After being disappointed with the multitasking implementation in the new iPhone OS 4, I began to look for non-iPhone alternatives to replace my aging 8GB 3G model (which was not getting multitasking support at all under OS 4.0). With a couple bumps a long the way, which included a month of service with Sprint (gasp), a Palm Pixi, and a Blackberry, I settled on a shiny new Palm Pre Plus with Verizon Wireless.
An Unbeatable Bargain
The Palm Pre has been for many, including Palm, a slow burn. First announced at CES 2008, the phone took a full year make it to market, and landed with a Sprint exclusive contract which further hurt its aim. The media, universally agreed that the new Palm “WebOS” was well beyond other smart phones including the iPhone, but the Sprint exclusive made it a non-starter.
Fast forward to end of 2009, and the Pre is launched on Verizon. Priced at a rock bottom $49, the Verizon model includes free mobile hotspot service, which was previously sold as a $40 add-on. This was previously unheard of, and is still not offered for any other devices sold by carriers in the US.
Hardware and Software
The Palm Pre has a unique design. A pebble shaped slider with both a touchscreen and full qwerty keyboard. The entire phone is made of sturdy feeling plastic, I have been using mine without any sort of screen cover or protective case. The screen is the same resolution as the iPhone at 480×320, but renders images better due to a higher pixel density gained in being .4″ smaller than that of the iPhone. Both the slider and keyboard of the phone could have used a bit more work, the slim design means that the keys are less tactile, and the durability of the slider under long term use, questionable.
To earn the “Plus” in the model name, Verizon and Palm made a number of tweaks to the device to improve performance. The Pre Plus ships with double the storage and RAM or the original at 16GB and 512MB respectively. The camera is 3MP and is on par with that of the iPhone with sharp photos in well lit scenes. Video recording on the device is not as impressive, although film are 640×480 VGA resolution.
There is less to say about the WebOS operating system, as it is unchanged from the builds on current Palm devices. The Pre does support 3D gaming, and more graphics intense applications. The multitasking is always of note however, it is the single most obvious thing that the Palm WebOS does better than other smart phones on the market. Opening, closing, and switching between applications couldn’t be easier. Cloud services such as contact syncing with social networks are still better implemented here than on other smartphone services. If the built in services do not cover all bases for you, the application marketplace will be the most glaring failure for this and other Palm Devices. The application store is minuscule at just over 3,000 applications. Yes, after 2 years, just 3,000 applications.
The Sega Dreamcast of Smart Phones
On its own merits, the Palm Pre Plus is a worthy smartphone purchase. At $50 with free hotspot mobile broadband, you can get better value for the money. While using the phone as my primary device, shopping applications, and slowly tweaking the WebOS’ every detail, its sad to see that Palm’s WebOS devices have found such little success in the market.
Viewing the market performance of this device, I cant help but remember the Sega Dreamcast. Much like Sega and its Dreamcast, Palm once dominated the market. After falling behind rivals, this universally praised “comeback” was on paper, better in every way when compared to its rivals. Unfortunately for Palm, their turnaround came too little, too late. From a mile away, it was clear that Palm after years of sliding in the market, wasn’t going to fair well again new rivals Google and Apple. With less cash, less marketing, and a tarnished brand image tied to its previous generation releases, Palm has met a similar fait to Sega, all but exiting the market it once dominated. Now acquired by HP, the software house is likely all that will live on from the Palm of today. The Palm Pre Plus is now also shipping on AT&T , and those looking to buy the current Palm device will indeed be fully satisfied. It was indeed good while it lasted.