The Pre is here; Palm recently released the much-anticipated Pre smartphone to the world-and the fate of the company very much depends on whether or not the device is a hit. Palm, former king of the PDA market, is attempting to pull itself back to the forefront of the smartphone game with the likes of RIM and Apple, and the Pre will no doubt be instrumental to its success...or lack thereof.
A while back, I penned a piece for CrackBerry called "Top 10 Reasons Why the iPhone Is NO BlackBerry," in which I pointed out why Apple's iPhone might be fine for your kid brother or all the Mac-heads at school or work, even your mom, but it doesn't hold a candle to BlackBerry when the two are stacked up next to each other (I'll be weighing in on the state of this ongoing debate soon now that the iPhone 3G S has been announced).
While the Pre is certainly exciting and I look forward to some quality thumbs-on time with it, I didn't rush out to pick one up this week, nor will I be trading in my beloved ‘Berry for a Palm device anytime soon; the Palm Pre's simply no BlackBerry.
How can I be so sure? Well, I've spent some time with the Pre, read all the reviews and studiously studied that spec sheet. While it would've been ideal to spend a couple of weeks with the Pre before deeming it a second-class option when compared to BlackBerry, I honestly didn't need to.
Pop on that there jump for my reasons why.
Top Eight Reasons Why Palm's Pre's Got Nothin' on BlackBerry
8) Pre, First webOS Device, Could Be Flash in the Pan
The Pre is Palm's first device to run its latest mobile operating system (OS), called webOS, and that's both thrilling and a risk from a user perspective. It's exciting because the device packs a number of cool features and functionality that nobody, no BlackBerry, iPhone, Windows Mobile user, no one outside of Palm/Sprint, has ever seen in depth. The cool new "deck of cards" interface feature, for example, which lets you flick open applications off screen with the slide of finger.
However, the first-gen Pre will also no-doubt experience some "growing pains" as all brand new technologies do. Remember the first gen iPhone and how its touch screen initially wowed everyone? But that was about it until iPhone 3G came along... Or the T-Mobile G1, which was cool to tinker with for a while thanks to the cool (then) new Android build, which showed potential, but ultimately proved to be more of a toy than a real productivity device.
I predict that the Pre will turn out much the same way. Sure you'll have your die-hard fans-the Treo-Til-Deathers, Pre-Headz, and of course, Smartphone Experts' very own Pre Central crew.
But it'll take Palm at least a year or so, and probably two or three devices, before webOS can grow and mature into any sort of true BlackBerry or iPhone, Windows Mobile, etc., competitor. By that time, RIM and BlackBerry will have taken the game to even higher levels. Just imagine what that might look like...
7) Sprint Owns Pre
Users Until AT LEAST 2010
The Pre is currently a CDMA device, and Sprint is the exclusive U.S. carrier. That might be all fine and good if you live in an area with decent Sprint wireless coverage, and/or you're already a Sprint customer-or are ready to become one. But folks like me, who mostly use GSM devices and carriers because it's easier to unlock handhelds and switch back and forth between networks and devices, well, we're up crap's creek until Sprint's Pre contract expires and AT&T jumps on the webOS bandwagon.
Note: I reside in the Boston-area, and though I've never been a Sprint customer, I know from friends and colleagues who do use Sprint that wireless coverage in my area is less than exceptional. So I would have to sacrifice network quality in order to employ the Pre.
I'd also have to choose from one of Sprint's specific service plans, which may or may not work for me. I wouldn't be able to use voice and data simultaneously, as I can with my 3G GSM BlackBerry. And traveling internationally could be a pain in the ass, because most countries outside North America employ GSM.
Not so with BlackBerry. I can purchase multiple BlackBerry devices from every major U.S. carrier, both CDMA and GSM. The BlackBerry Bold and Storm are the only RIM devices that are currently carrier specific in the United States-AT&T has the Bold, while Verizon Wireless offers the Storm. The Bold can be unlocked and employed on T-Mobile's network-albeit, sans 3G-and the Storm has a SIM card slot and can also be employed on some GSM networks.
6) Pre as an Enterprise Device? Not So Fast...
As a staff writer for CIO.com, I frequently cover enterprise or business-oriented smartphone news and issues, and I can tell you from personal experience speaking with chief information officers, IT managers and their staffs, that most of them are just now considering iPhone support. And Apple announced Exchange support and other business features for the iPhone more than a year ago.
Almost all of these same organizations support BlackBerrys, in most cases. The reason for that is obvious: BlackBerry has been around a long time; its built-in security safeguards are tested and more importantly trusted; and it's fairly simple to manage a BlackBerry environment if you've got the scratch and the manpower.
It's the exact opposite situation for the Pre in the enterprise. The software, webOS, is brand new, untested and unpredictable. Pre works with Microsoft Exchange-in fact, you can sync multiple Exchange accounts with the Pre-but the relationship between the two will be new to IT organizations. And for the most part, IT fears change unless there's a guaranteed, and quickly attainable, return on investment. That means you might not be able to use a Pre as a work device, even if you want to.
Furthermore, the hardware itself is brand new, and the common issues-for BlackBerry: trackball problems, loose SIM card slots, stuck keyboards, etc.-haven't been discovered yet. That makes it difficult for IT to quickly resolve problems, and time is money when it comes to business smartphones.
It's true that the Pre is largely aimed at consumers, but Palm has roots in the business world and it would be downright stupid of the company to ignore them.
5) No Expandable Memory/Memory Card Support for Pre!!
