Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
12/12/2011 3:58:56 PM
Intuitive OS, syncs Facebook and email contacts and calendars, fast web browser
Sparse app store, dated design, sharp edged keyboard
When Palm released its comeback device last year, we were blown away and gave it a five star review. Now the Pre has been relaunched as the slightly refreshed Pre Plus – but we’re not entirely sure why. It’s not that it’s a bad phone to use, but with phones like the HTC Desire and Apple iPhone 4 in market today, the Pre Plus doesn’t have enough kick to stay afloat.
The Pre Plus looks just like the original Pre, with its pebble-esque shape, 3.1-inch touch-screen and compact slide-out keyboard. The four-line QWERTY is slightly improved, though the keys are still quite hard to depress, and larger hands will find it less comfortable. We complained about the sharp edges of the keyboard in the original Pre, and unfortunately it’s still the case with the Pre Plus. The memory has been doubled to an impressive 16GB of storage (though in iPhone-style, it lacks a microSD slot so you won’t be able to beef that up), while the RAM has also been doubled to 512MB. The phone now ships with an extra back cover that enables users to charge it wirelessly on the Palm Touchstone charger. In the US, the phone is now available on Verizon and AT&T as well as Sprint, but it’s still exclusive to O2 here in the UK – which surely won’t help it exceed the rather unimpressive sales of the original Pre.
We’re still fans of the webOS interface. Rather than the standard icon based navigation, each open program is presented as a ‘card’ in a swipe-able row. To end a program, simply flick it upwards. The same gesture takes you out of a program, while swiping left across the touch-sensitive area beneath the screen takes you back a step in whatever app you’re in. The user interface is perfectly logical, and in every app, you can tap the top left for more menu options. To head to the main home screen, tap the touch area. Though you can’t add shortcuts to the home screen, there’s a customisable shortcut bar that you can pull up in any screen by dragging a finger up from the base of the display. It’s a slick, intuitive system and still feels innovative one year on. The touch-screen supports multi-touch so you can pinch to zoom in maps, browser and gallery. Each tap on the screen creates a little ripple animation, but there’s a tiny lag between a tap and the ripple, which makes it feel like the phone is a little slow, even though it isn’t really.
The trump in the Pre Plus’s deck is its multitasking ability – unlike the iPhone 4, it can run multiple programs at once so you can leave a particular one to load while you open another one; and unlike Android phones, it’s very easy to shut down open programs. Like the original Pre, we were able to run around 10 programs with no noticeable lag. The preloaded WebKit browser is top notch and renders pages faster than almost any other phone. Elsewhere, email is delivered instantaneously, whether you’re using a Microsoft Exchange corporate account, or webmail such as Gmail and Hotmail. Emails can be read from a universal inbox or separately. There’s a really cool way of deleting emails where you simply flick the screen to the right. Our only beef is that there is no conversation style view for emails, as there is in Gmail on desktop and on Android phones. One of the best features – as in the original Pre – is the Synergy feature, which syncs contacts, calendars and email from all your accounts, as well as Facebook. However, what was innovative and unique last year, is pretty standard 12 months on, as many phones, including the Samsung Wave and HTC Desire, can do this and more. Palm’s business pedigree is evident here though – adding a calendar event is easier than on any other phone we’ve tried. Simply tap on the day and you can add an event without going into a separate screen.
Unlike many smartphones, the humble phone call is actually quite easy to execute. Hit the dialer icon and you can either input a number directly, or type a name on the QWERTY keyboard for a list of matching contacts. The call quality is good, and the roundness of the touch-screen is perfect for squeezing between ear and shoulder.
Google Maps and the A-GPS make for reasonably fast GPS, though the fix was occasionally inaccurate in the winding, twisty streets of Soho. Palm’s App Catalog is also far more populated now, with most major apps – such as Facebook, Twitter and even Foursquare – on the marketplace. There are news apps from the New York Times and Evening Standard, and tons of casual, vaguely pointless but possibly fun ones too. There are still fewer than 3,000 apps though, which is way behind the Apple App Store and Android Market – and the quality isn’t as high as the 5,000+ apps at BlackBerry App World.
Last year, the Pre was a great phone, but a year later, the same phone with a few cosmetic differences can’t really stand up to superphones like the HTC Desire and Samsung Galaxy S. Its design looks dated now; its sync features are old hat; and even the iPhone isn’t a network exclusive anymore. The Pre didn’t sell very well last year – and Palm has added nothing to the Pre Plus to make it sell any better.