fam_pre_692x325_r9Today, Sprint brought an engineer in who’s had the Pre for a week (he’s an admitted Crackberry addict since 1997. He still uses a Blackberry as his primary device since his Pre is brand new. The OS he had was the pre-release almost ‘finished’ beta. It popped up saying it wanted to update but he didn’t have the free 10 minutes it would take to do it right before coming out to us.

Observations:

This thing is quite compact. Definitely feels smaller than the iphone. The screen quality was about the same. You can sense it being smaller but since it has the extra gesture area under the screen that somewhat makes up for the difference. It did NOT feel cheesy, definitely solid enough, much more solid than my old 700p. Obviously its not metal like an ipod (part of the reason they can do the touchstone) but like the ipod metal, shows fingerprints (more on the case than the screen). They really should have used that 755p/blackberry ‘rubber’ like plastic IMHO. Engineer hinted there will be a Pre hardware refresh in 6 to 8 months including more memory and possible keyboard tweaks. Also hinted they wanted the Pre to be quadband but had to cut it for the next device due to timing. That would make it much more ‘international’ in terms of going from place to place around the world.

The slide mechanism looks and feels very elegant and very tactile. Assuming it holds up over time, I think it’s a great compromise for a big screen and having a keyboard. I can’t say how easy it is to use this one handed yet or while not looking at it (insert your reason here 🙂 ). That’s always been a big strength of Blackberry and the Treo due to the hard navigation buttons.

The keyboard was decent. At first it looked too small and was recessed a lot more than my palm, but I found I could type on it ok. Probably 85% as fast as the Treo, betting I would get to 90 or 95 with some time. It doesn’t have some of the Blackberry niceties of automatic capitalization by holding a key or putting in a period after a double space. If it does, it may be buried under some settings, but remember I only had about 20 minutes of hands on time.

I didn’t see a ‘magnifier’ like the iphone to position on text.

Phone audio quality was EXCELLENT and the speakerphone was great as well. Many a smartphone device has been hurt (iphone 1.0 for example) by mediocre voice quality. The dial pad was much easier to use than the Treo. I’ve only used an ipod on wifi so I can’t compare to AT&T, but youtube played nicely with no stutter and not too much time to buffer.

Definitely a noticeable delay, almost too long, to launch a new application. This is a problem on my old 700p but new users would find it a bit annoying. The ipod touch is much faster (although a lot of apps ‘launch’ quickly to a ‘loading screen’ so maybe that’s a bit deceptive.)

I will say the visual feedback was more sluggish than the Touch. Scrolling through a list of videos on youtube for example, just was a bit ‘choppier’ than the scrolling on the iphone. Gesture recognition occasionally took more than one try. Again, these are things that may get patched quickly, but I can only judge it on the way it is now.

I do like how it shows a highlight where you finger is when you touch the screen the way the iphone does, ONLY ON AN EMULATOR.

I can concur that their app store is pretty empty. I downloaded and installed Pandora, but didn’t want to setup my personal account on this guys demo unit so I can’t speak to how good it works. The download over Sprint EVDO Rev A was very fast. Faster than my Touch on wifi. The key is though, you can start listening to Pandora, and move on to other applications.

You don’t realize how cool multitasking and a keyboard can be until you’ve played with this device. Imagine Trapster (a speed trap notification app on Blackberry, Symbian and iPhone) that works in the background so you can use the phone and other apps while on the road but not miss the alert of an oncoming speed trap. At the same time, for ‘cleanliness’ you don’t necessarily want to leave all your apps open, just the ones you use often like email, music, chat etc.

I also like, similar to Treo, how you can group your apps by type such as games, productivity, business etc versus the iphone which feels like a typical Windows XP user’s overcrowded desktop of icons that gets unwieldy.

I took the battery out and looked at it. It’s about ½ the thickness and ½ the mAh capacity of the Treo Battery. If they had made the device a bit thicker they could have worked wonders on battery life but then the ‘sex and sizzle’ argument of the device being so small would set in. Personally I would prefer a slightly larger device with a great battery than this, but so be it.  At least you can carry a spare battery, unlike the iPhone.

The rep says he can go about a day without a charge but if he’s constantly playing with it, ½ day. He says, like his Blackberry, he’s got a habit of plugging it in, in the car or office when convenient. I will say, if you splurge for the Touchstone, dropping it onto the Stone makes charging an afterthought since you aren’t messing with opening a plug hole (the microusb has a flap on it) and plugging in a cable. I guess it’s the modern day incarnation of the great Palm dock that they invented.

Everything is Over The Air. This means if you Pre did physically die, they give you a new Pre, you log into your Palm hosted Profile account and within 10 to 20 minutes,(faster on wifi) your new Pre is identical to the old one.

Bottom line, if you’re an Apple fanboy and can put up with AT&T price gouging and have learned to live with a 2 hands, eyes on the device virtual keyboard, you aren’t tossing out your iphone anytime soon. If you are a Palm fanboy, you probably aren’t reading this as your in line somewhere at a Sprint store to get one of these, first release glitches and all. There are probably enough of you to buy all the available capacity of these for the next 3 to 6 months.

I’ve been a long time Sprint fan. I will say their customer service is completely new compared to the old days so if you haven’t tried them lately, give them another chance. Their coverage is very good. Their data speeds are probably the best in the US currently and have almost 100% coverage in their areas, meaning if you get a Sprint signal, you’ve got high speed data. I would say they are the 2nd best carrier in terms of coverage for a data heavy device behind Verizon who’s the Cadillac and is priced that way.

There is some debate as to when/if the Pre is coming to Verizon. Assuming Palm can ramp up production that will bring a huge 2nd wave of buyers into the market in my opinion. If developers are willing to build now for that 6 to 12 month opportunity, they will be way ahead of the completion. The problem for developers now, is the App store is too successful. With something like 40,000 applications, how is somebody even going to get noticed? If you are one of maybe 200 apps on the Pre in 6 months, even if there are only 1/10th as many pre’s that’s still much better odds for sales of your product and less competition so you can hold a potentially higher price than the usual $1.99 iphone app. In addition, all those Apps. That Apple won’t let be released on a non-jailbroken iphone, can now come out on the Pre and make it a more desirable device. (i.e. Skype, Slingbox over the air etc)

When the Pre comes to Verizon, that will give the device the ‘street cred’ it needs. Apple better rethink their exclusivity at some point in the not so distant future or like, Firefox eating away at IE, Apple may start to see a material drop in new name customers.  Also remember, that the Palm Pre looks like an iPod to iTunes so you can sync all your non-DRM (secured) media painlessly.  Unless you are hooked on a very specific iPhone app, this device can play in the iPhone market very nicely.