We’ve got a lot of sources out there. For the past five years, we’ve dominated coverage of all the carriers. Sprint was the first.
So when Sprint decided to finally ship a somewhat open, Linux-driven, modern Palm phone… it wasn’t a question of who was going to review it first.
And now, for the first (full) review of the (final) Palm Pre.
Palm hasn’t been known for Sprint integration. Most of Sprint’s Palm phones come somewhat desolate of Sprint service integration. This is a major reason why Sprint gets a bad reputation in the wireless industry. Tech-savvy people grab a Treo, turn it on, and don’t find Sprint Navigation. They don’t find Sprint TV. They don’t find a Music Store. And while niche devices like the Treo 800w and Pro finally checked the boxes… the implementation fell silent. Everyone was already waiting for the Pre.
Thankfully, the Pre does Sprint integration right. Sprint TV excels on the Palm Pre. It’s not clear if the Pre is using a newer, higher-resolution H.264 connection… or if Palm’s playback software has hardware acceleration. But, it’s great. And, unlike SlingPlayer… doesn’t “harm the
AT&T Sprint network.” Unlike AT&T, Sprint doesn’t violate FCC rulings and limit what you can do with your device.
And that shows with the Pre. Sprint Navigation is just the beginning… the app portfolio service on the Pre appears more extensible than iPhone. However, Palm didn’t let too much slip out about it; all apps have been removed from the store. Palm says they’ll add the service back on launch day, so we can’t put their app store to the test… yet.
Probably the worst feature that we had experience with, was USB mode. Copying to the device was slow… slower than ActiveSync was over USB 2.0. It almost reminded us of iPhone OS 2.0, before Apple updated the sync process to, well, work.
Amazon MP3 does work already… and it’s a welcomed relief from the Sprint Outsourced Music Store. Palm put their foot down, and it paid off here. Having a music store on-par with the iPhone is key for a device like Pre… and while iPhone’s iPod software makes iPhone better for controlling music… we were happy with the shopping experience.
And yes, music does play in the background.
Surprisingly, nobody on the team was happy with YouTube. While Sprint TV was a treat, YouTube was limited to searching. It’s not clear if this is going to be quickly updated, but the player software is minimalistic at best.
Facebook integration also appears to suffer from first-instance issues. The application supports a minimal set of the Facebook API, limiting users to a 2007-style interface, with only profile and contact information. Chat is nowhere to be found.
Other Sprint apps, such as Nascar Mobile, were also surprises… in that they weren’t terrible. Usually these outsourced apps run slowly and don’t update properly. Not so on the Pre.
Messaging is a delicate subject for many. The Pre not only has a capacitive display (which yes, is very much capacitive… unlike the Touch Pro, it loves a human’s touch)… but it also has a keyboard. Typing on the Pre, like any smartphone, is sure to be the subject of many arguments. Some will say that iPhone’s multi-touch approach is better… others will say the Pre is better.
We really love how the debate puts Apple’s Steve Jobs, and (formerly) Apple’s John Rubenstein at odds. When asked if Apple thought about adding a physical keyboard to iPhone, Jobs dismissed the idea flatly, citing the team’s unified decision to move ahead with multi-touch. The first device with Rubenstein (the “father of the iPod and iPhone”) as chairman of Palm… has a physical keyboard. It cauterizes rumors that he stood out as the most major opposition to the lack of a physical keyboard on iPhone.
Still, we aren’t alone in thinking it takes some acquiring to get acquainted to typing and messaging on the Pre. Every early user we’ve talked to agreed that the interface requires jumping through menus in an odd manner… especially when toggling between windows and apps.
Lingering Questions for Palm
We’re still left with some questions. With the webOS SDK still not fully unveiled… we’re left asking Palm what they’ll let people do with the device.
iPhone limits software to what they can do with background apps.
Android limits software to not run Linux software directly.
BlackBerry limits software all over the place.
Palm Pre? Well, we don’t know what limits will be there.
Obviously, for webOS software, a lot of apps are breaking the rules internally. A lot of these apps are Linux-coded from the bottom to the top. Will Palm let other developers have the same level of access? We think it’s going to be a deal-breaker if they don’t. As Apple learned with iPhone, limiting all the toys to their own software, leaves everyone else taking their toys elsewhere.
Lingering Questions for Sprint
Unfortunately, we’re pointing the most anger here at Sprint.
Once again, Sprint proclaims that another device requires Everything Plans. That is misinformation, plain and simple. The Palm Pre, like the Samsung Instinct, could run on any modern Sprint plan. Sprint simply would need to require the presence of a Power Vision Pack, in order to activate the device.
Even the hard of hearing, and data-only customers, are simply told to chose another phone. It makes us sick… and here’s why.
Instead, Sprint is requiring people to buy a top-revenue Everything Plan. Our memo to Sprint: It may just kill Palm, thanks.
Why might it kill Palm? Tech-savvy people like their old plans. They hate when people try to kick them off… and they’ll respond by going elsewhere.
With most of the tech savvy people refusing to get the Pre, on Everything Plan hostage terms, there won’t be many people rallying the success of the Pre.
Now, you might respond that while Sprint is in the wrong for deceiving people, that the Palm Eos will be coming to AT&T. We’re just left wondering if the Pre will fail because of these hostage-terms plan requirements, and if anyone will buy a Pre in the interim? Will Palm live long enough to ship the Eos?
Sprint, wise up and drop this ridiculous plan requirement. The Pre is an excellent device, but isn’t worth higher per-month pricing. Those customers can, and will, get a Wi-Fi enabled Windows phone, and sling Wi-Fi to the iPod touch. Such a shame too, because the Pre is Sprint’s converged solution. Only those on Everything plans will be able to use it.
Barring any last-minute snags, which seem unlikely at this point, we’ve reviewed the final version of the Pre. There is the potential, as previously reported, that Sprint could pull their escrow of the firmware if they find anything show-stopping. We doubt that will happen at this point, and expect the device to be sold in early June.
Minor Update: Hours after posting this review, Sprint confirmed the June 6th launch date for the Pre.
We are holding off on casting judgment on a few areas, which we outlined previously. Palm’s App Catalog is not open yet, and we won’t touch the sync servers for calendars and contacts until they go live. MechaWorks is intimately familiar with cloud computing, and we understand that it is in an active state of development still. We aren’t even using those apps yet, so we don’t get any first impressions from servers that aren’t final.
The Pre is a beautiful device. We love it, we love to hold it, we love to use it. Sprint, please don’t kill the golden goose (for Sprint, or for Palm). Let everyone with an unlimited data plan use the Pre… it’s better, but not enough to fork over an additional $20 to $40 per month. For an extra $960 (over the course of two years), we’d rather have an iPod touch, plus a couple of netbooks (sipping Wi-Fi from any old Windows phone).