We finally met the UK-bound Palm Pre today, and except for British network support, it was the doppelgänger of the US Pre -- not even a goatee beard to tell the evil twin from the good twin.

Palm's Dave Whelan told us that despite complaints about the Pre's build quality, the company resisted the urge to make any updates to the hardware in the months left before the Pre's launch on O2 this winter.

That means no memory-card expansion slot and no improved battery. Even Palm admits the Pre has a hard time staying awake for a whole day, but suggests we invest even more coin of the realm on the 'touchstone', the Pre's groovy magnetic charger.

So why the big delay before we can get our fish-and-chip-smelling, Empire-losing hands on Palm's new baby? Palm tells us that they wanted to "get it right", which means sorting out the network support, no hardware shortages and a solid marketing push behind the Pre.

It says it's not worried about the Android phones coming over the horizon, because the estimated growth in the number of people investing in smart phones means there's plenty of room for everybody.

Click the image to see more of how utterly similar the UK Pre looks to previous shots of the US Pre, and what Palm intends to do about its dearth of apps.

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In our brief hands-on, we felt that despite its plastic body, the Pre didn't feel flimsy, and we liked its curved body and slider. Its size is definitely pocket-friendly, and the screen was bright -- a little too bright for our camera to handle in the dark press briefing room. But after a very short go on the full Qwerty keyboard, we were left feeling that the keys were extremely small and difficult to work one-handed. Also, there's no option to use an on-screen keyboard when the slider is closed. Our US sister site CNET.com complained the keyboard was cramped for their American-sized fingers, and we look forward to giving the Pre a longer test to see if we struggle with the keyboard after getting used to it. Click through for more on the emaciated Palm App Catalog.
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Palm wouldn't even let us look at the App Catalog while we were woman-handling the Pre, and its version of the Apple App Store is definitely not yet ready for prime time. In June, Palm announced on its developer blog that its SDK "just isn't ready yet" and its developer network, like the Crave hot-tub, is still invitation-only. Palm told us it's as eager to see more apps on the Pre as we are, and in the meantime we can party like it's 1999, thanks to an emulator that lets us run thousands of apps built for the old Palm OS. But we aren't keen to rest our eyes on last century's 16-bit icons, especially since the emulator costs $30. While we wait, we'll stick with the mobile Web, which loaded very quickly over Wi-Fi and looked accurate and clear. Multitouch worked quickly and elegantly to get us zoomed in on those little links, but there's no Flash support. Palm told us it's signed up to Adobe's Open Screen Project, but wouldn't hint at if and when Flash would make it on to the Pre.
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We've heard dark rumours of the Palm Pre's build quality, but the phone we handled felt solid and pleasant, despite its plastic body. A longer-term test will reveal more of course, so stay tuned for our full UK review.
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