In my opinion, the Palm Pre is one of the very best smartphones on the market today. I don’t say this lightly – I’ve come to this opinion after using it solidly since December, alongside an iPhone, HTC Hero, Google Nexus One, Nokia N900, and various other mobile devices.

This is not a full review of the smartphone segment – I’ll do one of those some other year. I was messing around with Preware and thought I’d write up some notes.

The Pre is really nice hardware, but I think it’s the software that sets it apart. Unlike Android or Maemo, the focus of WebOS seems to be purely on usability. This leads to a phone without the frustrations and user experience disasters of the competition – a phone that comes close to the magical qualities of the iPhone.

That’s not to say the phone is perfect – there’s lots of features that annoy me or functionality I wish it had – but this is where Preware really comes into play. There’s a ridiculously extensive collection of third party hacks, tweaks, and modifications available. I’m going through the install process right now, so here’s a list of what I’ve added and why. Many of these I expect will make it into future mainstream software updates:

  • Open to Call Log: when I use the phone, 90% of the time it’s to dial someone in the recent history, so it’s nice to be able to optimise to go straight to the list of previous calls.
  • Call Duration in Call Log: show the length of each call. By default the Pre only shows the date of each call.
  • Enable Dialpad Vibration: the dialpad tones are insanely loud, I prefer haptic feedback.
  • Disable Low Battery Warning: by default the Pre will beep at 20% and 10%. Not interested – I’ll plug in when and where I can anyway.
  • Enable Landscape stuff: by default, the messaging client, mail client and PDF viewer don’t work in landscape (similar to early versions of the iPhone). This can be fixed.
  • Add Date – MM/DD: Puts the date in the menu bar alongside the time.
  • Add Space Between Snooze & Dismiss: I’m too sleepy in the mornings to hit the Snooze/Dismiss area on the alarm with any accuracy.
  • Disable Charging Alert Sound: I bought a Touchstone charger, which is the coolest device on earth, but the phone chirping throughout the night to say it’s started charging is not cool. This fixes that.
  • Just Charge By Default: when I plug the phone in, 90% of the time it’s to charge in the office. So I don’t really want to see the options to use it in USB drive or PC Suite mode – I can always go back to that if I want to.
  • Video Camera Flashlight: the Pre’s camera is not great in low light, so this gives the video mode a little help. It’s a battery-killer, so used with caution.

You might argue that the Pre should do all this stuff by default, but honestly one user’s dream experience might be another’s nightmare. But isn’t it awesome that the phone can be modified in this way by a third party army of developers? Can your phone do that?

Full disclosure here: the Pre I’m using is free. A bunch of handsets were given out at an o2 Litmus developer event back in November. But don’t think for a minute that biased me: the phone I got then had a hardware fault that meant it could not play ringtones, and I had to wait a few weeks for a replacement. If anything, I should be annoyed at Palm for giving me a broken toy. Also, I didn’t pay for any of the other phones I tested, either.

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