While it is certainly slick, it can sometimes leave you quite confused. For instance, there’s no overall settings menu so you have to navigate a multitude of, what are essentially, apps to set everything up (somewhat like the way Windows Control Panel is an absolute mess in Classic View). The reliance on gestures and resulting lack of visual feedback can also leave you pondering, i.e. a right to left swipe along the bottom of the screen takes you back a page but because there’s no ‘back’ button onscreen, you never know whether there is anything to go back to. It can quite often feel a bit sluggish as well, even when doing basic tasks. We’d say it’s a little faster than the iPhone 3G and most Windows Mobile phones but falls way behind the iPhone 3GS and most BlackBerrys in overall responsiveness. And, of course, the complete lack of an onscreen keyboard is also a bit of a pain.
We found battery life to be passable with, again the iPhone 3G being a good comparison device. When used intensively with Wi-Fi and 3G, the battery drains very quickly, which is as we’d expect. However, even when the phone’s relatively idle it still seems to drain surprisingly quickly. Palm quotes figures of 5 hours talk time, which seems reasonable but the 300 hours of standby seems like a pipe dream. Essentially, in our experience this is the kind of device that you’ll need to be plugging in every night.
Probably the biggest problem for the Palm Pre, though, is pricing. O2 has matched the tariff and handset prices of the Pre to that of the iPhone 3G 8GB (£30 contract, £99 up front, 75 minutes, 75 texts, free data) which does make sense given they have the same capacity, same lack of video recording, and similar performance. However, the iPhone 3G just feels like a much higher quality handset and those things the Pre can claim as exclusives – the clever Synergy online information integration, multi-tasking – don’t feel like enough to make up the difference. Were O2 to sweeten the deal by including the Touchstone charger and back plate then that could swing it but as it stands, the build quality, physical keyboard, and speed issues are enough to dull some of the Pre’s lustre.
The Palm Pre is a very nice smartphone that leaves little to be desired in terms of features and its WebOS is one of the best operating systems on the market. So, if you really don’t want to use iTunes and aren’t tempted by a BlackBerry or Windows Mobile device then the Pre sits in an attractive middle ground. However, much as when Android first launched on the T-Mobile G1, we feel the handset doesn’t quite do the operating system justice; the keyboard is only okay and the build quality lags a little behind the competition.
”’Addendum – 12/03/2010”’
O2 has recently changed the pricing of the Palm Pre making it free on all the contracts on which it’s available. So for £30 a month you get the phone for free, unlimited data and texts, and 100 minutes of calls. At this price level this phone easily becomes a highly recommended device.