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After using a Palm Pre and its webOS since the launch last month, we can tell you this platform is one to keep an eye on. At the same time, it feels a bit like a proof-of-concept because there are only about 30 apps available from third-party developers, and the touch interface might be a bit too “out there” for the average user. (A few Pre newbies we know have not even figured out how to close apps with a quick swipe up on the screen.) For power users, webOS is a leader in the field with, even outshining iPhone 3.0 in terms of the easy-to-use interface and more obvious multi-tasking mechanics.
The Pre hardware uses a TI OMAP3430 processor running at 600 MHz, making it the second fastest next to the new iPhone 3GS. The 4.7-ounce device has a 3.1-inch 320x480 screen, a full – but rather small – QWERTY slide-down keyboard, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Stereo, and a 3 megapixel cam.
Dog slow – that's how many Pre users first view app loading on the Pre. In fact, while most apps take a full three or four seconds to load, the screen switches to the wallpaper so you might think something has gone wrong while the app loads. However, once load, apps generally run quickly unless you start too many of them (more than five or so), which causes the phone to chug along. We measured the browser and contacts app as loading in a full six seconds, about the worst in our OS tests.
Even this Contacts app loads slow compared to BlackBerry OS and the iPhone 3.0 OS.
Palm was intent on hitting a homerun with webOS. The included apps are feature-rich (for example, the Contacts manager automatically fills in both your Facebook and Gmail contacts automatically) and easy to use. There's the typical e-mail, browser, contacts, and scheduling apps, but Palm also added a memo app, tools for MMS, SMS and instant messaging, a document viewer that supports Microsoft Office apps and Adobe PDF, and a task manager. In this sense, Palm was ready to take on BlackBerry OS in terms of business-class productivity, ignoring the somewhat paltry offering on other smartphones in terms of personal information organization (PIM) features. We prefer some of the BlackBerry OS advanced features, such as grouping contacts and color-coding your schedule, but the Pre beats BlackBerry OS and even Apple iPhone 3.0 for ease-of-use on bundled PIM apps.
Of course, the Pre is a major letdown right now if you expect to find extra apps. There's only a small portion – such as Pandora, Accuweather, and Tweed (a Twitter client). We expect this to change once Palm releases the SDK later this year – right now, the company seems to be testing the waters with webOS and will probably make more devices and encourage wider developer adoption. It's unclear whether they have burned their bridges, though, since developers – who had warmed up to the Palm Treo years ago – have stalled out on making apps for aging Palm OS 5.
webOS includes a GPS-enabled app for finding your way through traffic and getting directions.
The apps available are thin for now, although Palm will fix that problem this year with an SDK.
There is no better multi-tasking OS than that what you'll find on the Palm Pre. Android is slick – you press the Home button for two seconds and can click on an app. On Symbian S60 and BlackBerry OS, you can run multiple apps and return to them in the exact state they were in when you switched. Yet, the lacking user interface element is being able to see which apps are open. WebOS shows you all open apps in a card interface. You just flick from side to side to see apps, and press on the “card” you want to see. You can also use an “advanced gesture” setting found in the Screen & Lock app to multi-task without even using the card interface – you just flick left or right to change apps.
Multi-tasking also allows the most powerful feature in the OS: alerts and prompts that appear on the screen, no matter what you are doing. Android adds alerts to a taskbar but does not show them on the main screen, and there are no similar alerts with other smartphone operating systems.
Palm Pre's webOS supports MP3, AAC, AAC+, WAV or AMR audio formats, and MPEG-4, H.263, and H.264 for video. The OS supports GIF, Animated GIF, JPEG, PNG, BMP image formats. This is a good, well-rounded group of file formats and typical for what you might want to load on the device. A high-def MPEG-4 video played smoothly on the Pre without any stalls, audio test files were clear and undistorted, and photos loaded quickly once the photo app was up and running.
Videos like the high-def MPEG-4 test file on top played smoothly in webOS.