Although this is actually the third Palm Pre to hit the streets, the ‘Pre Plus’ doesn’t really count. Here we have a new OS, improved specs and better build to make it truly different.
Palm’s latest handset is the first since computer giant HP liked Palm so much it bought the company. Of course, it’s building its new tablet using Palm’s webOS, but in the meantime it has updated the Pre with a slightly altered design and improved specifications.
The chief difference to the look is it now has a flat, Gorilla Glass screen instead of the curved plastic one on last year’s Palm Pre Plus. It’s not quite as shiny-gorgeous as its predecessor but it works in a classy, demure sort of way. It’s the same size (3.1-inches) and resolution as before. It still looks good, though the arrival of Apple’s Retina Display makes most LCD screens look dull in comparison. This is no exception.
The micro USB connector for charging is on the right edge as before, but the flimsy cover which adorned earlier Pre phones has been ditched: much better.
Slide the screen up and you’re met with a keyboard pretty much identical to the previous version. It’s a good keyboard, easy to use at speed, though not quite as usable as, say, the BlackBerry Bold 9780 which remains the best on any phone. In some ways the Palm’s keyboard is better, such as having both @ and . on lower-case positions, so it’s easier typing an email addresses, for instance.
The new back plate is matte, not gloss as before, but it includes a hidden connector for the wireless Touchstone charger, which makes charging the phone effortless.
Inside, the new phone has a processor which, at 1GHz, is twice the speed of the previous phones and is noticeably faster than before, through it was always a slick piece of kit.
The latest version of Palm’s operating system, webOS 2.0, remains the most seductive phone interface outside Apple’s. Multi-tasking is achieved by treating each application like a playing card: flick your finger up the screen and the app shrinks and flips onto a card display. The next app you flick upwards sits alongside it in similar reduced size. You can keep track of a multitude of apps like this and in this new version of the OS, they stack more neatly to make it easier to keep an eye on them.
The card-flicking action is one of the neatest attributes of this operating system and the universal search feature, now called Just Type, is another. Open the keyboard and without launching an app, just type: exactly as the name suggests.
The phone automatically looks on the phone for contacts, calendar entries, apps and so on. If it can’t find it there, it offers to look on Google or launch Google Maps, Wikipedia and other places to look. You can customise this Launch and Search list. Or you can take one of a series of Quick Actions, such as starting a new email or SMS.
When webOS first launched, it was innovative in the way it integrated all your contacts from multiple sources, so for example a friend’s Facebook pic appeared next to their phone number. Other operating systems have caught up, but it’s important to remember that Palm was an early mover in this.
Palm’s excellent web browser is improved too and now includes Flash compatibility, so more of the net is at your disposal. It looks good and remains a fast, compelling browsing experience.
The camera has been improved, so it’s now a 5-megapixel snapper and there’s an LED flash, too. It’s easy to hold the phone with a finger covering the lens, but once you’re used to this little wrinkle, it’s fine. You can shoot images with the phone open or closed: it’s better balanced when it’s closed. As a camcorder, the Pre 2 is less impressive.
Note that unlike Windows Phone 7 handsets with dedicated hardware buttons, the shutter here is an onscreen icon so you can’t take photographs with your gloves on! Note also that when you slide the screen up you reveal on the back of the phone a shiny metal panel which is unbeatably good for self-portraits or checking for spinach in your teeth (I’m sure that’s a specific feature designed from the earliest stages of development).
The Palm App Catalog is busier than before, but it’s still got a long way to go before it becomes abundantly stocked. At least it can include Angry Birds in its roster, but it needs to grow faster for webOS to succeed. Palm has a system for making it easier for developers to port their apps to the platform, which may help.
Battery life on the first Pre was pretty dire and now it is much improved. Even with a fair level of calls, texts and web browsing it will still cruise through a full day, possibly more. Daily charges, as with all smartphones apart from the Nokia N8, are still recommended.
The Palm Pre 2 is an excellent smartphone. If you find other handsets just too big, this is a superb, compact alternative. If you like a keyboard, this is a great combination of touchscreen and QWERTY – better than a BlackBerry Torch in some ways. But what’s holding the Pre 2 back is nothing to do with its considerable skills, from a good camera to outstanding operating system, but the fact that no network it taking it, so you’ll need to buy SIM-free. This might make it too pricey for many to consider, which is a shame as it’s one of the slickest smartphones around.
Ratings (out of 5)