Palm Prē, Day Three: The Good and the Bad

Posted Thursday, July 9th, 2009 at 11:47 pm

So, I’ve already posted my anguished wail over the completely unusable state of the Prē’s memo pad app. Considering that Palm started off as a company that sold PDAs, whose main apps were contacts, date book, and note pad, the collapse of one of those three items seems pretty embarrassing. But aside from that, how is it? I have a variety of likes and dislikes.

First off, a correction to my earlier wail of woe: I claimed that the Task List app was also afflicted by the lack of categories. But it effectively does have categories, it’s just renamed them. You used to have categories with items in them; now, you have lists… with items in them.

Frabjously Cool:

  • Multitasking. ‘Nuff said, right? No, not quite, because that includes multiple instances of the same app, such as multiple web browsers. (Obviously, the memory resources are limited, so you’re not going to have a dozen different web pages open. But two or three? Sure!)
  • The general look and feel of webOS is pretty cool. There’s a nice “whoosh” sound when you flick a card off the top of the screen. If you turn on “advanced gestures”, you can swipe across the gesture area to switch between apps while leaving them full-sized, and the animation for that is pretty slick. For that matter, the effect when you swipe up from the gesture area into the main screen to pull up the Quick Launch ribbon is also pretty sexy.
  • It has support for displaying Japanese characters out-of-the-box. Since I’m currently studying Japanese, this is a wonderful Godsend for me: I can access Japanese resources on the web in the palm of my hand. Heck, sometimes, I just bring up a Japanese web page and look at it, just to see it.

Kind of Nice:

  • The keyboard layout is a little different from the Trēo’s. And it’s a better layout. They got rid of the “Menu” key, and then juggled other things around to allow comma and @ sign in normal mode (where they’d previously required symbol-shifting), and semicolon and underscore in symbol-shift mode (they had previously required much more awkward key combos). This doesn’t sound like much, but it makes both normal writing and entering email addresses a lot more fluid.
  • The Prē displays the time and the battery-charge indicator all the time, unobtrusively at the top of the screen. The Trēo only displayed those in the main window; if you were using an app, you couldn’t tell the time or see how your battery was doing.
  • The screen is nice and crisp. There’s not much to say about that, but it’s nice to look at.
  • Satisfying “snikt” sound when you snap it shut.
  • The gentle concave curve it makes when extended fits better around the face’s ear-to-mouth curve (for use as a phone) than single-piece smartphones I’ve dealt with. The single-piece ones are flat or even convex; my Trēo was so short, I usually found myself moving it back and forth from mouth to ear, which made my conversations annoying and choppy.
  • Comes in black. Sleek and sexy black. Mwah-hah-hah.
  • You can use any MP3 as a ringtone. Just connect the Prē up to your computer as a USB drive and drag the MP3 to the “ringtones” folder. Then the ringtone will automatically show up in the list of available ringtones (using the ID3 tag’s “title” attribute, if present). You can assign it as your default, or assign any ringtone to any of your contacts. Load up 500 custom MP3 ringtones, if you want (and if you can spare the disk space). (This feature might go in the “Frabjously Cool” category for people who have been gouged by their cell phone companies for downloadable ringtones, but I never had that problem; the Trēo would do this, too.)
  • Naturally, you can zoom in and out of web pages, like on other smartphones. But double-tapping a section of any web page will “auto-zoom” it so that particular part fills the width of the screen. When scrolling around a zoomed page, the browser also tries to come to rest with the edges of page sections at the edges of the screen. It’s helpful. It doesn’t always guess right, but it’s definitely more of a help than a hindrance, and I’m quickly coming to like it.

Could be Better:

  • Starting up an application takes longer than I’d like. This is probably partly a question of CPU horsepower; it might get better with the next generation of hardware. I can’t think of any way Palm could easily fix this, and I’m not blaming them for it. It’s just a little annoying.
  • While we’re at it, the phone’s bootup time is astoundingly long. This probably isn’t much of an issue for a normal user, because you really don’t reboot your phone very often. Since I’ve been doing weird, hacker-ish things that require lots of reboots to go into and out of Developer Mode, I’ve spent longer than I’d like looking at the slowly pulsing Palm logo.
  • By default, webOS gives you only three “pages” in the Launcher. You can put as many apps as you want on a page, and you can move apps around however you want. Still, with only 12 items displayed at a time, it’s easy to get lost. More pages would really help.

    And the OS actually does support more… except that Palm commented out the menu items for adding and deleting pages! I can’t understand why. If you root your Prē, you can uncomment that feature and add pages to your heart’s content… but honestly, I’m not sure that rooting is a process the average user is ready for.

