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CES 2009: Live Report

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Hands-on with Palm Pre

CES 2009: Live Report
The major announcement and pretty much the only interesting one during the whole show was the Palm Pre introductions and the WebOS platform which it runs. Everything started at 11 PST, with a conference room packed with press, eagerly expecting the “Nova”, which was the code name of the new OS. Jon Rubinstein came on stage briefly, to introduce Ed Colligan, President and CEO. The main points in his introduction of the new OS and device were simple: most consumers do not use one device for specific purpose, but combine work and personal stuff, multimedia, office documents and contact information and all those pieces of information are usually scattered in different repositories (folders, e-mail accounts, services, IMs), requiring each one to be accessed separately. Palm’s idea is to have all different parts to come together seeminglessly into one device.

Their second intention and we think their main one is to make the underlying technology invisible to the users – no need to have to save before exiting, no need to try to sniper a small X located in the right corner to just minimize it and you get the idea. This is the whole idea of the Web OS – optimized for human beings from the 21st century who do not use just their local phonebook for contact information, but Gmail, Facebook, multiple IM and have information everywhere which needs to be brought and naturally accessed from one place. Please welcome the Pre and Palm’s new WebOS operating system.  

Let’s take a look at the actual device and see if Palm managed to achieve their main goals. Hardware-wise, it is not ground-breaking, but definitely high-end and following EVERY single current trend and introducing a few new ones. Compared to all devices in our database released in the past 12 months, the Pre has average dimension, while compared to rivals such as the iPhone, T-Mobile G1 and Nokia 5800, it is a lot smaller. The weight is very well distributed and the 4.76 oz (135 grams) are almost not noticed.  The units present at the show are preproduction, but no major changes are expected, yet keep this in mind. As you can expect, most consumers will definitely try to compare the new Palm with the Apple’s iPhone, so we’ll do the same here. The front is dominated by the 3.1 inch display with 320x480 resolution which is smaller compared to the iPhone, but definitely more than adequate. Its picture quality was just … sweet! Very vibrant colors, very high contrast!

CES 2009: Live Report
CES 2009: Live Report
CES 2009: Live Report
CES 2009: Live Report
CES 2009: Live Report
CES 2009: Live Report

CES 2009: Live Report

You can compare the Palm Pre with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

The touch-sensitive gesture area starts at the top of the screen and extends below it. Currently, only a few gestures are supported and include back (swiping finger from right to left). To provide feedback, a small white circle appears on both the gesture area and the screen after a touch is registered. In the middle of the gesture area is the central and only button on the face, which when pressed invokes the “Card View” screen where thumbnails of all the active applications are shown.

The right side houses the microUSB connector with USB Mass storage support for faster access to the integrated 8GB of memory. Sorry, but no expansion slot is present which is somewhat disappointing. The volume keys are located on the left side . The top has power button which when pressed and held powers it down or when just touched invokes menu with option like airplane mode. Right next to it is the typical for Palm ringer switch and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Some people will argue that on-screen keyboards have greatly evolved and can substitute the physical ones, but for the majority of users who do heavy or not so much text entry, the presence of a real keyboard is preferable. And Palm Pre has one. Sliding it out creates an ergonomic curve, which should make it more comfortable to hold the phone to your face. 

CES 2009: Live Report
The actual keyboard is full QWERTY of course and the overall initial feel is good. The keys are somewhat hard to press, which could change by the time the finals are shipped, or just need a little more time to get used to.

The backside houses the 3-megapixel camera and speakerphone openings. Removing the back cover reveals the exchangeable 1200 mAh battery. No talk/stand-by times were released to us, but there was a strange comment that they hope to make it last for one day of use (huh? We also hope to be at least one day).

Rest of the features of most high-end devices made their way to the Pre as well – GPS, accelerometer, EVDO rev.A, Wi-Fi to name the most important. Bluetooth is present, but initially will be crippled to only audio and supposedly after the launch OBEX added via an upgrade. Over-the-air upgrades are supported, so this should not be a great pain.

So far so good, it’s a nice device, nice feature set, but this is what the Pre is all about.  Give those specs to HTC and they will probably build something similar with no issues what so ever. What differentiates the new Palm is the new OS.

Home screen
Cards

Home screen

Cards

Web OS is based on Linux with the applications running are written based on the Web standard JavaScript, CSS and HTML. According to Palm, they have created numerous API for developers to be able to create complex applications. This is somewhat hard to believe, but we’ll see what happens. Palm told us that they will launch application store, but unlike Apple, will allow developers to distribute their apps any way they want to – not only via the app store.

