Palm Pre: Two Months In

I’ve been catching up recently on the Android switching (you can read the weeks where I tried out a Palm Pre, Google Ion, and iPhone 3G)… As for me, I ended up switching to a Palm Pre, and after taking it around the country for a two months as my primary device, I thought I’d give an update…

  • Reception – having carried the phone around in SF, LA, NY, Portland, and Boston, I’ve been extremely happy – it’s an amazingly huge improvement over my AT&T service- my only dropped calls happen with friends on AT&T, and the data connection is very good – I even get data underground on BART throughout SF.
  • Voice Mail – I’ve remembered how much I hate voice mail. I have Google Voice… my initial reading seemed to be that call-forwarding for Sprint was an all or nothing proposition, but there might be some options for that… I’ll be trying to get that setup (even at 20 cents per minute, it’d be worth it to not have to listen to VMs).
  • Maps – my original hope was that the GMaps app would be decent, but really it’s pretty pathetic. It’s worse than the Android version, and far inferior to Apple’s Map application. It’s been a bit surprising to me how much better Apple’s implementation is (they write their own app, they just use Google’s tiles). You’d think that Google would be able to do a better job. On the other hand, I’ve found myself using TeleNav’s Sprint Navigation app more and more – it’s not ideal, as it’s hard to get out of turn-by-turn mode (I often find myself wanting to see the next turn) and sometimes it loses (or just won’t acquire) a GPS fix, but I’ve been a lot happier with its behavior in general (no problems w/ map tiles, or forgetting what it’s doing – it also has a history and interacts with my contacts) – it is however pretty battery intensive and takes a while to load up
  • Battery Life – this was my biggest complain when I first got my Pre. And for the first month it remained a huge problem – it just couldn’t last a day, which since I’m not office bound, means lasting at least from say 10am until 3am – even when I didn’t make any calls or even wake it, it’d run itself down just from its syncing. This was improved somewhat by the 1.1 update, but the main reason that it’s no longer a complaint is that I bought an extended battery – this thing adds an extra 5mm (it looks and feels like a lot more) of depth, and makes my Pre creak like no tomorrow, but it also comfortably gives me over a day no matter how much I use it (it seems to last just under 2 days in regular usage). If you’re getting a Pre, I’d say you pretty much are going to want to get either a spare battery or an extended battery.
  • Performance – My new top annoyance is now the intermittent lag/lack of responsiveness with the phone. When it’s working well, it’s really quite nice, but I find the Pre lagging out quite a bit. The dialer and autocomplete are particularly bad (not to mention that the autocomplete doesn’t have any sort of learning algorithm – no matter how many times you send to an address, you’ll never have to type less letters and it’ll never move up). Apps that have listings are also quite slow – i.e., while the 1.1 update sped up photo rendering, when you jump into the photos from the camera, it takes you to the folder list, which renders incredibly slowly. The same thing holds true for listing MP3s when jumping into the music app. But it’s not just limited to that – sometimes the launcher lags out, or app launching, or any number of things. I can’t explain why these things aren’t cached or why responsiveness isn’t made a higher priority. My biggest gripe is that when the phone lags out, it isn’t just a rendering issue, all response just grinds to a halt. I haven’t tested whether reboots do much w/ performance, but since despite using Upstart, the Pre still takes almost 2 minutes to boot (what’s up w/ that? when Ubuntu boots in 10s, I’m not sure what excuse the Pre, running on a fixed hardware platform, really has)
  • Copy and Paste – oh the irony. The iPhone now has superb copy and paste support, and it turns out that the Pre’s copy and paste is completely useless – time and time again I need to copy something from an email, web page, or text message. And I can’t! Also, the few times I can, only serves to show how awkward Palms copy and paste command/gestures are.
  • Other UI – It’s not all bad though – I remain impressed w/ the cards implementation, and the notifications just plain rock. Every time an alarm goes off, or something else pops up and I can keep typing through what I was working on, I get a nice warm fuzzy feeling. This is how it’s supposed to work people!
  • Apps – The official app store remains pretty anemic – I find myself missing some apps, like a decent Yelp app (Where is pretty substandard) or a Midori/Shazam equivalent, but the homebrew scene has been just plain making me happy. There are hundreds of homebrew apps that have been filling in the gaps (include a homebrew app “store”, scientific calculator, timers/stopwatches, a terminal, and yes, a great tethering app).
  • Headset/Microphone – one thing that is maybe a bit esoteric for some, but is actually up there with my biggest niggles, as I use this all the time is that there are some strange things with how the Pre interacts with my wired headsets. I use Ultimate Buds as my primary headset. They’re great for music and they conveniently have a remote and microphone – which the Palm Pre actually supports, with both the single click play/pause, and the double-click next track. That’s great! Unfortunately, after pausing for 5 seconds, the Pre “goes to sleep” and stops responding to the TRRS signal – to unpause, you’ll need to hit the power button or otherwise wake it before it’ll respond again. This is took a while to figure out, and is somewhat maddening – it also makes pausing somewhat useless and makes me wonder if anyone bothered to test this feature. The second big annoyance is that unlike the iPhone, which gives no microphone feedback, the Palm Pre gives you lots of microphone feedback – in fact, much more feedback than the other side of the line receives – so much so that it becomes impossible to hear the other side when there’s even moderate wind or traffic noise. This doesn’t happen without the headset and is downright retarded.

