First impressions: Palm Pre

Palm made quite a splash at CES 2009 with the unveiling of its new Palm Web OS and Palm Pre smartphone. We give you our first impressions of the device and how it will impact Palm and Sprint.

Palm Pre
Palm Pre Corinne Schulze/CBS Interactive

Phew! Thursday was a long, action-packed day thanks to Palm. I'm just now getting to sit down and gather my thoughts on the Palm Pre and Palm Web OS announcements, and I have to confess that I went into the press conference with some skepticism. It's no secret that Palm's been struggling to keep up with the competition and has come under heavy criticism for its lack of innovation and delays in releasing its new operating system. So can you blame me for thinking that Palm might disappoint again?

Well, I'm happy to say that I was wrong. My CNET News colleagues Ina Fried and Tom Krazit did a great job of covering the press conference and reporting on the basic specs of the Palm Pre, but I wanted to put my two cents in on what I think of the Pre and Palm Web OS and what kind of impact it will have on the market.

User interface and OS
To me, the real highlight of the Pre is the user interface and OS. The UI reminded me a little of HTC's TouchFlo interface, with the various swiping gestures and cool animated motions, but Palm certainly put a fresh take on it. It's beautiful and smooth, and just plain cool. It's pretty evident that Palm put a lot of thought into the UI, as everything seamlessly works together to give you the best user experience and making the smartphone a really useful tool in your daily life.

Palm Pre
Synergy on the Palm Pre Corinne Schulze/CBS Interactive

The smartphone makes multitasking easy with the Deck of Cards feature that lets you scroll through various applications and toggle between them without having to open and close windows. It's slick, but most importantly, it's easy. I also think Synergy is a huge player, since it brings all your e-mail accounts and contact and calendar information from various sources into one place. Again, it's about simplicity and whether you're a consumer or business user, you have to love that.

Design
To facilitate all this is a best-of-breed design. First, you've got a multitouch screen that's absolutely sharp and brilliant in color with its half-VGA (320x480) resolution. Not only can you use the screen to navigate, there's a gesture area right below the display where you can use finger swipes and touches to launch menus, toolbars, applications, go back, or advance. Of course, my favorite part might be the slide-out full QWERTY keyboard. I've made it no secret that I'm a huge texter and need physical buttons, so I was more than delighted when I saw that the smartphone had a keyboard. The Pre's keyboard is similar to that of the Palm Treo Pro; the buttons are a little on the smaller side, but there is a good amount of space between them to reduce any problems.

Again, looking at the design of the phone, I could tell time and thought was spent on the device. The hardware feels solid and not as plasticky as the Palm Centro. When you slide open the Pre, it has a slight curve that makes it comfortable to hold against your cheek when talking on the phone or even when typing out messages. Also, going back to the touch screen, it felt responsive and--hooray!--on Web pages, you can pinch the screen like the iPhone to easily zoom in and out of pages.

Web

Palm Pre
Pre's Web browser Corinne Schulze/CBS Interactive

Speaking of the Web, the Pre's browser is pretty outstanding. It renders sites onscreen as you would see on your desktop, and quickly at that. When asked about Flash, Palm said they were not commenting on that at this point. We do know that there will be an app store, and Palm will release an SDK to developers. The company reiterated throughout the press conference that the Palm Web OS was built with developers in mind and based on HTML, CSS, and Javascript, so that's all one really needs to know to develop apps for the Pre and other Web OS devices.

Multimedia
As far as multimedia, the Palm Pre offers a 3-megapixel camera. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to snap any photos, but early reports say that the quality is pretty good. Disappointingly, the camera won't have video recording capabilities at this time, but those could be added in the future. In terms of music, like the T-Mobile G1, Palm has partnered with the Amazon Music Store, so you will be able to purchase songs over the air from your Pre.

The rest
The Palm Pre offers so much that I could write on it forever, but I'll save some for when we actually get the unit in review. (By the way, I'm not sure when that will be, but I don't expect it to be anytime soon. I know. I'm sad, too.) Just to cover some quick specs: the Pre offers integrated Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 (with support for stereo Bluetooth), EV-DO Rev. A, and GPS. There's 8GB of storage, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and high-speed USB 2.0.

Outlook
The Palm Pre and Palm Web OS isn't necessarily going to revolutionize the smartphone market, in that it doesn't offer any crazy, new features, but it definitely brings a fresh look into the way you interact with a device and how it organizes information. It also brings innovation and life back to the struggling company and has certainly set the tech world abuzz. Palm's undeniably taken a beating from the media and general public, so it's good to see the company respond and take action.

As much as the Pre is important to Palm, the smartphone will also be a key player for Sprint. It needs an iconic phone to compete with the likes o AT&T and the iPhone and Verizon Wireless and the BlackBerry Storm, and Pre could certainly be the one to do this for Sprint. Pricing will be key of course, but I suspect the Pre will be priced competitively with the iPhone and Storm. I also think its chances of overtaking the Storm are pretty high. It offers a better user experience and has more consumer appeal. There are still some unanswered questions about everything that will be offered with the Pre; in my opinion, and I know these words are thrown around a lot, but I think the Palm Pre could truly be the stiffest competition for the iPhone.

Palm took a bit of a gamble announcing the product early at CES 2009 and not closer to its release date, which is expected some time during the first half of 2009. Both Palm and Sprint will have to be careful to deliver on their promise and not delay the phone. (You can pre-register for Palm Pre at Sprint's Web site.) Still, the Palm Pre and Web OS has certainly gotten everyone excited and I can't wait to get some quality hands-on time with the final product. You can check out of Palm Pre photo gallery and of course, we'll update you as we get more information, but for now, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the Palm Pre and OS.

About the author

Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.

 

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