Although a collective sigh may be raised at comparing yet another touch-screen smartphone with Apple's iPhone 3G, Palm's Pre has been generating plenty of buzz since it was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year.
After seemingly disappearing off the face of the earth while companies like Nokia and RIM released multiple phones, and while Apple's iPhone 3G has continued to enjoy immense popularity, Palm has finally hit back. The Pre is considered a make-or-break release for Palm — the smartphone is built on an entirely new Linux-based operating system called webOS.
Although we haven’t yet had a chance to get our hands on this hot new smartphone, the reports coming out of the US have been largely positive so far. In particular, the webOS operating system is reportedly intuitive, easy to use and visually appealing, and looks like the closest competitor to the iPhone yet.
The Palm Pre's webOS interface allows you to keep multiple applications open and move easily between them. The Pre classes applications as "activity cards", and lets you flip through them by simply swiping your finger. When you want to close an application, you can just flick it off the screen. Applications can also remain running in the background even when they are minimised. The Palm Pre's home screen also includes a handy notifications bar at the bottom of the screen — something that the iPhone lacks. Incoming text messages, new e-mails and calendar appointments appear as notifications in this bar.
The Palm Pre will also be able to receive software updates, and all of these upgrades will be done over the air. Palm has also stated that it expects to have an application store to compete with Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market.
Although many aspects of the Pre's interface look very similar in to the iPhone's, it's really a breath of fresh air. It is visually enticing, looks dead easy to use and the integration of applications on the home screen certainly looks extremely promising. webOS should definitely give the iPhone and Google Android platform some competition, in terms of both visual appeal and usability.
Although the iPhone's touch screen is the best on the market and text entry is relatively intuitive, tapping a screen with your fingers is still no match for a physical keyboard. Palm has equipped the Pre with a vertical slide-up keyboard rather than the traditional horizontal one seen on many other smart phones. This distinguishes the Pre from most other smartphones. Reports indicate the keyboard is comfortable and easy to type on. A downside is that webOS doesn't include a touch-screen keyboard — this means every time you need to enter text, you'll have to slide open the phone.
The Palm Pre's address book not only stores names, numbers and addresses, but aggregates information from a variety of other sources, including Facebook, Gmail and instant messaging. The Pre integrates information from these sources into a single address book entry, making it easy to quickly view up-to-date information. As an example, you can communicate with a contact via Facebook, SMS or instant messenger all via a single contacts screen, negating the need to go through multiple applications on the phone.
Apple's iPhone 3G lacks copy and paste, MMS, video recording and stereo Bluetooth — features available in most other mobile phones. Even though most of these features are soon going to be available on the iPhone thanks to the forthcoming 3.0 firmware update, they've been absent since the original iPhone's release back in 2007. Like the iPhone, the Palm Pre lacks video recording and removable storage (instead coming with 8GB of built-in flash memory), but includes a 3-megapixel camera with LED flash, built-in GPS and Wi-Fi.
Apple is the clear leader in this department, and the design of their products is usually so good that most users are willing to overcome the lack of often basic features in order to compromise. From the images we've seen so far, the Palm Pre certainly looks like a stylish device. Its smaller than the iPhone, its body is elegantly curved, and the gloss black finish looks sophisticated without compromising its ability to appeal to multiple audiences, including business users.
You have to take your iPhone to an Apple service centre when you want to replace your battery. Although the life-span of mobile phones isn't usually longer than a couple of years, it's still annoying. Palm has fitted the Pre with a removable battery, so when its time for replacing, it’s a simple matter of out with the old and in with the new.
Overall, despite not having seen the Palm Pre yet, there are plenty of reasons to get excited. Let's just hope that we see it sooner rather than later!