Wading into the smartphone world with a Palm Pre

I severed my last land line about a decade ago, so I probably count as a reasonably early cell-phone adopter. Was I driven by a desire to carry my telephone everywhere? No. I was a student stuck moving between university residences and summer basement suites a couple of times a year, and having my phone line transferred each time was getting to be a pain.

Student life also prompted me to become a heavy PDA user. A Palm-based Handspring Visor rarely left my side, providing an invaluable note-taking platform for class, the ability to organize easily my increasingly busy schedule, and hours distraction thanks to Tetris. Nothing impresses the ladies like scrawling their name and phone number in graffiti. Uh, yeah.

Given this history, you might be surprised to learn that I’ve only recently dipped into smartphone territory. The truth is I’ve never really used my phone much. Since my days are spent in front of a nicely equipped desktop PC or within arm’s reach of an ultraportable notebook, it’s been easy to pass on the growing trend. Besides, I’m cheap. Years of long cellular contracts have me accustomed to getting my phones for free, and I’ve never had to shell out extra for a data plan.

Unfortunately, the more time I spend with my desktop and notebook, the more dependent I become on email, the web, and, well, Google. I can live without these conveniences at my beck and call, but having them at my fingertips sure makes life a lot easier. So I resigned myself to a smartphone upgrade the next time my contract came due, in part because I was beginning to feel a half-hearted need for such a device, but also because I was curious to see what I’d actually do with one.

Fate intervened a few weeks ago when my LG Flip Shine finally noticed that it was long out of warranty. The phone bit worked just fine, but both screens were dead, making texting and screening calls rather difficult. At long last, it was time for a smartphone. But which one?

The iPhone 4 isn’t available up here yet, and while it’s arguably the best smartphone around, I’m too principled—or stubborn—to hand my money over to a company whose behavior and attitude I largely abhor. I checked out a few BlackBerry handsets, but nothing really caught my eye. Ditto for the incredibly weak selection of Android phones available through Canadian carriers. We seem to get all the leftover scraps from the US market, and there’s enough demand south of the border to delay the arrival of fresh droids up north.

New models were coming, I was told, but the not-so-helpful carrier reps didn’t know when. Since I didn’t have the option of waiting, I browsed further and found myself facing a Palm Pre. Thanks to a special promotion, the Pre was free on a three-year contract and came with a data plan that was $15/month cheaper than equivalent smartphone plans. Sold.

Well, my mind wasn’t made up quite that quickly. Only after a little online research and a harrowing trip through my tweener-infested local mall to test drive various other devices did I end up with the Palm in my grasp.

I’ve only had the Pre for a couple of weeks now, and while it hasn’t changed my life, I have to admit that it’s been a positive addition overall. Well, except for the glossy plastic casing, which is just wrong for a device that’s meant to be handled constantly. Nothing makes a piece of high technology look cheap like a greasy thumbprint, and I yearn for the brushed aluminum finish of my old LG. I also miss how the Shine disappeared in my pocket. The Pre is hardly huge, but it’s noticeably bigger than my old flip phone. So is every other smartphone.

Two weeks in, I’m still not used to the extra bulk in my pocket. I do prefer the Pre’s compact dimensions to slimmer designs with larger footprints, though.

You give up some screen size to the latest smartphones with the Pre, whose 320×480 pixels are spread across 3.1 inches. That’s been plenty of real estate for my needs thus far, and screen’s image quality is pretty good. The colors are vibrant and fonts are rendered smoothly.

I had initially suspected the slide-out keyboard would be entirely too small to be useful, but it works surprisingly well with my fat, stubby thumbs. There’s just enough curvature to the keys and separation between them to allow this thumb-typing noob to bang out text messages quickly. I’ve also been able to craft long, perfectly punctuated emails with reasonable speed, little effort, and almost zero frustration. Glossy key caps, though. Ugh.

The Pre’s combination of a decent hardware keyboard and a multi-touch-infused display strikes a nice balance, I think. I’ve been even more impressed with the device’s webOS operating system, whose interface feels familiar, intuitive, and mostly snappy. The UI was painfully choppy out of the box, but that was before I installed the latest 1.4.5 version of webOS. With the new release, the interface is nice and responsive as long as I stay away from heavy multitasking, which I’ve only flirted with out of curiosity rather than actual need. Multitasking support is certainly nice to have. However, I suspect that few folks really need to run a lot of applications at once on a device of this nature.

