Palm Pre Review

Introduction and Design

Let’s take a step back two years.  The cellular world was about to enter a transitional period, with the world anticipating the release of the iPhone and R&D departments at the major manufacturers working furiously to put out something that could hold its own.  The iPhone has gone on to unprecedented success, and while there have been some formidable competitors (HTC and Samsung come to mind) no one has truly captured the ease of use and wow factor like Apple did.  All the while Palm, a company that brought true innovation to the mobile space so many years ago, is on the brink of collapse.

Then came January 8, 2009, when Palm turned the industry on its ear.   Out of seemingly nowhere they announced the Pre, which brings not only an amazing design but a revolutionary new OS into play.  Their stock bottomed out at $1.42 just a month earlier, but in the time since it has increased nearly tenfold.  Where once the iPhone was the darling of techies and hipsters alike, the Pre has become the “it” device and a media darling.  Palm has embraced the shortcomings of Mobile OSX, most notably the closed nature.  webOS is based off of simple web coding, making developing easier than ever and enticing to not only hardcore developers but casual web designers as well.

Software is not the only calling card of the Pre though; Palm has paid a lot of attention to the design of the Pre as well.  In fact, inconspicuously placed in the packing material you’ll find “No detail is small.”  It features a now common large, touchscreen display.  Uncommon, however, is its multi-touch technology, and unprecedented is a multi-touch with a hardware keyboard (unofficial G1 hacking notwithstanding.)  The portrait keyboard holds true to Palm’s long philosophy of one-handed use, and the touch gestures have been brought below the screen to enhance this philosophy.  All in all Apple has never seen a competitor like this, and, though it took two years, the mighty iPhone may finally be dethroned.


The Palm Pre feels wonderful in the hand; there are no two ways about it.  Inspired by a polished river stone, the Pre is full of curves.  It fits comfortably and ergonomically in your palm, which is in sharp contrast to the iPhone’s wide, boxy design.  The Pre is much thicker, but doesn’t feel as thick as it is.

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

The added thickness is of course the result of a sliding design, which reveals a full QWERTY keyboard.  Much has been said/rumored about the keyboard, which is very similar to the one found on the Treo Pro.  After much time with it we have to say it’s not bad at all, though not perfect.  Those with bigger hands will probably have issues, but our above average hands got used to it after a day or two of use.  The keys are shallower than the Centro and not as sticky.  The former makes sense, as the display has to slide down over it, but we would have liked to see a bit more tackiness to the plastic keys.  We will say, however, that the tackiness it has is different from the Centro, and after a few weeks it becomes less tacky which is a good thing.  They are more on the hard then gel side, but nothing like the hard plastic keys of a Blackberry.  All in all there could be a bit more spacing, and we’d have preferred if they would be shifted down just a smidge, but we have to say that we’re impressed with the balance Palm has stuck between form and function.

The 3.1” display is brilliant, featuring a 320x480 resolution with 16.7M colors.  Unlike the iPhone, where the display falls short of the bezel and in direct sunlight you can see the dead space, the panel blends seamlessly into the housing.  It’s so good, in fact, that as the display shrinks to show notifications (more on that later) you don’t really notice.  The gesture area below this only enhances this blurred border.  Not only is it amazing to look at, but it’s just as smooth to use.   Multitouch is used in much the same way as the iPhone, and gestures such as pinching are just as simple and intuitive.  Palm takes it one step further, however, by extending the capacitive area down below the display so you don’t have to cover the screen with many gestures.  Again, we’ll go into more on this later.

The hardware buttons are very scarce.  On the front you simply find a home button, on the left a volume rocker and in the top right corner a power button.  A thankful carryover from the Treo is a vibrate switch on the top, next to the 3.5mm headset jack.  The right side also houses a microUSB charging and data port, interestingly enough on the top half of the slide rather than the bottom.   The back has a single, large speaker and the 3.2 megapixel camera with an LED flash.

The slide mechanism is hefty, but not too much so.  While it feels great, we’re seeing some isolated reports of loose slides.  One of the only gripes we have is that, when slid open, the now exposed edges of the Pre are a bit sharp.  Not enough so that we wouldn’t use it, but we wouldn’t mind Palm grinding it down just a touch.

Palm has done an amazing job with the design of the Pre.  It is arguably the most comfortable device we’ve ever held, much moreso than the iPhone.  We wouldn’t mind seeing it slim down a bit and loose a small amount of weight, but we’re stretching to find things right now.  As we’ve come to expect from high end devices it fingerprints like crazy, and the plastic screen and housing is a bit harder to wipe clean than the iPhone’s glass panel, but again we’re stretching here.  We’re having a hard time thinking of a phone we’d rather carry than the Pre, and there certainly isn’t one that has a full QWERTY.

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