Review: Palm's Pre Is No iPhone Killer

We're going to have to wait a little longer for that elusive iPhone killer we've been hearing about for nearly two years.

The Palm Pre's been in my hands for the last 24 hours, and it's a very good phone — heck, it may be a great phone — but it's not as good as the iPhone.

The Pre launches Saturday, and for months it's been touted as "the" iPhone slayer, killer, executioner, et cetera, et cetera.

But pick your metaphor in vain — the iPhone will walk away from this battle with little more than a scratch. And I'm only talking about the current iPhone 3G, not the rumored new iPhone Apple is expected to announce next week.

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That's not saying there's not a lot to like about this phone. It's an elegant device, beautifully designed to feel like a smooth pond-skipping stone sitting in the palm (pun intended) of your hand.

It's distinct. The moment I took the phone into a public place, I had three people recognize the device.

Palm's created an eye-catching phone. Let's be honest — that's half the battle.

At 3.1 inches, the capacitive touchscreen is smaller than the iPhone's, but its color clarity is excellent. Reading e-mails didn't strain my eyes and the contrast was spot-on.

The Pre lets you sync contacts from any account, all in one place. That means all of your Facebook friends, Twitter friends, FriendFeed friends, address-book friends and co-workers can be found in the Pre's contact list.

Since Palm's January announcement, much has been made of the operating system, WebOS. The Linux-based OS is promising, but developers don't have much to work with — yet.

I love the finger gestures found in WebOS. Want to launch an app? Just touch the screen. Want to get rid of the app? Just flick your finger up off the screen, like you're getting rid of a fly on your dinner plate.

The best feature of this phone is the ability to run multiple applications at the same time. The iPhone can't do that yet.

The Palm let me launch my Pandora music app, respond to an e-mail and navigate through the Internet, all while listening to Duran Duran's "New Moon on Monday." Yes, I love '80s music.

But there's a few things I don't like — a few big things.

The battery: If you're a smartphone addict like me, then that means you're a heavy user, and that means you need long battery life.

My battery drained pretty quickly, which is precisely the reason Apple didn't want multiple applications running simultaneously on the iPhone. With the Pre, I was listening to music, typing e-mails and surfing the web all at once.

However, unlike the iPhone, the Palm Pre comes with a removable battery, so all you addicts can switch it out when you need a fix!

What about the network? The Pre is exclusive to Sprint Nextel right now, but that will change in six months when Verizon Wireless joins the party. Sprint has been bleeding customers and sits in a humble third place in the carrier competition.

For years, I was a Sprint customer, until one day, after having pulled all of my hair out, I jumped ship, tired of dealing with their lackluster customer service.

With a 25-million-customer base, Sprint could claim victory even if only a fraction of their customers switched to the Palm Pre. Remember, too, Palm's not a large company and a few hundred thousand switchers would make this a big win for the now-struggling pioneer of the handheld-device market.

The Pre will cost you $299 with a $100 mail-in rebate. Come on! What's with that mail-in rebate? No one likes those. Most people forget to mail it in. Perhaps that's what Palm is hoping for.

My takeaway: The Palm Pre is an impressive device with a slick design and an even slicker user experience. It took me five minutes to learn how to use it, unlike the Sprint Instinct, which I almost threw into oncoming traffic.

With the Pre I saw a bunch of bugs: screens that held and didn't move, lag time for the screen to refresh after turning the phone on its side, and a weird incident where the right-side up screen stayed in landscape mode.

But these things are common enough in new phones. Remember the first two weeks with the iPhone 3G? That was painful.

If Palm addresses these concerns soon, it may have a victory on its hands. If it lets them linger, it'll be no match for Apple, and what's sure to be a big announcement from that company next week.