Eric Stewart: Running Off At The Mouth

A Day With The Palm Pre

by Eric Stewart on Jul.30, 2009, under Cell Phones & Providers, Technology

The Palm Pre

The Palm Pre

Okay – so yesterday I ditched my BlackBerry Tour, and picked up a Palm PreBefore I started down the path of the BlackBerry, I was a fan of the Palm devices and had owned a couple.  This was back in the early days of mobile phones becoming more than just phones, and Palm’s methods of getting email onto a phone were found lacking.

A lot has happened since then.

The Palm Pre is a fairly new device, run by a fairly new operating system.  Palm as a company has (if I recall correctly) changed hands several times and was on the verge of going under completely at one point.  They completely ditched their Palm OS (which initially was a mistake I think) and started marketing devices with everyone’s favorite hand-held OS, Windows CE (yes, I’m being facetious).  It looks like they’ve since revamped the Palm OS for their Centro and continued Treo lines, but for the Palm Pre, they’re using the newly developed webOS.

So there you have some of the history.  With all this in mind I approach this review comparing the Palm Pre to what I “know” of the iPhone (mainly the 3GS) and what I experienced with the BlackBerry Tour.  Realize I’m a geek and OH LOOK SHINY!

This phone was purchased in store – activation was handled by store staff.

First off, some of the basics:

Pre Tour iPhone
Memory 8 GB 256MB + up to 16GB for pictures, files, media 16GB or 32GB
3MP Camera Flash, no zoom Flash, 2x zoom no Flash, zoom
Take video? No Yes Yes
WiFi? Yes No Yes
App Directory “thin”, beta “established” “King”
Keyboard tactile tactile touch
Screen 3.1-inch (multi) touch screen with a vibrant 24-bit color 320×480 resolution HVGA display (2.6 inch) Half VGA+ 480×360 pixel screen Displays over 65,000 colors 3.5-inch (diagonal) widescreen Multi-Touch display, 480-by-320 pixel resolution

So let’s talk about Exchange integration. Providing your Exchange server has Outlook Web Access available, the Pre (and the iPhone, I think) can sync over the air your contacts, calendar, and of course your email (including other folders in your Exchange Mailbox). The BlackBerry can do your Inbox (only) email via the BlackBerry Internet Service, but for contacts and calendaring, this requires a BlackBerry Enterprise Server, and on Sprint accessing a BES requires a $20/month add on to your service.

But if you thought that was impressive, the Pre also readily integrates your Google email, talk, calendar, and contacts as well.  In fact, as I had used the “export” on Outlook to export my calendar and then import it into my Google Calendar, all of my calendar items started showing up double on the Pre!  Different calendars are color coded, and you can take a calendar source off of your “main” Pre calendar to avoid duplicates. Calendaring options are not as “tightly” integrated with the Outlook/Exchange options (no “out of office” or “busy” option when you create a new calendar entry, for example) but they are sufficient for most purposes.

Google Maps is already on the Pre and works perfectly for my purposes.  I don’t necessarily like the term but, yes, I squeed a little when it locked on.

Let’s talk about using the handset …

It’s … different.  It will take your average geek a couple of minutes to get used to how you navigate around (and it may take you asking someone how to do it).  It can even take a little longer to make it second nature (still not quite there yet).  There’s a lot of sliding your finger, over the touch screen, some times in specific areas of the handset, to get it to do certain things.  Getting your cursor to the right position in the middle of a line of text can be frustrating.  You can do the whole “rotate” thing to look at things in a landscape format, but it doesn’t help much when you’re typing text, since the keyboard slides out of the bottom.  The keyboard has plastic keys; it’s one of the things I’m actually missing from the Tour are the larger (feeling, anyway) rubberized keys it had.  Originally I had concerns with the keyboard not sliding out far enough – in my original in store tests, I had issues with my thumbs hitting the bottom of the screen.  Turns out sometimes the keyboard doesn’t slide out all the way (you just have to give it a bit of a tug), and as long as my thumbnails are clipped, I’m good to go.

I must say, as different as webOS is from the original Palm OS, there’s something familiar about it.  As I mentioned in a tweet, it’s kind of like going home again after a long time away.

My experience has been that using the media player on any portable device has a significant impact on it’s battery life.  The Tour as a media player wasn’t bad – and on average (but not “constant”) use the battery would last a day.  I’ve heard that the iPhone can chew through a battery pretty quickly.  It looks to me like the Pre (and the store representatives mentioned this) that the Pre can burn through a battery pretty quickly as well – not even lasting a full day (DAY FOUR NOTE: there are things you can do to fix this – particularly the email functions, which try to compete with the “push” technology of the Blackberry).  I haven’t had a reason to use the media player yet – I usually do that at work, and I took the day off today.

