to love about the Pre and in some ways it is indeed superior to other PDAs. Read on to find out what we loved, what we wished was different, and why we ultimately decided to forgo the Pre:

The good news - what we LIKED about the Palm Pre:
  • Size - the Pre is compact but not too tiny, and surprisingly the slide-out keyboard does not add much bulk.
  • Ease of use of the Web OS - Palm did a great job of making their new OS intuitive and user-friendly.
  • The ability to run more than one 3rd party application at a time is a HUGE plus and something the iPhone is really missing (on the iPhone you cannot run many apps "in the background" while using other functions of the phone or while using other apps - for example, if you have the MLB app running and are listening to audio of a baseball game, you can't toggle over to the mail app and leave the audio running. With the Pre, this is no problem.)
  • The Pre uses the concept of a deck of cards - i.e., you can "shuffle" between programs from the main screen - which is a great metaphor and makes using the phone very easy.
  • The ability to group contacts from all sorts of messaging platforms is a great organizational tool.
  • Physical keyboard - while the keyboard on the Pre didn't wow us (see more below), a physical QWERTY is simply much easier to use than a touch-input
  • The messaging dock at bottom of phone makes keeping track of E-mail, texts, and IM's a breeze.
  • Sprint Turn By Turn Navigation is built in and works great.
  • The Pre uses a cool Touchstone charging accessory (no cable - it's magnetic!)
With all that great stuff, how could this take a turn for the worse? Keep reading...

The bad news - what we DIDN'T like about the Palm Pre:
  • Screen size - the Pre's viewable screen is 1.72" x 2.58", considerably smaller than the iPhone 3G, whose viewable screen is about 1.94" x 2.91". It's not as tiny as the the screen on other Palm models, like the Centro, but it could stand to be a bit roomier.
  • The slide-out keypad is the only input option - there is no virtual QWERTY option on the screen. This is unfortunate because you have to slide out the keypad every time you want to type, which is occasionally inconvenient and sure to cause quick wear-and-tear.
  • Since the keypad slides out vertically and there is no virtual QWERTY, that also means that you can't type in landscape mode.
  • The calendar sync is not a true "push" - you have to push a button to sync your Google calendars (it won't update automatically).
  • Email browsing is surprisingly slow.
  • Web browsing was also slow - not the connection (Sprint's EVDO Rev-A network is capable of great speeds), but the program itself.
  • The contact program is missing some of the more detailed fields that we like on other phones, such as anniversary, spouses name, etc.
  • When using the touch screen, it was very difficult to confirm that the button has been pressed. Tapping the screen enables an animated effect to appear, but you would never really know what was just pressed most of the time. Getting used to the Pre's touch screen and determining what we were "clicking" proved frustrating and annoying.
  • While the multiple live apps functionality is great, there are minimal applications and developers for this new platform. That will certainly change in the future as more developers work with the OS, but for the time being the lack of available apps is a bit disappointing.
  • The keypad is very cramped and typing more than a few words on it simply is not enjoyable. After a few moments the user's hands and wrists began to ache and holding on to the phone while the keyboard is out is awkward and uncomfortable. The "feel" of the buttons is also quite different than what we're used to from most PDAs.
  • The Pre cannot record or edit video.
  • No tethering - while the Pre itself is technically capable of being used as a modem, Sprint will not allow you to add the necessary plans and features to use it as a modem!
Many of these "dislikes" are relatively minor - the contact fields, for example - but the cramped and uncomfortable keypad, small screen, and minimal app availability led our testers to return the Pre. All the positive points about the Pre are still valid and the Pre is in many ways a great phone, but in our opinion it didn't provide enough benefits over the iPhone or Blackberry Curve.

That said, we are hopeful for the future of the Pre and would venture to guess that as Palm continues to improve the OS and more apps become available, we'll be first in line to give it another try!