BlackBerrius Maximus - Part XI - To Pre or Not to Pre

By Gary Mazo on 17 Jun 2009 09:48 am EDT

BlackBerry Maximus - Pre Edition

"To Pre or not to Pre" - that seems to be the big question in the Smartphone world this week. Here, I will give you a diehard "CrackBerry" user perspective of this new device - does it live up to the hype? Can it every replace your "beloved Berry?" Let's take a look.

So, there I was again - standing in line - waiting for the newest, coolest Smartphone on a cold, rainy day on Cape Cod. Now, I should have learned my lesson at the Storm launch - but, being who I am and doing what I do - it was unavoidable.

I have found that these highly anticipated phone "launches" really bring people together. I had been using the Pre Simulator for a few weeks, so I was actually able to talk about the device and answer peoples' questions while standing in line. Folks were very excited about this new device - some were Sprint customers, but many were standing there with BlackBerrys and iPhones in hand ready to make a "switch" - or at least take a 30 day test drive and see.

Well, everything that Verizon (which is not my favorite carrier to deal with) did right during their launch of the Storm - Sprint botched. Now, remember, here we have a company on the brink of extinction (Palm) forming an exclusive alliance with the company that is dead last in user happiness (Sprint.) You would think these guys would get it right for something this big!

For the Storm launch, Verizon also had about 20 units on hand - the same as my local Sprint Store. Verizon also gave one Storm per user in line - no exceptions. You got a number and then you took your number inside, waited and got your phone. If you were not in the "top 20" - they took your name, you could order your phone and you went home.

Oh, Sprint - this isn't rocket science, is it? Nope, but Sprint gave out no numbers, had no coffee or donuts on hand and had no limitations of one device per customer. So, when I got in to the store I was told I was number 13 - but somehow all 20 phones were gone before they got to number 10. Why is that? Well, they "were told" to give no more than 5 phones per customer in line. So, this one took 3 and this one took 4 and that was it. Of course, they didn't tell us this until they ran out, then they wanted us to pay in full and order our phone - very frustrating.

I ordered my Pre and paid for Overnight shipping. I was told it would come on Sunday as were the folks before me - well, realizing that the "next day" was Sunday - I asked "does UPS deliver here on Sundays?' Then, they corrected it to a Monday delivery. Monday came and went - no Pre. I called again and was told "they didn't ship until today." Tuesday came, I tracked it online and eagerly went to my local Sprint store - I was told it was not there, so I went home. I then went back online and saw it was delivered and signed for before I had arrived at the store earlier - so went back and finally got my phone.

To be fair, the people at my local store are great and very understanding and helpful - but it was clear that Sprint just did not prepare for this (which is unbelievable to me) given the importance of this phone to their future.

Well, now I have had the Pre for a few days and I am willing to make some assessments, share some thoughts and even make some predictions.

I was a loyal Palm user for years - I always liked the company and the first Palm Pilot was my entrance into the world of convergence. I had every Palm, all the Treos and eventually left when I needed the added functionality and power of my beloved BlackBerry - and I never looked back....until now.

This device is slick - really slick. The size is perfect. It fits great in the hand - arguably better than any of the BlackBerrys or iPhones I have used as of late. I like the rounded feel, I like talking on the phone. It does feel a little "plasticy" around the edges - but I can live with that.

The only buttons are a front "center button" that looks like a trackball but doesn't really do much except minimize or maximize the application "cards" (more on that later. There are volume buttons on the side, a ringer "on/off" switch and headset jack on top and a sleep/wake power button. Charging is done in a very poorly designed charging port on the side that is pretty much impossible to open.

The keyboard will initially be a disappointment to most BlackBerry users - the keys are small and "sticky" and might be trouble for big-fingered typists. That being said, I kind of liked it. I have always found that my BlackBerry keyboards had some "movement" to them - the Pre has a "rock solid" keyboard. There is no automatic period by hitting the space bar twice and no automatic @ sign when typing emails, but there are dedicated "." and "@" keys that worked fine for me.

The slide out keyboard is well executed and useful - there when you need it, gone when you don't - it makes for a much more "manageable" device though maybe not as efficient as a traditional BlackBerry. But what the slide out keyboard loses in terms of causing an additional step in workflow, it provides an added satisfaction of completing your tasks - when finished using the Pre the keyboard gets slammed shut and the device pocketed.