Speaking of batteries and charging, one of the more coolio (and pricey) accessories available for the Pre is the Touchstone.  For a mere $70 (or $140 for a dual Touchstone set), you get a small round angled magnetic “puck” that will charge your Pre wirelessly simply by putting the Pre on it.

One of the big selling points of the Pre is that iTunes (on both Mac and PC) will see the Pre as an iPod and you can synchronize music and podcasts in this way (well, today anyway; there’s no telling what Apple might do tomorrow to change that).

As noted in the table above, the Pre’s “App Catalog” is very thin.  I’m hoping for a steady trickle of new applications (I really want an SSH app bad!), and hoping that (as far as the US concerned) the “single handset with carrier exclusivity” issue doesn’t hurt the availability of applications, because Palm is not Apple, and while I feel that Sprint is a better provider than AT&T, I think AT&T has more subscribers.

The Facebook application is actually a bookmark to a special Facebook URL (not but  It’s a bit more extended than the mobile site.  DAY FOUR EDIT: There is Facebook integration built in to the Contacts application – you provide your Facebook login information and the Pre will import all of your Friends’ contact information, “linking” multiple entries (showing them as one entry on the index) for an individual if sufficient information exists to do so.

The web browser on the phone is significantly more capable than your average cell phone’s browser (or the BlackBerry Tour, for that matter).  Initially it appeared as if I might even be able to edit blog articles using the browser, but alas, a recent attempt to do so revealed that some of the “in editor” HTML might have been getting misinterpreted.

Here’s my list of wants/weaknesses in the phone:

  • As mentioned previously, it seems to chew through it’s battery pretty quickly, even when you’re not making calls.  I always have this issue the first couple of days I have a new handset, because I’m usually burning battery time by either playing with certain features or using the thing in such a way that it’s screen has to stay on a lot more.  However, even with WiFi off, it seems like the Pre is really burning through it’s battery.  DAY FOUR EDIT: Google for the issue and you’ll come across several pages suggesting methods for extending the battery’s life, like this one.
  • Sometimes text isn’t selectable – say, on an email you’ve received or have tucked in a folder.  The workaround for this is to “forward” or “reply” to the message and just not send it anywhere.  This should be fixed.
  • I haven’t found an official SSH app for it yet.
  • Apparently tethering was in the plans but Sprint (you guys really try my patience when I hear crap like this) nixed it.  There are reportedly unofficial ways of doing it.  As mentioned, though, the web browser is pretty good and might resolve any need I’d have for tethering.  If you’re willing to “toy” with your phone in a manner that’s unsupported by Sprint, it’s possible to get tethering working.
  • It would be nice to have a Twitter client that could submit pictures using something other than the ugly “email” option.  I’ll go over the two Twitter apps that are available for the Pre in another post, probably tomorrow.
  • Calendaring could be a little more “unified”, and the Pre could provide synchronization capabilities between different calendars (IE, it could match my Google Calendar up with what’s on my Exchange calendar).
  • Ringer profiles: I put this on here, but honestly, I didn’t use them all that much on the BlackBerry.  I’d go through the process of setting them up “just so”, but, eh, this isn’t really a deal breaker for me.
  • Exchange Notes to Pre Memos synchronization.  kthx!
  • Doesn’t come with a belt holster, and the $40 leather “side mount” holster at the Sprint store did not provide a hole or room to have the handset plugged into the provided stereo headset while in the holster.
  • You get three pages of icons (for apps, settings, etc) – but three only, as far as I can tell.  You can arrange icons however you want among those three pages, but it would be nice to have maybe a fourth page, or a way to hide icons you don’t use often (but are forced on you by Sprint or Palm).
  • Not a lot of apps yet.

So – of course it’s not the perfect handset.  It’s got geek appeal, as from what I’ve heard it’s fun to develop apps for it.  It’s new, on a new OS.  It feels like it’s doing Exchange synchronization a bit better than BlackBerry with a BES does, and since it doesn’t need the BES, it’s $20 a month cheaper on your Sprint bill.  While I probably sounded as optimistic about the BlackBerry Tour when I did my “A Day With” blog post about it, I think I have managed to approach my one day review of the Palm Pre with all of the issues I later encountered on the Tour in mind, hopefully providing a more thorough review than I did of the Tour.


The Palm Pre’s defenders will point out that the Pre is capable of multitasking better than most other handhelds (BlackBerry, anyway).  To do this requires a powerful processor, and that’s where a lot of the battery life is going.   Extended life batteries are available with a little browsing around the net – including one that comes with a different back panel to handle the additional size of the battery.

I came across a review by a fellow Pre owner who has had his for a month or so.  Our experiences parallel quite a bit.

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