A week with the Palm Pre, GSM version

by Volker Weber


I have added a new phone to my favorites. So far I had three (plus one retired): iPhone, Android Dev Phone (a.k.a. G1), BlackBerry Bold and the Nokia E71 (retired). The new entry of course is the Palm Pre. Let me explain the other ones before I get to the Pre:

So where is the Palm Pre? I would say between iPhone and Android. It's absolutely wonderful and you want it, but only if you live near power outlets and if you give it some time on the software side. That's where it compares to the Android, which has had a little more time building up 3rd party software. Both the G1 and the Pre will run down your battery to 80% before even leaving the house. That is not a problem if you commute to the office where you will have USB outlets to charge it, but a no-no for any serious road warrior. If you are one of those, you need the Nokia or the BlackBerry.


What the Pre has, and none of the other guys has, is a wonderful (almost) wireless charger: the Touchstone. You replace the shiny back that came with your Pre with a matte version that has an antenna which picks up the field from the Touchstone. And then you park the phone on the Touchstone whenever possible. It will quickly top off the battery. Plan on buying lots of them. One for the office, one at home, maybe one in the bedroom. No, stop, don't do that. If you place the Pre on the charger, the screen will light up and display a clock. And it plays a sound. When it is full, it plays another sound. And a few minutes later, when it thinks it is full, it will play it again. And again, and again. OK, the Pre has a nice switch at the top to make it vibrate instead of ring, and that makes the sound go away, but it does not solve the nightstand clock problem. I guess, Palm will fix this or make it an option. It took RIM a lot of years to finally offer "bedside mode".


There are two things about the Touchstone that bother me a little. First, the port is recessed and you should use a Palm supplied USB cable. All others will need some adjustments. Second, the Touchstone does not work with anything but the Palm charger. I have tried several USB hubs and ports, but it does not come alive without it.

Of course you can charge the Pre with a Micro-USB cable, but that requires you to open a little door on the right hand side, which kind of defies the purpose of this slick shell. It just feels like a pebble when closed. When you slide out the keyboard from under the screen, or rather, when you slide the screen off the keyboard, that changes the experience. The edges are pretty sharp. You won't cut yourself, but it is a very different feel. So, if this were my phone, I would probably sand them off a little bit.

The keyboard is very usable, not as good as the Bold, but better than an onscreen keybaord, no matter what Steve says. This is just faster, and you don't have to think about typing. You just do it. The screen is fantastic. I don't use that word lightly. But this screen works in the dark as well as in bright sunlight. Definitely on par with the iPhone, but prettier. Which leads us to the software.


The Pre is the only device running webOS; soon there will be Pixy, and then more phones. Palm is not going to sit on one or two phones for long. And webOS is ... slick. You have seen demos, and it is as good in any respect as you have seen it. It takes a little while to learn the gestures, but once you have internalized them, the flow is perfect. Going from the Pre to an iPhone is like getting off your bike to start running. The Pre lets you easily go back and forth between apps and everything is nicely integrated.

Much like my other favorites, the Pre never bothers me with access points and wireless networks and what not. You give it access to your home WLAN, to your office network. And then it just does things without ever bothering you again. It. Just. Works.

I am adding some screenshots so you can see just how pretty everything is. Love this typeface:




So far everything looks nice. The device integrates very well with Google Mail, Calendar, Contacts. We have a great browser, a nice Twitter client, AccuWeather, Google Maps (no Latitude), a bunch of other stuff, but no Facebook app. That is an odd omission since Facebook is part of the device, you can sync all your Facebook "friends" if you so dare. To access the service however you need to use the browser:


Not good enough. You can't even comment or "like" from there. I am hearing about imminent updates to that situation, but I want to see them. The other thing that is bothering me, is that the Pre shuts down the phone when you connect it as a USB drive. You are fine if you charge, but not if you want to read from and write data to the internal storage - like the iPhone there is no external storage capacity. That is not a limitation on the iPhone but on the Pre. You even have to enter your PIN when it comes back online.


Media sync is the other strange solution. Palm is tied with Apple in a battle around iTunes. That is more than silly. RIM has solved this for the BlackBerry and so should Palm for webOS.

I have quite a few wishes:

And still, I am loving it already.

[Yes, this was one the machines I could not talk about. But there is more in store.]



interesting, I almost use the same set of phones (iPhone, G1, Bold) daily, and I couldn't agree more to your comments about them.

I also tested the Pre for a few days some weeks ago (CDMA version, though) while in the US, and I have to say I absolutely loved the UI and the neat card metaphor. Just swiping them away - amazing. If there wasn't battery life... and sometimes it acted pretty slow, especially with a few cards open, and even told me it was out of memory a few times.

When closed, I definitely liked the form factor - it fits into your palm (sic!) very well and smoothly. But opening / closing it was a bit weird, and the sharp edge at the bottom wasn't that nice while typing. The keyboard itself worked incredibly well, despite its very small size. I'd say even better than the G1's.

It's definitely a very interesting phone, and I think about getting one...

Marco Kaiser, 2009-10-07

Arrgh! I'm very impatiently waiting for a GSM Pre; can't wait until it is released in the US. I have played with the CDMA version and I'm hooked. I'm very interested in writing software for the Pre.

