I hope you all had a good Father's Day weekend. Made my way over to the Sprint store this weekend to check out a Palm Pre in person for the first time. Was a bit surreal because I'm a former Sprint customer and current iPhone owner who had to wait for his Sprint contract to expire before making the leap. I remember going into the Sprint store prior to the switch and seeing their so-called iPhone competitors on display, which were pathetic. I honestly didn't think Sprint would have anything to compare for many years to come.

The Pre, though, is a reasonably good iPhone knock-off with some nice improvements on various fronts. In my short session with it, I was able to appreciate its relatively compact dimensions (not as long and wide as an iPhone, but a bit thicker), its slide-out Blackberry-style thumb keyboard, and a number of user interface improvements.

The biggest thing, for me, about any phone of this type is its ability to browse the web, and the Pre delivers on that at least as well as the iPhone, with exact copies of the iPhone's scrolling, tap to zoom, multitouch "pinch" zoom, and auto-rotation features. Page rendering is clean, and everything feels markedly quicker than my iPhone 3G does, even when it's on Wi-Fi—even though my 3G does feel more responsive after the 3.0 update.

The tile-based interface for switching between multiple applications is plainly ripped from the similar one for managing multiple pages in Safari on the iPhone, but the difference here, of course, is that you're really multitasking. That makes the Pre feel even more like the "little computer" that it is than the iPhone does. Apple needs to go there, but it doesn't seem to be in any hurry. Another interface feature I like on the Pre is the on-screen "bubble" indicator showing where your finger has registered a touch. That's always felt like it's missing on the iPhone, and it's a nice usability improvement.

At the end of the day, the Pre doesn't (yet?) have the iPhone's app library and is, let's face it, very much a knock-off of the ground-breaking interface conventions Apple pioneered. (Given the hype for the Pre, I had kind of expected a few more original touches.) And personally, the biggest upgrade I made in going to the iPhone was trading Sprint's deteriorating service for the AT&T network. But if you're stuck on Sprint by contract or otherwise can't do the iPhone thing, there are much worse fates than going with a Pre—such as going with any other attempted iPhone clone.

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