Now, while the list looks a bit weighted towards complaints, and while there are definitely some issues that well… verge on total brokenness (I’ve submitted the worst problems to Palm), most of these issues seem like they can be fixed via software updates, and on a day-to-day level, I’ve been mostly satisfied with my Pre.

The experience is absolutely not as good as the iPhone, but I guess at the end of the day, it’s still much more usable than the Android, and for me, it’s worth supporting an alternative because well, despite Schiller’s outreach, the the App Store really is abominable, not just in its practice/actuality, but also, after having given it some thought, and reflecting on its implications, as a general model.

Mobile devices are the next generation general computing/network access platform and having a device manufacturer as a post-facto gatekeeper is just not right. Getting rid of end-to-end not only reverses the freedoms that spawned the innovation on the Internet, but also creates a bottleneck on software development/distribution that I’ve never seen in modern general computing…

Oh, also: AT&T can suck it.

  • dan

    I used a Pre for 2 weeks before giving it up. For me, it's mainly abysmal lack of apps. I'm glad you're happy with 'home-brewed'. I'm wasn't. I have at least 10 apps on my iPhone that either have no alternative on the Pre or the alternative is pathetic.

    There really is, at this point, no comparison between the Pre and the iPhone. While the Pre will undoubtably get better, so will the iPhone. I don't see myself going back any time soon.

    But hey, you keep sticking it to the man!


  • canucker

    Nice review. Good to hear from someone with hands-on experience with three leading devices (sorry, WinMo is not leading but Blackberry is pretty good). If you hate AT&T (or Rogers in Canada), then the Pre is a good alternative to the iPhone and I hope it remains a contender since it keeps the others from complacency and evil practices. Palm needs to offer memory versions and a better dang keyboard. A larger screen would also help (and could hide a bigger battery). Android devices continue to disappoint though. Perhaps it’s the lack of focus on a manufacturer/form factor (but that helped not hindered Windows)?

  • lhl

    Yeah, I like WebOS a lot, and hope that it can get the refinements it needs to remain a contender. That being said, despite my less-than-stellar Android end-user experience, I suspect it'll “win” as the iPhone alternative – w/ a couple dozen devices coming out, it shouldn't have any problem getting to critical mass (at least 5-10M devices?). And, w/ HTC's Sense, Motorola's Blur, and Sony's Rachel, it also has a number of 3rd party UI's that should be, at the very least, be interesting. I wonder if there's going to be anyone that tries to compete w/ Apple on fit-and-finish. It seems like right now no one is even *trying* to make a product that has a responsive, non-laggy UI…

  • mike

    Re: The App Store. I can understand your complaint. But I don't understand how switching to Pre helps at all. Doesn't Palm serve as the gatekeeper in the Palm Pre App Catalog? Admittedly it's sort of a moot point at the moment since there are, to a first approximation, zero apps for Palm Pre. But if it ever becomes successful, it seems like the same core issue would still be there.

  • FYI: The Pre Reports Your Location to Palm

    I'll pass on that, even though we can't get the iPhone in the state where I live.

  • canucker

    I know there's a bunch of Android powered phones coming, but they are an eclectic bunch that will fragment support for the OS. Will games be playable on all devices? Some have physical keyboards, others just the screen, etc. At best it will be a lowest common denominator approach where each app can only be sure it can address the basic functions. Perhaps Google has figured it out somehow (virtual environment) but games, especially, push specs to the limit. Apple and Palm have a lesser problem. Single form factor but different components. Android is certainly a work in progress but Apple and Palm are not standing still.

