"Hands on" with the Palm Pre

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CES 2009 Thursday Box Lunch Unboxing

Seeing as everyone in the blogging world is scrambling to get up a Hands-on article on the Palm Pre, I’ll go ahead and say this now: if anyone claims to have gotten a true hands-on, they’re probably lying. We just got back from a post-announcement, closed doors Palm event where a handful of Pres were being demonstrated. While we could touch the phones, we couldn’t actually hold the phone, making it kinda tough to get a real sense of the phone’s weight and feel. Regardless, I still want one. Boy oh boy, do I want one. Read on for experiences. (Video is on the editing rack, by the way – we’ll have it up ASAP.)

The OS:

It’s straight up gorgeous, but it’s not perfect – yet. During our demonstration, a few things went on the fritz: there was a bit of lag, certain menus wouldn’t open no matter how many times they were poked. With Palm only promising “by the end of the first half of 2009″, they’ve still got nearly a full 6 months to crack out the bugs, so we won’t judge them too much.

At the very bottom of the screen is a notifications bar, similar to that found on Android. Icons light up when a new e-mail or IM comes in – touch the area, and the notifications menu opens to tell you what’s going on. To clear the notification, you simply swipe it off the screen

The “Cards” window management system is fantastic – it reminds me of alt-tabbing on a full blown desktop OS, with the added ability of being able to gesture swipe programs upward to close them.

All demonstrated gestures (single and multi-touch) appeared to work well. A small glow appears on screen beneath your fingers when doing multi-touch gestures – I’m not quite sure what the point is, but it’s a nice visual.

The quick launch bar, which is activated by dragging your finger upwards from below the screen, is great. Drag up, highlight any of the 5 applications you’ve got tucked away in there, release – the application launches.

The Hardware:

Like I said earlier, getting a true feeling for the overall hardware was difficult, as we weren’t allowed to actually hold the thing.

The speaker on the back was loud enough that we could hear a demo tune playing over the murmur of the event’s schmooze-and-boozers.

Our impressions of the keyboard are a bit tainted by the fact that our hands were awkwardly nestled at the bottom in a rather unnatural way, as our demo rep couldn’t take her hands off it. Regardless, it felt as nice to use as any Palm devices we’ve used previously, with keys slightly bigger than those on the Centro. As with any bite-sized keyboard, the keys could still be bigger.

When slid open, the back of the display serves as a mirror for self portraits.

The IM app:

Think threaded SMS – now throw in a bunch of other protocols into the same thread. Input your contact’s screen names into the address book, and webOS will automatically tie together all messages from each individual into one simple thread. For example, if you’re talking to someone by SMS and then switch to Google Talk, the Google Talk IMs are automatically incorporated into the same chat screen as the SMS.

Search:

Similar to the one-click search found on the Helio Ocean – from the main screen, you can start typing for a search term at any time. webOS will give search priority to local System/Apps and contacts, but it can also launch directly into an search engine (Google, Maps, Wikipedia).

Browser:

Demonstrated for us over WiFi, as the double-hitter of ultra-thick walls of the Las Vegas Convention Center and a hundred thousand people all carrying cell phones doesn’t work out well for a EVDO Rev. A demonstration. Browser seemed zippy – pinch/pull zooming worked well, and double tapping on any area auto-zoomed to the proper level for viewing.

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