iPhone vs. Palm Pre Review – Confession of an Apple Fanboy
According to John Gruber’s definition, I’m what you could call an Apple fanboy. Yet, I just switched from my beloved iPhone to a Palm Pre. Quite a few people seemed interested in knowing the opinion of a non Apple hater on this subject, so here’s my take on it…
In a nutshell: I think the iPhone is a better device, but I’m glad I switched to the Pre, and I’m definitely not going back. If you want to know why, keep on reading…
You can look at the specs online all day long, when you meet the Pre in person, the first you notice is that it looks tiny. Super small… I know, technically, it is not much smaller, but it looks that way, and is actually pretty sexy. Much sexier than I expected (no, I didn’t go to a store before I ordered it online). It sort of looks like the female version of the iPhone. Depending on the type of relationship you have with your phone, and your gender, this can be a good thing or a bad thing I guess. I happen to like it. And I think it fits better in the hand.
You get the same impression when you slide it open for the first time: the keyboard seems borderline microscopic. I’d never had a smartphone before the iPhone, so this is my first “real” keyboard and I like it. There’s no clear cut winner here. I might actually be able to type faster on the iPhone if I trust the auto-correction and don’t mind a few errors here and there. But I don’t write novels on my phone, only text messages, internet search terms, phone book lookups, things for which speed is less important than accuracy. And when it comes down to accuracy, I found out you can’t beat a real keyboard; I was more precise on my Pre after 5 seconds of use than on my iPhone after 2 years. One big plus for the iPhone though is its multilingual capabilities. Good luck typing in Japanese on the Pre… I only use the multilingual feature to email my folks back home so it’s not a big deal for me, but I can see how that could be a deal breaker if you use your phone for international business. Overall though, typing on the Pre is easier for me, and I don’t get harassed by the auto-correction all the time, which is relaxing coming from the iPhone.
The screen is about as good as the iPhone’s. Slightly brighter maybe, and the same resolution packed in a smaller size makes it look a tad sharper, but really… I think both screens are excellent, end of the story.
Now, one thing where the Pre doesn’t shine is the built quality (it’s probably the worst thing about the Pre actually). Although, as I said, it’s sexy from a distance, if you get a close enough, it really feels “made in China” and not the China the iPhone is made in… the other one. I guess you can’t compete with Apple when it comes to hardware manufacturing. Just like plastic can’t compete with glass… I never bought a case or screen protector for my iPhones in 2 years. But I have both for the Pre after a week of ownership.
Talking about the built quality; It’s hard not to mention the USB port and its crappy plastic cover. I’m guessing either they had no one else available and let a drunken intern take care of the design, or they knew it sucked so much that everyone would shell out another $50 to buy a Touchstone. I ordered one 15 mn after finding out how crappy the USB port cover was…
Then there are the headphones. My guess is that it was designed by that same intern… They feel like they cost about 10 cents to produce, and since they’re not selling any $80 “Touchphones” that’s the only explanation I can think of. In terms of sound quality, overall it’s ok, although I did notice distortion while listening to Wayne Shorter… But no other saxophonist managed to do that so overall it’s ok. It’s mp3 anyway so talking about sound quality is a little absurd in the first place.
The battery life… Now, I could be totally wrong about this but although my Pre’s battery totally sucked the first day I got it, it seemed to gradually get better over the week. I did the whole charge/discharge thing which is supposed to be useless with those new super high-tech batteries, and maybe it was pointless, but after listening to music at the gym, making a few phone calls, browsing the web for maybe half hour total, and checking email regularly, I’m down to about 20% at the end of the day. Maybe I’m not a talker, I don’t know, but the battery’s fine for me. Not as good as the iPhone, but fine.
In terms of visual design, i.e.. pretty icons and stuff, the iPhone has a more consistent and polished UI. Don’t get me wrong, the Pre’s interface looks good. In some places, like the good old dialer, I think it actually looks better than the iPhone. But it’s all over the place. There’s no unity. It feels as if each app was designed by a different person. They all look good individually, but it’s a pretty disparate overall experience.
If you’re interested in the Pre, I’m sure you already know everything about the way it integrates contacts from Google and Facebook and link them automagically etc… So I’m not going to get into that. You can consult your favorite gizmogadget blog for the details. Instead, I’ll highlight some tidbits I noticed as a previous iPhone user:
Phone: pretty, functional, BUT with a 1-9 speed dial instead of a favorites page and no visual voicemail, it feels like I just traveled back in time 2 years. Ouch… I’m sure the lack of visual voicemail has something to do with Sprint (too busy building the pointless Sprint app?) but speed dial instead of favorites? Come on! Yes, you can add contacts to the launcher itself, and you can just start typing to get your contact trough search. But that’s no replacement for a favs page.
Calendar: waaaay better on the Pre. You can decide what calendars show up when “view all” is selected, you got a week view, and that accordion thinggy for free time. A calendar app you can actually use, imagine that!
