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Sunday, June 21, 2009

My New Communicator: The Palm Pre

Before-Pre Mornings: I wake up, refresh the iGoogle page on my laptop, and check Entourage for work emails. I would grab breakfast and watch The Daily Show or The Colbert Report (depending on what I had last seen). I would head to work and refresh my iGoogle page when I got there, checking it throughout the day for personal emails, Google Reader alerts, and news headlines.

After-Pre Mornings: I wake up, grab the Pre and turn on the screen. I look at the notifications bar and find a chat and email alert; I respond to the chat(s), whether they be GChat, AIM, or SMS, and I look at the emails (both work and personal). I then load the Google Reader mobile page and start going through all of my Facebook alerts, Slashdot headlines, and White House RSS messages. 20 minutes later, I finally put the device down and grab breakfast. I may start watching The Daily Show or The Colbert Report; if I do I still pick up the Pre half-way through the episode and start browsing the web; if I don't, I just take a shower and walk out the door still looking at stuff on the Pre.

I think you get the idea...Palm has become the center of my life once again.

I was first introduced to Palm OS by my aunt; she bought me a Handspring Visor Deluxe when I was 16, and at the time I was obsessed about syncing my Calendar, AvantGo (for news articles), Memos, and To Do Lists. I also ended up buying a SoundsGood expansion for the Handspring so that I could listen to mp3s with it, and I also obtained the eyemodule to take pictures with.

When I was 18, my aunt bought me the Targus StowAway foldable keyboard, which I used quite a bit Freshman Year of College (I had to spend time working on assignments outside of my dorm room, which insipired me to use it).

Then my family surprised me with a cell phone for Christmas Freshman year; I remember how pissed I was. I guess I was trying to avoid getting a cell phone for as long as possible; not all of my friends had cell phones yet, and I felt like I could get away with not having one (I stayed logged into AIM 24/7 at the time, and responded to emails). I think it was mostly the fact that my parents had signed a 2-year contract for me, and it was with a really crappy Kyocera phone (Phatom KX414).

By the time the two years were almost up (Junior Year of College), the phone would barely work for 5 minutes without dying, so I had to get a new one. Rather than sign another contract for a new phone, I looked on ebay for a used smartphone and found the Kyocera 7135 (a Palm-OS based phone). I ended up paying ~$65 for it, which I thought was a great deal at the time for a smartphone.

The advantage of having a Kyocera 7135 is that I was able to easily migrate from the Handspring, including all calendar events, contacts, memos, and applications; it was also nice to finally have a color screen. The disadvantage was that the phone application was unstable at times and I did not get good talk time with it. It was nice being able to use a stylus to type text messages, but sometimes I would not receive messages and the phone would struggle to send them. I also started to get sick of having to constantly sync my phone to preserve my data and update web applications. I had to use a backup program that I setup to backup everything nightly to an SD card; I had to restore my phone everytime the battery completely drained or the phone crashed and I had to do a hard-reset.

Some of my most used applications on Palm OS include:

AvantGo - News articles updated at each sync; I also created a custom page load for the bus routes, which was very handy.
Tetris - This game came with my phone, and it worked great in all its color glory. I would still love to put this on the Pre at some point, but I'm willing to wait for an official app. (I tried loading it into Classic, but the game showed up black-and-white and was awkward to play.)
MineHunt - This is a classic Palm OS game, but it is still really fun to play; I also hope this ends up on WebOS at some point.
HardBall - Again, another fun classic Palm OS game.
Advanced Calc - This was a Handspring-exclusive Palm OS app that I really miss. I haven't been able to migrate it to my Kyocera 7135 or the Classic app successfully; if anyone knows how to migrate locked Handspring Palm OS apps, please let me know.
CityTime - Another locked Handspring Palm OS app that I loved. I just want to be able to have time of more than one locale...why is it so hard to find apps that do this. BTW, I currently use VelaClock on the Mac OS Dashboard...hope they develop a WebOS app!
RoscoView - This was a nice picture viewer for Palm OS.
CardBkup - The backup program I was talking about earlier.
Bebopper - A nice basic mp3 player that worked well on the 7135.
DocumentsToGo - Nice for browsing .doc files, etc.

I still can't believe I continued to use the 7135 for as long as I did; one of my friends even found a spare that I switched to when my battery was bad and the device was acting up. I really wanted to retire it, but I wasn't pleased with the lack of updates to Palm OS, and I wasn't too interested in getting a PocketPC-based smartphone (although I did consider it at one point). Blackberry was tempting for a little bit (just so that I could access email quickly), but ultimately I was looking for something that could truly become my new personal assistant and all-in-one mobile device.

