Simply put, the Palm Pre is the most hyped phone since the original iPhone. It's coming out in two weeks, on June 6. Here's everything we know—we'll update this as more info comes in.
Should I get the Pre over the iPhone? WIll it make a good replacement for my old Phone?
It depends. I'm glad you're educating yourself by reading this FAQ, but read our Palm Pre review full of videos, fresh photos and a complete run down of how this phone stacks up.
PALM PRE LAUNCH
When and where can I buy It?
June 6, and you can buy it at Sprint Stores, Best Buy or Radio Shack. Sprint Premier customers—if you don't know what that is, you're not one of 'em—will be able to hit up a special launch party in select cities on June 5.
How much is it gonna cost me, really?
Sprint's touting $199. That's with a two-year agreement and $100 mail-in rebate (which we think is pretty irritating). However, if you buy it at Best Buy or Radio Shack, the rebate is instant, so it'll be $199 out the gate at either of those fine establishments. If you don't want to deal with an icky contract, most signs point to $549, though Sprint hasn't confirmed that.
It will require an Everything Data or Business Essentials With Messaging and Data plan, both of which start at $70. If you're special and have a Sprint's Everything Plus referral plan, which starts at $60, that'll work too.
Will I have to camp outside?
Good question! Mostly 'cause we're not exactly sure, for a couple of reasons.
For one, we don't know how many are gonna be available at launch. Sprint's CEO talking up just how badly they wont' be able to meet demand doesn't make us feel any better, even if he's just trying to add to the hype. And there were some scary numbers floating around, like 30-40,000 total, with 3-4,000 allocated to Best Buy. The latest we've heard on the Best Buy front is that "large box Best Buy stores will only have at most about 15-20 and smaller stores at best 7-10" units.
We've got fairly solid info Radio Shack is getting 11,000 units, so 30,000 total seems a bit low, since it seems like Best Buy would get at least as many as Radio Shack—if not more—and Sprint's definitely going to keep the bulk of the phones for themselves.
From what we've heard, not every Best Buy or Radio Shack will have one. On the Best Buy front, we're told the allocation is going to depend on how well they've sold other high-profile phones, as well as general Sprint stores. Some won't get any at all, at least at first. Supposedly, the stock will get more plentiful in July/August. We're not sure how Radio Shack is divvying up their stock, just that not every Radio Shack will get one.
Demand is the other part of the equation. Will it match the hype? Hard to say!
Do I Really Have to Go With Sprint to Get Some Pre Action?
If you're in the US of A, it looks that way, at least for 2009. But that doesn't mean you have to go Sprint to get a phone with the Pre's WebOS. Palm's confirmed there's more than one WebOS phone in the pipeline, and the Centro of the family—the Palm Eos—has already leaked out. Rumor has it this little WebOS phone will hit AT&T this fall, maybe as cheaply as $99 (after contract and rebate voodoo).
• Linux-based Palm-built WebOS operating system and UI
• 3.1-inch, 320x480 capacitive LCD multitouch screen
• Vertical slider form factor with full QWERTY keyboard
• 8GB flash storage
• Multitouch gesture area
• 3G EV-DO rev. A and Wi-Fi (802.11b/g)
• Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR w/ A2DP stereo support and GPS
• 3.5mm headphone jack
• 3-Megapixel camera
• LED flash
• Texas Instruments OMAP 3430 CPU (ARM-based, likely at 600MHz)
• Micro USB connection with mass storage support
• Supported formats: MP3, AAC, AAC+, AMR, QCELP, WAV; MPEG-4, H.263, H.264; GIF, JPEG, PNG BMP
• Wireless induction charger
• 4.8 Ounces
Palm's Pre smartphone is unusual in that it slides vertically to reveal the QWERTY keyboard. It uses the same curved sliding action found on phones like the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1. The vertical keyboard was used partially to stand out from other phones, and partially to adhere to the philosophy of easy one-handed use. The phone has a multitouch screen and, when the keyboard is hidden, just three physical controls: A top button, a side volume rocker, clickable button at the bottom. It also has a 3.5mm headphone jack, 3MP camera on the back (w/LED flash) all in a 4.8-ounce package. It's smaller than the iPhone in surface area, but it's noticeably thicker—even thicker than the BB Bold.
