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Thursday, June 04, 2009, 06:30 am PT (09:30 am ET)

Review roundup: Palm's Pre and its fledgeling WebOS

The embargo on Palm’s new Pre smartphone has lifted and multiple reviews are now online describing the highly-anticipated iPhone competitor, which goes on sale this Saturday, June 6 at Sprint, Best Buy, and Radio Shack stores across the U.S where it will fetch $199 after rebates and a two-year service commitment.

Concerns about the keyboard and battery life are common threads in many of the reviews, though most compliment the Pre's multi-tasking ability and subtle notification system. Additionally, it's evident that very few 3rd-party applications will be available at its launch.

The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg
  • The Pre is "potentially the strongest iPhone rival to date, provided it attracts lots of third-party apps, which it sorely lacks at launch."

  • Its keyboard is the Pre’s "biggest advantage over the iPhone."

  • The Pre comes with an over-the-air back-up service that backs up all of your data without requiring any input from the user.

  • Video and music synchronization is done through iTunes. Palm "figured how to make iTunes think a Pre is an iPhone or iPod, and the software acts accordingly" which "worked perfectly."

  • At launch, the Pre’s answer to Apple’s App Store – the App Catalog – only contains about 12 apps and is the Pre’s "biggest disadvantage." During Mossberg’s testing, downloading an app made his Pre "crash disastrously" causing all of his data to be erased and the Pre was not able to connect to any wireless network.

  • Mossberg talks about the expected iPhone and the upcoming 3.0 firmware in his review, noting, "the new iPhone to be unveiled next week will have a lot of added features," and "I expect to see an iPhone with up to 32 gigabytes of memory, video recording, a higher-resolution camera, a compass, and a great operating speed."

  • The least expensive voice and data plan for the Pre matches the cost of the iPhone’s on AT&T at $70 per month, but Sprint includes unlimited text messaging, whereas this is an extra cost with AT&T.

New York Times' David Pogue
  • The Pre is "exactly the right size. It’s smaller than the iPhone... and therefore more comfortable as a phone."

  • The unlimited voice, data, and messaging plan from Sprint costs "$240 a year less than AT&T."

  • Despite having tiny keys, Pogue found it "faster and less frustrating than typing on glass."

  • The Pre’s new WebOS operating system is "attractive, fluid and exciting." Compared to the iPhone, multitasking is possible.

  • Though the Pre has a user-replaceable battery – unlike the iPhone – its battery life is "the Pre’s heartbreaker." The battery in Pogue’s Pre usually died in the late afternoon or evening.

  • While Pogue feels that the Pre is a "spectacular achievement," he also notes that the iPhone ‘isn’t going away" and that "Apple’s lead of 20 million phones will only grow when the new iPhone 3.0 software (and, presumably, a third iPhone model) come out shortly."

  • Pogue doesn’t feel the Pre is perfect, describing that "opening certain programs can be very slow," and that "there’s no progress bar or hourglass to let you know that it’s still working." Additionally, it’s not possible to expand the Pre’s internal storage, no visual voicemail to match the iPhone, and the universal search function "won’t look through your e-mail or calendars."

USA Today's Ed Baig
  • Baig found the Pre "easy on the eyes," and "can’t think of a more comfortable cell phone" in his hand.

  • Baig notes the touchscreen gesture similarities between the Pre and iPhone, but describes that "what sets the Pre apart is the way it lets you keep multiple live applications open at once..."

  • The Pre was not without faults, and Baig "encountered occasional sluggishness and bugs." He experienced problems with the clock and icons "dancing around." Despite the Pre’s more subtle notifications method, Baig still wished for visual voicemail, as did David Pogue.

  • Baig notes that there’s no on-screen virtual keyboard to supplement the physical slide-out one, and that "at times, I would have liked the option..."

  • Though it’s possible to sync media via iTunes, buying music from iTunes on the Pre is not possible. However, the Pre is "integrated with the Amazon MP3 store, so you can sample and purchase songs on the fly." Similar to behavior in earlier iPhone firmware versions, the Pre must be on a Wi-Fi network to download music, though it can be previewed while on Sprint’s cellular network.

  • At launch, the Pre doesn’t have a leg up on the iPhone in one area: "The browser doesn’t support the Adobe Flash video standard. Palm and Adobe hope to deliver the capability in the future."

  • Overall, Baig feels that "Palm has delivered a device that will keep it in the game and give it a chance to star in it."

Livescribe

The Associated Press' Peter Svensson
  • The AP review of the Palm Pre is replete for praise for the device, claiming it is a "remarkable achievement" and that it "makes the iPhone look clunky."

  • The Synergy concept that pulls your PIM data from sources such as Google and Facebook is described as "very cool." Hardware-wise, the Pre is "well put together, but not exceptional."

  • Battery life was seen as an issue, prompting dismay after the battery died with "less than 24 hours of light use out of it." One cause is a "bug that drains the battery if your Google instant-messaging account is connected to your AOL Instant Messenger account." Palm is planning a fix for this bug.

  • The Pre’s keyboard "isn’t the best" but is "much easier to use than the iPhone’s onscreen keyboard."

  • Amazingly, the AP preferred the Pre’s 3-megapixel camera "over the 8-megapixel one in the Sony Ericsson C905" since the Pre’s has "very little shutter lag."

CNet's Bonnie Cha
  • Overall, CNet was "impressed with the Palm WebOS" but found that there were "some hardware and performance issues" as well as "a few missing features."

  • Most notably missing are video recording and voice dialing, though "Palm has said that these features can be added later through an over-the-air update."

  • The Pre’s multi-tasking ability with its cards concept and its unique notification system are "what makes it special and they are areas where the Pre beats the iPhone or any smartphone on the market right now."

  • Like David Pogue, Cha found the battery life to be poor, which, combined with the Pre’s sluggishness, causes her to think it’s not "the best device for business users or road warriors."

  • Cha praised the Pre’s screen, claiming that it’s "one of the main highlights of the phone." Though it’s slightly smaller than the iPhone’s at 3.1 inches measured diagonally, Cha says it’s "on par with, if not just slightly crisper looking than, the iPhone’s screen."

  • Though its user interface is "very sleek and fresh," the Pre "isn’t the most intuitive device to use, at least at first."

  • Like other reviewers, Cha found the Pre’s keyboard to be small and "clearly not as easy to use as a Blackberry or some of Samsung’s and Nokia’s QWERTY devices..."

  • Users who want to sync PIM data from a Mac or PC desktop client will need to take a few additional steps to first sync their data to a Google account, which will then need to be linked to the Pre. Current Treo or other Palm phone users can take advantage of a free download from Palm, the Data Transfer Assistant, that will do a one-time transfer of data from your desktop PIM application.

Other reviews

For those interested, Gizmodo, Engadget and PCWorld have also weighed in on the Pre with their own reviews.