My Pre is the standard model. Its 8GB of storage capacity will probably be sufficient, but the absence of a microSD card slot is disappointing. If my old flip phone had one, why doesn’t my supposedly more advanced smartphone? Speaking of my old flip phone, it required charging a lot less frequently than the Pre, which I have to plug in every few days. That’s reasonable for a this sort of device, I guess, but it’s been a definite adjustment from the week or so that my old phone would last between charges.

If my day-to-day life called for a smartphone more often, I’d probably have to charge the Pre daily. I’m still using it more than I’d anticipated, though. The keyboard has proved effective for hammering out notes wherever inspiration strikes, be it out walking the dog, waiting in line at the little Thai place down the street, or while making my regularly scheduled morning deposit. I have to admit that I’ve done some web surfing from the throne, as well. Not that much from elsewhere in the house, but more at the pub across the street, which conveniently has free Wi-Fi. The Pre’s built-in Wi-Fi also came in handy on a recent trip south to ride the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic. Not wanting to be raped by roaming data charges, I was able to keep tabs on Tour de France results at various unsecured hotspots along the route.

Browsing standard websites on a 3" display is just as unsatisfying as one might expect, but it works in a pinch. Ha! The Pre’s Gmail integration is pretty good, too, and I’ve already found myself responding more quickly to personal emails during brief moments of downtime when I’m out and about. By far the biggest surprise has been the Pre’s ability to get me out of bed faster than my previous flip phone. The few seconds that it takes to input my password and unlock the phone seems to shake free a couple of extra cobwebs, and I’m actually hitting snooze less often as a result.

I’m sure I’ll be using the Pre more in the coming weeks and months. Apps will be downloaded. Games will be played. Google Maps will save me the embarrassment of asking for directions. And all for much less than I thought it would cost, thanks to a lucky discount. I suspect the Pre was the subject of such an aggressive promotion due to poor sales. iPhones and BlackBerries are everywhere in Vancouver, and I can’t recall ever actually seeing a Pre out in the wild. That’s a shame, because as far as smartphones go, the Pre seems to be a pretty good one.

Comments closed
    • cegras
    • 9 years ago

    Apparently you can overclock your Palm to the original 800 Mhz.

    I’m very interested in picking up this phone as well, my contract expires soon and I feel this is a more complete product than the open wilderness that is Android.

      • dpaus
      • 9 years ago

      If you’re brave enough, you can overclock it to 1.2 GHz :-O

    • Samlind
    • 9 years ago

    No Multitasking?!!

    How am I supposed to get to work at 80mph in the morning while listening to the TR podcast and using a gps based app to alert me when I exceed the speed at which the local patrol deems me the jackpot and pulls me over to collect? And oh yea, checking my email (not reading just seeing if the boss sent anything)…..

    When you get done with the Pre, Android is da bomb btw…. go buy it unlocked outright (Nexus One was $500) and then skip all the contract stuff, carrier crapware, restrictions, etc.

      • ChronoReverse
      • 9 years ago

      I have a n1 but I still know the Pre has multi-tasking and it’s done better than on Android overall.

        • Welch
        • 9 years ago

        I second the Android bit….. I was told that you guys (Candians) had that one carrier that has good android phones. It was actually a popular thing for Americans to get the phone from them and then use it on ATT so that it wasn’t locked. I’ve got the lowest end Android, the Backflip, and I love the OS.

    • Gerbil Jedidiah
    • 9 years ago

    EVO 4G FTW!!!

    GPS that takes voice directions
    Wireless connectivity
    HUGE screen
    All the Google Android features
    Camera/Camcorder/FronFacing Camera
    4G Network

    lots of other stuff to I have forgotten. Had mine for a month now and very much enjoying how powerful it is. Today I streamed Pandora for two hours while riding my bike. No breaks in the music feed.

    • tcunning1
    • 9 years ago

    I’ve been a Palm user since the Palm III, and my current phone is a Centro, but it will be my last Palm product. The build quality of their devices has never been particularly good, but I’ve loved their functionality. This is my second Centro (replaced under warranty) and it’s starting to flake out too. The fact that they have just been purchased by the worst tech company on earth for service and support seals the deal for me, sadly. (posted from my !@#$$% HP laptop)

      • A_Pickle
      • 9 years ago

      Yeah. Palm made good stuff, but… now that they’re under HP’s wing, I’m… probably not going to look at them for my future tech purchases.

