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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But webOS does have a few quirks. For the most part, though webOS is zippy to navigate through, apps sometimes loaded slowly and the organization and placement of certain features was a bit confusing or counterintuitive at times.

The home-screen interface has customizable application widgets running at the bottom. Touch a widget, and the app instantly pops up. Unfortunately, you can display only four shortcuts of your choosing (plus the Launcher shortcut, which you can't switch out) at a time.

Like Google Android, Palm's webOS can handle full multitasking--something that iPhone OS 2.0 can't do. The Pre manages multitasking with a deck-of-cards visualization: You can view each of your open applications at once, shuffle them any way you choose, and then discard the ones you want to close. You do all of that with gestures that mimic handling a physical deck of cards.

Apps remain live even when minimized into the card view, so changes can continue to happen in real time, even if you've moved on to another activity. Overall, I found this arrangement a playful and intuitive experience for managing multiple apps.

webOS also has a great notifications feature, a small alert that pops up at the bottom of the screen when you have an incoming call, text message, or e-mail, but that alert comes up without interrupting the app you have open (similar to Google Android).

Though the notifications are nifty, I found their placement--below the Quick Launch Bar--a bit annoying: I kept accidentally hitting the Notifications when I wanted the Launch Bar (or vice versa). I prefer Google Android's layout, in which the notifications run across the top of the screen. Notifications also pop up on the Pre's stand-by screen.

Fans of Palm OS will be happy to know that the Pre retains the copy-and-paste function: You simply hold down Shift on the keyboard and then drag on the touchscreen to select the desired block of text. Afterward you open the application menu in the upper-left corner of the screen and select copy, cut, or paste.

Social Networking Synergy

One of the most important components of webOS is its ability to synchronize, and synthesize, information from various sources into one seamless, integrated view. Palm calls this concept "Synergy," and it is incorporated into the contacts, e-mail, and messaging applications.

For example, you can sync the Pre to your Google, Facebook, and Microsoft Exchange accounts; it will grab your contacts from those accounts, and all of them will appear in the Pre's Contacts app.

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