iCaved: Palm Pre edition (Part 2)


Palm Pre in hand.jpg

Aaaand, I’m back. Today’s Apple WWDC keynote (and subsequent iPhone-related announcements) sort of distracted me from finishing my Palm Pre post, so I split it into two parts for ease of reading.

The Palm Pre has been exhaustively reviewed and dissected on numerous blogs by now, so I won’t go into a thorough review, but rather spend the rest of this second part discussing some minutiae that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere as much. To me, it’s the small “gotchas” that make or break handsets like this, so hunker down and let’s get started.


Contacts & Calendars:
For the last few months, I’ve been using a Mac program called Spanning Sync (note: buying via this link gets you $5 off this great software!) to sync Address Book and iCal on my laptop with Google Contacts and Google Calendar. Apple’s MobileMe keeps them in sync with my iPhone 3G and between my MacBook Pro laptop and G4 editing computers quite well, but since I often use my iGoogle homepage to check news at-a-glance, I’ve found it came in handy to add the Google Calendar widget as well, and see my upcoming tasks and appointments in the same spot.

With the Palm Pre, I now have another use for my Googlified data. The Pre easily syncs to Google Contacts & Calendar out of the box, so I was ready to go with just a few clicks. (Side note: I had to make sure that Spanning Sync was set on Gmail Compatibility mode for Contacts, otherwise names & addresses showed up on the Pre with garbage text inserted, but once I figured that out, I was good to go.) Now any changes I made on the Pre would be carried to Google, then Spanning Sync would change them on my laptop, where they would be pushed over to MobileMe, and my iPhone. Pretty neat, and it “just works.”

Oh. My. God. I am in love with the e-mail setup in Palm Pre! While the iPhone made it easy to set up the most common accounts from Gmail, AOL or Yahoo!, it was a bit of trial & error for me to port over my Dreamhost-served IMAP accounts from my Tempevideo.com business domain, of which there are several (one for me, and a couple others for contact info and orders). At first I thought I was imagining it, but all I had to do was type in the e-mail address and password, and suddenly the Pre was grabbing my mailboxes and accompanying mail, just like magic!

I have no idea how they accomplished this trick, but all cell phones should be this easy. Seriously. (One of my three Tempevideo.com accounts did give me an IMAP error, so I entered the information manually, but it still choked. I quickly realized that it had a different password than I thought, and once I entered the correct one, it fell right in line like a good little e-mail solider.)

The Pre features a unified inbox, meaning you can see all of your new mail in one spot… a huge plus over the iPhone, where I spend a lot of time clicking in & out of my various inboxes to get my mail. Apple, fix this now! There’s no longer any excuse, especially when your OS X Mail program already does the same thing. You can also tag any other mailboxes that you’d like to see gathered together as well.

Best of all, the Pre is 100% IMAP-IDLE enabled. For those of you not hip to the terminology, IMAP-IDLE basically allows for e-mail to be delivered to your inbox as soon as it arrives. (It’s kind of like a poor man’s Exchange server, without the extra costs.) And guess what? Not only does it work, it works really well. My Dreamhost server for Tempevideo.com has it enabled by default, and all of my company e-mail is now pushed to the Pre, automagically. From what I can tell, Gmail, AOL and Yahoo! all have this function enabled as well. And wouldn’t you know it? Even my personal MobileMe account is pushing to the Pre, and unbelievably, it’s doing it faster than the iPhone! I keep getting Pre notifications well ahead of the same thing on the iPhone, so shame on you, Apple. You’ve got some work to do here.

And yes, the Pre sends new e-mail notifications whether the Mail application is open or not. (Swoons)

One word for you, Apple: MMS. The iPhone 3G won’t have this most basic of functions until later this summer (thanks for nothing, AT&T), despite its inclusion in OS 3.0, which was just announced for release on June 17. It’s gotten kind of embarrassing to have my 11-year-old niece send me picture messages from my sister’s bare-bones Alltell phone and have to repeatedly try to explain to her why I can’t view them or send her some back.

The Pre does it right out the gate, in a nice, clean interface that also features IM services. ‘Nuff said.

Most of the brouhaha with the Pre is the ability to keep multiple applications open at once, and switch between them. And it’s as cool as you’d think it is to flip between them, with a few caveats I’ll go over in the next section.

I’ve never seen a cell phone camera this adept at taking pictures in rapid succession! I haven’t timed it, but I swear that in decent light, I could take multiple pictures faster than I could with my standalone Canon point-and-shoot. It also opens the Camera application much faster than the iPhone, and of course you have the option to just leave it open all the time, too.

