Can the Pre really save Palm?

Well, Sprint has hopped on the touchscreen bandwagon in a last-ditch effort at mitigating their churn rate. They’ve entered into an exclusive agreement to sell the Palm Pre, Palm’s last-ditch effort at avoiding the use of past-tense in their Wikipedia entry. Are you noticing a trend?  The term “Hail Mary” comes to mind.

To be honest, I was pretty excited about the Palm Pre.  After all, it won the Best of CES 2009‘s “Best in Show” award.  The design was headed up by an Apple veteran, Jon Rubinstein. It sports a brand new OS, WebOS, which if it is as good as it sounds, is a huge plus.  And (control yourselves), it can multitask.

And who can deny, it looks beautiful in all the pictures!

Hey there sexy ;-).
Hey there, sexy ;-).

I mean, jeez, I want the phone just to hold in my hand.  The screen looks so big, bright, and beautiful.  Goodbye iPhone!  Helloooooooo Pre!

I walked into the Sprint store yesterday afternoon, after eating Chipotle for probably the 5th or 6th time in a week (it’s only an addiction if you don’t admit you’ve got a problem, I admit it openly).  I saw it there, on it’s wireless charging pedestal, practically floating like the magical amulet that those crazy unicorns are after.  I walked right up to the demonstration model of the Pre and took it into my hands.  And…

WTF.

I have never been so misled in my life about a piece of technology.  The Pre is a Preice of shit.  First of all, it’s screen is not as big as the iPhone’s, despite many of the pictures floating around on the web.  Exhibit A:

Objects in image may not be the same size as they appear.
Objects in image may not be the same size as they appear.

Head on over to Gizmodo’s Smartphone Comparison to see the real thing side by side with the iPhone.  The iPhone’s screen is 3.5″, the Pre’s is 3.1″.  That may not sound like a lot, but there’s a reason all of the icons on the Pre are tiny.  That screen real-estate does matter.  I wouldn’t have thought so, but as I was playing with the Pre in the Sprint store I started to feel honestly claustrophobic (something I never feel), and it wasn’t because the store was crowded–the Pre’s user interface was.

Next, usability.  I couldn’t figure the damn thing out.  I am a hardware engineer, with software experience as well, and I hate having to read instruction manuals.  I usually don’t need to, in fact ever since I was little I could always figure out electronics without them.  The Pre stumped me.  I even sat through the incredibly condescending “Demo” the phone had on it to teach me how to use it.  Isn’t the point of multi-touch screen phones to not need to learn how to do anything?  Shouldn’t I just touch what I want (giggle)?  I didn’t have to re-learn how to use the mouse when I switched from a Gateway computer to a Dell.  I mean, yea it (usually) would respond when I tapped it with my fingertip, but I just really wasn’t sure how to get what I wanted done quickly (browse the web, make phone calls, open a new tab in the browser, etc.)

I think maybe part of the problem though is that I’ve had an iPhone for over a year now.  It’s user interface is so obvious and so simple, I think it has sapped any patience I might have for even slightly cumbersome user interfaces.  I get angry with ATM machines and gas pumps nowadays, thanks to my iPhone.  I find myself asking random pieces of electronics, “Don’t they have an App for this already?” or “Jesus why is this thing so damn slow!”.

What about the web browser?  It was OK.  It was better than my old RAZR, that’s for sure.  But navigating around big web pages just wasn’t nearly as smooth, precise, or easy as on the iPhone.  They rendered fine and everything, but hey, what’s what WebKit is for…you can’t really fuck that up.

The slide out keyboard is a joke.  The keys are about half as big as the ones on the BlackBerry Curve (already pretty tiny), and they remind me of miniature versions of those puffed up stickers my sisters used to have when we were little.  I practically had to use my thumbnails to type properly on the thing.  Thankfully I hadn’t trimmed my nails in about 2 weeks or I’m really not sure what I would have done.  And I don’t have that big of hands.

Honestly, I am so disappointed, I’m just gonna stop my little review right here.  There are plenty of them out there.  But honestly, people, the iPhone has changed the game forever, and they may just be way too far ahead (for now).  I never really appreciated how good Apple’s touchscreen technology was until I played with the Palm Pre.  I had many occasions with the Pre not registering my touches properly.  That has never happened to me on the iPhone.

So, can the Pre really save Palm?  I don’t know.  Everybody used to think the RAZR was a cool phone.  And for it’s time, it was.  But I can promise you this, anybody who tries an iPhone will see the Pre as a childish, cheap-feeling, slow-running, and more expensive knock-off.  Oh and about that “multitasking”?  Yea, not so much.  Unless you consider multitasking “minimize current application, slide finger over to scroll to the other application I want, touch application I want to be running now”.  Oh wait, that’s exactly the same finger motions I make to open a different application on the iPhone.  Except it happens faster.