The Palm Pre

(Fri 13 Aug 2010: This was supposed to be posted back in 2009, but for some reason sat in ecto’s drafts queue … posting it now for completeness, posterity and so I can link to it in the future.)

Palm PreI went to the O2 Litmus / Palm Pre developer event on Tuesday night, and was delighted when they gave a Palm Pre to each attendee at the end of the talks. I’d been trying to get my hands on one, but sadly o2 refused to allow me to upgrade from my iPhone until end of December, and the Pre is only available on a pay monthly contract.

I’ve been using the Pre on and off over the last couple of days, trying to get to know it and understand where the Palm WebOS platform is going. Herein my first impressions from the Pre.

Firstly: it’s a beautiful device. The iPhone could be considered cool, but the rounded edges and organic smooth stone style of the Pre is really nice. There are some rough spots – the slider to mute the device feels cheap and fragile, and the back panel is seriously flimsy when you take it off to get at the battery. But on the whole, it feels really nice. The little fabric case that Palm ships with it works really well, and clears up the smudges on the screen nicely while in the case. The case also seems to emphasise how small the phone is.

Speaking of size – it’s deceptively heavy for what appears to be a small device. Coming straight from the iPhone, the display feels small, but after a while I got used to the stunning brightness and colours, and the iPhone when I went back to it felt big, with a lot of wasted space on screen. What really helps is the Pre’s ability to have a background desktop picture – not particularly revolutionary, but one up on the iPhone. It feels nice, and personalised.

What about WebOS itself? Well, it took a while to figure out, there’s a few paradigms that need learning (cards are like tabs, swiping backwards to shift between tabs or go back in an application, pressing the silver ball is Alt-Tab, flick up to exit). Palm have been even more Apple than Apple in enforcing how the device works – the modifiable preferences are sparse almost to the point of non-existence. This is both blessing and curse – it makes the phone super simple to use, but limits customisation.

Update: I just found out the Palm Pre on o2 is running WebOS version 1.1.3; the state of the art is 1.2.something, so maybe the problems I’m experiencing are solved in the latest version. Come on Palm, o2: get us up to date!

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