While Palm's surprise entry into the smartphone race doesn't hit the Canadian market until later this year, reviewers south of the border are already weighing in. So does this would-be iPhone-killer have what it takes?
While we were down at CES this year, being generally unimpressed by most of the new tech that was on display, Palm quite unexpectedly dropped the biggest bomb on the gadget world since Apple debuted the iPhone 2 years ago. They called it the Palm Pre.
The announcement got tongues wagging all over the net and pundits were falling all over themselves trying to guess what this meant to the mobile phone market as a whole, but also, what it might mean to Apple, who's dominance in the smartphone market has been staggering.
There was good reason to get excited. The Pre looked super sexy with it's glossy black exterior, vibrant multi-touch screen and slide-out keyboard. The user interface, underpinned by a brand new mobile OS called webOS looked slick too – some even thought it looked better than the iPhone.
But that was in January. Since then, we've all had to wait, patiently, until the Pre made it to market and into the hands of the reviewers who would finally run the phone through its paces.
That day has finally arrived – in the U.S. at least. The verdict? Mostly positive.
David Pogue, a heavily followed reviewer for the New York Times – and an avid iPhone enthusiast – was the person I most expected to be harsh when it came to the Pre. Pogue doesn't mince words, and was very quick to dub the BlackBerry Storm (the most recent touch-screen competitor to the iPhone) as "the BlackBerry Dud". So I was prepared for the worst.
But where the Storm simply left Pogue cold, the Pre seems to have found a friend at the NYT. According to Pogue, "the Pre is a spectacular achievement. Zero to 60 in one version." Not bad, Palm, not bad at all.
Some of the features that were singled out for praise:
- The phone's ability to multi-task. Not being able to juggle several apps at once is something that the iPhone has been called out for in the past. The Pre wins big on this one.
- A feature known as "Synergy" which lets you merge all of your contact data from various sources (Outlook, Facebook etc) into one area. Same thing for multiple email accounts.
- The Pre's uncanny ability to mimic an iPod. When connected to a PC running iTunes, the Pre actually shows up as an iPod in the UI and lets you sync all of your iTunes media (except AAC DRM files) to the Pre.
- Copy/paste. Seems like an obvious one, but the iPhone still can't do this and it drives some people crazy.
But it wasn't all roses for the Pre as you might expect. Pogue has pointed out a few weaknesses which the other reviews I've read seem to support, namely:
- The keyboard is cramped and the buttons themselves are much smaller than those found on a typical BlackBerry and thus much less comfortable to type on. However, it is still judged to be better than typing on a touch screen.
- The battery life is just not going to cut it for even moderate use. Pogue was quick to point out that spotty network coverage probably ate into the Pre's charge, but even so, this is clearly an area for improvement.
- The lack of expandable memory. This is a curious complaint coming from a group of people who love Apple products, none of which have expandable memory. But I can't help agreeing – I have always thought there is no excuse for non-expandable memory in *any* portable device.
There were a few other nitpicks but many of these sounded to me like they could be easily fixed over time with firmware updates. Even the battery issue can be addressed because unlike the iPhone, the Pre's battery is user-replaceable.
Overall, it's looking like the Pre has won the respect of the tech review community which is no small feat in a world where the iPhone dominates the landscape like that obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
If you'd like to read the reviews for yourself, here they are:
David Pogue: Palm Gets It Right With Pre
Walt Mossberg: Palm Pre Takes On The iPhone
CNET: Palm Sets A New Standard
Of course, in every group there is always the contrarian. For reasons which I think aren't very well though out, market analyst Henry Blodget thinks the Pre will bomb – and not in a good way.