Review: Palm Pre Smartphone

The Palm Pre smartphone, along with the company's much-anticipated webOS operating system, has had quite the buzz building up since its splashy launch in January.

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While the Pre isn't perfect, it definitely does not disappoint: I found the WebOS interface clean, engaging, and intuitive. My main issues were with the hardware itself.

Hardware

The glossy-black Pre has a uniquely curved slider body that's dominated by its 3.1-inch, 320-by-480-pixel capacitive touch display. The screen slides up and curves slightly toward you, a design intended to resist glare and make the phone feel comfortable in your hand and against your face.

Especially in brightly lit environments, the slight angle made viewing the screen easier than on the average phone. Measuring 3.9 by 2.3 by 0.7 inches, the Pre is incredibly pocketable, more so than a device like Apple's iPhone 3G; it even fits unobtrusively into a woman's jeans pocket, a rare feat for a full-QWERTY smartphone.

Unfortunately, Palm seems to have sacrificed keyboard usability in the interest of compactness. While I appreciated having a physical keyboard, I disliked the design. The vertical slide-out QWERTY keyboard looks and feels much like that on the Palm Centro; here, the keys are glossy black with orange-hued lettering and different colors to designate the embedded keypad.

The keys are slightly recessed, however, and I found that the bezel lip on the sides and bottom often interfered with my typing. Furthermore, the top row is a few millimeters too close to the edge of the slider screen, so you have to angle your fingers to press those keys. Though the keyboard slides out smoothly, it also feels a bit flimsy, as if it could snap off with too much use.

The keys weren't too tiny for my small hands, but some of my colleagues found them quite cramped. On top of that, the keys feel gummy (as those on the Centro do) and lack the clickable quality you find on RIM BlackBerry devices. The Pre has no touch keyboard, either, so until a third-party developer creates an app for one, you're stuck using the physical keyboard.

A positive note: I enountered no lag between my typing and the appearance of text on screen, an annoying experience I've had with other devices.

Fortunately, the Pre has a touch number pad for making calls. Call quality over Sprint's 3G network was very good overall, though I heard an echo on one call to a landline. Parties on the other end of the line said that my voice had ample volume and sounded very clear--even when I was on a busy street corner. None of my calls dropped, and I didn't hear any static, nor did my contacts.

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