The gesture area is the black space that extends below the screen of the Pre. Like the screen itself, that area is fully multitouch-capable, and allows you to perform various gesture-based actions within WebOS. Palm said they implemented the gesture area because they feel one-handed control directly on the touchscreen itself can be difficult at times. They say the gesture area will make it easier to move through WebOS without the need for a second hand.
One touted use for the gesture area is the wave dock, which appears whenever you drag your finger up from the gesture area to the screen. Up pops the dock—viewable in the homescreen but otherwise invisible when you're doing stuff—for a quick change of activity. (This is a bit reminiscent of the Mac OSX Dock.)
TI OMAP Chip
The TI 3430 OMAP chip is the great wizard running the show in Pre's Emerald City. It's an ARM-based CPU likely clocked at 600MHz with built-in graphics acceleration that's high-powered enough to handle multiple apps running (15-20). Let's just hope that performance doesn't cost too much in battery life.
Touchstone Wireless Charger
Touchstone is a wireless charging base for the Palm Pre, one of the first magnetic induction chargers to make its way out of the bathroom. (Sonicare and Oral-B toothbrushes power up using a similar system.) It's referred to as "The Puck," and you just click the back of the Pre onto its flat surface and the juice starts to flow. It'll be $70.
Cards, whose flick-friendly interface promises to make smartphone multitasking simple, are arguably the biggest revolution in the WebOS interface. Each app is represented by a panel or "card" with all its relevant info. To the side of each card are similar cards for other running apps. You can flick your way from one to the next, and do things like pause a song, or launch a new email. If you tap the card, you can enter the full app and really get to work. WebOS is designed to handle many apps running at once, and the Palm Pre has the power to support that. (Image via Palm Goon.)
Despite its lame 1990s corporate-culture name, Synergy is a very cool feature that integrates contact info, calendars, messaging clients and search capabilities into a seamless menu system.
Synergy takes contact info from sites like Gmail and Facebook (plus any other site that takes advantage of the SDK), and presents all that info for any contact on a single screen, then shows all the ways you can contact that person electronically. Most of this is done automatically, but if WebOS can't detect multiple online accounts for the same contact, you can manually link contacts together.
Even better, whether you're texting, emailing, or IMing, all those conversations are placed into one chat style screen, so you can see all the conversations you've had with a person over a given period of time.
The entire contents of your phone are searchable. Whether it's contacts, old conversations, appointments, media file, etc., you can easily find what you need on your phone with all the results provided in a single screen. But if what you're looking for isn't on the phone locally, you can take that same search to the internet with a tap or two of the screen, where it will be run through sites like Google and Wikipedia.
Palm tried to master that all-too-fickle smartphone feature: background notifications. The problem is, notifications tend to be either too distracting or not distracting enough. Palm's notification system pops up on the bottom half of the screen, but the app UI adjusts so you can still carry out whatever you're doing. Obviously, you'll have to acknowledge the message (or cancel it) eventually, but this feature will definitely save you some frustration.
WebOS's browser is the first since Mobile Safari to support multitouch gestures. And like the iPhone's Mobile Safari and Android's browser on the G1, it's built on top of WebKit, which means you can expect the same speedy, responsive performance found on those phones. (Image via Palm Goon.)
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
(Many of our answers were pulled from our interview with Palm during our Pre hands-on.)
Will there be a GSM Palm Pre?
Yes, but it will be a UTMS, Europe-only phone available later this year. No announcement for a US GSM phone has been made as of yet.
What kind of internet connectivity does the Palm Pre have?
The Pre has an EVDO rev. A mobile broadband chip (for average connectivity upwards of 1Mbps) in addition to Wi-Fi (b/g).
How long will the battery last between charges?
Palm hasn't officially revealed any info on this yet, but Pre Central, based on photos of the battery, have made a highly educated guess that the battery is identical to that found in the Centro (1150mAh-1350mAh).
As John Herrman points out in his post, the Treo Pro has a 1500mAh battery that goes about two days between charges; the iPhone has a 1400mAh battery that's okay but sometimes runs out too fast; and the G1 has an 1150mAh, considered woefully inadequate in the eyes of many.
