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Palm Pre First Impressions

With CES now well and truly over we still have a few titbits to bring you which we'll try and fit around the week's other breaking news but I suspect there will be little more important announced than the Palm Pre smartphone and its Web OS platform.

Following our coverage of its announcement I managed to score some serious hands-on time with this remarkable device after some particularly sneaky persuasion so here are my first impressions.

Getting the major news out the way first: Yes indeed the Palm Pre is worth the tremendous amount of hype it has generated. It is a potentially game changing device which has unashamedly copied the best aspects from the likes of the iPhone (software design), Android (openness) and even the INQ1 (integrated social networking and automatic contact merging). So let's now break it down.

The Palm Pre is a beautifully made phone. It may be slightly chunkier than the iPhone 3G but it feels equally good in the hand and a lot more sophisticated than the T-Mobile G1. In fact it somehow merges the feeling of a BlackBerry with an iPhone which is no bad thing at all. A nice touch is also the back of the phone where a mirror has been discretely positioned so it is only visible when the keyboard is slid out - handy.

As for the keyboard itself, it's perfectly fine. The layout is highly intuitive and representative of the huge amount of thought that has gone into the Pre's design but its action isn't quite as nice as that seen on the BlackBerry Bold or Nokia E71. Still, it is pre-production. Incidentally, I also found out so are the build materials as Palm hasn't finalised them at this stage so there's still room for further improvement.

At 3.1 inches, the screen could possibly have been a smidgen larger but with a 320 x 480 native resolution it is wonderfully vivid. Multi-touch also works a treat too since the Pre wisely employs a highly responsive capacitive touchscreen.

The camera? Well it may be just 3MP and utilise an LED flash but there must be a lot of clever processing going on in the background because it produced the best images I've seen at this resolution and remember, megapixels are far from the be all and end all of photo quality. In short, it's far better than you'd expect.

Now nice as the Pre is, the real magic is performed by the superb Web OS and here it seems Palm has deliberately set out to not only (in some cases quite blatantly) swipe the best bits of its biggest rivals but also deliberately highlight their failings. Check out this list when compared to the iPhone, for example: multitasking, copy and paste, MMS, turn by turn Google Maps directions, Bluetooth 2.1 EDR with A2DP, video recording, multiple calendar support, drag and drop media content, free OTA syncing, an open source platform and a removable battery. Are you listening Mr Jobs?

In practice however these inclusions are not just to score points they really are beautifully implemented. For those who are fans of the iPhone interface a homescreen of icons can be called up at any moment (and without exiting your particular application) while the 'cards' system of grouping open apps like browser tabs which can be shuffled between is quite brilliantly handled.

Go to page 2: CES 2009: Palm Pre First Impressions
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January 14, 2009, 9:05 pm

Is WM dead yet?


January 14, 2009, 10:39 pm

I was going to get a Sony Ericsson X1 but I think I will stick with my P1i until this comes out :)


January 14, 2009, 11:56 pm

Can't wait to have a go with one of these. It's all really impressive. Great to see them take the best bits from everywhere and then add a load more.


January 15, 2009, 2:28 am

Yay...native flash support :) micro SD :(


January 15, 2009, 1:12 pm

As a 3G iphone owner, this is really interesting... I eagerly await a review :D I am half hoping that it's not better than the iphone, so that i don't want to cancel my contract/upgrade...


January 15, 2009, 3:01 pm

Well done Gordon.

This whole flash support is confusing. I saw a hands-on video with the Palm rep. talking to the reviewer. She clearly said there was no flash support. Many other people said flash is indeed supported!

I wanted to avoid mentioning the iPhone here. But I can’t help it. Wouldn’t you agree that the iPhone deserves some of the credit for this positive revolution in the mobile phone industry. If there was no iPhone, would we still see Android, Web OS, and the many other nice platforms/phones in/coming to the market?

Andy Vandervell

January 15, 2009, 3:04 pm

Well I don't know what Gordon would say, but I'd agree. It would be churlish to say nothing like this would have happened without the iPhone, but it certainly concentrated people's efforts in this direction and that can only be a good thing. 2008 was already a great year for smartphones and 2009 looks like it could be even better.


January 19, 2009, 1:38 am

@Qortuba - I was told Flash would be supported, so perhaps there was confusion about what would be available from launch? We're still waiting for a final release spec - either way however, it's coming.

I also agree with you and Andy about the iPhone's part in all this. The Web OS development was headed up by a senior ex Apple employee and it heartily steals many of its best features including gestures and much of the clean UI appearance (I've no idea what the legal issues - if any - are with this). That said, it equally borrows from ideas behind the INQ1 and Android but from what I've seen has combined and conquered - as well as throwing in a few very smart tricks (Cards, for example) of its own.

2009 may well be a rubbish year economically, but you're right: it should be a great year for smartphones.

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