  • You can have multiple web pages open, but it’s not quite as good as tabbed browsing, because there’s no real way to specify “open this link in a new tab (or window)”. And you can’t even right-click, copy the link location, and then manually open a new window and paste in that URL, because there’s no way to right-click. To be fair, I can’t figure out a good workaround for this either, so I’m not going to blame Palm for not coming up with anything.
  • As I’ve already mentioned, Synergy (the calendar app) color codes events based on where it got the information about the event from (e.g., from Google, from Exchange, or from direct entry on the phone). I think it should code stuff based on what type of event it is (work, party, doctor/dentist appointment, social date, etc.).

Bloody Well Needs to Be Fixed:

  • Text selection is a major hassle. On the Trēo, you could just hold down Shift and move your cursor around with the D-pad, like Shift-selecting with arrow keys on a full-scale computer. But the Prē doesn’t have any D-pad. You can move the cursor around one letter at a time by holding the Orange key and then moving your finger four-directionally on the touchscreen. And you can select by holding down the Shift key and dragging the cursor around… but it’s slooowww, and often loses the selection if you try to select a lot of stuff. It’s okay for short selections, but trying to select from one end of a text field to the other is nightmarish. There have already been times when I’ve just given up and retyped a whole line of text… like I’d have to do if my smartphone didn’t have a copy-and-paste feature at all.
  • Scroll bars. Lists need them. Lists in webOS slide nicely up and down, but unless you’re at one end of the list, you have no idea where in it you are. Or how long it is. Scroll three or four screens… are you just barely into a long list? Nearly at the end of a short one? You’ll need a crystal ball to tell. Zooming web pages means you can get lost in two dimensions, not just one. We need scroll bars to provide an indication of where we are. And when trying to move from one end of a long list to the other end, a scrollbar gives us a faster way of moving than laboriously flicking it over and over again.
  • This isn’t Palm’s fault, as I understand it; I am given to understand that the blame for what I’m about to describe goes to Sprint, not Palm. That said…

    Sprint apparently pre-loaded the phone with various crapware apps, ranging from an Amazon MP3 store to a variety of Sprint website links to a NASCAR app. Fine, fine, whatever, I’ll just delete those things and free up the space…

    What do you mean, I can’t delete them?

    *icy look* What!?! I will not accept this.

    Adding more Launcher pages is a good reason to root your Prē. But this? This absolutely requires it.

Other Notes and Observations:

  • The first time you try to pry off the USB socket cover, it’s nearly impossible. People have complained a lot about that. However, it quickly gets easier — I think this is partly because the cover loosens a bit, and partly because you start learning how to do it. In my case, that learning also included an aspect of “learning that the cover isn’t quite that fragile, and you can claw at it a little more firmly than you first thought”. At any rate, I’m now pretty comfortable with it, and can pop the cover off in about three seconds, tops. And I’ve only owned the thing for… what, about 75 hours? Really, it’s not that bad.
  • People have also complained about the battery life. It is definitely shorter than the Trēo’s was, but not by a whole lot. I’ve always been pretty good about keeping my smartphone plugged in when I’m not on the go, so this isn’t a big issue for me.

    Also, the thing seems to charge up impressively quickly. I haven’t run any formal tests, but I’m sure it charges up way faster than the Trēo… or than anything else I’m accustomed to.

  • The shiny surface shows off human fingerprint oils impressively well. That’s annoying (and makes me want to wash my hands more often), but not actually problematic. I’ve treated it fairly carefully, so I honestly can’t say how easily it scratches.

At the moment, my plan is this: I have something like 27 days left before I can’t return the phone any more. And I still own my Trēo. I’m going to try to make a concerted effort to learn lots of webOS programming in the next three weeks, and see if I can develop a replacement Memo Pad app. One that’s actually usable, instead of effectively being pretty to look at in a demo, but practically useless in real life. If, by the time the deadline is coming up, I can be reasonably certain that I can write such a thing — I don’t have to actually have it done, just be confident that I could do it in a reasonable time-frame — then I’ll keep the Prē.

If not… if I’d be stuck with the hideousness that is the current memo pad? Then I might still keep the Prē. It’s been growing on me. Actually, writing my previous screed helped get some of the pain out of my system, making it more possible for me to see the Prē’s good points.

Of course, as soon as I concocted that plan, I got called up for some contract work that’s been eating a lot of my available time… the universe is not without a sense of humor.

One Comment

  1. coyotegirlfriend
    Posted Friday, July 10th, 2009 at 1:51 am | Permalink

    Fact-checky note: the old Palm OS platforms did require us to use a third-party app for MP3 ringtones, IIRC.

    And as a clawed person, I have to say here that I really wish the darn thing either came with a stylus or took input from my claws. Why give up pinpoint accuracy for blunt fingers? And oily ones at that? Bah.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Kagan MacTane on Thursday, July 9th, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    On Twitter, Kagan MacTane said: New blog post: Palm Prē, Day Three: The Good and the Bad
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  2. By Kagan MacTane on Thursday, July 9th, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    On Twitter, Kagan MacTane said: New blog post: Palm Prē, Day Three: The Good and the Bad
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