Palm Pre Review: Hardware Could Be Better, WebOS Solid

The Palm Pre will hit the stores on Saturday, June 6, and it has a very important task to fulfil. Contrary to what the sensationlist media want you to believe, that task is not to dethrone the iPhone, but to save a flailing company. Palm requires for its very survival that the Pre and its brand-new operating system webOS is a success. CNet has taken the Palm Pre through its paces, and despite some flaws, they were quite pleased, especially on the software front. Update: Another review, from Engadget: “To put it simply, the Pre is a great phone, and we don’t feel any hesitation saying that.”

The difference between “dethroning the iPhone” and “saving Palm” is huge. The Pre doesn’t have to outsell the iPhone in order to save Palm, and this is something many people seem to forget. The iPhone is already two years old, the operating system has been tweaked for a while now, and more input has been taken into consideration for the whole product. The Pre is completely new both hardware-wise and software-wise, and a such, is bound to fall on its bum a few times.

Overall, CNet was quite satisfied with the Pre, but they do note a few key shortcomings. They found the keyboard a bit too cramped, and the lack of video recording and voice dialling was an issue too (although Palm has said these might come in the form of an over-the-air update). Battery life is about the same as the iPhone, but bear in mind that the Pre has a removable battery (thus, upgradable to newer and better), and does multitasking which according to Apple the iPhone is unable to do due to battery life issues.

The software is where the Pre really shines, according to CNet. The multitasking feature, which is managed by the “deck of cards” paradigm, is a joy to use, as is the subtle, unobtrusive notification system. In these two areas, the Pre beats every other smartphone currently on the market, CNet says. “The much-talked-about Deck of Card feature works well, allowing you to keep multiple applications open and running in the background while working in another. […] The notifications bar also seamlessly alerts you to incoming/missed calls, new messages, appointments, and so forth. The notifications are unobtrusive.”

The CNet review also notes that performance didn’t degrade when running multiple applications at the same time; there was a “slight delay” when launching applications, but overall the Pre surprised CNet. About performance as a whole, they wrote:

Armed with a dual-band MSM6801a processor and a TI OMAP 3430 processor, the Pre’s general performance was a bit of a mixed bag. Navigating through the menus and deck of cards was always swift, but at times, there would be a brief lag when launching applications. We wouldn’t say it’s any worse than a Windows Mobile smartphone, but it’s something you will notice. That said, the WebOS was stable throughout our testing period. We didn’t experience any crashes or freezes, and again, we can’t say enough about the multitasking and notifications system.

Applications are of course also a very important factor, especially after the success of Apple’s App Store. Palm does have a app catalogue ready in beta, but there are currently only 12 applications in there (they are good ones, according to CNet, though), and since the SDK isn’t yet publicly available, it isn’t likely a whole lot more will be added between now and Saturday. Definitely something for Palm to worry about.

The review goes into great detail about the device, so be sure to give it a read if you’re interested in the Pre. I can’t wait until I can get my hands on one here in boring old Europe.


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