The Palm Pre: The best smartphone yet. Period.

Posted by Rob Enderle, Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

Analyst Opinion - I've been playing with the Palm Pre for the better part of a day and you really get the sense that if a product could be designed that said "screw you Apple" this is how you would build it. It is very much like they took everything folks have complained about regarding the iPhone that folks at Apple said couldn't be fixed and fixed them.  It misses on the Application Store (it does not have one yet), accessories (it is a new device), and cars that it will directly plug into, but it hits on everything else.
 
Let's go over the highlights.  

 

Removable battery

Yes, you can build a cool looking 3G phone and have a removable battery. Lithium Ion batteries lose much of their life in about 12 months and 3G phones pull a ton of power, which means that you have barely enough battery life for a full day when they are new, regardless of who makes them. And it gets increasingly ugly after 12 months.  You can install a removable battery yourself. With new battery technology coming from companies like Boston Power, the second battery may be even better than the first one. Palm supports removable batteries, Apple does not.

Keyboard

Apple indicated you could either have a slim cool phone or a keyboard and, for the most part, until now, they were right. You got one or the other. Period.  But the Palm Pre is slim and it has a keyboard.  It is a nice implementation, too, because the keyboard slides out in an abbreviated "C" cupping your face, which is a nice change from the brick most screen phones confront you with. Like most of the current generation, the screen blanks and the touch features switch off when you lift it to your head.  Behind the keyboard is a handy mirror if you are one of the few that wants to take your own picture and mail it.   

Real camera

The iPhone is better than most with a 2 megapixel camera, but 3 megapixels is where real cameras truly start. The Palm Pre not only has a great 3 megapixel camera, but a bright LED flash as well, enabling you to take pictures in the dark. Few phones have this, making me wonder if most engineers figure that the world is constantly either in the sun or lit by fluorescent lights. Emailing, navigating or deleting the pictures is a snap. But, like the iPhone, there is no slot for a microSD card.
 
 
Multitasking

The Palm Pre is a multi-tasking phone, while the iPhone is not.  This was on purpose for Apple, because navigating a bunch of open applications is a pain and the result is an incredibly slow phone. The Apple OS can multitask, it is based on UNIX, and the phone will do some things like download or run phone features while running an application, but you are barred from running more than one application at a time.   And that is because folks can't easily find and close the applications on most multi-tasking phones.  Well, rather than crippling their phone, Palm figured out how to improve navigation so you can make the choice as to which applications to launch, close, and run at the same time.  This is amazing and something every current generation iPhone user should try. (We'll know in a few days whether Apple fixes this as rumored with the 3rd generation platform due out shortly).

iTunes

The Palm Pre works with iTunes, not with DRM protected music (Apple prevents that), but with anything you have ripped or recently bought that isn't protected by DRM. I'm not aware of anyone else being able to be nearly plug-compatible with iTunes. That is an impressive piece of work. But we have to remember that the guy who invented the iPod is at Palm now, so it may not have been as hard as you may think.  

Ease of use

Let's just say Palm has done things with the user interface that make the iPhone look old and I will leave it at that. But just like the iPhone, it is fun to play with and learn and, I expect, folks will be posting tricks and discoveries in forums much like they do with the iPhone as the Palm Pre community builds.   

Wrapping up:  Impressive!

If they had launched this phone in January, Palm would own much of the market that Apple now occupies. Giving Apple this much time to look at the Pre was very dangerous. It should be noted that Apple gave the cell phone market just as much time and I'm still surprised that nearly 3 years later the Palm Pre is the only phone that has even come close to creating something as amazing as the iPhone, and they actually improved on it. This means that Apple could miss and with Steve Jobs out of the picture they are not, in my view, executing as well as they did with him there. This is one hell of a test for Apple. But until they respond, the Palm Pre sets the new bar as the best phone I've ever had the honor to carry. Congrats, Palm! Incredibly well done.  

Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts. Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them. Currently he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.