        • jackaroon
        • 9 years ago

        Don’t go 64 bit, either, or you’ll only be able to sync over bluetooth at something like 9600 baud.

          • A_Pickle
          • 9 years ago

          Tell me about it.

          </thoughtiwasreallyhelpingoutmymombygoing64-bit>

    • no51
    • 9 years ago

    You should get an extended battery. That 1150mAh battery is pretty anemic IME. there’s a 1350/1400mAh battery doesn’t require a new backplate, but if you don’t care about that, there’s larger ones (~2800mAh) that need a new backplate.

    • LaChupacabra
    • 9 years ago

    Good choice in the Pre! I’ve been using mine for over a year now with little complaint. If you get the touchstone charger it comes with a new back that is not glossy. You can get it for 50 dollars (US) online pretty easily.

    • WillBach
    • 9 years ago

    Geoff, how’s the GPS? I spoke to an engineer last week (whose team I hope to join soon) who said that the GPS on the Pre he assessed:
    1) was constantly off by about a block, whereas the other GPS devices he tested in that area were on the money.
    2) brought the battery life of the Pre down to about 3 hours when it was on and the Pre was displaying a map.

      • Dissonance
      • 9 years ago

      Can’t say much about the battery life as I haven’t used any GPS apps extensively yet. But Google Maps is only about 30 feet off pegging the phone’s location in the Benchmarking Sweatshop.

        • WillBach
        • 9 years ago

        Thanks, Geoff.

    • glynor
    • 9 years ago

    I hope your Pre doesn’t die on you multiple times during that three year contract. But, if my personal experience serves as any guide… You won’t still be using that same handset in a year, much less three.

    Best of luck, though. WebOS is awesome. It is the only mobile OS out there right now that even comes close to iOS 4 in my opinion (better in some ways, worse in others). It is really too bad that Palm wasn’t able to put together better hardware to match their beautifully designed OS. But, I guess that’s what happens when you’re circling the drain.

      • indeego
      • 9 years ago

      “even comes close to iOS 4 in my opinion”
      Not understanding the comparison. They feed different markets. By what measure? The only measure I see iOS4 beats all is a platform providing the most applications on a mobile platform. WOuld you ever claim WIndows is therefore the best OS because of the sheer numebr of applications that can run on it? No, that is a singular tenet.

      iOS4 is probably the most restrictive OS ever produced, but has the most applications on the mobile side. It’s also the least adaptable. You can’t replicate some areas of the OS with apps. You can’t have Porn apps, something a vast majority of the male U.S. population views, at least upon occasion, and estimates that up to 33% of the female population does. Some apps are rejected for little to no reason. The OS is very slow on older hardware (which would be fine except Apple pretty much forces you to upgrade, as they release security updates with every new version.)

      IOS4 + iPhone4 is a great “package,” but I’d argue it is not the best mobile OS, especially for power usersg{<.<}g

        • glynor
        • 9 years ago

        It is a personal choice, which is why I said “in my opinion”. Many of the arbitrary things you listed don’t matter at all to me, and some things that might matter a lot to me, probably don’t matter at all to you.

        Generally, I find iOS 4 to be the most useful and polished user experience available in a mobile OS, with WebOS being a close second, and Android coming in third. I also like the color blue better than the color red.

        • MadManOriginal
        • 9 years ago

        huhuh, you said ‘package’

        • Da_Boss
        • 9 years ago

        To be honest, I’ve never understood how people can justify the ‘android is open to it’s better’ argument. Granted, you can pretty much load up anything Custom OS on android, but relatively speaking, apple’s phones are much better supported. There’s new updates on a fairly regular basis, with big features every year. Try getting the latest android OS on any android phone in a timely manner. It’s not like the carriers are eager to support your phone after you’ve bought it.

        Also, saying that ios 4 is more restrictive because it doesn’t allow porn apps is silly. Want porn? There’s a million sites for that. Despite what you think about their approval process, there are apps for everything, and for the most part they’re very high quality.

