Last night Palm unveiled the Palm Pre, an incredible departure from Palm's traditional line-up of smart phones and one that we welcome with open arms. We said recently that Palm desperately needed to pull something special out of the bag. It has.

But why are we so excited by Palm's latest phone? For starters it's a beauty, with a smooth pebble-like casing you can see in our photos. Weighing 135g and measuring 60mm wide by 101mm tall by 17mm thick, it's short and stout, but it sits comfortably in a hand.

A responsive touchscreen is accompanied by a gesture pad at the bottom that allows you to navigate the user interface with one hand. Underneath the touchscreen hides a full Qwerty keypad for typing out text messages, MMS messages and emails, and there's a built-in 3.5mm headphone jack at the top for plugging in your cans.

Beyond the attractive and functional hardware is something even more exciting -- an entirely new Palm operating system that features simple, finger-friendly icons and a straightforward user experience. It's called WebOS and it ties in your apps with a visually enticing menu system and the Internet.

Displayed as a floating deck of cards, you can swipe across the screen to access a variety of apps, all of which can be set to run in the background so you're always connected. Developers can use HTML, CSS or Javascript to develop apps for the Pre, which means it won't be long before we see plenty of apps made available.

Unlike the out-of-the-box iPhone experience, the Pre comes pre-installed with a system that interconnects all your contacts with Web services such as Outlook, MSN Messenger and even Facebook. All your personal data can be merged into a single stream if you want it to, including different instant messaging clients.

Because all of your apps can run in the background, you can keep connected to your IM client even if you're browsing the Web -- and the Web browser is great. Similar to the iPhone, the WebKit-based browser on the Palm supports full Web pages and offers a multi-touch pinching action for zooming in and out of pages.

As Bill and Ted would say, the most excellent feature on the Web browser is the ability to copy and paste text, which can also be used in other parts of the Pre's interface. (Big C&P fans, B&T.) Why Apple hasn't included copy and paste functionality on the iPhone is a mystery, so well done Palm, well done.

An on-screen dock at the bottom gives you access to your key services, but you can also access apps by swiping your finger upwards and selecting from the five programs you need quick access to. According to early reports, the Pre runs really smoothly even when you've got several apps on the go.

We're taken with the Pre's multimedia offerings, which easily surpass anything Palm has offered before. A large, bright, sharp screen makes watching videos a pleasure, and a slick music player that displays album art, combined with a 3.5mm headphone jack, makes listening to music much more enjoyable.

Specs-wise we're also very happy there's 8GB of on-board memory, GPS, HSDPA (in the European version only), Wi-Fi, an accelerometer (so your images or Web pages are always the right way up), a physical switch to silence your phone, a proximity sensor (to sense when your face is close and disable the screen) and last but certainly not least, a removable battery. Click 'Continue' for more images of the Pre.

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At 17mm thick, it's by no means the thinnest phone out there, but the Pre's curved design means it will slip into a pocket with some prodding.
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A minimalist back houses a 3-megapixel camera and speaker.
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The Pre's full Qwerty keypad pops out when you slide the screen up. According to early reports from CES, some people say that while it's not the best keypad they've ever used, it is workable.
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The Kinder Egg-style surprise at the end of the Pre's unveiling was a wirelss charger that allows you to simply rest the phone on this device and it will charge without needing to be connected to via a cable -- that's very neat indeed.
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