It was also super-easy to bring these photos into iPhoto, same procedure as with the iPhone. (For whatever reason, Palm has geotagging turned off by default, so you’ll want to make sure to turn that on so you can import photos complete with GPS data that iPhoto can read in its new Places feature.)

Sprint Navigation:
Me like it a lot! I’ve been waiting for 2 years for the iPhone to get turn-by-turn directions (although TomTom just announced today that it’s coming this summer for OS 3.0), and here Sprint just ports it right over to the Pre at launch. I’ve seen it demo’ed before on a Samsung Instinct, so if you’re already familiar with that phone, it works identically on the Pre. Me want!

Amazon MP3 makes a nice, cheaper alternative to iTunes (although buying tracks over 3G as well as Wi-Fi would be a nice touch, Sprint). Both news apps in the App Catalog (Associated Press and The New York Times) work faster and better than the equivalent iPhone versions (AP also allows news notifications, which is forthcoming for the iPhone with OS 3.0). They’ve already added some new apps this morning… nothing Earth-shattering, but if you’re a fan of Match.com, Wikipedia and Craigslist, you’ll be that much happier with your new Pre. The free Spaz application is a pretty decent Twitter client, too.

Amazingly, Palm had the balls to build in the ability to mimic an iPod, meaning you can use iTunes to sync DRM-free music and movies to your Palm Pre on either the Mac or Windows. Of course, Apple could easily disable this “feature” if they see fit, so enjoy it while it lasts.

This is my first experience with their service, but so far, two thumbs up. The pricing is attractive — I’m on a $69.99 per month plan with 450 voice minutes and everything else is unlimited (data, MMS, text).

I added my Pre’s new number to my Google Voice account and made a call to it, which simultaneously rings my home phone, iPhone and Pre. The Pre rang well before the iPhone on AT&T’s 3G service, especially in my kitchen, which is a notorious cell phone dead zone in our household. The EV-DO data service is fast… seems to be faster than AT&T 3G, but I haven’t timed them side-by-side just yet. (Side note: The just-announced iPhone 3GS will have double the 3G data speed, so in theory it will hold an advantage over the Pre.)


Well, it’s not all a rose garden, folks. For all of the cool stuff that the Pre gets right, it has many of the same failings as the original iPhone, in that it just feels unfinished in many areas. Once you’ve torn through all the great stuff it can do, you’re left wanting more.

As I mentioned at the end of Part 1, it’s a love-it or hate-it affair, and for me, I will never get used to it. With the lack of a software keyboard equivalent, the Pre is a fail for me in this department. The keys are too small and the phone is too narrow at the bottom to effectively hold it with one hand and type, as I’ve gotten accustomed to doing on the iPhone. I prefer the software keyboard in every way.

I analyzed that for a bit in my mind, and came to the conclusion that it’s probably because I’ve never had any prior cell phones with a hardware keyboard! Before the iPhone, I had a stream of typical phones with T9 keypad entry, so when the iPhone came along with its unobtrusive software keyboard, that was all I ever needed, and I appreciate it even more having used the Pre. If you have experience with hardware keyboards on your past phones (particularly previous Palm models), your mileage will vary.

For all the love I showered on the Mail application above, it does have a few shortcomings. If you open a message and delete it, you’re taken back to the list of messages rather than to the next message, which it should intuitively be doing in my opinion. A small complaint for an otherwise excellent app, but a frustrating one nonetheless.

GTalk and AOL are the only chat services available at launch. There’s apparently a bug with AOL which causes the battery to drain quicker, so I’ve mostly left it offline for now, especially since I’m not a heavy IM user these days anyway.

Great as it may be, I got numerous, disturbing error messages about closing some apps to free up memory, even with only a few apps open. And the battery life seems to be taking a serious hit from it as well, which makes you think that Apple was on the right path when they chose to avoid doing it with the iPhone. Time will tell.

Overall, the Web browser on the Pre is quite nice. I didn’t mention it above, but pages do seem to load a bit snappier than Safari on the iPhone, which is surprising since they’re both based on the same WebKit structure.

However, Palm’s browser leaves a lot to be desired. On the iPhone, if you load a page with Flash content, you can at least tell that there’s something there that’s not going to work. On the Pre, all you get it a big empty hole where content is supposed to be. Tuning into my household wireless webcam (which we use as our baby’s crib video monitor) gets no image at all, while it works like a charm on my iPhone.

All the pinching and zooming and double-tapping works pretty well, but I have had a lot of problems clicking on links… sometimes it takes several tries to hit it just right, even though the screen is doing its “water drop” effect to show that it accepted your touch. Simply put, I have to zoom in more in order to be able to click many links.