The Camera is 3.0 MP but it worked great - shutter speed was faster than any BlackBerry or iPhone camera and the image quality looked better than most Smartphones I have used before.

So far, so good - another Smartphone, but nothing to write home about....until you experience WebOS - WOW!

Folks, this is when you realize that our buddies at RIM have been sleeping for the last two years. How did they not develop something this slick and cool for the Storm - the first touch screen BlackBerry?

I will go out on a short limb here and say that this is, "hands down," the best smartphone OS currently on the market, albeit has some growing pains to work through. It combines the ease of use of the iPhone, but has menu functionality and multi-tasking found in the BlackBerry and it builds on both.

You have undoubtedly seen the pictures, but you open a program and then either push the center button or swipe upwards and the program gets minimized to a "card" on the home screen. Just launch another "App" and minimize it to a card and so on. I easily had 8-10 cards on my screen and just swiped between them. Touch a card to go back to the program, flick it off the screen (upwards) and it closes it.

This is also the nicest and most responsive "Touch screen" I have used. It is a capacitive screen (like the iPhone and Storm) with no push to click (thank God) and it supports more "gestures" than the iPhone or Storm. You can swipe through days on the calendar, you can "half swipe" to bring up icons from the bottom dock, you can pinch and double tap - all that cool stuff - but you still have a keyboard! It is the best of both worlds combined.

This is what OS 5.0 should have been - hopefully, RIM is taking notes and designing a totally revamped OS for us all because this is a game changer.

So, it is the right size, it has a keyboard (which I found OK and my wife, who types with her fingernails instead of the finger itself, actually preferred) it has a beautiful screen, a great OS, great multi-tasking capabilities and more.

I should also say that Sprint coverage was hit or miss where I live - but the Web (which renders beautifully) is fast - very fast - way faster than the web on my 8900 or iPhone - even on Wi-Fi it was faster. Sprint also throws in to their one price data plan unlimited messaging, Sprint TV, lots of radio and video options and an App Store (which, needs tons more apps, but is well designed.)

One of the coolest things we have all read about is that when you plug this in to your PC or Mac, and choose "Media Sync" (you can also choose "USB mode" or "Just Charge" - which is a great feature - your computer thinks it is an iPhone. No joke, I plugged it in and iTunes said "set up your new iPod" and "Palm Pre" showed up with a picture of an old iPod. I just dragged playlists, movies and more into my pre - very cool indeed!

Syncing this baby was also easy and cool. When you first set up the device, you make a "Palm Profile" which is a "Cloud Sync" service that lets you import data from Outlook, iCal, Entourage or wherever, send it to the clouds and use it to keep your device in Sync or you can use Google contacts and Calendar which worked flawlessly. You can also sync with your Exchange server, which is great for Enterprise users.

So, what's not to like? Well, aside from carrier issues, there are some design issues with the phone. The slide out keyboard is very sharp at the bottom when opened - some guy on the web actually used it to cut cheese - it is that sharp.

It is a "finger print magnet," but, then again, so is pretty much every "touch screen device out there. It is slippery - I can definitely see dropping this little guy and with the slide out keyboard, that makes using a case kind of tricky.

It does support "Push Email" if your email server supports it. It was interesting; I could set "Gmail" accounts to "push" but my Comcast email had to be pulled every five minutes.

The biggest "Achilles heel" for this device is the battery. I use my device a lot. I like to stream Pandora, use my calendar and contacts, go on line and email - a lot. I can do all of that on the Pre and, I must say, it is more fun and slick to do those things on this device than any other I have used. BUT, the battery SUCKS! I cannot get more than half a day of "heavy use" and have yet to make a full day of what is "normal use" for me. It is certainly possible that because there is lousy Sprint service here that the device is constantly looking for a 3G signal and that drains the device.
I have read the battery saving tips on Pre-Central - and they do help - but the battery is nowhere what we are used to on our BlackBerrys.

So, the keyboard is iffy, the battery is crappy but the screen is gorgeous, the OS experience is the best in the business right now, the call quality is good, the camera is great, email notifications are very cool and you can do a million things at the same time.

Is this "CrackBerry user" ready to make this my "primary" device and ditch my "Berry?" Not yet. But, this is the first non-BlackBerry device to really tempt me. This could be a great "second" device for me and could easily become my favorite phone to use - but the battery issue is a "deal breaker" right now. It also needs more "Apps" in its catalog, which understandably is thin for a new device and OS.

RIM - please take a good look at this phone. Look at how easy and fun it is to do multiple tasks on this. PLEASE give us an OS that is as functional as this with a screen as nice and a "form factor" as pocketable. Give us your famous keyboard and email functionality and while you are at it, please toss in some of the cool features. And, if you don't mind, could you talk to the carriers and ask them all to throw in unlimited web, data, messaging, TV and media for a price as low as Sprint does? Thanks.

Until then, BlackBerrius Maximus...Over and Out.

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BlackBerrius Maximus - Part XI - To Pre or Not to Pre


Good write-up Maximus. It pains me to see such a positive review of a non-BlackBerry device on CrackBerry, but I guess if you like it, you like it! :)

Here's my less-favorable take on the Palm Pre after spending quite a bit of time on it last week....

Aesthetics: I know Palm calls it a "Riverstone", but to me it looks like a girl's makeup compact thing. And the Sprint "mirror" on the back when you slide it open seals the deal. Personally, I wouldn't want to be seen using it. :)


Keyboard - sucks compared to BlackBerry. Top row is too hard to hit (upper part of device gets in the way). Too narrow for comfort too. It's useable, but I'm pretty sure I could beat any Palm Pre owner in a typing race (average Words Per Minute taking accuracy into account). We'll have to tackle that in this year's Round Robin.

Build Quality - needs improvement. You nailed it with plasticy. Plus poor quality control. I played with three Pres last week. They all had a lot of wiggle at the hinge - when closed you could move the bottom half of the phone around... one of them was REALLY bad. Over quarter inch of movement.

Battery Life - hardware/software thing....but it sucks. You nailed it there. What good is a phone that doesn't make it past lunch time? Dieter had a pretty sad look on his face last week when we were all out for dinner and he had to sit there with a dead Pre while the rest of us clicked and tapped away on our BlackBerrys and iPhones.


Eye Candy / UI design - From an end-user perspective, I mainly agree. I think calling it a game changer is a bit extreme, but there are some innovations that everybody should be looking at. The BlackBerry multi-tasks like the Pre, but that ability is sort of hidden to the average user. The use of cards is much nicer. And I like the way notifications are done. The unified search for everything is nice too. Just start typing whatever you want to do and the Pre takes you there (for the most part). There's things I don't like too.... when you have cards open there's no real homescreen (you just see cards - it's messy). Also, Synergy is good in theory but a bit messy in practice still.

Actual Experience - FRUSTRATING. There's a lot of work for Palm to do under the hood here. Some things on the OS are very fast (swapping cards, closing cards), and then some things are completely mind-boggling slow that just shouldn't be. I swear, the time it takes to launch the calculator app or calendar I could probably drink a cup of coffee. It would be easier to really get harsh here if the Storm debacle never happened, so instead I'll have to say it's a new device, it'll take some time to get perfect, etc., but until that happens if I were a Sprint customer I'd DEFINITELY be going BlackBerry Tour. That's going to be a rock solid device, sort of the pinnacle of the BlackBerry traditional BlackBerry solution, while the Pre is in its infancy. If you want growing pains and have time to kill (and don't mind having a dead device when the battery dies or carrying spare batteries around), the Pre is something to consider. If you want performance and get sh!t done attitude, the BlackBerry Tour would be the hands-down choice for now.

Security - Talk of security gets lost a bit when we look at smartphones from a consumer end-user perspective, but it is something to think about. I don't know the full details on all the Pre security stuff...but have a feeling that as much as RIM et al should look at the web OS for ideas of what to do, there's also examples of what not to do from a security standpoint.

My final takeaway: Palm is back in the game as far as getting a piece of consumer mindshare goes with the Pre. It'll have to hit more carriers and evolve a bit (both the OS and hardware) before it's a runaway success. It'll appeal to some, and not to others. It fills a bit of a void right now - BlackBerry is the superior communication tool, iPhone is the better multimedia/entertainment device, and the Pre fits somewhere in the middle... sort of appealing to that Web 2.0 type user. As for me, no thanks. Not yet. There's definitely a few innovations I'd like to see make their way to BlackBerry from the Pre (as there are from Android and the iPhone), but as the game stands now I'm not tempted even one little itty bit. :)

Come on Kevin! How self-serving was your assessment of this Pre review? The inability to find fault with what is one's own and to seek out the negative in that which competes just screams bias.

I for one can't wait for the Pre to come to Verizon. I'm tired of the BB interface. I'm tired of a smartphone form factor fashioned after a Hewlett Packard calculator.

Give credit where credit is due!

I think you'd better read into it a bit more than that... or listen to our podcasts. There's lots of things I really like about the Pre. Said so after I first saw it get unveiled at CES in January. And Gary pointed out many of them above (which I said I agree with). I just also pointed out above what drives me nuts about the Pre - it wasn't a full review. Also, we've talked many times in the blogs and podcasts about where RIM has to pick up their slack - there's too much to talk about to wind into one post. You should definitely check out Al Sacco's write up he did here on the Top 10 Things we'd like to see in the BlackBerry OS. It sums them up well.

And besides, I'm supposed to scream bias...that's my role... Fearless Leader of CrackBerry Nation!!! :)

Your store experience I think is isolated or at least not a common issue. Local stores in my area limit phones to one per customer at and near launch. They also had plenty of them in stock. I didn't get to the closest store to me until 3 hours after opening and they still had 20 in stock when I arrived and I was 3rd in line for one at that time. After me about another 10 people got in line for the pre as well. There are about 6 sprint stores within a short distance of my house so there was obviously no lack in supply for the 1st day.

I'm glad despite that small blunder on the part of your local store that it didn't taint your take on the pre. I too was a huge fan of palm until my T5 no longer met my needs and wants and blackberry picked up the slack with some trade offs going from a touch screen real estate and ease of use to one with a smaller screen and not so ease of use. Naturally the pre is everything I need and want and then some. And it is indeed a game changer. The current results of sales etc is plenty of an indicater of that.

Last but not least I owned the 8330 and my thumbs are at tip over and inch wide and 1/2 to 3/d inch thick. I have no problem at all typing on the pre and fast at that. In fact I find it even easier and quick to type on it than on the 8330.

I have to say that the Pre is just about the only device that I would look at beyond BlackBerry (with the exception of the rather gorgeous Ulysse Nardin Chairman); but it has a tough fight against my Storm (before the groans, it's my first BlackBerry, so I have no basis for comparison to Bolds and Curves). Whilst the Pre has the more eye catching OS - there's no way I can argue about that - at the same time, it's still the Apple/Android/Windows dress up issue. The difference between gestures and a button press to close a program is negligible, although the gestures are more attention grabbing, you have to wonder if all the OS show and tell places more of a burden on the processor - when I was looking at the Storm, it was up against the Xperia. The Storm won in the end because I didn't like the spongy screen on the X1, and the gestures were so unreliable and frustrating in the few seconds I played with it, I realised that I actually didn't need a touchscreen, just the screen size.

Where the Pre falls down for me is the lack of Office software being already on the device - after dismissing BlackBerry for a few years based on the same issue, I am not about to back down on that requirement. And the keyboard, in that housing, could surely be made larger, or at the very least further down so that people are not hitting the body instead of the keys.

One thing on build quality of sliders - having had a Nokia N95, I was glad it wasn't perfect when I first had it after a while, since it can't get much worse, and maybe the springs aren't under so much stress.

The one aspect I would like RIM to take from WebOS? Automatic saving when closing an app - that is probably the one aspect of WebOS that still gets my attention - I already have several email accounts that arrive quick, so the massed drooling over Gmail does nothing for me at all.

So sad. RIM is too busy building slightly different phones every month (this one has WiFi, this one doesn't...)instead of working on a much-outdated OS. My first Blackberry was the 8300 and I currently have the 9000. It's basically the same phone with a few updates. Nothing new; just updated. Anything that is "new" is minute in comparison to what other phones are doing. I hope RIM takes a hit from Palm and wakes up!

I think that this mini review was a very unbiased summary of the Pre. I was one of those people waiting in line in front of Best Buy on launch day and was the first of only three people to get the Pre from Best Buy on launch day. I have had Blackberries for the last two years and my current Blackberry is an 8330 which I purchased May 1, 2008 through Alltel.

Having used the Pre for almost two weeks now, I can say that I have found some faults with the device also the most notable issue is the battery life. The battery life on the Pre is horrible. I did not give the iPhone 3G I had a full run-down but I can say that I think the Pre has the worst battery life of any smartphone on the market. When I first got the phone and used is just as I did my Blackberry, the battery was at ~10% at 3pm which was a joke. There are settings that can be adjusted to increase battery life but we should just be thankful that this phone has a user replaceable battery. In terms of functionality, I have found the Pre OS omitted some basic Blackberry features that will easily be missed such as copying text from and email or text message as well as forwarding text messages. Additionally, since apps are closed after you throw them off the screen, they will not remain in their current status as they do on the Blackberry when you move away from an app. Basically if you want to leave the cards open, there is no way to go back to a clean home screen without closing apps. But I am sure many of these issues can be fixed with simple OS updates, which seem to be coming out rather quickly.

On to the good stuff......WebOS is simply amazing. I absolutely agree that this is the best OS on a mobile device. Opening and closing apps is almost artistic and this phone is jam packed with features. I love being able to watch tv on my phone!! Additionally the browser is simply amazing. I had almost forgotten how terrible the Blackberry browser is until I had it side by side to the Pre. Blackberry definitely needs to be taking notes on this thing. Additionally, the calendar is very functional and nice to look at. Also, I think that access to connections like bluetooth and wifi is so intuitive that it could not have been done better.

Overall the Pre is an amazing device that I think most non corporate Blackberry users would truly enjoy. The keyboard is certainly not up to snuff for those who type all the time but for basic use and IM/texting, it is still better than a virtual keyboard. I am glad I was able to land the phone and will have a very difficult decision to make in 2 weeks....

I seem to remember reading about returning to the home screen by doing a full swipe up the length of the screen. Not sure though.

JR_Rider, obviously didn't read the little insert that has "quick" tips for the pre or just about any video that demo'd the pre.

You are correct. All you have to do is do a full swipe up to get back to the home screen.

Also, if you're in the multi card view. just tap outside the cards and it will allow you to arrange the cards order.

I can understand Kevin saying he has to be biased...but it doesn't really do crackberry addicts any favors.

I was one of the first to jump into the "game changing" Storm. I picked up a Pre the day it came out.

As far as I'm concerned the Pre smacks down the Storm and then some.

And a note about the keyboard. I prefer using the Pre's keyboard over the Curves. It just has a more solid feel to it, then again...I don't have fat fingers.

Battery: not a big deal because you CAN change it and I'm sure higher capacity ones will be released fairly soon from 3rd parties.

I'm sorry but I thought I just read that you suggest that you can carry a few extra batteries to get through the day. ??

On my Treo's, I loved the dual touchscreen/qwerty keyboard option. Why RIM hasn't already given this to us is beyond me. It's not like it's a new concept.

Hurry up, RIM. I'm getting bored. hehe

Nice review on the Pre! Thank you, CB!

I liked the review overall and thought it was quite thorough!

With respect to battery life, I think it's a function of all 3G devices that the battery drains much quicker than 2G devices. I moved from a Pearl to Bold and the Bold's battery life will only get me through a day on normal use. The Pearl could last about two days on normal use. My normal use may not be in inline with other users (~20 emails per day and 20 minutes of web), but I can attest that 3G is the real battery killer. The battery limitation is due to the current state of technology that is not specific to the Pre.

So, I had my first chance to play with a Pre today. I pretty much agree with everything and everyone. I love my Storm, as it not only my everyday phone, but my favorite toy and my biggest hobby. However, after 30 min with a Pre . . . I was way impressed. The UI, the browser, the graphics and yes, I too loved the keyboard feel (even with my sausage digits). I do fear that the slide out keyboard is a potential fail and many people will soon be complaining of loose/broken slides. All this being said, I am not quite ready to dump my Verizon contract for the MUCH CHEAPER (and obviously preferred) ALL-IN-ONE Sprint plan. I think somewhere deep down I know (or just hope) that Verizon and RIM are taking notes and my loyalty will pay off in the end!!!

My first BB was/is the Storm.. Sorry to say by 1pm EST on launch day all systems were DOWN for the NORTH EAST section of the United States of America... So if you ordered after 1pm you got your storm in the mail 15 days later! Anyone remember that? I sure do.

Again i feel if i had any other blackberry as my first device i would have been happier... but the Storm was my first blackberry, and it was not a good experience. It's still not a good device.. first update to a slow laggy phone took 6 months..

I just bought a Pre yesterday for my husband as an early father's day gift. Well, we just returned from Best Buy to bring it back, he hated it! He has an HTC Touch, and as frustrated as he gets with that phone sometimes, he was disgusted with the Pre. He agreed, the graphics are killer, the UI was nice, but the deal breakers for him were the fact that 1) it doesn't sync with Outlook, which for him is a must and 2) no tethering to use as a modem, which he needs to do at work since he works for the military and can't put his laptop on the network. He has an obsession with touchscreens, and I told him I wish he could get over that and come see the light of the CrackBerry Nation, because I know he would be hooked, but he is stuck on having a damn touchscreen. So for now, it's back to the HTC Touch.

it does sync with exchange (notably, the calendar on the Pre is better than blackberry imo)

if you're using just outlook as a pop email client, I believe i saw a 3rd party sync app on the Palm app world can use itunes to sync it with the Pre.

No big surprise that Kevin would have such a biased "review" of his Pre experience. But the timing and placement was all wrong. All it does here is make it look like you need to offset such a glowing review of another touchscreen smartphone on a BB site. It was a great review by Maximus, all BB users should know about the competition, and if they choose to switch, then so be it. Honestly, if Sprint had better coverage in my area, I'd have already jumped ship from my 8330.

I have the palm pre and I have a bb curve 8900 (I have tmo and sprint) anyway I bought the pre and I was very dissapointed I used it for abou a week and the phone felt like it was going to catch on fire so I returned and was lucky that my area had 5 left over so my new one feels the same very plasticy and that damn bottom edge it horrible and I know people don't realize this it is very SHARP!!! No jokes the keyboard is ok but the top keys suck hard to push and over all the hardware of the phone is just SH*** thr only thing this phone has going for its self is the OS and even then it isn't that great in some aspects but over all I think if you have a bb stick with it and let's all hope RIM Takes some advice from web os and makes it as cool in a lot of ways.

You really need to start understanding some basics of radio technology.. if you are in a poor area, the radio is using far more energy attempting to find a signal, roam, find a signal, get disconnected, start again, find a signal... get the idea??

This has nothing to do with the Pre; I have a curve 8330 and when i am in an area of indifferent signal I get half a day out of my phone too EVEN WHEN NOT USING IT...

FWIW, I have no intentions of getting a pre, but misinformed bias I can do without... so excluded as irrelevant from your review should have been:

* 5 per customer .. so what? Perhaps there are REAL customers to support..not media types.
* UPS diatribe... hardly relevant.
* Sprint CS woes.. lol, this is OLD news.

If you are unable to take a phone and review it objectively then get yourselves an editor.

I would gladly wait to hop on it. I had a curve for only a short while and then bought the Storm cause it was supposed to be RIMs all in one great consumer device. Of all the great things its capable of, web browsing is a chore.

The Pre seems to be that consumer friendly all in one phone and is only going to get better.

My first PDA was a Palm M105. I remember it was nice having that big screen and comfortably taking college notes using Graffiti. Well, it's obvious this device won't have graffiti support or even a stylus, but it's nice to see Palm getting back on track. The treo line upset many users, as the devices were terrible. Had they come out with a cellular TX instead of a treo, I wonder if things may have happened differently?

I think RIM should buy what is left of Palm. Ditch the mediocre Blackberry Operating System, incorporate the Web OS and add RIMS email features to it.

Lets be honest here, I like new technology just as much as the next guy but when you release a pieace of **** like the Palm Pre and claim multiproessing as a selling point but can't even maintain a days worth of battery life you have nothing more than hype.

The Blackberry 8900 or bold blow the Palm Pre off the map. It's only competition is the Iphone 3Gs and even then it is not really a close match for business users.

Oh and the admin from the Palm Pre forums who does not believe in freedom of speech should go to IRAN and create a nice forum over their where everything is onesided.