Picking nits: why I’m skipping the Palm Pre

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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…
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. You can’t change notification sounds. Your incoming text messages and emails sound just like everyone else’s. ‘Nuff said.
  14. 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.
  15. Memos is a joke, but I’d probably replace it with Evernote, even a launcher shortcut to the mobile version.
  16. 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.
  17. Given that the browser doesn’t handle Flash, it also doesn’t direct YouTube links to the included YouTube app. Uh, what?
  18. 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?
  19. 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.
  20. Music app also can’t filter out podcasts from songs when shuffling if you synced them via iTunes. Lame.
  21. 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?
  22. 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.
  23. 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.

10 thoughts on “Picking nits: why I’m skipping the Palm Pre”

  1. Kinda obvious here that your a iphone fan. Thats fine and all but be a little more objective. How about all the ways its better than the current iphone?

    Its an awesome phone. And most of these really arent issues.

  2. You’re new here, aren’t you? I’m not exactly known for my objectivity. But I do give you my honest opinion. I’ve seen the Pre in person, I’ve typed on it, and I’m pretty confident saying the following:

    I see no advantage to the Palm Pre over an iPhone with jailbroken 3.0 firmware and Backgrounder.

    The Pre is nice, but Palm needed a grand slam, not a triple.

  3. There is one reason I can see the Pre failing: Sprint. Based on my experience with them I’d never buy it; not because it’s necessarily a bad phone, but Sprint has a huge way to go before I’d ever be a customer with them I really wish Palm could have chosen Verizon or ATT (though with the iPhone that probably wouldn’t have happened), had the coverage and I think they would have had a winner. And who knows, maybe things will work out for them. If so, it’ll be because of Palm and not Sprint.

  4. Wow. Never heard such an amazingly blind review of a phone. I understand being a little biased since you are obviously in a huge love affair with your iPhone, but at least be a little impartial. All but maybe… two of your complaints are just plain laughable (point #23 for example. You really think that the iPhone’s onscreen keyboard beats out a physical keyboard in accuracy?!?! I don’t like the small keyboard either, but come on! My friend is skinny as hell and he can never type accurately on his iPhone. I make fun of him all the time for that. I find things searching with my Centro faster than him for this reason alone!)

    Anyway, besides the keyboard, most of your complaints are things non-Apple fanboys already don’t care about anyway, or they would have already owned an iPhone (me included). The only thing I can truely agree with you is point 21. I don’t understand why the Pre wouldn’t come with Street View. It just looks so awesome on the iPhone and G1 phone. I know it will have it eventually, but come on!

    Besides that, you need to check your facts with some of your points. I can refute almost every point you make, but I’ll just point one out where you are completely wrong, and apparently didn’t even use the phone or you would have noticed it: The browser DOES direct videos straight to the Youtube app. I did when I used the test unit. It was the first thing I tried when I used the test unit. Surely a tech blogger, like yourself, would have tried using the web browser, go to Youtube.com, click on a link, and see what happens! You obviously didn’t or you would have seen that the video quality that becomes of clicking a link is almost HD quality. Freaking awesome! Better than I ever saw on my friend’s iPhone.

    Oh BTW, you might not wanna knock the Pre for not having flash since it will be the first phone to even impliment this feature in the near future, making the iPhone look archaic in that area.

    Come to think of it, after seeing your hilariously biased review of the phone, I almost think you just put it up to garner responses from Palm fanboy’s like me. 🙂

    There’s just no way that a rational, intelligent reviewer would have made so many blatent errors in reviewing a new product. Don’t get me wrong, I have issues with the Pre also for some of the…. two problems you found out with it at release (no flash, no Google StreetView), but being open source and completely web developer friendly…. ANY tech person will tell you that Palm has something that could completely destroy other mobile platforms. Just not sure if this first incarnation (Pre’s hardware) will fit the bill for what WebOS can do, in and of itself.

    There’s an unbiased review from a self advocated Palm fanboy. Next time try doing the same Jeff. (wink, wink…)

  5. Oops. Ok, correction: it doesn’t direct videos straight to the Youtube app. Sorry for my error on this one point. But I’ll tell you this: for me not recognizing this, doesn’t that kinda tell you that you are SERIOUSLY reaching to find issues with the Pre so that you can justify still carrying your iBrick around? The video’s open so fast… plus what it actually did was open a completely new window….

    Hold on a sec!!!! You mean to say that you can have multiple windows open…. each with it’s own video running…. and you can flip between each video?!?!?!? OMG! I’m glad I have an iPhone so I can be able to do the same thi-….. oh.

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