Then came the iPhone...I think if I hadn't gone to the Philippines, I might have picked up the original iPhone and switched to AT&T. At least the original iPhone included 250 SMS Text Messages a month and was $59.99 for the 450 minute plan (in retrospect, I would have been very happy with this plan). Then the iPhone 3G came out...and AT&T raised the price to $69.99, or $74.99 with 250 SMS Text Messages...and I was very unhappy. At that point I had returned from the Philippines and, again, craving a new phone, I would have considered buying an iPhone if Apple had come out with the 32GB version in Summer 2008 and AT&T hadn't raised the service fees.

If Palm hadn't come along to introduce the revolutionary WebOS and the Palm Pre January 2009, and if they had postponed the release past June 6, I might have bought an iPhone 3GS 32GB instead. I've been waiting for a long time for a new phone, and I would have loved the extra space and processor upgrade. But Apple remained hard-set on locking down the iPhone and preventing it from multitasking with 3rd party apps.

So when Palm introduced the Pre and told us it would be on Sprint, I was very excited...finally, competition that would bring the service fees down and provide an alternative way of using a mobile device. And alas, I am very happy with the $69.99 Everything Data Sprint plan, and I love using the Pre. So here we go, time to talk about the Palm Pre (finally...).

The weekend the Pre was released, my friends had scheduled a camping trip to Devil's Lake and they wouldn't let me get away with sitting in Madison all weekend just so that I can pick up the Palm Pre. Fortunately my friend Jesse needed to drive back to Madison early Saturday morning for a family event, so I convinced him to leave around 6:30AM. I had been planning to pick up the phone at Best Buy, but I was worried about the limited supply (~5 at each store in Madison), so I would have gone to the store at 5AM, but Sprint sent an email letting everyone waiting know that the Sprint stores would be open at 8AM. So I ended up standing outside of the Sprint store 10 minutes to 8; I was 15 in line. At that point, I was tired, smelled of campfire, and thinking that I probably wouldn't be able to get one, given I wasn't in the first 5. But they let us all in and gave each of us a printed sales sheet with a number; by the end of the 1.5 hours I was there, they had over 100 people, and they still had enough phones for everyone!

I had U.S. Cellular up to that point (I love U.S. Cellular; they provide great cell service in Wisconsin and I haven't been disappointed, even when visiting IL, MN, or MI; customer service is also #1; if they had been able to offer the Pre with a good comprehensive service plan, I would have stuck with them; good luck to them on ending U.S. exclusive handset deals, which really only benefit the large cell service providers.) The switch took a couple of hours, so I had to take the Palm Pre home and was unable to turn it on until the migration completed. Fortunately Sprint had a way to check the status online (it turned out the rep was missing a key piece of information that I provided when I called customer service after going home).

When I first turned on the Pre, it asked me to register for a Palm Profile and then asked me to log in to my online accounts. First was Google; all I did was type in my login info once on the phone, and with a couple exceptions the phone downloaded all of my contacts, calendar events*, email, and logged me into Gmail chat. Next was Facebook, and then Synergy began to do its thing, linking my Google contacts to Facebook. I found that it did a relatively good job; it even pulled in my contacts' photos from Gmail and Facebook and put them as the contacts' photos :-) And it is very easy to link more contacts together or remove incorrect links, and correcting Google contacts results in the changes being pushed back to Google (and vice-versa). I was so impressed with this...this is exactly what I wanted my new communicator to need for syncing with my computer! In fact, the first time I actually plugged in the usb cable to access data was to mount the device in USB target disk mode, where I can drag files back and forth, and that's how I added some audiobooks, mp3s, images, and Classic apps. I have not used media sync yet (I'm not terribly interested in using iTunes as my media manager, although if I can have sync'ing happen over wifi, I would consider it).

WebOS also had no problem connecting to Exchange using the web-access http method; it downloaded my mail, calendar, and provided access to the Global Address Book within contacts. The only issue is that sometimes you need to look at the Accounts section for alternate apps and make sure you don't need to enter your password a second time; once you do this, everything starts syncing as excpeted.

*With regards to Calendar, I had a Google sync'd version of my work calendar in addition to the Exchange-based calendar. Both of these calendars for conflicting with one-another, which caused the day view from not being displayed properly. However, I continued to receive event notifications, and the day were gray-shaded within the month view. Anyhow, by disabling and re-enabling calendars, I was able to get the Calendars to show up.*

The browser is very fast and I've been relatively happy with it. With regards to mp3 links, I am able to stream podcasts over 3G, and most of the time I am able to listen to the entire thing without refreshing the page. This does tend to be a memory-intensive task; once the podcast has fully buffered, I tend to run out of memory and am unable to open anything other than the podcast. I have also noticed that WebOS acts similar to a web browser with tabs; if you open tabs that consume a lot of memory, some browsers (and older versions of Firefox) have difficulty recovering memory after you close done a tab. The only resolution to this on a desktop is to completely shutdown the browser and restart it. With WebOS, I find myself having to close down ALL open cards and wait up to a minute before I can open new cards again; on rare occasions I also have to reboot the Pre to have it free all memory. Having some better garbage collection and memory management within WebOS should drastically improve performance and useability, and I expect this will improve in the future (that's the negative of designing a truly multitasking environment, but it's a good negative to have ;-) ).

One more thing about the has great pinch and double-tap support (almost exactly the same as the iPhone's), but the pivot is the best feature (just hold down your finger on the area of the page you'd like to zoom to, and use the pinch gestures to zoom in or out within that area.

Some requests for the browser: I'd like to suggest that the orange button on the keyboard, which currently functions to move the cursor in text boxes, also provides an option key or right-click function, in which I would be able to click on a link or a picture and Save As (to support downloading files to the communicator). It would make me very happy to be able to download an mp3 or save a jpeg without having to plug the Pre into my computer or send it via email. I would also like to be able to copy and paste into fields within the browser, and to select text to copy/paste that isn't in an email, etc.

I am extremely happy with the Messaging app and the notifications area. I find myself chatting with my friends a lot more often now than I have during the last few years. I just haven't had the desire to login to a chat program and leave it running; the phone is the perfect place for an always-on chat program to run. I love how Gmail, AIM, and SMS are tightly integrated within this app, and I find great enjoyment walking and chatting with people (I think it will become my new pass-time; it will get me to enjoy the outdoors more often).

I enabled the advanced gestures, and after having gotten used to them, I enjoy doing right-to-left and left-to-right gestures to alt-tab between open cards.

As soon as I realized that I could use Pandora Radio in the car, I went to Best Buy and started testing Bluetooth stereos. I found the Pioneer DEH-D7000BT to be the easiest to configure and pair with my phone, so I went with that, and I have not been disappointed! As long as I leave the Bluetooth radio on with my phone, I can walk into the car, turn on the stereo, and it automatically links up to my phone within 1 minute. At that point, I am able take calls hands-free and listen to internet radio and use turn-by-turn over the stereo! In fact, these apps were designed so well that when I receive a call, Pandora automatically pauses, and when the call ends, Pandora resumes! With turn-by-turn by Sprint, the music fades out while the directions are read, and the music fades back when the turn-by-turn is done talking! It's so awesome...I was even able to drive between Madison and Milwaukee on 94E and then 43N and finally highway 60 without any skips (Pandora may take a few seconds to buffer if I skipped a song though).

In terms of 3G and Wifi performance, using the iPhone speedtest, I was getting ~1500 Kbps on 3G (full strength) and ~2500 Kbps on Wifi, which is better than the iPhone.

SprintTV is great (high-quality and loads quickly), and Youtube works great (the browser automatically passes any youtube link to the app so that it loads properly on the Pre). I also enjoyed being able to update WebOS without needing a PC (over the air)!

This has gotten really long, so I'm going to try to wrap up. The Music app needs to at least be able to resume mp3 playback (it is difficult to listen to audiobooks without this capability); it also needs to allow me to create custom playlists on the fly. I also would love to have more than 8GB (so easy to fill with audiobooks, images, etc.). But aside from the above complaints, I've been extremely happy with the Pre, and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good alternative to the iPhone. In fact, if one is looking more for a communicator and less for a mobile computer, the Palm Pre fits perfectly for this role. I feel that the iPhone is great for multimedia, apps, and gaming, but the fact that you can't stay logged into AIM (without using Apple's push notifications or GChat while you are browsing the web and listening to Pandora Radio is a huge gap in how I expect to use a mobile device. Please feel free to leave comments or send messages to @techramble on Twitter.

Links (Updated 3/24/09):
Anandtech Palm Pre Review
Ars Technica Palm Pre Review (Part 1)
Ars Technica Palm Pre Review (Part 2: WebOS)
Engadget Podcast Palm Pre Review Discussion
Palm Pre on MP3Tunes Forums

P.S. Pandora is nice to have, but is what I really want on the Palm Pre! Please follow through with this soon,!

1 comment:

  1. I just wanted to mention something about the migration process...

    I found myself having to use the Windows Palm Migration tool because I wanted to sync my Memos (and the Mac OS X version only worked with Contacts and Calendar). Aside from issues using the latest Palm Desktop (with isn't supported with my Kyocera 7135), I was able to get all of my Memos imported into my Palm Profile (which made me really happy). The one thing missing is being able to access Palm Profile content from my PC or a web browser...anything on Palm Profile can only be accessed on the Pre itself (as far as I know).