A day is a long time in the tech world, so for Palm’s Pre to rock up in the UK almost a year after it was first announced seems like a recipe for smartphone suicide.
But, as discerning Stuffers will know, the Pre is no ordinary phone – it’s a multi-touch, multi-tasking iPhone-botherer with a shiny new operating system called WebOS.
Just as we found in our play with the US version of the Pre, WebOS is a fast, fluid affair that’s very easy to use and has one key advantage over the iPhone – multi-tasking.
While the iPhone can, for example, play music in the background while you browse the web, you invariably have to close apps before launching another. Not so with the Pre – you just scroll it off the side of the screen, and if you do want to close something down, just flick it upwards and it’s gone.
The inclusion of a QWERTY keyboard will please serial messagers too. It’s compact but accurate, and just big enough to be thumbable for long periods.
With the keyboard tucked away, the Pre feels surprisingly small. It’s around 14mm shorter than the iPhone and 2mm narrower, but Apple’s rival is 5mm thinner for a smaller pocket bulge.
Web browsing is a pleasant experience. Pages can be zoomed by pinching and stretching, bookmarks appear as thumbnails, and the keyboard makes entering text, logins and so on far less painful than with most mobile browsers.
A dedicated YouTube app compensates partly for the absence of Flash. It’s not such good news over at the app store, though: there are no paid-for apps, so don’t expect too much innovation any time soon, and the amount on offer is disappointingly low.
Handily, all of your contacts can be corralled into one list via the “Synergy” system, which works flawlessly. Each person gets their own little card with details for Facebook, Gmail, Microsoft Exchange, phone numbers and so on.
As with Apple’s blower, you can also back up data over-the-air and remotely wipe the device if you lose it. Just the thing for absent-minded spies.
Sadly, multimedia performance is patchy. The 3MP camera interface is cute, showing thumbnails of your shots just after you’ve taken them, but the quality isn’t great and it won’t record video. Music is at least handled fairly well, with 8GB of (non-expandable) storage, a capable music player and a 3.5mm headphone jack, but it’s no match for the iPhone’s built-in iPod.
The Pre’s battery life is comparable to the iPhone’s – which isn’t great, so you’ll be charging it a lot. The basic package comes with a standard mains brick, but for another £45 you can upgrade to wireless charging.
For this you get the Touchstone charging dock and a replacement magnetic rear panel for the handset. This lets you stick the phone onto the 'puck', where it will recline and juice itself up.
It’s a pleasingly geeky, if expensive, addition to the Pre’s armoury, and another feature that’s currently unique to Palm’s first, but certainly not last, WebOS handset.
These touches, and the slickness of Palm’s WebOS, mean that the Pre should be right at the top of any iPhone naysayers’ shopping list. But the lack of internal storage, video recording and, most importantly, compelling apps, mean that Apple’s all-rounder and Android stars like the HTC Hero still hold the edge.