It’s official: the iPhone is no longer the sexiest phone on the block. The much-hyped Palm Pre has finally slid into view, flaunting a sleeker design, a real Qwerty keyboard and hot new features like multi-tasking and wireless charging.

If imitation is the sincerest form of intellectual property theft, the Palm Pre is clearly happy to be the iPhone’s jailhouse sweetie. Flipping through menus, pinching images and flicking apps open on the Pre’s pin-sharp 3.1-inch multi-touchscreen will feel utterly natural to Apple aficionados – and its fast but Flash-less web browsing is virtually identical.

Media multi-tasker

Of course, you can’t juggle three or four apps simultaneously on the iPhone, whereas the Palm Pre’s multi-tasking ‘card’ interface makes downloading video while you stream music while you write a text as simple as falling – very, very slowly – off a log.

Don’t worry: you’ll soon learn not to have too many processor- or bandwidth-intensive apps open at once. And it’s a painless enough prospect while the App Catalog of downloads remains thinner than Palm’s market share. Remember that there’s only 8GB of memory on board, too.

Sync synergy

The Palm Pre blends contacts and calendars from Outlook, Exchange, Google and Facebook into a single Synergy life planner that hoovers up photos, contact details and events. It’s not quite perfect, grabbing birthdays from Facebook, for instance, but omitting to put them in your diary. A universal search – just start typing – is a great way to track down elusive people and apps, or launch a quick web query.

However, the advertised cut-and-paste function barely exists. You can only select from text that you’ve just typed in – so there’s no copying information from an incoming email to a new SMS or grabbing an interesting paragraph from a website.

True calling

Calls and messaging are excellently handled, and the cramped keyboard is nowhere near as bad as you might expect. Sound quality is superb through real headphones and even the tinny built-in speakers will do in a pinch. The Palm Pre does indeed sync (non-DRM) music and photos from iTunes although Apple has already warned that this might not last. Average 3MP snaps somehow manage to be noisy, smeary, bright and colourful, all at the same time.

Assault on battery

Battery life is dreadful – our test unit needed charging twice on one particularly long, busy day – although that does give you more excuse to use the cool Touchstone wireless charger. We also had concerns about build quality, with the Pre’s plastic case feeling a touch creaky.

But these are small concerns about a device that has done almost the impossible – transform a brand that once summoned images of sweaty-palmed accountants comparing Excel spreadsheets on sweaty Palms, into a foxy, street-smart social networker you won’t be ashamed of showing to a first date.

Stuff says... 

Palm Pre review

Call it Post, not Pre. This smarter phone leaves Palm’s geeky image behind to present a powerful iPhone alternative