A Palm PR rep told PalmInfoCentral to expect the battery to have a 1200mAh life, though how long that lasts in real time depends on the processor and the demands of the OS.
Is the battery removable?
What does the top button do?
The dedicated button found on top of the phone not only slides between silent and normal modes, but you can also press it to turn airplane mode on or off.
Does the Pre's screen auto-rotate between portrait and landscape mode?
Yes, like most other high-end smartphones, the Pre has built-in accelerometers that are quite responsive.
Does the Pre have a standard headphone jack?
Yes, the Pre uses the standard 3.5mm headphone jack, located on top of the phone, that works with all mainstream portable headphones.
Does the Palm Pre have expandable storage?
Nope. The 8GB that comes with the phone is what you're stuck with.
Did Palm discuss the availability of a 16GB or 32GB Pre?
Will apps from the older Palm OS (aka Garnet) work on WebOS?
This was a total surprise, but yes. The Pre's got an
built-in emulator coming to run classic Palm apps. Don't expect everything to work 100 percent amazingly, though.
Does WebOS have an on-screen keyboard?
No specific mention has been made, but from what we have seen so far, it does not. This could be a specific omission, since the Pre already has a physical keyboard. It would be hard to believe that WebOS does not have provisions for a software keyboard in future phones.
Is HTC involved with the design or manufacturing of the Palm Pre?
No. The Palm Pre and WebOS were designed entirely in house, using only Palm employees. Some worked on the original Palm OS, while others were new to the project this time around. As for manufacturing, Palm hasn't revealed who is assembling the phones, but it has been confirmed that it isn't HTC.
Does the Pre record video?
Palm said the Pre will not have video recording capability when it first launches, but it is something they are looking into for future updates.
Is there visual voicemail?
Whaaat? What about MMS?
Is there Flash support on the Pre/WebOS
Probably not at launch, but it's definitely coming.
Do apps really run in the background?
Yes. Any app will be allowed to function in the background. They won't close out or go dormant when you switch to another app or return to the home screen. This is different from the iPhone, which can only run Apple-created apps in the background at this time.
How many can run at once?
No official number has been given, but Palm thinks it's reasonable to assume the Pre will be able to run 15 to 20 apps simultaneously.
I CAN HAZ COPY AND PASTE?
Yes, the Pre has copy and paste (now enough with the LOLspeak, dammit).
How will I get apps? How much will they cost?
There will be a central apps store that will serve as the only method of distribution for the Palm Pre and future WebOS phones. As of now, pricing models have not been released, but we assume there will be free and cheap apps.
Will you be able to sync apps via computer?
No. The app store will function entirely within WebOS.
Is there an app approval process? Will it be as strict as Apple's?
Yes, there will be an app approval process for WebOS apps. However, according to Palm, they're less concerned with what the apps do, and more focused on making sure there aren't any security exploits or stability glitches. (Here's how it stacks up with every other mobile OS store.)
Will the SDK be open to everyone?
Yes, Palm will make the SDK available to anyone who wants to develop apps.
Will apps be as good as those on iPhone or Android?
That's a question still up for discussion. Palm's SDK, as we understand it so far, will allow developers to create apps that lie somewhere between web apps and native apps in complexity. While apps will be installable directly to the phone, developers will not have the same level of hardware access that iPhone and Android developers have.
What does this mean? The average Yelp/Mint/Pandora type app will probably work, look, and act the same on WebOS as it would any other mobile platform. But when it comes to those trying to code resource-heavy apps—video and gaming apps for example, that require optimization and special hardware access— they will probably run into development issues using the SDK alone. Palm says they'll work with selected developers to give them more access to the intricacies of the phone, such as Telenav on the GPS app, for example.
Where can I get a closer look at some apps?
Palm Goon has some suspiciously good—like a little too good—screencaps and walkthroughs of Google Maps, the web browser, Tasks and Memos apps. We got some hands-on time with Google Maps and Pandora.
Will the Pre sync to PCs via Outlook or some other desktop program?
