A Pre was in my hands on Launch Day

The title says it all… sort of.

I have a Palm Pre in my hands on the day they launched the new smartphone. What I might also mention is that I had to go to several Sprint stores and the one I finally got to play with was the demo unit that had no Internet access. Everyone was sold out and couldn’t give me a firm date (much like with any other new Smarthphone first day roll out) when the next shipment would come in. (Love the commercials, kudos to whomever came up with that concept)

This is not going to be a Pre vs (enter your fav smartphone here).
You may have noticed, I’ve owned and actually used; All hardware that was released with the Newton OS, just about every competitor to the Newton during that time, every Palm device (including all of the Sony hardware handhelds running the Palm OS), and several of the Treos. As well, many Sony, Nokia, BlackBerry, and Motorola phones. And, of course, several MobileWindows and CE handhelds. Developing for many platforms to meet clients needs means that you have to have real hardware in your hands and use it daily to get to know what needs to be done to make it integral to the users daily processes. Currently I carry three devices; Curve for work, iPhone for personal, and a non-descript MobileWin device for a client’s product project.

The Pre is to the iPhone or Storm what the Radio Shack Zoomer was to the Newton. You like the idea of the device, you pick it up and are surprised how well it feels, the feature list is incredible, and then you start using it… darn!

The Pre feels better in my hand than I expected. The photos of it make it appear to be inexpensive feeling plastic… you know the stuff, smooth and jagged at the edges. I was happy to have a pretty solid Palm device in my hand.

It is narrower than I would expect and for that matter, overall the size is on the small size. It will go easily in a shirt pocket and not weight you down. The keyboard slider does adds some thickness like it does on all Smartphones using keyboards. It slid open smoothly, allowing the keyboard to be two thumb usable. The keys on the keyboard are ‘different’ in feel to a Treo or BlackBerry. They are fine, but being smaller buttons in a smaller area you end up with a keyboard that is easy to find the keys but gives you a cheaper experience when you click them.

The smaller overall size means that the screen is smaller too… which means the check boxes, text and screen buttons are small as well. I had never gotten a Treo after the 700 series as the screens got so small it was difficult for me to glance quickly at text (calendar, notes, todos, etc…).

The hour I had to play with the new Pre was enough to set particular emotional first impressions. The Pre felt very nice in your hand, it comes loaded with many apps to get started using the computing device right away, and the UI looks great… not usable without instructions, but it looks great. There in lies the crutch I had that caused me to sit the device down and walk away… to think about it. The UI was just enough not normal that it wasn’t quickly apparent what the pattern of usage was. Swiping your finger ‘backwards’ took you back to… well, it’s different depending on the screen. And using the hardware button took you back to the list of apps, usually. Then, selecting an icon and dragging it downward did… I don’t know, the app just disappeared (apologies to the next person to play with the demo device).

Tapping was the other variable. It wasn’t about alignment, it was about the level of pressure and duration of a finger tap to cause an action. We spent much of our time trying to understand the tap timing and level of push to make anything happen. While the UI is a issue I think needs some attention if it is expected that people will pick up the device and have a quick happy experience. The tapping is a learning process people are used to undertaking when exploring any screen or button pressure interaction.

What to do about that UI? Well, write our own launcher of course… where is that WebOS dev kit, we have app to make our millions on.