Clock: What’s up with that stupid design? I just wish they’d copied Apple on that one. The clock is both ugly and completely useless. Well, at least the alarm is functional, but no timer? My first watch, a red Casio I think, with a little dolphin cartoon drawn on it, it was around 1985… it had a timer. Where’s the timer?
Tasks & Memos: I like the Moleskin action going on in the Tasks app, and the PostIt wall is cute, but did we really need both of those?
Web: Using Webkit, the experience is about the same as on the iPhone. Although, interestingly enough, I’ve noticed that the Pre’s rendering chokes on floats/clear elements (that’s CSS stuff) that the iPhone has no problems with in some situations. Pretty weird… I like the “Top Sites” style bookmarks. And as I mentioned before, the real keyboard makes it way easier to enter search terms or URLs. I can’t comment on the speed until I talk about Sprint vs. AT&T. I’ll get into that later.
Google Maps: I like it much better on the Pre. That’s a big plus for me since that’s one of the apps I use most. The feature set is about the same, but the menus are easier to access, there’s no unnecessary reloads, and it’s just overall a more streamlined experience.
Camera: I’m somewhat of a dilettante photographer so I’m probably a snob on the subject… I’d say the Pre’s camera sucks even more than the iPhone’s (much noisier in low light conditions) but they’re both quite unusable in the first place, so I don’t really care.
Alright, I’m just realizing that going over each app is too much work… I’ll skip the “iPod” media related stuff which is off course much better on the iPhone and move on to the OS itself.
Simply put: it blows the iPhone out of the water. It rips it apart into little shreds… And even though most apps are better on the iPhone when taken individually, it doesn’t matter because the overall experience on the Pre is light years ahead. Apple painted itself in a corner with its strategy (or lack thereof) towards multitasking. And now that Palm is showing us how it’s done, Apple looks pretty silly. iPhone users who say “but the app starts right where I left off” are delusional. You can’t even compare (although I just did. Ho well), they’re not in the same league.
And there’s more than just multitasking: the notification system is much more natural and less intrusive than those dreaded modal windows, the gestures under the screen are very cool too (I hope we see more of those in the future). Overall, the Palm Pre and its WebOS provides a much more modern experience. For that alone, going back to the iPhone would be painful.
The Pre’s SDK was released fairly recently so there’re almost no apps for the Pre. Luckily, the ones that are there cover the basics nicely: Fandango for movie ticket, Where for Yelp reviews, AccuWeather for… weather, Pandora for internet radio, and Tweed is actually the best Twitter client I’ve ever used (Tweetie’s what I used on my iPhone). The only apps I will miss are OmniFocus, 1Password, and the NYC Subway map. I would include a Google Voice app to that list, but considering the recent debacle on the App Store, I got a better chance to see one coming out for the Pre at this point… As far as games, call me old school, but I like the PSP better… So I don’t really care about that.
I was careful not to mention this until now because I wanted to make a somewhat “fair” comparison. But it’s time to switch to the “real life” mode. Apple is stuck with those blood sucking con artists disguised as a telecommunication company called AT&T. So, as great as the iPhone is, it really doesn’t matter. I don’t claim to have any proofs of what I’m about to say, this is just my opinion based on personal experience (aka. “common sense”). I’m just exercising my freedom of speech when I say that (gotta be careful these days) AT&T is knowingly overselling its 3G network. They’re lucky they don’t sell Apple… pies, because if people could see the size of the slice they’re getting for a $100/month, they’d be burning AT&T flags on the streets.
Last week, before I switched to Sprint, every single phone call I made got dropped. Since I often use my cell for business, I had to switch carrier. On the Pre, using the web browser and google map works like in the Apple TV ads. You know the one I’m talking about, when the guy looks for “seafood” and it loads in less than 15 minutes. With Sprint, Google Map is almost instantaneous, sending emails works every time, no dropped calls, clear sound… I actually get to use the features available on my phone all the time now, and enjoy doing it!
I know this depends on where you live, this chart can help you get an idea of exactly how much you’re getting screwed by AT&T in your area. If you live in NYC though, don’t even hesitate one second. Yeah, AT&T is supposed to upgrade their network, blah blah blah… Bottom line: the iPhone in NY sucks because of AT&T. Right now, the experience on the Pre in Manhattan and Brooklyn is incomparable. It’s a no-brainer to switch to Sprint if you can, and see what you’ve been missing…
Is the iPhone better than the Pre? I think so. Is the Pre WAY better than an iPhone in NYC? I don’t have a single doubt about it.
As I said at the beginning, I think the iPhone is a better phone. If it worked on Verizon and had a multitasking OS, we’d have the ultimate winner. But for now, at least in NYC, thanks to AT&T the iPhone is like a Ferrari on a mountain trail: it’s beautiful to look at, you can make its engine roar… but as soon as you try to actually go somewhere, it really, really… sucks.
The Pre is a very solid contender, it’s lots of fun to use, and is available on a much better carrier in NYC, so it’s really a no-brainer for now. I’ll keep my Pre…