  • althe3rd

    I have been working with palm pretty closely to try and get an app I have been working on, onto its app store. Keep in mind that their app store is in beta but from my experience its been just like working with the iPhone app store. Very scrutinizing process to the point where Palm is making us make design tweaks before the app is admitted into the store.

    It may change but from my experience Palm will be just as picky as Apple is on approving apps to be on the official store.

  • althe3rd

    I always enjoy hearing about more experiences with other mobile platforms since I only own an iPhone. I am actually developing apps for the palm pre with a friend of mine and I can appreciate some aspects of the device. However, overall I agree with your assessment. The device is a good alternative but doesn't stand up to the iPhone. Although I really wish the iPhone would do notifications the way the Pre does, so much less intrusive.

    I always feel like the odd one out when it comes to AT&T, I get excellent service and coverage. Granted I live in the midwest, which is apparently the area of the country AT&T spent all of its money on.

  • althe3rd

    I always enjoy hearing about more experiences with other mobile platforms since I only own an iPhone. I am actually developing apps for the palm pre with a friend of mine and I can appreciate some aspects of the device. However, overall I agree with your assessment. The device is a good alternative but doesn't stand up to the iPhone. Although I really wish the iPhone would do notifications the way the Pre does, so much less intrusive.

    I always feel like the odd one out when it comes to AT&T, I get excellent service and coverage. Granted I live in the midwest, which is apparently the area of the country AT&T spent all of its money on.

  • hariseldon24

    Thanks for your balanced and well written article, I'm a happy iPhone user but I like the look of the Pre and Apple needs the competition. I don't really get all the angst about app store approvals, as a customer I LIKE the walled garden, It keeps the standards high (in terms of stability etc) and with 70,000 apps and counting, I don't feel that I'm missing out. Maybe I'm easily pleased.

  • David Leppik

    I'm surprised you didn't mention the calendar app. That's the only thing I really hate about the Pre; it's often too slow to be at all useful. The thing that really rocks, in my opinion, is the FaceBook integration. I wasn't expecting that at all. But it's so great to have someone's picture show up on the screen when they call– without having had to do anything. Similarly, email addresses and phone numbers just magically appear.

  • I also migrated to the Pre from iPhone. What caused me to switch was
    1) superior notifications management
    2) and the ability to keep multiple apps open at the same time via the cards metaphor. I wouldn't have adopted it if it was just a simple task switcher: the way it's done on webOS preserves context. On the iPhone, to switch from one app to another, you have to press the Home button, go back to the home screen, tap the new app, and it launches. On the Pre, if it's already open, it's just a flick away.

  • I guess it depends on how you use your phone… For me, the battery is a non-issue. I have my Pre on the dock thinggy (forgot the marketing name for it, sorry πŸ˜‰ and I usually go out for no more than half a day…

    For me the #1 reason I switched from the iPhone to Pre (more on this on my blog, click on my name…) is Sprint vs. ATT. You just can't compare in NYC. I recently went to the Apple Store in Soho, and for fun, I turned off WIFI on the 3Gs and loaded up on both at the same time… The page was done on my Pre and the iPhone was still trying to load the navbar…

    If there ever is an iPhone on Verizon, then… I guess Id probably switch back. But I'll definitly miss the notification system and cards UI.

  • Hamranhansenhansen

    The iPhone has HTML 5 if you want out of end-to-end apps. The App Store is the alternative app platform, you don't have to use it. I appreciate having both app models on my phone.

  • lhl

    In theory, Palm and Apple are both gatekeepers, although having multiple gatekeepers is probably preferable to having a single one. In practice, however, my Palm experience has been a lot better – developer mode is easily accessible, which gives full system access, and homebrew apps are available (and tacitly approved) without jailbreaking (and without disappearing w/ system updates).

    (While Palm has made some noises about being more developer friendly, they haven't committed as publicly as Google has to openness, so we'll have to wait and see I guess.)

  • lhl

    Yeah, I suspect all phones will have built in social addressbook syncing soon. It *is* magical, and actually bumps up the FB usefulness even more. Honestly, I'd rather have a “FBPhone” than a GPhone…

  • npr

    You are absolutely right about the dangers of the closed iPhone app model, it's a disaster for freedom and innovation and the kind of openness that built the internet and the personal computer more generally. The iPhone actually manages to make Microsoft seem open and enlightened. Supporting alternatives like Android and the Pre (or whatever Nokia cooks up) is essential.

