Book Review: Palm Pre: The Missing Manual, by Edward C. Baig 7
O'Reilly's Missing Manuals, a series created together with tech journalist/author David Pogue, are supposed to represent "the book that should have been in the box." Given that the Pre's box is too small for a book, it's no wonder that it didn't have a book inside. Happily, Ed Baig has set out to remedy that situation, with the new Palm Pre: The Missing Manual.
Read on for the review!
The book, a thin 249 pages, gives an overview of the Pre, its hardware, and its software, along with a tutorial on the basic gestures and conventions of WebOS. It also gives step-by-step instructions on how to set up and use the major built-in apps (Email, Calendar, Notes, Tasks, Camera, and Web), navigate via Google Maps and Sprint Navigation, configure networking, and work with music, video and photos. It even provides a getting started guide, describing how to choose a (Sprint) plan, download and install apps via the App Catalog, and get help. (In fact, PreCentral literally gets the last word, as the final entry under "Where Else to Turn" on page 249.) Purchasers who register their books with O'Reilly (the About This Book section provides the URL to do so) get access to "the missing CD-ROM", which has hotlinks to the resources mentioned in the book, errata (mistakes), and other related content.
Overall, Baig does a solid job with this book, providing easy-to-follow instructions and clear information for new Pre users, and even a few tips that may be news to those of us who haunt (er, frequent) PreCentral. For example, on p. 38, Baig describes how to reorder cards:
To reorder cards, simply drag and drop them: Tap and hold a card until it shrinks and becomes transparent; when you do, all the other cards shrink to an even smaller degree. (Alternatively, you can tap near--but not on--a card to make them all shrink at once.) Then drag the transparent card to a new spot and lift your finger.
While I'd known about the tap-to-shrink-all trick, I hadn't known about the reordering. Similarly, this book was the first I'd heard of the voice-recognition feature in the Drive To menu of Sprint Navigation, called "Call It In," which allows a user to dictate an address to a specific number, after which your Pre will show you the location on its map. It's not perfect, but it can be handy if you are driving, and I wouldn't have known about it but for my reading Baig's book.
This being the first edition of Baig's book, there are a few typos and errors, most minor. For example, Baig refers to Microsoft Exchange as "an email, calendar, and address book program issued to you by your employer." In fact, Exchange is the server component (to which the Pre connects via Exchange ActiveSync), while the desktop program would be either Outlook or Entourage, both of which require standalone software to directly link to the Pre. More troubling, though, is Baig's "tip" on p. 122:
If you sync your Outlook notes with the Pre through Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, those notes appear on the Pre as Memos. Same goes for notes you import from Outlook via the Data Transfer Assistant...."
Actually, Exchange ActiveSync does not sync Outlook notes in either direction, nor is the Memos program sync-compatible after the initial DTA import (which strips all category information from imported notes or PalmOS memos). This "tip" could cause potential users to assume they will be able to continue to work with their Outlook notes on their Pre, as has been possible for more than a decade on the PalmOS, but it's simply untrue. (The situation has generated a number of threads on the PreCentral Forum, such as this one.)
One other disappointing omission was any mention of homebrew applications, even though the book seems to have gone to press in August 2009, more than a month after the first homebrew app hit PreCentral. While I wouldn't expect Baig to give a detailed understanding of homebrew, developer mode, rooting and the rest, even a mention with a link would have been very helpful for his readers who might otherwise not know about the many apps available for their Pres other than through the App Catalog.
Still, Baig is clearly a major Pre fan (his introduction is even more effusive than I might have been, which is saying a lot!), and especially given its publication mere months after the Pre's launch in late June, Palm Pre: The Missing Manual is a great resource for Pre purchasers. As with the WebOS itself, it's likely that future updates of the book will be rapid and only add to its value for readers.