        I’m no fanboy, but there’s nobody doing the mobile os better than apple right now. Most of android’s supposed advantages simply cover up it’s weaknesses.

          • Darkmage
          • 9 years ago

          Try getting your iPhone’s latest updates over the air.

          My experience with iOS has been that every iteration makes my hardware slower and slower. If I slavishly bought a new device every year then I might be happier with it.

          That said, Apple has a lot of advantages in owning both the hardware and software. If what you want is Apple’s vision of a device, then you’re golden.

          If you are like me and hate iTunes with a passion, then Android it is.

            • Deli
            • 9 years ago

            I’m with ya on this. Android for me.

            • glynor
            • 9 years ago

            I don’t agree on the over the air updates. I think the reliability of the way Apple pushes out a full system image has some benefits (and all you have to do is watch the way Android releases go out over the air to see that there are issues there). That said…

            I gotta agree with you completely on the iTunes thing. What a huge POS that application is… But, I don’t use it for anything but syncing my phone. It does not manage my media in any way whatsoever. The only thing that ends up in iTunes at all is stuff I want synced to my phone (all the options in iTunes are set to “sync all”). All of that content is temporary. Luckily, J River MC is easy to configure to sync to a folder on your drive like it is a handheld, and then getting that stuff into iTunes is a simple matter of running a script.

    • dpaus
    • 9 years ago

    I agree that the lack of a microSD slot – or any memory expansion capability – is disappointing,but I think Palm looked at the millions of iPhone users who don’t seem to notice its absence (or never conceived of its presence, more likely) and figured they could get away with it. Thankfully they didn’t use the same reasoning on the battery, which is happily user replaceable (and BTW, Geoff, spring for the Touchstone inductive charger – it’s awesome!)

    I came /[

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 9 years ago

    Well, at least you didn’t get a droid eris. I’m relieved.

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 9 years ago

    3 year contract? That’s ridiculous.

      • Darkmage
      • 9 years ago

      That’s Canada.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 9 years ago

      They need the additional guaranteed revenue to cover all the warranty claims from damage caused by their floppy Canadian heads.

        • ironoutsider
        • 9 years ago

        +1 Made my day.

        • axeman
        • 9 years ago

        Wouldn’t thick American skulls tend to cause more damage?

          • ucisilentbob
          • 9 years ago

          Somebody doesn’t watch southpark.

          Congrats on the new phone! If you like then that’s all you need. I’m sure plenty of people are going to give me some crap for liking my Blackberry but it does what I want without leaving me wanting more.

          I admit i’m curious about the iPhone 4 but i dont see myself ever owning one because if my pension for hardware keyboards.

      • dpaus
      • 9 years ago

      You can buy it without contract for $299

      • dashbarron
      • 9 years ago

      We have two, three year contracts here in Michigan; it seems rather standard. Most people go for these long contracts because they’ll be in the area for a long time, and they want the free phone. PDAs and such are used by some, but most just want a phone that works.

    • scpulp
    • 9 years ago

    I was curious about the Palm Pre when I got my BlackBerry, but the sharp bottom lip of the phone really bothered me. Truth be told I just didn’t (and still don’t) know enough about smartphones to really make an informed decision either way; I just wanted something that could check e-mail and browse the internet as needed, and my Curve 8330 does that.

    I’m really happy to see you post about voting with your wallet in not buying an iPhone. Does the product really matter when you’re lining the coffers of a company like that? If it’s a rock and a hard place (like American ISPs or going Windows or Mac), that’s one thing, but when you have a choice to vote with your wallet there’s just no good excuse not to.

    • kalibar
    • 9 years ago

    Geoff, this post reads like something I’d hear from somebody’s middle-aged parents who don’t know anything about cellphones or technology in general. Is this a prank post?

    The Pre is garbage. It feels cheap in the hand, it’s loaded with circa-2008 specs, and you know as well as anyone else does that Palm is an HP property now and the platform viability of webOS on current hardware is murky at best and the long-term viability of the Pre itself is downright tragic.

    Why did you complain about Canada’s allegedly poor selection of Android phones and then turn around and buy the most useless smartphone you could possibly find? Even the outgoing generation of Android phones sold directly by your carriers stomp the Pre. The HTC Hero on Telus or even the HTC Magic on Rogers would have both been dramatically better choices than the Pre. The Moto Milestone on Telus flat-out dominates the Pre.