  • Johnny Appleseed

    Very selfless of you to use the inferior product just because you believe in competition! Apple's only real competition is itself, but that seems to be enough to keep pushing itself to excel.

  • lhl

    Hey semi-anonymous Internet Jackass. Normally I don't get baited by mouth-breathers without the self-esteem to post with their true name, but your lack of reading comprehension, simplistic worldview, and my hour-long layover makes this your lucky day. In case you missed the very first bullet point, the fact that the Pre on Sprint actually has connectivity and doesn't drop calls really sort of blows away your “inferior product” construct right out of the water.

    Now, how about you tell me how many clicks it takes to check new mail messages in 7 inboxes in iPhone Mail? Or how your experience is when you're typing a text or email and receive notifications? How's the Facebook sync? Or running background apps? That's OK, I carry around my iPhone 3G with me in my bag and I use it both for development testing and for running some sweet apps.

    Did your fanboy head just explode that something could be better on different axes, or that multiple things could be good and bad at different things?

    Go troll elsewhere (and really, for your own good, grow the fuck up).

  • I haven't used pre..only iPhone…and your review saved my MONEY…..atleast for now…thanks

  • hariseldon24

    Your response seems a bit harsh, the article stated “The experience is absolutely not as good as the iPhone”, so the term “inferior product” is apt.

  • kellyp

    I know what you are getting at but there is an awful lot of red on this page.

    even with webkit's speed it will be a while for that.

  • Very nice review, Leonard. I'm still not buying one. I switched from a BlackBerry to an iPhone and I'm pretty happy about it (so far). No matter how evil Apple has been with te App Store, it's the best damn mobile device there is.

  • John

    I'm an iPhone developer, but right now I'd switch to the Pre at the drop of a hat (if it were available in the UK). The reason: the App Store's draconian review policies – shit sandwich doesn't even start to address how bad it is. And this is despite having a pretty successful and profitable application. Apple are piling up some serious disgruntlement amongst developers and I totally agree that this is not how we want mobile platforms to pan out.

  • lhl

    Yeah, on a better day I would have just deleted the comment, but layovers make me cranky. I have comments enabled for interesting conversation, not for anonymous manchildren to come and crap in my internet living room you know? (there's cerainly enough space to do that, although I suspect that if more people enforced community standards, that these sort of pointless posts wouldn't be quite as common.)

  • althe3rd

    I'm sorry to say that for the most part you are going to receive the same sort of draconian policies from Palm. Their is the homebrew section for those people who will do a rather trivial hack to get the apps on their but its no where near the convenience and simplicity their real app store will have when its ready.

    I willing to grant that at this point since Palm doesn't have to deal with the same app volume as Apple that the feedback from the Palm reviewers is more detailed but their demands on your app are very similar.

    Lets just step back for a second and take something in. Apple has a rejection rate of less than .03% So while they are getting some rightly deserved heat over a few of the rejections, I think the process will improve as Apple finally gets more reviewers hired so each reviewer is given more than 10 seconds per app.

    I love the Pre. I love its notifications method, its face book integration. And while I prefer to have better battery life than running a game at the same time I compose an email (my silly example is to point out that most of the time we don't need to multitask), I can still appreciate the usefulness of it. By apple allowing their first party apps to run in the background of the iPhone and allowing third party apps to revive previous states, the lines between running an app on the background on the iPhone have blurred. Many of the videos that Palm showcases about the webos and what it lets you do (write and email and half way through then jump to sms to grab part of the text and copy and paste it into the email in progress) I can do on the iPhone due to what I mentioned above.

    What I ulitmately appreciate is people like Lin who take the time to write their reviews of these various platforms. It lets all of us get some perspective on phones that maybe some of us don't interact with very often.

  • mxcl

    OMG the dangers of the iPhone app model! Run for the hills!

    People seem to forget that before iPhone there was no such concept as decent software on your phone. And certainly nobody was getting rich of 99 cents sales. You people amaze me. Sure the app store suits apple just fine, they love it being closed and theirs. But there are still a tonne of reasons to use and support it.

    Stop being scaredy cats and get practical.

  • payasyougomobilephones

    In the UK the Palm Pre has done an exclusive deal with mobile phone operator O2. Well I guess I have to wait a little longer to get one for myself. I am an Orange UK customer and I have still five month left on my contract until then I can only dream of owning one.

    pay as you go mobile phones

  • Pingback: HP Touchpad + webOS « random($foo)()