A closer look at the Palm Pre and webOS

The Palm Pre smart phone and the company's much-anticipated new operating system--called webOS--are among the most buzzed-about products to come out of CES this year.

The Palm Pre.

The Palm Pre.

Multitasking Made Easy

Like Google Android, Palm's webOS can handle full multitasking--something the iPhone can't do. Palm uses what it calls "a deck of cards model" for managing multitasking: You can view each of your open applications at once, shuffle them any way you choose, and then discard the ones you want to close. All of this is done with intuitive gestures that mimic handling a physical deck of cards. Apps remains live, even when minimized into the card view, so changes can continue to happen in real-time, even if you've moved on to another activity.

WebOS also has a nifty Notifications app, a small alert that pops up at the bottom of the screen when you have an incoming call, text message or e-mail, but does so without interrupting whatever app you have open.

The calendar has color coordination and multiple calendar support. The big news is that you can subscribe to public and specific calendars, like those on Google and Facebook. If you use the Pre to add something to your Google calendar, that info will be synced with that on Google's Calendar Web site.

Likewise, the Synergy email interface makes it easy to check and search through multiple e-mail accounts. Select a contact, and webOS will autopopulate an e-mail with that contact's info. Better still: If you have multiple e-mail accounts set up, you can choose which address to send from while within the message.

The Messaging application now combines both SMS and instant messaging into a single umbrella. The conversations are threaded (as they are on current Palm OS-based phones), and can represent ongoing conversations with one contact, across multiple systems (ie, you start the conversation via text, and continue via AOL Instant Messenger).

The Web browser renders pages beautifully. You can have as many browser windows open as you want (you're only limited by the available memory) and you can still save pages for offline viewing (for example, while in flight)--a huge boon that Palm-OS devices have always had, and competing devices lack.

Pre users will have access to Amazon's Mobile Music Store, also seen on Google's Android-based G1. The store makes it easy to download DRM-free tracks directly to the phone.

During our demo, the Pre's built-in accelerometer seemed quite responsive, but not overly sensitive. For example, the display doesn't flip until the phone is almost completely horizontal. One of the most frustrating things about the iPhone is that the display will rotate when you don't want it to, especially if you're holding it at a slight angle.

Another cool feature on the Pre is its ambient light sensor. If you're in a movie theater or dark environment, and you receive a message or call, the display will show up darker than normal.

The Pre will receive updates over-the-air in the background; and all software installation will be done over the air. Palm has already said it expects to have an app store, which will bring it in line with Apple, Blackberry, and Google Android.

Overall, from the short time we spent with the Pre, we saw plenty that we liked. The device looks promising--now, the wait for an actual shipping unit begins. Palm says it will ship later this year on the Sprint network.

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