Global Constant
Steve Nay's ramblings

Palm Pre Plus vs. iPhone OS

First a disclaimer. I don’t own an iPhone, only an iPod Touch. As such, this is a comparison of the two operating systems, not necessarily the two phones.

I had a Motorola EM326g from Net10 (a prepaid phone). Its MP3-playing abilities were marginal at best, so I bought an iPod Touch. Most of the places I go (home, school, and work) all have WiFi, so this combination of mobile devices suited my needs most of the time. But I still wanted a single smartphone that did it all.

After trying to decide between the iPhone, the Nexus One, and the Palm Pre, I finally settled on the Pre.

First of all, the multitasking is phenomenal! With the iPhone OS, I found myself switching apps and having to wait a few seconds for each to load up. I couldn’t go check Twitter in the middle of writing an email without first saving the draft, closing Mail, opening Twittelator, waiting the 4-5 seconds it takes to open, and then scrolling through my new tweets. On the Pre, I simply flick up to go into Card view, then flick over to Twee, wait half a second while it loads the new tweets, and start reading. No time is lost while going between applications because they’re already running.

The screen is a bit smaller (1.75” x 2.63” versus 2” x 3” on the iPod). The phone is (I think) also a bit thicker, partly because of the slide-out keyboard.

Speaking of the keyboard, I’m still not used to it. I’ve become quite the fan of the iPod’s keyboard. It’s responsive and (once you get the hang of it) can make typing quite fast. The Pre has a physical keyboard with tiny keys. While I’ve gotten faster at it since I first got the device a few days ago, it’s still not nearly as easy to use as the on-screen keyboard on the iPod. Also, the auto-correction (what little there is) doesn’t hold a candle to the intelligence of that of the iPhone OS.

The camera seems to take really nice pictures, and it has an LED flash. But beyond that, you’ll have to go to others’ evaluations for more info.

The USB port cover does a nice job of concealing the port and keeping the body smooth, but it’s very hard to get off. I have to open the slider and then use my fingernail to pry the cover off. The first time I did it was scared I was going to break it, that’s how flimsy it feels. To date, I haven’t had any trouble with it, but it just feels like something that will eventually break off under prolonged use. (Perhaps this is just a ploy to get you to buy the inductive charger. Who knows.)

On the top, next to the power button, is a ringer switch. It allows you to silence the phone (or put it on vibrate) without having to unlock it and go through menus or push the volume-down button a million times. This is a feature I really like.

Touch movements, especially scrolling, tend to be less smooth on the Palm Pre than on the iPod. Also, some of the gestures are simply not intuitive. For example, the gesture to go back to the previous screen in an app (where iPhone OS usually has a left-pointing button at the top of the screen) requires you to swipe from right to left in the “gesture area” right below the screen. Intuition would tell you to swipe in the opposite direction.

To go from an app into the Card view (where you can flick through all the open applications), you swipe up from the gesture area onto the screen. To close an app from the Card view, you flick it off the top of the screen. (It even makes a cute little noise to make it even more fun.)

At the top left of the screen in any app is a menu where a few well-chosen commands are kept. This allows you to access the preferences pane for that app or perform copy/paste operations if you haven’t figured out the shortcuts yet. From the upper right corner, you can also access a few system-wide things, such as WiFi, battery level, and Bluetooth (shown at right).

Selecting text, copying, and pasting, while not inherently difficult operations, are not quite as simple as they are on iPhone OS. Selecting text often involves using the shift key (meaning they keyboard has to be open). Cut, copy, and paste (as well as select all) can be performed with a shortcut in which you press on the gesture area with one finger and type C, X, V, or A on the keyboard. Another cool thing is the ability to move the cursor anywhere when editing or selecting text, without having to tap directly on the place you want to go: hold down the option key and pan across the screen in any direction. (iPhone OS doesn’t have this, but the magnifying glass makes that obsolete. I personally find the iPhone way more intuitive.)

So here’s the run-down of my take on the Palm Pre versus the iPhone OS:

Upsides:

  • The multitasking is a must-have for a power user. It drastically improves my productivity when I have to use multiple apps to get the information I need. With the iPhone OS, in order to avoid spending time waiting for apps to start, I’m forced to make my work more confined by limiting the frequency of app switching.
  • While I haven’t played with it much yet, the development platform is much more open than that of Apple. Palm still has an “app store” which requires some sort of approval process, but it also has a “homebrew” channel on which any developer can post apps. (Actually installing them requires jumping through some hoops to put the phone in developer mode.)
  • The Pre does have some multitouch gestures, including pinch-to-zoom.
  • The Palm Pre Plus is carried by Verizon. If you consider that an upside.

Downsides:

  • Since it’s not as popular as the iPhone, there aren’t as many good apps for the Pre. Yet. (Whether iPhone’s dominance is a good thing or not is debatable.)
  • The Pre’s interface just isn’t quite as smooth, sleek, or responsive as the iPhone’s.
  • The Palm Pre Plus is carried by Verizon. Their EVDO network supposedly doesn’t support data and voice connections at the same time. So no GPS turn-by-turn navigation while you’re talking on the phone in the car.

If you’re looking for tutorials, lists of good apps to get, and other tidbits about the Pre, Totally Palmed is a great website to visit.