Click to viewHey, I just had some time to play with the Palm Pre, maybe the most important handset to be announced in two years, and here's what it was like to use it. Updates coming.
The Palm Pre is a lot smaller than I initially thought it would be. A good size comparison would be an iPod classic with a big hard drive. In terms of thickness, it's definitely not as thin as the iPhone, or even the bold, but it's an acceptable size considering it's a slider.
The Pre's Web OS UI and and UX really looks great. After watching (and using) for 20 minutes, It rarely looked (or felt) unresponsive, choppy, or laggy and it's clear a lot of thought was put into the design, especially with regard to how the phone would be used with fingers, as opposed to a stylus or d-pad
The Card system is really a great way to keep your information in front of you and know what you're working on. When you launch an app, you can drag it onto your phone desktop to create a new card, then when you're finished with a card for a specific app, closing it is as simple as flicking the card upwards.
The input technology that doesn't involve the screen is also top notch. Palm created the gesture bar, which is the black surface under the screen, because they found it was too hard to control a touchscreen phone with one hand, especially when trying to reach the upper part of the screen. The Gesture Bar streamlines some of the navigation so you can use the phone on the go.
There's also an accelrometer that works with apps like the web browser and photo viewer, which automatically rotates the screen depending on its orientation. It's the same as what's on many other phones, but it's worth noting that the accelerometer works quite well.
If you're working in a specific app, you can drag your finger up from the Gesture Bar to the screen, hold it for a second, and the wave dock will appear, making it easy to quick launch another app. The trackball, which feels similar to that of the G1 and Blackberry phones, provides another quick way to get around the Web OS interface.
There's also the keyboard. It pretty much looks and feels the same as previous Palm keyboards of late, which isn't spectacular, but it works well enough. When asked why they opted to go with the vertically oriented slide out keyboard, Palm had two main reasons—they didn't see much less of a difference in effectiveness when compared to a horizontal slider, and found that more people messaged holding the phone vertically. Second, they said there aren't really any other smartphones with a vertical QWERTY slider, so it makes the phone more recognizable.
While the hardware is definitely high quality, I'm not entirely blown away by the design. It looks really nice, and original, but it's a little too cutesy in shape and kind of reminds me of an oversized pebble. A slightly larger screen could have definitely been put to good use, and I really don't like the black space on the side's of the screen.
I think this phone's biggest appeal will be the central role the internet plays in the OS. The way it pulls data from various web services, and melds it into its own framework is top notch. I think being able to text, and gChat and send IMs over AIM all from the same window is such a benefit to the user to not have to switch windows for 3 different apps for messaging. And obviously, you won't be talking to someone on a bunch of different messengers at once, but over a period of a week, you might have convos over these different services, and it's good to keep track of all these interactions in one place.
The browser is also a far cry from Blazer that was on the Treo's Garnet OS. The new browser is built on top of Webkit, just like the Android and iPhone browsers, and renders full pages in under 10 seconds. The zoom and drag/pan functionality is very much like the other browsers, both in operation and feel. There was no glitchiness and the browser was extremely responsive.
I also love the way you can search for something on your phone, and then shoot that same query up to Google or Wikipedia without having to launch your web browser. It's another way the internet has subtly worked its way into the phone without being constricted to a specific app or browser.
The design influence of the iPhone OS is definitely apparent in Web OS. The App dock that sits at the bottom of the home screen is definitely a page out of the iPhones playbook, and for good reason—it works well. The design of the menus such as the contacts list take that same simple approach of not showing more than you absolutely see on any one page, something the iPhone perfected.
The screen is beautiful, and it really shows when looking at photos, which are so bright and colorful, I'd almost say it looks sharper than any other phone.
The camera takes really beautiful photos as well. Even in lighting that wasn't super bright, colors came out rich, and though a little grainy, it didn't suffer the same washed out, sandy look that other camera phones generate. This is also due in part to some image post processing that takes place behind the scenes of the camera app.
As far as video recording goes, it's not available on the Pre for now, but it's something Palm is looking at for future upgrades. I find this slightly disappointing, because Palm is touting this as an internet phone, and user generated video is a very big part of what's going on in the online world. A feature where you could live stream or auto upload to YouTube seems like an idea that fits in with the Pre philosophy. I think this absolutely has to be added in the next year.
The Apps and SDK for Web OS i think will be promising. Palm will make the SDK available to anyone to use, but there will be an App Store which will be accessible on the phone only and an approval process for apps. Palm says there are always exceptions, but they will not play the role of Big Brother so much when it comes to apps. What they are mostly concerned with are the security and stability of the apps. Making sure there aren't apps that crash or provide holes for their phones to be hacked. They also say they will work close with select partners on app and give them access to deeper areas of the OS that are not available in the SDK.
Like Android, there is an Amazon music store app that looks and smells very similar to that on the G1. It lets you preview songs, as well as download from the same screen.
When I asked Palm about flash on the Pre, they said it wasn't something they were talking about for now. But Dan Lyons over at Newsweek claims that the phone will run flash on it.
It also has a few features not found on the iPhone, which include copy and paste and MMS messaging, something hardcore iPhone users have been clamoring for since its introduction.
I asked Palm if the Pre and the Web OS platform will be married to the Sprint service, and they said that Web OS-based products will eventually be available on other carriers, but they have no specific announcements on that.
[More Updates will come in this post very shortly. Stay tuned, and check out the rest of our Palm Pre coverage here.]
From an earlier set of impressions:
It transcends what a mobile device should feel like. It's smooth but also tough enough to feel like you're using something that's going to last. I really like how the back of the slider is reflective like an iPod touch (might be good for the ladies and their make-up too).
The display looks richer in color gamut than any handset I've ever seen (almost like a mini Cinema Display). The GUI seems fluid enough so that it's not overtly cheesy and plasticky looking (transitions are still rough around the edges sometimes and not always as snappy as you'd like.) Speakerphone seems more than adequate for being Monophonic (totally useable for listening to music/calls.)
This is just like OS X, Expose, Spaces, Spotlight—uninterrupted multitasking. Even the cal is like iCal—on the desktop OS. When you get a call, the OS puts what you're doing down at the bottom, instead of dumping it like on iPhone. [Palm Pre Details; Palm Pre's wireless charger; Palm Pre Full Coverage on Gizmodo]
[Correction: I passed these notes off to a colleague who stated that I, Brian Lam, got to handle the phone in an earlier version of this post. That was an error in communications in the heat of the moment, and I've updated it to say that the impressions were from a friend. We will have more photos and impressions in a bit from our own experience with the phone. The post is now under Adrian Covert's byline, because the new hands on impressions are his.]