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Palm Pre First Impressions

With CES now well and truly over we still have a few titbits to bring you which we'll try and fit around the week's other breaking news but I suspect there will be little more important announced than the Palm Pre smartphone and its Web OS platform.

Following our coverage of its announcement I managed to score some serious hands-on time with this remarkable device after some particularly sneaky persuasion so here are my first impressions.

Getting the major news out the way first: Yes indeed the Palm Pre is worth the tremendous amount of hype it has generated. It is a potentially game changing device which has unashamedly copied the best aspects from the likes of the iPhone (software design), Android (openness) and even the INQ1 (integrated social networking and automatic contact merging). So let's now break it down.

The Palm Pre is a beautifully made phone. It may be slightly chunkier than the iPhone 3G but it feels equally good in the hand and a lot more sophisticated than the T-Mobile G1. In fact it somehow merges the feeling of a BlackBerry with an iPhone which is no bad thing at all. A nice touch is also the back of the phone where a mirror has been discretely positioned so it is only visible when the keyboard is slid out - handy.

As for the keyboard itself, it's perfectly fine. The layout is highly intuitive and representative of the huge amount of thought that has gone into the Pre's design but its action isn't quite as nice as that seen on the BlackBerry Bold or Nokia E71. Still, it is pre-production. Incidentally, I also found out so are the build materials as Palm hasn't finalised them at this stage so there's still room for further improvement.

At 3.1 inches, the screen could possibly have been a smidgen larger but with a 320 x 480 native resolution it is wonderfully vivid. Multi-touch also works a treat too since the Pre wisely employs a highly responsive capacitive touchscreen.

The camera? Well it may be just 3MP and utilise an LED flash but there must be a lot of clever processing going on in the background because it produced the best images I've seen at this resolution and remember, megapixels are far from the be all and end all of photo quality. In short, it's far better than you'd expect.

Now nice as the Pre is, the real magic is performed by the superb Web OS and here it seems Palm has deliberately set out to not only (in some cases quite blatantly) swipe the best bits of its biggest rivals but also deliberately highlight their failings. Check out this list when compared to the iPhone, for example: multitasking, copy and paste, MMS, turn by turn Google Maps directions, Bluetooth 2.1 EDR with A2DP, video recording, multiple calendar support, drag and drop media content, free OTA syncing, an open source platform and a removable battery. Are you listening Mr Jobs?

In practice however these inclusions are not just to score points they really are beautifully implemented. For those who are fans of the iPhone interface a homescreen of icons can be called up at any moment (and without exiting your particular application) while the 'cards' system of grouping open apps like browser tabs which can be shuffled between is quite brilliantly handled.

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