iCaved: Palm Pre edition (Part 1)

 

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Unable to contain the lust I described in such detail back on May 19, I lined up this past Saturday with thousands (?!) of others to get a taste of the new Palm Pre (available exclusively from Sprint). For those who haven’t been paying attention, the Pre is basically a make-or-break handset for Palm (and to a lesser degree, Sprint, who has been bleeding customers for quite some time).

So, now that I’ve had my hands on a Pre for 48 hours, does it walk on water or can it barely swim? That depends on your expectations, and ultimately, your patience as a user.

This post was getting a little winded, so I’ve split it up into two pieces. First, my adventure of actually acquiring the handset.

PLANNING MY ASSAULT

A week before the launch, I hit three local Sprint stores in my area as well as a Best Buy sandwiched between them, in an effort to feel out what their inventory levels might be and best gauge an effective strategy for nabbing the Pre on opening day. Sprint stores opened two hours earlier on launch day (8 am), whereas Best Buy would open for business as usual at 10 am.

Local Sprint Store #1 seemed like my best shot… on the day I went in, the store was empty but the staff was eager and friendly, even if they didn’t have any useful information I didn’t already know. The Best Buy across the parking lot had a very eager Sprint rep on hand who talked up the Pre like it was the second coming (no joke, I had to pry myself away from the conversation after 10 minutes or so!), but they expected pitifully low inventory levels, so I dismissed that as a last-chance possibility. Local Sprint Store #2 had a lot of customers, but the staff who wasn’t busy must have thought I was wearing a cloak of invisibility, because I stood there being ignored for a good 5 minutes at least. When I finally did get someone’s attention, the guy looked bored and rattled off the short list of details and sent me on my way. So, feeling like I got blown off there, I kind of scratched that store off my “go-to” list, but I’d check back on launch day anyway, just to be safe.

I figured my best bet was in the Westfield Belden Village Mall across the street. They had Local Sprint Store #3, a small kiosk that I’ve happened by many times during shopping excursions with the wife, and struck up some friendly banter with one of the salespeople there when my wife would gravitate over to the Kay Jewelers across the aisle (I learned long ago it’s better not to step foot in there or it will cost me dearly!). Anyway, this sales rep said yes, they were getting the Pre, and to show up when he comes for work at 9:30 am on launch day and he’ll set me up, instant rebate and all (the Pre is $199, but only after a $100 mail-in rebate, which non-corporate Sprint stores and Best Buy do as an instant rebate).

LAUNCH DAY

OK, so I woke at 6:50 am on June 6 and hit a great Pre website called PreCentral.net, reading about everyone else’s launch day experiences as I shaved. Seemed like for the most part, there weren’t a lot of people lining up except for some of the major cities, so I didn’t expect any crazy iPhone-style lines. (I had already told myself, if I had to wait 5 or 6 hours again, I would pass!) I headed out the door by 7:45 am.

My strategy was, go to Local Sprint Store #1 first and see if there was a line. At 7:55 am, surprisingly there was no line, although a couple of folks pulled into the parking lot right after me who looked like prospective Pre buyers. Figuring I could safely return after satisfying my morbid curiosity elsewhere, I ventured on.

The Best Buy next door had no one waiting. Local Sprint Store #2 had a line of maybe 10 people outside right at 8 am. I hit the nearby Chick-Fil-A for breakfast, figuring I had plenty of time.

Side note: I’ve been wanting to try Chick-Fil-A’s breakfast for a long time, as most everyone who knows me know that I’m obsessed with Chick-Fil-A (or as I often refer to it, “The Temple”). But the timing has never been convenient. So, I finally get to try it, and… it’s not so good. Maybe it’s just me, but chicken for breakfast, it’s just not natural. Apparently, I’m not alone in this thinking, since I was the only customer in the store for most of my breakfast! And my God, there’s an aftertaste in my mouth that I can still taste after 24 hours and repeated brushings. I always thought McDonald’s was the worst offender for breakfast aftertaste, but now I know better. So, mental note: No more Chick-Fil-A for breakfast, no matter how tempting it might sound.

Following breakfast, I hit the mall with plenty of time to spare. None of the stores were open, but the place was overrun with senior citizens getting their morning exercise by mall-walking. I joined them for a bit, then sat and hit PreCentral.net and a few other sites via iPhone so see how everyone else’s Pre mania was unfolding. By 9 am, I was already weary of waiting, so I decided to change strategy and just head back to Local Sprint Store #1 and buy the stupid thing, so I could get on with the rest of my day.

