Palm Pre: Exceptional Design

Collaboration SuitesMobilitySoftware

At last the Pre has arrived. It’s a great phone, but has issues that will limit its use in the enterprise

After much hype, this month Palm finally launched the Pre in the US. It is the first smartphone based on the company’s brand-new WebOS mobile operating system.

But is it the last gasp or a new era for the once-influential mobile computing company? Palm certainly puts a good foot forward with exceptional design, aesthetics and usability, but there are enough quirks in the device that the wary should remain on alert.

At the moment, the Pre is only available in the US on the Sprint network, where it costs $199 with a two-year contract for voice and data service. With a plethora of new phones out there, users will be comparing this with other phones we have reviewed, including the Nokia N97, and the HTC Magic – as well as the iPhone 3G S, of course.

Enterprise hold back for now

Enterprise IT administrators won’t need to consider adopting the Pre en masse any time soon. With only one device available on one network, pretty much everyone – from application developers to mobile device management vendors — is waiting to gauge Pre adoption before investing time and manpower into developing for yet another mobile platform.

In the meantime, with the Pre’s support for Exchange ActiveSync and Wi-Fi – not to mention its slick look and feel – administrators should expect to see requests from some users to hook the device into the corporate network and services.

Without a doubt, the Pre is beautiful to look at and almost as good to use. With its small size (60mm x 100mm x 17mm, 135g) and shiny black veneer, the Pre is completely comfortable for the many uses that can be accomplished via one-handed operation, although some will be not so comfortable when the second hand is needed for data entry.

Slide out keyboard, smouth touch

The Pre comes with a slide-out keyboard – not the usual side keyboard for use with the device in landscape mode, like the one on T-Mobile’s G1 with Google, or the Nokia E75 or Nokia N97– but a full QWERTY keyboard that extends from the bottom of the device. With this orientation, the keyboard is certainly cramped, but I found I could use it fairly well thanks to the soft gummy keys that are similar to those found on Palm’s Treo Pro.

With the keyboard closed, the front of the device is dominated by the beautiful 3.1-inch touch-screen. Supporting 320 by 480 resolution and 24-bit color, the screen is sharp and vibrant in both dark and light room conditions.

Other than the screen, the only visible feature on the front of the Pre is the lone Center button, which is used to switch viewing modes.

Camouflaged between the bottom of the touch screen and the Center button, however, is the Gesture area – a little strip of no-man’s land where users can control some of the Pre’s functions. Specifically, users can swipe right to left within the Gesture area to go back – back to a previous page of an application, back to a previous Website or back to Card mode. A left-to-right wipe allows users to go forward.