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When Gordon first saw the Palm Pre, it's safe to say he was rather surprised. Here was a company that appeared to be on its last legs suddenly releasing a device that had the potential to be one of the smartphones of the year. It combined the glamour of the iPhone, the social networking integration of the INQ1 and the openness of Android, and, for those that like such things, it even had a proper physical keyboard. Sadly it's taken an age for the device to reach the shores of the UK but now that it has, let's see if it can live up to all the hype.
First impressions, at least on my part, are very positive as this is one seriously cute device. Its small form factor (just 100 x 58 x 16mm) and rounded corners combine to make it feel really comfortable and secure in the hand with the full expanse of the screen falling within easy reach. We also love the way the screen is seamlessly integrated into the front. However the whole device is made of plastic and glossy plastic at that. This not only makes it feel less solid than premium competitors but it will also make it hellish to keep free of scratches.
At least a neat carry pouch is included in the box, though if we're being really picky we would've preferred this to be smooth leather on the outside so it's easier to get in and out of a pocket. The other bundled accessories are good quality though. The USB data cable is thick and strong and has an inbuilt cable tidy while the charger is modular to make transport as easy as possible.
Things take a turn for the worse, though, when we slide open the Pre's keyboard. For a start, there's a distinct wobble to the slide mechanism - not so much that it makes us think it might fall apart but just enough that it further mars the feeling of quality. That said, the slide mechanism does work really well and is easy to use one handed, unlike the Nokia N97 for instance.
However, further bad marks come from the strangely sharp edge that surrounds the keyboard. Personally I don't find it a problem but others in the office find it distinctly uncomfortable while typing.
The actual act of typing is likewise something that will divide opinion greatly. Though I maintain one can type faster on an onscreen keyboard, I found this keyboard perfectly nice to use. The layout is logical (though our review sample has the 'y' and 'z' characters swapped around - presumably to identify it as a review sample) and the keys are made of a soft yet tough clear rubber that provides good purchase. However, many people, including the majority of the office, will find the keyboard cramped and to accurately tap each key requires you to type with your thumbnails. These problems could possibly have been alleviated by predictive text but sadly this feature isn't included; just the basics like adding apostrophes where appropriate and capitalising letters at the beginning of a sentence are accounted for.
Opening the phone up also makes it impossible to use the device one handed as you can't reach all of the touch screen so you must either bring a second hand into play or constantly open and close the keyboard as you flit between navigating and typing.