As I got out of the car, a guy coming out of the store who apparently could tell what I was there for proclaimed they were “All sold out!”, but that I could get on a waiting list for next Wednesday. Bzzzz… fail! I would find out later they only had 24 phones in stock, although I was kind of shocked to hear that they sold them all in an hour flat when there was no line at 8 am. Lesson learned.

Still no line at Best Buy, so I soldiered back to Local Sprint Store #2, where a few more people were lined up outside. Now I’m starting to sweat it a bit, so I called them from the parking lot. “Yeah, we still have a few left,” the salesperson tells me, so at least that’s still an option (for now). OK, back to the mall to see if my “inside man” there shows up as scheduled at 9:30 am.

9:30 am, nobody there. 9:35 comes & goes. At 9:40, with no Sprint rep in sight, I pull an evac on that mission and head back to Best Buy, which still has no one lined up out front. However, there are a couple of guys sitting in their cars who look likely to want a Pre.

Earlier in the week, a Best Buy employee had leaked a Pre inventory report across the Internet. Based on that report, I knew this particular store had 2 in stock right now, another 2 on the way and 1 more on order. So, if I got out of my car right now and walked to the door at 15 minutes prior to opening, I’d have my Pre, rebate-free, no more muss, no more fuss. This seemed like my safest bet, especially if I wanted to avoid throwing my money at Local Sprint Store #2, who had treated me kind of rudely the week before. (Turns out they had 100 or more phones on hand, so they were ultimately the best bet to get one anyway.)

So, I saunter up to the door and stake my claim to first in line. (I think I even recall muttering the classic Clark Griswold line from NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION: “First ones here… first ones here!”) Apparently that made the two guys waiting in their cars nervous, because they high-tailed it over one right after the other, too. We struck up some casual banter about the Pre and all three of us felt pretty confident that we’d be getting one.

By the time the doors opened at 10 am, there were five or six of us in line. We made a beeline for the Mobile section, where we were immediately greeted by the same Sprint rep who had talked my ear off the week prior, who informed us they only had two phones on hand. Good news: I was getting one first. Bad news for them: They weren’t.

Long story short, over the next 30 mins. or so, I was activated and all Pre’ed up, ready to embark on my mission to see if Palm would boom or bust. I felt bad for the second guy, because despite his accomplishment of nabbing the second Pre, Sprint was telling him he wasn’t eligible for an upgrade, even though he was sure that he was. The poor guy was still on the phone with them trying to hash it out when I left!

And as a side note, this was my first experience getting a phone at Best Buy’s Mobile department. Somehow I had the impression that it would be a cheesy experience fraught with pitfalls and bad sales tactics, but it was anything but… it was quite pleasant, with no pressure to buy warranties or accessories. So, hats off to those guys in North Canton, Ohio for a job well done.

Now most people would probably have been discouraged with all of this hunting & seeking, so it bears noting that for me, this was half the fun in getting my hands on the Pre. Call me sick like that…

PRE IN MY PALM, AT LAST

So, first impressions: Wow, this thing is small! I mean, both of my two generations of iPhones are small, but the Pre is really, really small… thicker than the iPhone due to the slide-out keyboard, but overall smaller. I kept reading those comments in early reviews and sneak peeks, but until you hold it in your hand, you can’t realize how true it is. Personally, I think it’s too small… at age 42, the vision is already straining to see small type on the 30″ monitor I use on my main computer, but the iPhone has always been a mostly-comfortable experience. The Pre is even smaller yet, and I’d have to say it’s too small for my tastes right out of the gate.

Of course, my first call from the parking lot had to be to my wife, who was waiting patiently at home with the baby to see what all the fuss was about. Sprint has a system in place where the first call actually gets patched to them so they can walk you through a few things and make sure you’re good to go, which was a nice touch. So, my second call was to the wife, and then I headed home.

Many of the early looks at the Pre referred to it feeling “plasticky” or cheap in the hand, but I actually didn’t feel that was the case at all. The keyboard slides down easily, as long as you do it the way Palm intends you to (pushing your thumb on the touchscreen and using your fingers to slide it down). The wife was less enthusiastic about the feel of the Pre than I was, she sort of dismissed it almost immediately, including the keyboard, which I agree will be the make-or-break feature for this phone. You’ll either love it or hate it, I don’t think there will be much in-between.

The Pre takes a loooong time to start up… haven’t done a side-by-side comparison, but it’s definitely longer than the iPhone 3G for sure. During this time, you’re look at a white Palm logo on a black background, although it begins to pulsate/glow during startup, presumably to hypnotize you into thinking it’s taking less time to get started than it really is.

And what about the rest of the phone? Head back to the main page and look for Part 2 in this epic saga…

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This entry was posted on Monday, June 8th, 2009 at 4:12 pm and is filed under Apple Talk, Gadgets, Reviews, Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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