Palm Pre Review Round-Up | webOS Nation
 
 

Palm Pre Review Round-Up

by Derek Kessler Thu, 04 Jun 2009 2:35 pm EDT

Palm Pre Well, that happened earlier than we anticipated, but whatever. Starting with David Pogue’s early leaked review, the other reviews began pouring in, starting with Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal and followed soon after by Engadget and Gizmodo and everybody else that had a Pre. We’re not quite sure what happened, but we’ll roll with it anyway. The general consensus is that the webOS software is fantastic and as good as if not better than the iPhone, the multi-tasking cards metaphor is fantastically functional and the notifications bar is a beautiful way to manage your notifications, and the hardware is good, but not necessarily great.

And of course, there’s PreCentral’s comprehensive review (which we won’t say is better than everybody else’s, even if it is).


David Pogue, New York Times: Palm’s New Smartphone

Yeah, he was early, but that doesn’t mean he’s ruined the party, does it? He summed it up well early on, “The Pre... is an elegant, joyous, multi-touch smartphone.” Physically, Pogue was satisfied with the hardware, which while shorter and thicker than the slab that is the iPhone, was more comfortable as a phone for him. And even though the keyboard keys are small, they’re perfectly usable and “less frustrating than typing on glass.” Call quality was about average and the ringer apparently was too quiet, though the ringer switch is always a nice touch.

Palm Pre The real star of the Pre is the software. webOS’s intuitive gestures and multi-tasking cards allow the Pre to do things that Pogue very clearly says, you can’t do on an iPhone. Pogue was able to manage around ten open cards before the Pre started to complain about low memory and prompt him to close applications. The application of Synergy not only in contact synchronization, but also in messaging consolidation, was “done well and it makes enormous sense.”

Somehow Pogue managed to do his reviewing in an area with poor Sprint coverage. The phone was continually searching for a signal and as we all know, that sucks down juice like nothing else, leaving him with a shiny black paperweight by early evening. Like most reviewers, he noted that the population of the App Catalog is currently sparse, though Palm apparently intents to approve thousands of apps in the next several weeks, but the limitations of the current iteration of the Mojo SDK mean that we’ll be looking at not-quite-as complicated apps as we see on platforms like the iPhone.

That said, like most anybody that’s reviewed the Pre, the pros far outweigh the cons: “The Pre is a spectacular achievement. Zero to 60 in one version.” 


Walter Mossberg, Wall Street Journal: Palm’s New Pre Takes On iPhone

Since June of 2007, Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal has compared every new smartphone he’s reviewed to iPhone, and in his esteemed opinion, most have fallen short of matching the iPhone’s ease of use, design, and features. All of that changes tonight with the publication of Uncle Walt’s review of the Palm Pre, which he says is “a beautiful, innovative, and versatile hand-held computer that’s full in the iPhone’s class.”

Mossberg’s had the Pre for a few weeks now and done some extensive testing of the device, plumbing its features for strengths and weaknesses, and there are both. In the category of strengths are is the multi-tasking webOS and cards application management, Synergy, “an elegant touch-screen interface that matches or exceeds Apple’s,” and of course, the keyboard.

Walter Mossberg and the Palm Pre

But it’s not all roses. The App Catalog currently carries a ‘beta’ tag and only has about a dozen apps there for launch, and doesn’t even include such mainstays as you’d expect like Facebook (which is strange, considering we’ve seen it floating around out there before). Going up against the 40,000 apps on the iPhone and the thousands on Android and BlackBerry OS, Palm is going to have to seriously court third-party developers to experience anywhere near the success of its larger rivals, and that requires releasing the SDK to the public.

Walt’s Pre also suffered a catastrophic failure at the hands of the App Catalog that ended up completely wiping his Pre and cutting off all connectivity. Thankfully a reset and a visit to Palm’s Backup service quickly brought the Pre back into shape.

Battery life for Mossberg was in line with Palm’s claim of five hours talk time and web browsing, with just twelve hours of music playback and five of video. Needless to say, you’ll be charging the Pre nightly and/or carrying an extra battery with you. Mossberg did have a handful of other complaints (sparse auto-correction software, no mass delete, no keyboard shortcuts, and difficulty scrolling long lists), but noted that “Palm says it plans to add most of these” with the over-the-air update system they’ve created for the Pre.

Walt Mossberg’s conclusion: “All in all, I believe the Pre is a smart, sophisticated product that will have particular appeal for those who want a physical keyboard. It is thoughtfully designed, works well and could give the iPhone and BlackBerry strong competition — but only if it fixes its app store and can attract third-party developers.”