    Beyond that, you guys actually have a *[

      • urbain
      • 9 years ago

      The Pre is in no way a bad phone,but of course its not the fastest in the market,I understand your point of Pre being slow and small compared to the newly launched phones,but what it offers in my opinion is still pretty awesome compared to what Android phones offer with the horrible Android OS.WebOS is arguably the best multitasking and human friendly OS thats ever been seen on a smartphone,its size is ideal for most people students or craftsmen.
      On another note, i completely agree with Geoff about Canadaian carriers having an unimpressive and old collection of smartphones with very uncompetitive and unjustified pricings.I mean why in hell don’t we have pre plus in canada?why does the pre which is almost two years old now sell for 300$ unlocked “without contract” at Bell.ca?

      • ChronoReverse
      • 9 years ago

      Yeah, I was looking into the Pre myself but after hearing about the fairly flimsy construction I eventually ventured into the Android camp and purchased a Nexus One. The AT&T version works with Rogers, Telus and Co. while the T-Mobile one works with Wind.

      • FireGryphon
      • 9 years ago

      If the Pre does everything he wants for a price he’s willing to spend, how is it a bad choice?

      • adisor19
      • 9 years ago

      Umm, the Pre actually uses a Cortex-A8 SoC so it’s actually at least 50% faster than the latest and greatest Android phone from Bell : The HTC Legend.

      Yes, the device is still plastic and prone to breaking all the time, but it’s actually quite fast and runs the second most decent consumer smart phone os out there after the iPhone OS.

      Adi

        • funko
        • 9 years ago

        i think u missed out on the AT&T Samsung Captivate.

      • jackaroon
      • 9 years ago

      That’s exactly how I *feel,* being a long-time PDA user trying to figure out what my next phone will be — the treo/centro line has hit a dead end, with basically nothing in common with the webos phones. I don’t want my data in some cloud, and I don’t want a data plan, but I like having more apps than a basic phone. What was a smartphone in 2006 makes a pretty stupid phone in 2010, er, even 2008.

    • A_Pickle
    • 9 years ago

    I would’ve gone with a Palm Pre if telecommunications companies weren’t greedy, nickel-and-diming rags of dirt. Unfortunately, my plan “isn’t compatible” with the fancy phones… and so the best I could get was the Palm Treo Pro.

    …still an awesome phone, though.

      • kalibar
      • 9 years ago

      Haha, I know that sound. Sorry to hear about your Sprint SERO plan, friend. I canned mine as soon as Sprint started disabling new phones. The secret to SERO-like plan pricing is rolling a 5-line family plan. I rounded up four buddies, we got the best employee discount we could find, and we fired up an AT&T plan. I was paying $36.16/month for unlimited SMS and data and 280 minutes, but I got pretty disgusted when AT&T mysteriously picked up a list of Nexus One IMEIs (the only time this has even happened for an unlocked phone) and started designating them for expensive data requirements.

      A year later, I’m back on Sprint. We pay $28.49 apiece on our five-line Sprint plan for unlimited data/SMS and 300 minutes with free calling to cellphones. The crappy part is that it costs $38.49 for an Evo or an Epic (4G tax, lawl), and it’s still the best deal in American wireless.

        • Voldenuit
        • 9 years ago

        Yeah, all american smartphone plans are sucky, but Sprint’s is slightly less sucky than them :(.

        Contemplating a HTC Evo 4G on a family plan for my girlfriend and I, but the Evo is a bit big for me (I’d love to see something like the Xperia X10 Mini with Android 2.x). The Droid X looks tempting, but Verizon’s plans… just plain suck.

        Anyone else know any good options?

          • sweatshopking
          • 9 years ago

          and you’re still cheaper than canada. Bastards.

        • A_Pickle
        • 9 years ago

        It’s actually much worse.

        My dad is rather set in his ways, and has a 6-line family plan from the era of dinosaurs. It’s a Sprint Fair and Flexible 2200 minute plan — and no nice, “modern” phones can get paired to work with that plan. This frustrates me because, obviously, my phone is getting data, voice, and text… but apparently nice, “modern” smartphones on my plan just… just… wouldn’t work.

        It’s retarded, but I still love my Treo Pro.

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