We got our hands on the most-rumoured handset this year at a press briefing this morning. Though the Palm Pre launched a month ago on Sprint in the US, we won't be seeing it in UK/Europe till "before Xmas", according to tightlipped Palm and O2 execs (yes, it will be exclusive to O2).
Look and feel
The Pre is a touch-screen with slide-out QWERTY in portrait orientation. Its shiny black chassis is curved ('like a smooth pebble', was how Palm's product manager put it) and pleasantly weighted in the hand. The slider mechanism is very smooth, and when fully extended, the phone is still fairly compact, revealing a little mirror at the back.
A three megapixel camera with fixed focus lens is located at the back - apparently some 'advanced software' auto-focuses images before you snap images, though we didn't get to see this, or how the photos turn out.
Ease of use
The entire front of the phone is a capacitive touch-screen that rivals the iPhone for ease of use and finger-friendliness. The display itself doesn't cover the whole front; instead, beneath is a touch-bar that acts as a gesture pad. You can use shortcuts like swipes to the left to scroll through active windows on the display, or upwards to close open applications.
These apps show up as 'activity cards' on the display. The UI is very fresh - though maybe not as cute or modern as the iPhone's - and its clear Palm has shifted focus away from PDA-style device to firmly target the consumer market, and the rather trendy segment too.
A favourites toolbar is at the bottom of the homescreen, and though it's hidden in other menus, you can pull it out at any time simply by holding down and dragging your finger upwards.
We particularly like the Palm Synergy feature, which collects all your info from the 'cloud' - in other words, your data from webmail, Microsoft Outlook, social networks, calendars and the like - and aggregates it into the phone. In other words, you can feed your work and personal accounts into a single stream. For example, we saw how appointments from multiple sources displayed in one calendar, in different colours to indicate work or personal etc.
The other USP is the universal search feature, which allows you to search for apps, contacts and info on the device as well as Google, Google Maps, Twitter and Facebook.
WebOS operating system
Without going too techie, the WebOS - Palm's brand-new operating system - is based on web programming languages so that developers can create apps for it without having to learn new code.
This especially comes into effect with the notifications feature - you'll be automatically alerted to new Facebook, Twitter, Gmail etc messages - and Palm will be opening the software code to developers so in time, users will be able to receive notifications when new events (think even online social gaming) occur online.
It's a very web-centric device that seemed to replicate a desktop experience - in email, browser and application features.
One last thing to mention - the Palm Pre charges wirelessly via a magnetic charger called Touchstone. This really seems a revolutionary (and yet oh-so-simple) feature, and the charger doesn't just look good, it can act as a media stand as well. It's just ease of use, and we really think this device will be a mighty contender for the throne currently occupied by Apple.