Peter Svensson, AP: Dazzling Palm software beats the iPhone

Headline says it all folks, Peter Svensson of the Associated Press thinks that the Pre is indeed better than the iPhone. I’m sure you’re staring to notice a trend here: webOS is the star of the Palm Pre show, which is good considering that Palm plans to put out multiple devices running the new operating system. Said Svensson: “webOS makes the iPhone look clunky, which is stunning in itself. It also thoroughly shows up Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Mobile. That operating system has had multitasking for years, but few users have appreciated that. Rather, Windows Mobile has been blamed for making phones clumsy and slow. Now, webOS comes along and does multitasking right.” He also praised Synergy’s contact synchronization with Google, Exchange, and Facebook, calling the feature “very cool.”

On the hardware front, Peter reached the same conclusion as most: the Pre is a decent piece of kit, but not exceptionally crafted. The keyboard was deemed usable, but not fantastic, but still measurably better than dealing with the iPhone’s virtual keyboard. Unlike Pogue and Mossberg, Svensson was able to get significantly better battery life, stretching out to nearly two days. Apparently there’s a bug that when you connect Google Talk to AOL Instant Messenger it unnecessarily drains the battery, so disconnect the two on your computer (and feel free to log in to AIM on the Pre) and get much better battery life. Additionally, setting his email to push instead of checking at the default time interval managed to result in better battery as well.

Svensson took a look at the Pre’s camera, which while not a pro-level camera, is still better than every other camera phone he’s tried. The big bonus was how the Pre handles taking photos. Unlike other phones with generally have considerable shutter lag and processing time, the Pre handles it all in the background and takes pictures near instantly. But the Pre is going to affect the future of smartphones (in fact, it has been since January), as Peter says, “Whether you get a Pre or not, its brilliant software will leave its mark on the phones you buy in the future, just like the iPhone did after its debut.”


Engadget

In one of the more comprehensive reviews (outside of our own, of course) came from the folks over at Engadget, who have been unabashed in their excitement for the new Palm Pre. Like all the rest of us they were satisfied with the hardware, but still had some misgivings about the whole mechanical aspect of the slider. They had a unique experience amongst the reviewers out there: they managed to break their Pre. “There is a small flap that covers the MicroUSB port, and while attempting to get the thing open, a thin piece of plastic which runs along the bottom of the casing just snapped.” According to their Palm rep that’s never happened before, but with all these moving parts something’s bound to break on a Pre here or there.

Engadget had high praise for the Pre’s screen and multi-touch capabilities. Also the subject of praise: the slide-out keyboard, which while not the best keyboard that Palm has produced, was “a very, very solid typing experience nonetheless.”

Engadget and the Palm Pre

As everybody’s said, the high point of the Pre is not the hardware - it’s the software. Speaking of webOS’s cards paradigm for handling multitasking, Engadget said, “the premise is extremely simple, and in this implementation, extremely useful. Applications do seem to take a slight bit longer to load than those on competing platforms, but the beauty of the Pre is that you're not opening and closing apps that often.” To test the limits of the multi-tasking, Engadget opened several application windows and managed at least 12 in their testing, including browser windows, Pandora, messaging, AccuWeather, and more before the phone started getting sluggish and complaining about being smothered and needing to free up some RAM.

Slightly disappointing to Engadget, however was Universal Search. While it’s nice to be able to search you applications and contacts and then move on to web searches, they (like us) hope that Palm will extend Universal Search’s capabilities to more universal stuff, like email and your memos, especially with iPhone OS 3.0 presenting a more robust on-device search. Engadget also ran into problems with the relatively raw state of webOS, saying that they ran into plenty of “little glitches” and managed to crash the device a few times. Also, even with the apps closed out after a day of heavy use the Pre was still lagging a bit, indicating that Palm needs to tighten up memory management on the Pre. Thankfully they’ll be able quickly patch things up with the previously mentioned over-the-air updates. Even so, it’s not half bad for a 1.0 release.

They were not impressed, however with the implementation of contacts and Synergy, saying “this is probably the aspect of the OS that needs the most work.” Like we mentioned before, the Pre will pull down all of your contacts from Gmail and Facebook, so if you want to use Synergy, you’re going to have to get used to that. This is in spite of Google and Facebook’s abilities to sort contacts into groups, but Synergy’s apparently not aware of that. Synergy apparently is only working right now on email addresses and won’t link together your AIM buddies with your contacts that come with AIM addresses. Despite the shortcomings of Synergy, they were still quite impressed with the Contacts application itself.

Engadget was quite impressed with the Calendar app and only wished for more color options. They also fell in love with the web browser, rating it on par or better than the much-lauded iPhone browser. They even liked the Pre’s music management and playback software, especially since it forgoes fancy things like coverflow in favor of an experience that just works.