The Pre ships with 8GB of internal storage-only seven of which is available to the user, according to Palm's site. That memory can't be expanded either; the Pre doesn't support microSD or any other memory cards.
While most RIM devices don't have nearly as much built-in storage as the Pre or the iPhone-the Bold and Storm have the most, with just 1GB--BlackBerry OS 4.5.0 can support external microSD memory cards up to 8GB; 184.108.40.206 or higher up to 16GB; and 4.6.0 or higher up to 32GB. And BlackBerry memory cards can be swapped, so a user with, say, two 8GB microSD cards in her wallet in addition to the one in her Bold would have access to 24GB of personal data.
Consider that the iPhone just got another memory boost to 32GBs-that memory cannot be expanded--and the Pre's meager 7GB of user accessible storage looks even worse.
4) The Pre's Not Built to Last-But It Did Cut the Cheese
I spent time with the Pre on two separate occasions in Sprint VIP rooms at CES 2009 and CTIA Spring 2009. Though, I wasn't really allowed to experiment with the device on my own-Sprint reps wouldn't actually let it out of their hands for more than a few seconds at a time-I was struck by how thin, light and flimsy the Pre's plastic housing was.
It's also a slider device, which leaves more room for "accidents," since there's a separate hinge that's not present in candy-bar style device, like BlackBerrys.
RIM's handhelds aren't exactly built-to-last, by any means-especially its latest devices like the Pearl 8220 and Curve 8900-but I've yet to handle a BlackBerry that felt nearly as flimsy as the Pre did.
At the time, I suspected the reason for Sprint's squeamishness at the shows was because the device would eventually be manufactured with another, more sturdy material and the company didn't want members of the press to get the wrong impression. And to be honest, I haven't yet touched an official production unit, so I'm not sure whether or not that's the case.
However, after reading a number of reviews pointing out the Pre's apparent lack of durability, I feel comfortable in saying that the Pre's build quality needs work. I baby my devices, but I also take them everywhere I go, so I need a smartphone that can take a lickin' and keep on a'tickin'. I'm not so sure the Pre fits that bill, but my BlackBerry Bold's still going strong after seven months of heavy use. Mmmmm.
The Pre can reportedly be used to slice your favorite cheese, however, so there's that .
3) There's Only One Pre... For Better or for Worse
The Pre is Palm's first and only webOS-based device-though we've already seen leaked images and heard rumors about another webOS smartphone dubbed "Eos."
So anybody who wants in on the webOS goodness needs to purchase a Pre-and sign a new Sprint contract, as mentioned above.
That's not ideal for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that people, like smartphones, come in lots of different sizes. Smartphones are not-or better yet, should not-be one size fits all. We're not talking about baseball caps here. Folks with larger hands will fare better with slightly larger devices with decent-sized keyboards and buttons. And vice-versa: Smaller people, children or women, will most likely be better suited with smaller devices than large, hefty handhelds.
The Pre leaves no wiggle room; if you want a webOS device, you're using the Pre or nothing. And that sucks. I understand that webOS is a brand new concept, and Palm can't just start pumpin' out devices like Mr. Softee with ice-cream-sandwiches in the middle of July. But that still doesn't change the fact that BlackBerry users have a hell of a lot more options when it comes to devices...and carriers...and features...and accessories...and applications...you get the point.
Speaking of applications...
2) The Palm Pre's App Catalogue Is Weak Like Your Little Cousin
2009 has been the year of the smartphone app store. Apple started it all last summer with the introduction of its iTunes App Store, currently the largest such destination in the business with some 35,000 native applications listed. Then RIM followed suit with BlackBerry App World, and Microsoft and Nokia weren't much farther behind.
What does that all mean? There's a lot of attention and energy being devoted to mobile applications today, now more than ever before, and the company that wows the most users, will likely reign supreme.
RIM, Microsoft and Nokia also have some catching up to do if their app store offerings are to rival iTunes, but all three of these platforms already have loyal developer bases and the potential-monetary or otherwise--of creating great apps for BlackBerrys, Win-Mo devices and Nokia handhelds is already apparent to app creators.
Palm and its App Catalogue face challenges in that the company is entering the app store game late, and because the webOS platform is so new, it'll have to draw developers from other platforms and convince new users that the software is worth paying for-or at least downloading.
1) Pre's Keyboard Is for Pixies and Lilliputians
Finally, the Palm Pre's keyboard is just too small. Even the Curve 8900, which also has a relatively small keyboard, is more functional, because the keys themselves are slightly more upraised and they're more responsive. The Pre's buttons are very tiny and "flat," like a combination of the buttons on Palm's popular Centro and Treo Pro devices, which makes it somewhat difficult to depress only the key you want-especially if you've got large hands like me.
True, the device has a touch screen and a physical full QWERTY keyboard, which gives it a leg up on any existing BlackBerry. (Magnum, anyone? ) But there's no Pre on-screen keyboard, and what good is a full QWERTY if it's frustratingly tiny and difficult to use regularly?
I might pick the Pre over any BlackBerry device with a SureType or SurePress keyboard because it has a physical keyboard, but that's one of the best things about BlackBerry; I don't have to choose a Pearl or Storm, there are plenty of other options.
There's only one Pre. That means you've got to take the good with the bad if you want to ride.
So there you have it: My top eight reasons I won't be trading in my BlackBerry for a Palm Pre in the near future. What do you think? What did I miss or overlook? There are so many things to consider, I'm all ears...
Al Sacco is a staff writer with CIO.com. His Mobile WorkHorse blog was recently nominated for an American Business Media award for excellence in business journalism.