The big El Stinko on the Pre browser is the lack of a way to jump back to the top of a page a’la the iPhone. This is a serious omission in my book, as I keep wasting a ton of time scrolling back to the top on forums like PreCentral.net, just to get back to the main thread. This needs to be addressed, and quickly.

My biggest lament about the browser is I currently have no way to port my bookmarks to it. On the iPhone, this is a snap because MobileMe is constantly syncing them between my computers and phone, and with the addition of the Xmarks add-on, they even carry over to Firefox on my laptop and Apple TV, which has spoiled me to no end. Mark/Space is bringing their Missing Sync software to the Palm Pre soon, which promises to port bookmarks to the diminutive phone (among other things), so that will be worth checking out when it’s available.

As much as I raved its real-world use, and despite how great the pictures look on the Pre itself, once imported to iPhoto, there’s a noticeable absence of quality overall. And when browsing photos on the Pre, it takes interminably long time to flip between them — they appear first in low-rez and then sloooooowly load in at full resolution. Big fail, because even the original iPhone loads ’em quicker and I think overall the image quality in decent light may actually be better on the iPhone, which could be one of the reasons it takes so long to snap photos with that camera in the first place. (I’m hoping the new iPhone 3GS will cut that time down considerably.)

Oh, and while the Pre has a flash, it just sucks. Trust me, it makes everything it snaps look like a flesh-eating Romero ghoul… even my cute little son!

The biggest failing here is that there just aren’t very many apps at launch. Of course, the original iPhone only came with what was on the phone and we had to put up with phony-baloney web apps for almost a year after that, but let’s face it… Apple’s App Store has raised the bar, and Palm should rightfully get a smack on the wrist for not having more stuff available at launch. (As pointed out during today’s Apple WWDC keynote, there are currently 50,000+ iPhone apps, less than 5,000 for Android, just over 1,000 for Blackberry and Nokia, and only… 18 for the Palm Pre. Ouch.)

The huge omissions for me? Any kind of RSS reader, Facebook and maybe MySpace… especially considering they’re marketing this phone to the youth of today, who can’t live without them. The Web app does have bookmarks to the Facebook and MySpace mobile sites, but… not exactly the same, guys. Way to jump back to 2008!


The Palm Pre mostly gets it right out of the gate. Like most new phones of this kind, there are already long threads on websites from new users bashing the Pre for what it can’t do, particularly former Palm users who are used to having a more robust, expandable feature set on their old Treos running the aging PalmOS. But Palm has made a clean break from the past, a necessary evil if they plan to embrace a new breed of user, and to move their brand into the 21st century in style.

So will I be keeping my Pre? No, mostly because I’m much more comfortable with even the current iPhone 3G and 2.2.1 software (and anxiously awaiting the new, smoother experience that will surely come with OS 3.0 next week). But thanks to Sprint having a generous 30-day return policy, I wasn’t afraid to dip my toes in the water and be one of the first to experience a completely new platform on a completely new handset. On launch day, the Palm Pre is already a worthy opponent for Apple, RIM, Nokia and Google, and it easily bests most of the Windows Mobile-based phones already. Competition is good for everyone, and I look forward to seeing what else Palm will do with their new WebOS and the additional handsets that are sure to blossom from it.

If you’re looking to try something new, the Palm Pre may just be the thing… the phone itself feels better built than the Blackberry Storm or T-Mobile G1 (both of which I also salivated over, until I got to hold them in my hand), and the Pre software is already light-years better than the Samsung Instinct. So if you’re not sold on the iPhone, here’s a new challenger to its throne… assuming you can find one in stock in the coming weeks! Happy hunting!



This entry was posted on Monday, June 8th, 2009 at 6:18 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.

2 Responses to “iCaved: Palm Pre edition (Part 2)”

  1. richwords Says:

    Thanks for the best review/comparison I’ve seen yet. Very practical and not fanboy frenetic. My aging Treo 650 is begging for retirement but, due to a mistake by AT&T on our family plan upgrades, I’m not eligible for the entire discount for another 6 months (which will be about 3 1/2 years).

    Appreciated the info on Xmarks–will have to look into that. Can it keep Firefox & Safari bookmarks synced on each computer? I have two Macs, each with both browsers. Safari syncs through MobileMe, but I’d love it if the Firefox bookmarks matched Safari.

    Also, good info on the camera flash.

  2. J.R. Bookwalter Says:

    My pleasure, glad it was helpful. It’s a good phone, just not a GREAT phone.

    Xmarks is awesome and highly recommended… they have versions for Firefox, IE and Safari, so I use it to keep my bookmarks synced between Firefox on my Macs and Windows, and then MobileMe takes care of the Mac to iPhone stuff. It all works great!