After a boot up, the home screen starts with showing a row of 5 shortcuts at the bottom. Four are customizable and the fifth one brings the launcher, which contains the rest of your applications. Similar to some extent in appearance to the panels on Sony Ericsson X1 are the “Cards” concept on the Palm, visualizing your running applications. Web OS is a multi-tasking so you can have as many as you want (Palm is still trying to figure out what to do when they become way too many for the system to handle). The open cards are shown on the screen and can be rearranged by holding the finger on one and moving it. A simple flip to the top of the screen actually closes it. Some applications support multiple instances to be open, so for example  you might have several e-mail cards open, one on compose screen, one of selecting recipients. A major difference from the panels on the X1 is that cards are actually running and if you have RSS feeder open and movie player, both update all the time and you see the changes on the Card Viewscreen.

Quicklauncher

Quicklauncher

If the quicklauncher needs to be evoked when an app is open, simply flip finger slowly from the bottom to the top and hold, and it miraculously appears in a form of a very cool waving line, move your finger to the app you want and release to launch it. To bring up the regular launcher with all the apps, simply flip from bottom to the top without holding. It can contain multiple pages, similar to the iPhone.
Unified search

Unified search


If we haven’t mentioned it so far, the WebOS is multi-touch capable. It works in exact the same way as on the iPhone – scrolling done via swipe, two finger pinch for zooming in/out, one finger touch to zoom in or two fingers to zoom out. 

A nice new feature is the so called unified search. Slide the keyboard open and start typing – the Pre will search your contacts, apps, etc and display relevant results. If such are not found, several shortcuts will appear showing results in the browser from Google, Wikipedia for now, and others in the future.

During the official press event, Palm execs pointed out the company’s leadership in PIM organization and presentation. As expected, they have a great deal of effort to continue it on the Web OS. The contacts and calendar on the Pre are integrated with services such as Google and Facebook, allowing really unique access to all your information from one place. For example, the calendar may contain several calendars within, separating your personal and business calendars. Utilizing filters, they can be viewed separately or all together. Currently, synchronization between for example Gmail contact and Exchange is not possible. SMS and IM messaging are combined in one app, with multiple IMs supported.

Calendar
Calendar
Personal - Calendar
All - Calendar
  

Personal

All

Calendar


Internet browser
Internet browser

Internet browser

The WebOS is also designed for browsing the web. The browser is based on the WebKit engine, has the multi-touch gestures for zooming in and out, visualizes pages as you’d expect and …. Is fast, lightning fast! Our heavy page loaded for less than four seconds, using a local Wi-Fi network – great success!

Another nifty feature are notifications. Instead of blatantly popping –up on your screen as it happen to us yesterday on our Windows Mobile phone, when we were trying to navigate to the Las Vegas conversion center and making us miss our turn, Palm has taken a lot more elegant approach.
Notifications

Notifications

The current active app simply shrinks at the bottom, making space for a line where the information is displayed. In this way, you still see it, can act on it, but does not interrupt what you are currently doing. If no action is taken, the notification becomes a small icon and stays at the bottom of the screen. This feature is not reserved only to system notifications, but can display for example RSS feeds or if you have the music player running, will allow you to control it.

Palm noted that they will introduce a whole line of accessories for the Pre, starting with conductive charging station. Simply stick you device on it, and it charges it up – no need for cables! The station does not come in the sales package, and will be sold separately (at least initially).

Conductive charging station
Conductive charging station

Conductive charging station


To sum things up – great overall work Palm! Everyone has been talking about the imaginary iPhone killer, and this is the best try we’ve seen so far.  

Pre will be exclusively offered by Sprint, before the middle of the year has come. Palm noted they are doing everything to make it available as fast as possible. However, if you are a not a Sprint customer do not worry – a GSM/UMTS version is also confirmed to be in the works, and Palm Europe’s VP of sales even said that U.K will get it in the second half of 2009.


Palm Pre Video Hands-on:



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posted on 20 Oct 2010, 01:42

1. darthvegas (Posts: 17; Member since: 11 Dec 2008)


I'll take one. And I guess I'll need one of those Touchstone wireless chargers as well.

posted on 21 May 2009, 13:13

2. zzyxer (Posts: 1; Member since: 21 May 2009)


this is a good article! im sorry, but it definitely needs to be cleaned up--serious grammatical errors and poor syntax plague the entire page.

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