Palm Pre: Exceptional Design

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

Disappointing battery life

Battery life could easily become a problem with the Pre, as the relatively small 1,150 MAhr battery (the same as found in Palm’s tiny Centro smartphone) needs to power the screen and those radios that want to be consumed by bandwidth-hungry background applications.

Palm optimistically rates the Pre for 5 hours of talk time on the EVDO network.

I wanted to test how the Pre performed as a phone and as a multipurpose smartphone. Therefore, I ran the Pre through a few different talk-time battery scenarios to gauge the highs and lows of the device’s power potential. I saw some wildly divergent results.

With a freshly restored phone, free from any running applications in the background and not checking any e-mail accounts, I was able to squeeze 5 hours and 41 minutes of talk time out of the device – well above expectations. But with a slightly used device, checking two e-mail accounts (one IMAP and one Exchange Active Sync) at default intervals, the numbers were strikingly bad – only 2 hours and 54 minutes.

Palm sent over a list of steps users could take to conserve battery usage. Among the tips listed, Palm recommended keeping the device out of direct sunlight (it does run uncomfortably warm under ordinary circumstances), changing default e-mail receive periods, lowering default screen brightness and avoiding excessive use of IM services. (Indeed, the Pre seems to have particular problems with battery life when using AIM at this time, due to a known issue.)

During the battery testing process, I encountered a couple bugs of note.

First, when performing a full reset of the device to delete all settings, accounts and applications, the restore process sometimes hung midway through – showing only a background photo of a cloudy day. Only after rebooting the device by holding down the power button and sliding the ringer mute lever back and forth three times would the process continue, only to enter an infinite loop when trying to enter existing Palm Profile credentials.

Second, I discovered that in some cases, the low battery warning encompassed the entire screen and locked in place, keeping me from using the device even after the battery had fully recharged. The only way I found to clear the error was to remove the battery from the device – an action that will likely send shivers down the spine of longtime PalmOS users.

Palm officials told me that both conditions are known bugs that will be addressed via updates delivered over-the-air via the Pre’s integrated Update application.

Conclusion

The Palm Pre has exceptional design, aesthetics and usability. However, with only one device available for the new WebOS operating system, its corporate use will be limited. In addition, based on eWEEK Labs’ tests, battery performance could be a problem.