Palm Pre and Apple iPhone 3GS: side by side

Introduction, Form factor and Display

For the past two years, the iPhone - that revolutionary monolithic slab of Apple goodness - has been the king of the smartphone world, reaching an incredibly broad customer base with its intuitive, user-friendly interface and wealth of features. No one could touch Apple and it seemed like everyone else would be destined to play catch-up. Then, Palm announced in January that their new device, the Palm Pre, would be coming soon to a Sprint store near you running on a new, innovative Linux-based operating system called webOS.

The Palm Pre was launched on June 6th, and Apple was hot on its heels with an incremental upgrade to the iPhone 3G – the iPhone 3GS (“S” for “speed”) – released with much fanfare on June 19th. The Pre is touted as a worthy competitor to the iPhone and even an “iPhone killer” by some but that is surely debatable.

Ultimately, whether you choose an iPhone 3GS or a Pre as your main go-to smartphone, they both are exceptional devices with their respective strengths and weaknesses. We will now compare the Pre and the iPhone 3GS head-to-head so you can get a good idea of their similarities and differences, and in the end, hopefully you will have a better feel for which one is right for you, assuming you haven’t committed yet to one or the other. Either one is a winner, in our opinion. So without further ado, let’s dive in and compare!

Form Factor – beauty begins on the outside

Both the Pre and iPhone have a beautiful, elegant design that makes it hard to put the devices down. As designed, the Pre looks like a black polished stone and resembles the feel of one in the hand.  It has a nice weight to it – objects that feel heavy seem to convey a sense of quality.  The display is flush with the phone’s edges and blends seamlessly with the phone, which looks attractive. 

The front of the Pre is very simple-looking with only the phone’s display and a single button at the bottom middle of the front of the phone.  The power button is on the top right corner of the phone, the ringer switch is located at the top right next to the power button, and the volume rocker buttons are on the left side.  Along the right side of the Pre is a small door that opens to reveal the charging port. The headphone jack is standard 3.5mm and is located at the top middle of the phone. Looking at the back of the Pre, a 3.2MP camera and flash are on the top left and the speaker is on the top right.

The Pre has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, which is one of the big differences from the iPhone. When closed, the Pre is very compact at 2.3 inches wide, 3.9 inches high, .67 inches thick, and weighs in at 4.76 ounces.

The iPhone is 4.5 inches high, 2.4 inches wide, .48 inches thick, and weighs in at 4.8 ounces. It’s thinner and slightly heavier than the Pre, slightly wider, and over half an inch taller. It has a single button on the front, the “home” button located at the bottom center. It has a connector at the bottom for syncing and charging, a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top left, power button top right, and a volume rocker button and ringer switch on the top left side of the phone.  On the back, an autofocus 3MP camera is on the upper left. The iPhone 3GS is available in white or black and is curved along the back to fit comfortably in your hand. The iPhone does not have a physical keyboard. Instead, a virtual keyboard pops up whenever text needs to be entered, one of the stark contrasts between the iPhone and Pre.

Screen – let the touching begin

Both the iPhone 3GS and the Palm Pre have capacitive, multi-touch displays.  The iPhone display is a 3.5-inch diagonal glass widescreen with 320 x 480 pixel resolution.  Unlike the iPhone 2G and 3G, the 3GS has a fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating on the screen, so it’s far less a fingerprint-magnet than the previous iPhone iterations.

The Palm Pre has a 3.1-inch diagonal plastic multi-touch screen, also with 320 x 480 pixel resolutions, but due to its smaller physical size, the pixels are closer together and the resolution is more crisp and vibrant. The iPhone’s display is no slouch, but the Pre’s is just downright gorgeous.  Since the Pre screen is plastic, it is more susceptible to scratching if you aren’t careful.  The iPhone’s glass surface is far less likely to scratch.

The pinching and stretching of multi-touch is implemented well on both devices, but it seems to be more smooth on the iPhone.  On the Pre, multi-touch animations can be a little jumpy, much like a film missing a few frames every few seconds.  On the iPhone 3GS, pinching to zoom out and stretching to zoom in is smooth and more polished.

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