There's no special client application that we know of. You can connect the Pre as a mass-storage device and drag-and-drop media (music, video, photos) into preexisting folders made for those files, allowing them to appear in the media player. As for other types of syncing, such as Outlook, we're not quite sure how that will work yet. We've heard and seen things about it having online backup and remote wipe through a "Palm profile."
Does WebOS have a thin and beautiful figure?
Well Palm doesn't like to talk about its own software, but they did manage to imply that Mobile OS X is an obese, Crisco-guzzling lard ass.
CES ORIGINAL HANDS-ON IMPRESSIONS
Neither the Pre hardware or WebOS software are anywhere near final, so it's tough to draw too many conclusions from our brief exposure, but I can say that Palm is rivaling Apple in the user experience department with this new phone.
The screen is responsive and accurately detects the position of your finger. I didn't feel like I had to pay special attention to what I was touching or how I went about it. The multitasking cards for app management are really intuitive, letting you zoom in and out, add and remove, and cycle through cards with a mere flick of a finger. And having the WebOS desktop sit as a sort of frame around the cards prevents you from feeling too overwhelmed by the amount of data you might be flipping through (sort of like Xbox 360's newly revised "blades").
The gesture area below the screen interacts really well with the onscreen UI. I never had a problem launching the wave dock from that area, for instance.
The hardware feels like it's a quality build. It's plasticky, but it doesn't feel too light or cheap, and the phone's size works well for one-handed control. The hinge design is smooth, though it would have been nicer to have a spring-loaded design—it does not. The buttons are reminiscent of those found on the Treo Pro, that is, not spectacular but good enough not to be a nuisance. The phone's design is a little too pebbly and roundish in shape for me personally, but as far as usability goes, that's hardly a problem.
Palm has come a long way since their days making PDAs for the business crowd, and as the saying goes, to truly understand where Palm is going with the Pre, you've got to understand where they've been. So here's a brief recap of software, devices and events leading up to the Pre/WebOS announcement.
Palm OS, the first major platform for the company was first designed for the Pilot line of PDAs back in 1996. The early Palm OS (1.x-4.x) releases had forward-thinking features such as stylus touch control, handwriting recognition, a grid-based app home screen (adopted by most handset UI designers in the following years), eventually adding mobile internet support, mobile web clippings, email and USB support.
Handspring's first Palm-based phone—the Treo—came out in 2002. It caught on among the smartphone crowd, with mainstream features such as high-res color displays, threaded text messaging, multimedia playback, homebrew apps such as NES emulators and arguably the worst mobile browser ever, Blazer.
In 2003, Palm bought Handspring and launched the first Palm-branded Treo, the 600. Palm continued to build phones with QWERTY keyboard on the front, SD card slots, and cameras. (Fun fact: Palm CEO Ed Colligan left the company, which he helped establish, in order to create Handspring; he returned to Palm only when they bought Handspring in 2003.) The Palm Centro, launched in 2007, was the last Palm device to run the Garnet OS (v5.4.9). But by then the software—as well as the hardware—had begun to show signs of aging, prompting calls for a new OS and industrial design.
Palm OS II Announcement
In May 2007, Palm announced they were working on a completely new, Linux-based operating system for their future phones, tentatively calling it Palm OS II. No other details were given at the time.
Between Summer 2007 and Fall 2008, Palm OS II was constantly pushed backed, delayed and ignored as Palm's stock tumbled. Many believed the company would disintegrate beyond repair before the OS would reach market.
In the fall of 2008, Palm OS II rumors resurfaced, this time mentioning the platform carried the codename "Nova." Later news confirmed it would be revealed at CES 2008. Still, many remained skeptical as to how much of Nova Palm would show, if anything at all.
Shortly before CES, rumors started popping up about a Palm phone which would accompany the Nova OS. The phone was said to be a squarish, touchscreen device with a slide-out keyboard.
On January 8, 2009, Palm announced the Pre smartphone and WebOS platform at the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas to much fanfare. Multitouch functionality and seamless web integration were the two big points of emphasis for their new product.
What's the Palm UI Animation Like? See these walk through videos taken at CES.
If you have any questions about the Palm Pre that you think we can answer, shoot an email to tips with the subject line "Palm Pre Question."