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.