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CES 2009: Palm Hits A Triple With The Pre

Today at CES Palm unveiled its next-generation mobile platform and the first piece of hardware running on that platform. The Palm Pre and webOS are solid steps forward for Sprint, but they aren't a home run. Yet.
Today at CES Palm unveiled its next-generation mobile platform and the first piece of hardware running on that platform. The Palm Pre and webOS are solid steps forward for Sprint, but they aren't a home run. Yet.There's no doubt that Palm did well today. The announcement of the Pre smartphone was met with cheers and loud applause from attendees of the press conference. The room was near to bursting with excitement.

In case you haven't seen the specs yet, the Pre is a touch-based smartphone that also has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. It has a 3.1-inch display, rating half VGA resolution at 320-by-480 pixels. Users can flick their fingers up and down and back and forth to interact with the Pre.

It has EVDO Rev. A 3G aboard, and will use Sprint's network. It also carries Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR with support for stereo, 8 GB of on-board memory, and GPS. That pretty much covers the basic spec list of today's smartphones.

The hardware itself is definitely more attractive than anything else we've seen from Palm lately. It doesn't beat some of the competition in terms of looks, but it sure comes close. (We hope to get some hands-on time with the device later today.)

The real innovations come in the new operating system, which Palm calls webOS. It is meant to integrate all the areas where we access the Internet and our work, social, and personal information and bring it all together in one space.

It uses a set of interactive "cards" that can be tossed around on the home screen. Applications remain active even when you're not using them. You can easily navigate away from one application and navigate back without losing your place.

The way Palm has integrated the calendar, contacts, and messaging software is sheer genius. It ties together contacts from across the Web, including Exchange, Facebook, and Web-based e-mail such as Gmail, all in one large database. You can see all of your contacts' information no matter which network it happens to be stored in.

The entire messaging department has been turned into a giant threaded conversation. When you open conversations with contacts, you can see all the different types of communication medium in one list, which means all the e-mails, IMs, and SMSs you've sent that person in one list. Neat.

The browser looks extremely capable. You can have as many open windows at a time as you wish, and it supports full HTML browsing with zooming and panning, etc.

At first blush, it is impressive, and I see a brighter future for webOS than I do for the Pre itself.

My main reservations lie with Palm's choice of carrier partner. Sprint may have a very capable 3G network, but using CDMA technology -- and not GSM-based technology -- limits the Pre to North America. If Palm really wants to make its investment in the Pre pay off, it really should distribute it in as many places as possible. That means using global technology that has a future and not something with a limited future such as CDMA.

Palm definitely impressed people today. At the very least, it met expectations, if not exceeded them, and showed that the company is still capable of creating world-class products. I think it left plenty of room for improvement, however, and could have done even better if it had tried just a little bit harder.

Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer