Saturday, June 6, 2009

Fondling the Palm Pre

I took a trip a Sprint store in downtown Chicago today for the express purpose of playing around with the Palm Pre. I was actually tempted to buy it right there and then but an hour or so of playing around with the Pre help cool my ardor. (Does this word mean what I think it means?) Which is not to say that I didn't like the Pre, only that I don't think its necessarily worth switching carriers and giving up my T-Mobile G1.

I arrived at the store at about 9AM and there was a line of about 20 people ahead of me. I had visited the store the day before and been told by a clerk that they had 32 Pres to sell and two demo units. So I was in time. A clerk offered me a demo unit to play with and I snapped a picture to test the camera. I was immediately impressed. The picture looked great and I snapped an identical picture with my G1 for comparison purposes. The picture quality of the two phones seemed roughly comparable. I thought that the Pre took a better picture but it's hard to tell on a three inch screen. What I really wanted to do was email the Pre's picture to myself so I could compare them directly. Alas, the email on the demo unit wasn't set up so I couldn't do this, grrr.

But the Pre I could still see the strength of the Pre's camera. My G1 takes good pictures when it has good lighting but the shutter speed is very slow. I'll often move it too early and ruin a picture. But the Pre I demoed had no such problem. It snapped the picture immediately. Programs on the Pre launch quickly, more quickly than they do on my G1. Unfortunately, the Pre I used was prone to strange and sudden periods of lagginess especially when trying to use the gestures. The Sprint staff insisted that this was due to fact thaty the demo unit was a month old and not yet fully baked. They insisted that the retail units had fully up to date software that the demo unit lacked. I'll take their word for it but it seems strange. Surely Sprint or Palm could have pushed out an over the air update to the demo units the night before to make sure they would perform like a brand new unit. After all, this was presumably an important day for both Palm and Sprint and you would think that they would do everything in their power to see that in store demos went off without a hitch. Oh well.

One thing that the Pre did very well was rotate the screen. Every time that I've played with an iPhone or iPod Touch it showed a small but noticeable delay when it rotated screen from portrait to landscape mode and vice versa. My G1 only recently got this ability and when it rotates the screen, it is even slower. But with the Pre screen rotation was instantaneous. This is clearly a fast little machine. The card view worked perfectly and felt very natural.

The Pre itself is quite beautiful. It felt good in my had and curves gently when open to hug the contours of my head when I hold it up to my ear. Unfortunately, the shiny, glossy surface is a fingerprint magnet.

As far as the gestures go, the most natural ones are the back swipe and the swipe up gesture which brings on the wave bar and launcher. They were very smooth and even fun to do—most of the time. Sometimes the wave would get stuck in the middle of the screen. Sometimes tapping on the launcher button would launch the phone application and vice versa. I also had trouble pulling off a lot of the other gestures. The double tap to zoom in on part of a web page tended to work perfectly but the pinch and squeeze to zoom in or out was flakey and unpredictable. Again the Sprint staff insisted that this was the fault of half-baked demo software and that the retail phones would behave properly. They were certainly helpful and patient with customers who were actually ready to buy, making sure that they didn't leave the store unless their phone worked. But they were hampered in that they couldn't just open a retail and use the phone unless a customer was ready to buy it.

I suppose from Sprint's perspective my complaints don't matter since by my own admission, I wasn't ready to buy the phone. And indeed, I can't even say that they've lost me as a customer. I was impressed enough by what I saw that I'll probably go back in a couple of weeks after the hype has died down and see if they have a fully baked demo unit to play with. But I certainly didn't fall in love with the Pre and buy it on the spot. Of course there were people in line behind me who were ready to buy it anyway....

The Pre launch reminds me of a failed television show called "Kitchen Confidential." The pilot of that show featured a brilliant chef at a restaurant whose opening night goes disastrously. But the food is delicious and the local food critic gives the place a thumbs up—after noting that they have to get their house in order to become a truly great restaurant. Right now Sprint and Palm respectively are Nolita and Jack Bourdain—they have a great product but they still need to get their act together to sell it.

In any case my plan remains the same. I'll wait for an unlocked GSM version to come out before I buy the Pre. I bought my G1 mostly because my Treo 680 was becoming too unstable and I hated the browser and hated having to hard reset it and reinstall my programs to get it to run properly. (The 680 is actually a pretty efficient PDA when it's relieved of its phone and Internet duties.) While my G1 can be annoying at times, it can get laggy and I sometimes have to reset it in order to get it to behave but for the most part, it's still going strong and I enjoy using it. I'm in the middle of a two year contract. I can afford to wait....

No comments: