Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
6/8/2011 3:47:51 PM
An innovative UI, speedy processor, pinpoint accurate A-GPS and both an excellently responsive touch-screen and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.
The lack of apps including some core omissions (no native Twitter client) may deter some from swapping their Android and iPhone devices.
As good as the original Palm Pre was (in fact we awarded it the coveted five stars) it would be fair to say it was a disappointment, commercially speaking. We'd put this down to a couple of factors. One, it's difficult for any manufacturer, even one with a tech background (albeit with PDA's rather than mobile) to muscle it's way next to the likes of Samsung, Apple, Nokia and even LG. And secondly for a manufacturer to successfully achieve said manoeuvre, they must have a product that can compete, not just in terms of hardware and software, but also apps - the essence of any true smartphone. Sadly the original Pre failed on this last point. Eighteen months on, and with a few tweaks to both the hardware and software, perhaps the Palm Pre 2 will fare better?
In terms of stature, there's not a huge amount of difference to the original Palm Pre, but that's no bad thing. It's a slider phone, that when closed resembles a polished black pebble. Open it up and nestled in a gradual canyon is a QWERTY keyboard, which though feels a little cramped, with a due bit of care enables a trouble free typing process. The display remains the same both in terms of resolution and size. At 3.1-inches there are bigger screens, but it's large enough to fit enough content that you won't be constantly scrolling to read one article.
Directly below the display is a blank black strip that looks as though it's a redundant part of the handset's bodywork. In fact this is a key aspect to operating the Pre 2. Swipe it from right to left and you'll backtrack to your previous screen or position depending on what function you are using. For example, use the 'back gesture' when you're browsing the web and you'll return to the previous page you were viewing. Keep swiping and eventually you'll return to the home screen. Each time you swipe this strip a thin white line will run along the bar. Kids of the 80's will liken it to Knight Rider's red 'smile' and the same illumination occurs each time you receive an email, notification or text. Though it takes a bit of getting used, it's a slick and novel way of reinventing the back button.
That's not its only use, there's also an 'up gesture'. Swipe from the touch bar onto the screen and this activates the 'card view' facility which is effectively a thumbnail view of all your open applications. The Palm Pre 2 is a demon at multi-tasking and the card view is a great way of not only having an overview of all your open applications, but also quickly switching between them. What's more, to dispose of a card or to put it more bluntly, close an app simply slide the card up out of the roof of the display. This innovative process would only work if the touch-screen was up to scratch. Thankfully the Palm Pre 2's capacitive display delivers. It's remarkably responsive, which is why it puzzled us that Palm didn't feel fit to include a virtual QWERTY keyboard. Of course you've got a physical one to fall back on, which is always preferable, but for that quick text message or search entry it would be nice to have that option.
Talking of search options, Palm has kitted the Pre 2 with a search bar (named 'Just Type') positioned at the top of the home screen. However, this isn't your average search bar. Sure you can conduct a quick Google search via it, yet you can also choose to search Wikipedia, Google Maps, Twitter and the Palm App Catalog. You can also summon up specific contacts and functions. For example, start typing 'C' and 'A' and you'll be brought up a list that looks something akin to Camera, Calendar, Carl, Caroline. Yet our favourite feature of the search bar facility is the ability to pull up specific emails be it via contact or subject heading. This is one of a number of quaint touches onboard the Palm Pre 2, another being the fact that when you pull down the notifications bar at the top of the display, as well as both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi toggles, you'll also be shown how much battery life you have left in terms of %.
Though not as customizable as the Android platform, you can arrange the Palm Pre 2's menu as you see fit. By default there are three pages; applications, extras and system, but these names can be edited as can what widgets, shortcuts, apps and features reside where.
Browsing the web was a real joy with the Palm Pre 2. It's electric in terms of speed, whether surfing on HSDPA or a Wi-Fi connection (both are given a helping hand by an improved 1GHz processor), and though there are bigger screens out there, the 3.1-inch display ensures text and imagery looks bold and crisp. A quick double tap of the display will remove any borders of a webpage, maximizing the text content you see at any one time. The display also supports multi-touch so a quick pinch and pull of your thumb and forefinger will enable you to take a closer look. The accelerometers are some of the quickest we've encountered and when viewing content in landscape the touch panel becomes another method of scrolling in and out of a page. Another feather in the Palm Pre 2's cap is its ability to play flash video - yes we're looking at you Apple - though this adulation was severed somewhat when we were unable to maximize the flash videos embedded on BBC websites.
Though Palm has tweaked the camera from a 3.15 to a five-megapixel snapper the difference is marginal, with acceptable rather than exceptional results. What really got us salivating was how good the A-GPS fix was, pinpointing our exact location via Google Maps.
Overall Palm has produced another fine piece of kit that is a joy to use. Despite this, we fear for the Pre 2 as the issues surrounding its predecessor have not been addressed as keenly as they needed to be. The Palm App Catalog still needs more content - can you believe there's no native Twitter app for example - and while the features, hardware and ease of use all impressed without the app appeal, consumers aren't likely to put down their Android and iPhone devices.