Overall, Engadget was impressed with the Pre and webOS: “To put it simply, the Pre is a great phone, and we don't feel any hesitation saying that. Is it a perfect phone? Hell no. Does its OS need work? Definitely. But are any of the detracting factors here big enough to not recommend it? Absolutely not. There's no doubt that there's room for improvement in webOS and its devices, but there's also an astounding amount of things that Palm nails out of the gate.”


Gizmodo

Surely you’ve noticed a theme by now: decent hardware, spectacular software. Gizmodo falls right in line here, though their criticism of the hardware is a bit more harsh than previous reviewers. The go so far as to call the Pre cheap and flimsy, and even say that the opened edges of the slider are dangerously sharp. But they counter that with the Pre’s screen, which they say is the “best multi-touch screen we’ve seen yet.” Unlike others, Gizmodo was not satisfied with the keyboard, saying “It’s not good enough for a smartphone.” The combination of the small keys and the small auto-correct library were frustrating enough to warrant mention, and they deemed the plasticky/rubbery feel to not be a good thing.

Gizmodo and the Palm Pre

That said, once they got past the hardware there was almost universal praise for webOS, especially for the notification bar, universal search, and the multi-tasking cards. Like many, they liked the concept of Synergy, but the fact that it pulls down all of your Google and Facebook contacts meant that their contacts list was filled with people they didn’t necessarily know or have a need to contact. Multi-tasking worked well for Gizmodo, but they did note that running several apps will result in some sluggishness, even causing the music to skip if you do something too intensive. So users are going to have to learn to ‘police’ themselves and close things that they’re not using.

All things told, Gizmodo was much more impressed with webOS than the Palm Pre itself, which we suppose is a good thing - the software is going to live on in multiple devices while the Pre will eventually be discontinued. So as a whole packed, Gizmodo says “It’s good. It’s different. That’s something we can get behind. I can’t wait to see what Palm gets dealt in their next hand.”


Bonnie Cha, CNET

As one of the most popular tech websites out there for the unwashed masses, CNET’s opinions tend to carry some weight, if just for their market penetration. Which overall isn’t a bad thing, at least as far as the Pre is concerned, as despite “some hardware and performance issues and... a few missing features, [CNET] walked away impressed with the Palm webOS.” Bonnie Cha, CNET’s senior smartphone editor, was not impressed with the small keyboard or battery life (even though she admitted it was on par with the iPhone), but she did praise the display, putting it at or slightly above the level of the iPhone.

CNET and the Palm Pre With its gesture-controlled interface, Cha was not immediately as familiar with the Pre as people can be with the dead-simple iPhone. Even with the quick gesture tutorial on first boot and the gesture guide included in the box, it took time for her to learn the gestures one needs to get by with a Pre. Cha touched on the set-up and confirmed that third-party software will be needed to enable synchronization with any desktop program, but it can be done. Palm will also provide a Data Transfer Assistant for download from their website that will enable new Pre owners to transfer their data from Palm Desktop, iCal, and Exchange to their new phone, but it’s only a one-way street and is meant as just a set-up utility and nothing more.

Moving on from setup, CNET had nothing but praise for the email application, Synergy synchronization of contacts and calendars, and the integrated messaging app. Universal Search was also liked, but in a recurring theme here, it was disappointing that it only searched applications and contacts, and then gave the option to move on to the web - no email or calendar or tasks or memos searching here. While the multi-tasking cards were nice, Cha’s favorite part of the Pre was the notification bar and the fact that you can control other applications from it (such as Pandora) without having to open the application.

On web browsing, as expected, the notes were almost universally good. The WebKit-based browser was fast and rendered most pages faithfully and worked as expected with the Pre’s multi-touch screen. There were still a few omissions, notably to Cha the lack of an onscreen keyboard meant that landscape mode text entry was out of the question, which she found annoying. Also pointed out was the lack of Flash support, which is an odd thing to interpret as a problem considering that neither Android nor iPhone support Flash and the Flash Lite support in Windows Mobile is rudimentary at best.


Of course, PreCentral, Pogue, Mossberg, Engadget, Gizmodo, and CNET aren’t the only ones that got to review the Pre before launch. There are several more reviews at websites like Wired, Phonescoop, PC World, Laptop Magazine, Reuters, and USA Today.

The general consensus is that the Pre is going to be a hit for Palm, and that while the webOS software is excellent - especially for a 1.0 release - the hardware itself leaves some, but not a lot, to be desired. As always, you can check out PreCentral’s own comprehensive Palm Pre review for all that you need to know.

The Palm Pre will be released nationwide on Saturday, June 6th, exclusively on Sprint.

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