Don’t get me wrong. In many respects, the Palm Pre is a groundbreaking smartphone that portends the obliteration of the line between phone and full size computer. It joins the iPhone and arguably the Android devices as the only computer some people would ever need.
However, Palm missed a lot of the little things in this first release. It’s an admirable attempt, given what they’re shooting for, but the fact of the matter is that the devil is in the details, and Palm fumbled too many. Any one of the following items is easy enough to overlook in an otherwise stellar device. But the difference between, frankly, the Palms and the Apples of the world is that the Apples don’t miss over 20 of them. They add up to an annoying user experience more akin to Windows Mobile than the iPhone.
- Tiny, un-thumbable keys. One of the reasons the keys on the Pre (and Centro) keyboard are so rubbery is that they’re intended to be snagged with your thumbnail rather than the meat of your thumb. It works, but it’s not as comfortable or as fast as, say, the Blackberry Bold.
- No software on-screen keyboard. If the thumbnail technique doesn’t work for you, there’s no other way to do it. In fact, you even have to slide the device open to enter a things like passwords.
- 8GB limit on storage (really 7). 7GB doesn’t hold a lot these days, especially if you like video. Of course, you can’t sync purchased videos from iTunes (DRM), so unless you rip your own DVDs this may not bother you as much as bothers me.
- Let’s talk about that iTunes sync, shall we? Palm has done a lot to ensure people can sync the Pre as though it were an iPhone, but this trick only works as long as Apple chooses not to block it. Basically, this works because the Pre reports itself as an iPod in Media Sync mode. But it still reports itself as a Palm Pre on the base USB channel, so Apple could filter this out if they decided they didn’t want to deal with support calls about syncing issues with things that aren’t really iPods.
- Try scrolling a long web page on the Pre. Where are you on the page? How close are you to the bottom? You don’t know, because unlike pretty much every other smartphone on the market, the Pre has no scrollbars at all, not even the temporary scroll indicators you see on the iPhone.
- And there’s no way to jump to the top or bottom of a long list. On the iPhone, you can tap the status bar to jump to the top. On everything else, you have scrollbars. On the Pre, flick flick flick…
- Assuming you don’t fork over $70 for a Touchstone charger, you have to plug the Pre in to charge it. No biggie, but you also have to open and close the flimsy little door that covers up the microUSB port every time you do it. I know they put this here to keep the Pre’s “organic, river-stone” aesthetic, but this is going to get old quick.
- For a device that’s designed to be online constantly, to live in the cloud, the battery life on the Pre stinks if you actually connect to anything. We’re talking Android G1 battery life.
- And you’re unable to use existing Centro/Treo 800w batteries, even though they’re exactly the same size, shape and pins as Pre batteries. Something about internal “mechanical” differences. Yeah, right.
- No on screen speed dial. I know you can assign speed dials to keys on the keyboard (I know way too many people with J names) or put contacts on the launcher (see below), but this is lame.
- Speaking of the launcher, Palm didn’t follow their own previous success and include categories. You get three unnamed launcher screens, each scrollable as deep as you like. But given that “out of sight, out of mind, what you really get is one undifferentiated scrolling list, or three iPhone like panels with stuff you’ll forget to look for underneath.
- At least you can find applications with Universal Search. You know what you can’t find? “Universal” search doesn’t search calendar, email, memos or tasks. Yeah, so much for universal. BTW, the iPhone does search calendar, email and notes with the 3.0 firmware.
- You can’t change notification sounds. Your incoming text messages and emails sound just like everyone else’s. ‘Nuff said.
- All or nothing Facebook and Google Contacts sync. A lot of reviewers mentioned this. Facebook and Google Contacts probably include a lot of people you don’t really know or barely know. But you can’t sync a specific Facebook group or just your “real” contacts in Gmail. If you sync these services, be ready to flick through everyone you’ve ever emailed and friends of friends of friends in your contact list.
- Memos is a joke, but I’d probably replace it with Evernote, even a launcher shortcut to the mobile version.
- Can’t copy text from a web page. The Pre only allows copy (and paste) in “editable” fields. So reading a web page or reading an email, you can’t copy. You can forward the email and copy from that, now that it’s editable, but again, lame.
- Given that the browser doesn’t handle Flash, it also doesn’t direct YouTube links to the included YouTube app. Uh, what?
- No Amazon MP3 downloads over 3G. We knew about this going in, and I know the iPhone had this limitation when it was first released, too. But the iPhone doesn’t have that limitation now. Why does Palm have to repeat Apple’s mistakes?
- The Music app has no “scrub” control to select playback position within a file. Not such a big deal with music, but a really big deal with podcasts.
- Music app also can’t filter out podcasts from songs when shuffling if you synced them via iTunes. Lame.
- No Latitude or Street View in Google Maps. What’s the deal with this? The Pre has GPS. Why is Google Maps for the Pre so inferior to Google Maps on the iPhone, Android, and for goodness sake, Windows Mobile?
- Easy to run into “can’t open a new card until you close some existing cards.” Say what you will about the iPhone and multitasking, but memory management generally isn’t something the user has to think about.
- Weak autocorrect. Maybe this isn’t as “necessary” on a device without an on-screen keyboard, but you have to watch what you type on the Pre a lot closer than you have to on the iPhone, or even HTC Windows Mobile devices.
Again, I’m not saying the Pre sucks. It’s a really interesting device, and not bad for a 1.0 product. But Palm has to do better than this if they’re going to save their company. The Pre needed to be as close to flawless as it could be to steal mindshare away from the iPhone and Blackberry. And the Pre we actually got just doesn’t measure up.