I probably won't give up the Bold, but this will be my second phone line.

Eric Hancock, 2009-10-07

Did it earn the reviewer-refuses-to-give-it-back award already?

Stephan H. Wissel, 2009-10-07

Has the Pre an interchangeable battery, can i drop in a replacement if the first one runs out of juice? That would solve the battery life problem at least a little bit.

I have an idea what another one of the NDAs might be, but i might also be completely wrong - and we will probably know in good time anyway.

Dirk Steins, 2009-10-07

cant-wait-till-october-13th-when-it-comes-out-in-germany.-must somehow-survive-till-then.-want-have.

Deine Reviews sind nicht gut für meine Geduld, Volker...


Stefan Pfeiffer, 2009-10-07

Eric, thought you were getting the N86 8MP lately.

Stephan, absofuckinglutely yes.

Dirk, yes. 1150 mAh, looks like the Centro battery. But you do not want to remove the back on a daily basis.

Volker Weber, 2009-10-07

Ich frage mich ja, wie es mit der Verfügbarkeit am 13.10. aussehen wird...online bestellen? Vor einem O2-Store campen? Who knows...

Stefan Pfeiffer, 2009-10-07

Ich erwarte keinen Engpass.

Volker Weber, 2009-10-07

Jetzt bin ich ja noch viel mehr gespannt und werde am 13. einen O2-Shop meiner Wahl aufsuchen... ;-)
Danke für das gute und informative Review...

Michael Klüsener, 2009-10-07

So from what I gathered this phone connects to the net more or less all the time to do its magic. What happens while roaming? Will it rack up insane charges or is there some possibility to forbid data connections for foreign networks?

Marcus Cador, 2009-10-07

Good question, Marcus. Data roaming is off by default:

Volker Weber, 2009-10-07

Just beautiful!

Mariano Kamp, 2009-10-07

I've noticed Palm is pretty reluctant to show pics of the thing from a side angle, and as thickness of mobile devices is really an issue to me (...and a reason to keep that E71), I fear the pre being too much of a chunky piece of technology.

How about handling, say, in your jeans pocket or so?

raoul heinkel, 2009-10-07

Let me Goggle this for you:

G1 17.1 mm
N86 16.5-18.5 mm
N97 15.9-18.25 mm
Pre 16.95 mm

It's well within the other sliders, but it feels much smaller since, well it is smaller. Non-sliders are thinner:

iPhone 12.3 mm
E71 10 mm (plus camera)

A picture shows it much better:

From back to front these are N97, G1, Pre, iPhone and E71. If you like your E71, by all means keep it. It's a wonderful phone.

Volker Weber, 2009-10-07

@raoul: I would recommend to by non-slim-fit jeans

Sven Richert, 2009-10-07

wow, vowe, thanks for posting that pic.

The pre seems a bit chubby to me indeed - espec seeing it next to the iphone it totally bumps up.

If it does not pass the jeans pocket test I'll wait for the pixi (which, according to palm, is thinner than 3GS).

Coz' you're right about the E71: apart from S60 it is an impressive engineering masterpiece. It bears state-of-the-art functionalities and yet is so small that you have to check pockets twice to make sure you really haven't forgotten it.

raoul heinkel, 2009-10-07

Raoul, size matters. I can easily stuff all five devices into my jeans pockets.

Volker Weber, 2009-10-07

=) that would be the smartest jeans in the Land of Hessia then.

...nah, my hip hop style times are over.

raoul heinkel, 2009-10-07

I was excited about the N86 until I played with one for a while. I decided that I didn't really like Symbian all that much. Then I played with the N900 for a bit and got terribly excited about it until I realized that it doesn't support AT&T's 3G frequencies. Boo.

The Pre is my next object of telecommunication obsession.

Eric Hancock, 2009-10-08

I can easily stuff all five devices into my jeans pockets.

All at the same time? You must wear jeans with really large pockets :-)

Dirk Steins, 2009-10-08

Habe soeben eine Kaufentscheidung getroffen.
Nicht das HTC Hero / G2, sondern doch lieber Palm Pre.

sven dietrich, 2009-10-09

Auch ich bin begeistert von diesem Telefon. Leider gibt es auch Negatives zu berichten: das Palm Pre verbindet sich nicht mittels Bluetooth mit der Freisprecheinrichtung PREMIUM von Volkswagen. Offenbar ist das SIM-Access-Profile nicht implementiert.

Olav Brinkmann, 2009-10-22

Das ist eine Software-Funktion. Mach das mal bei O2 und Palm deutlich, dass Du das brauchst.

Volker Weber, 2009-10-22

Das erste, was mir negativ auffiel ist ja, daß es auf dem Keyboard keine Umlaute gibt.

Jens Scholz, 2009-10-23

Ja, das ist allerdings auch bei meisten anderen Telefonen so. Beim Palm drückt man die Option Taste und a, o oder u, schon steht da der Umlaut.

Volker Weber, 2009-10-23

What bothers me the most and makes me rethink about getting one is fact that the Pre shuts down the phone when you connect it as a USB drive.

How come?

What's the point on this?

- RayanMX

Sergio Nayar, 2009-11-25

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