Monday, July 6, 2009

Palm Pre - A First Look (or should that be play?)

In addition to watching fireworks and eating baked beans, I also got to play with a PRE this July 4th! A friend of mine, who has to stay on Sprint, wanted to fit in with the "iPhone kids" and so got a PRE. She kindly let me play with her 2-day-old toy for a little while, although with some obvious caveats (such as installing apps). This review is my opinion as a new user, not after using it as my sole devices for days or weeks.

The Positives:
  • I like background processing, and the way app switching is handled by swiping through "cards". Though I must admit my favorite part is swiping up to "close" an app. That is very cool and works really really well.
  • swiping up is also the gesture to unlock the phone. i think i like this better than the right to left swipe of the iPhone.
  • there is an app store, which includes a number of apps, including pandora radio, ap news, and more (note: did not see AIM there by default in the "top apps" but wasn't able to do an exhaustive search). it was a friend's phone, and since all the prices were "try it" I didn't know if it would charge her and so didn't try to download anything (see negatvies)
  • the apps that are available are a good selection of the "must haves"
  • the phone runs fast
  • hardware keyboard, though honestly it's only marginally better than a software one as the keys are really really small. remember the real chiclets candy you got as a kid? now shrink 'em about 30% and that's the size and feel of the keys. kudos to the feel as this does help the finger stay on a key long enough to press it. the sidekick still rules here.
  • flash for the camera, that works fairly well, given it's a cell phone
  • mirrored back so you can more easily take a self portrait (though still with the iphone's issue of having to hit a software button on the front to take the picture, which you can't see)
  • maps: can get a list of search results, which is nice. looks a LOT like the iPhone version
  • settings are in-app
  • more options available due to using the upper left corner as a single dropdown menu
  • nice size (shorter than iphone, but thicker)
  • touch screen, has gestures very similar to the iPhone for things like "zooming", swiping between photos, etc
  • browser is pretty nice, can't say that it's better or worse than the iPhone as far as pure browsing functionality (was not able to try filling out a form)
  • the phone keypad is very similar to the iPhone (which is good, because I love the iPhone keypad)

The N's - Neutrals and Negatives:
  • although i loved swiping through the open apps (the "cards"), I found it a little difficult or unclear as to what apps I had running. I think this could be fixed by having each card labeled with the app's name. this is probably an oversight, and I hope they fix it. if it's a setting, it should be default. (my friend has only had it a few days so most of the settings are still the default ones.)
  • the whole "cards" metaphor. it makes sense for architecture purposes, but that's where it ends. stop its invasion into actual UI, like labels. it's confusing. this metaphor continues to the menus and the menu options. for example, to get a new browser "tab" (using a desktop term that we all know for clarity here), the menu option is "New Card". As a user, i already have to know "window", "browser", "page", "web", "site", "tab".... do I really need to learn "card" too? It really is unnecessary. Even after finding the menu, I didn't know how to get another browser window until I asked my friend. I saw something about a new card, but I didn't want a card, I wanted a browser window. Once explained it made sense, but really? I would argue that a good number of users don't even understand a browser tab...
  • this falls in the "hmmmm" category: multiple browser cards are viewed at the OS level, not the app level. If I have two browser cards open, then to switch between the two, I go to the OS and switch between them as I would switch between applications. There may be a way to switch inside the browser app, but I didn't see it.
  • the menu. i missed it until I knew there had to be some options somewhere and looked around until i found it. I understand it should not take up a lot of real estate, but it's smaller than it should be for something as important as all my settings, options and controls. It was easy enough to tap, but that could also be because the apps I used had plenty of space between the menu button and any other actionable content.
  • the menu, again. i found tapping menu options to be a little tricky. Having used an iPhone for a while now, I understand how to tap on objects on a mobile device. But I had trouble with tapping the menu options. I found I had to be very deliberate with my tapping. Not sure why, the whole screen is available. And there appeared to be flyout submenus, so space for many options wouldn't be too much of an issue.
  • app store: what does "try it" mean? will it charge me? is this just a demo? is it free? I have no idea and no way to find out without possibly incurring a charge. How about putting a price on it, Palm?! It's obvious. I couldn't try out downloading apps because neither myself, my friend nor my friend's husband knew what clicking the "try it" button really meant nor if the apps cost money.
  • the design of the app store is not as nice as Apple's. it's functional, certainly, but not as pretty, easy to read, etc.
  • "back". I know I have an iPhone bias, but I was cognizant of it and tried to not let it get in the way of understanding how a non-iPhone user would like and potentially love (or hate) this device. But I have to say, I found the "back" functionality buried and stupidly difficult to find. Let me explain. If one navigates down into a hierarchy, first, there is no label or visual affordance that one has done so. You just gotta know you have. Problem. To go back, one must know that you have to swipe right to left BELOW the screen, on what appears to be part of the plastic housing for the screen, in between the screen and the little pearl button. Now, it was in darkened conditions both times when I played with the PRE, but I never would have figured that out. Ever. Again, thankful I had someone to explain it to me. This could have been cool, had there been some sort of affordance to tell me that this was an option. I may "love" my iPhone, but stroking the plastic, non screen area lovingly just doesn't come to mind. ;-)
  • font size. needs to be bigger. see iPhone. see a significant (if small) number of older folks getting iPhones because they can actually read the text on it. the menus are good enough, but I was surprised the font size wasn't larger throughout.
  • navigating to apps. I found the weird little button to see what apps I have installed a little confusing. I shouldn't have, I loved my Palm Treo, my Palm Pilot, and my other Palm device. Really, I did. But we've moved forward and having the apps hidden behind a little button didn't seem very intuitive.
  • screen size seemed smaller than the iPhone's. Strange. The resolution is the same, but the physical size is smaller.
  • keyboard isn't really large enough to be "better" than the iPhone's software keyboard. It may be nice for some people, but I don't think it's "better".
  • Overall, I found the controls to be a little confusing. They were not as clear and visible as they are on an iPhone. As another example, if I didn't know that in mobile Safari, I need to scroll to the top to get the browser controls, I most certainly would not have figured that out on the PRE. I think it's more discoverable on the iPhone than it is on the PRE, by a significant margin.

If I didn't have an iPhone and I couldn't get an iPhone, I would get a PRE and I'd be a happy mobile user. I would not probably not move from an iPhone to a PRE just based on the device. I don't think I would choose a carrier based on the PRE. If I did choose a carrier based on available devices, I'd likely still choose the iPhone.

There are a number of similarities between the iPhone and the PRE. The gestures, for one. As an iPhone user, this makes the PRE much easier to use. I think a non-iPhone user will have some difficulties understanding what they can do and how to do it. That said, once it's figured out, it's easy to remember. It's clear from using the PRE that the almost-missed details in the iPhone OS really do add a lot of clarity, discoverability, and usability to the iPhone.

The PRE is a really nice device and is definitely better than the blackberry and WinMo devices I've used. Browsing, at a first, cursory glance, is as easy as on an iPhone with good rendering of pages. The only caveat is when wanting multiple web pages.

No comments: