Succumbing to the Smartphone Siren

So shortly after crowing about how cheaply I was getting cell phone service, I’ve sailed headlong into the rocks of an $80 a month smart phone plan. In spite of all the Android buzz of late, I went with the Palm Pre.

As I’ve posted before, I used to be a big Palm enthusiast but switched to Windows Mobile about five years ago. Palm seemed to be falling apart, and Microsoft seemed about poised to do great things. I was wrong — at least about Microsoft. Windows Mobile is powerful, but it’s not enjoyable. I think that user experience has been prioritized somewhere below an integrated nose-hair trimmer, and I credit Windows mobile with turning me from an engaged mobile enthusiast into a passive mobile user because of its stagnation.

It’s refreshing to be a Palm user again, with the Palm Pre bringing back the elegance and simplicity of those earlier devices combined with the modernness appropriate for the years that have elapsed since then. Palm’s webOS, the underlying Pre operating system, is beautiful. It also gets updated, unlike Windows Mobile. If something doesn’t seem quite right with webOS, there’s at least hope that it will get fixed with a simple, over-the-air and in-place upgrade.

The Pre itself is also an example of first-class industrial design. It feels good and looks good. Contrast that with the Motorola Droid, which is truly ugly. Maybe they thought the boxy form factor would go with the robot branding or something. The Cylon monotoning, “Droid” when you turn the thing on is pure cheese. The Nexus One looks more promising, though.

Aside from things I’ve already mentioned, here a few other things that make me happy about the Pre and webOS:

  • Synergy – I’m pretty careful with keeping contacts and email organized, but Synergy changes the game. It does the consolidation for you so you don’t have to be so, um, anal.
  • Multitasking – Of course, Windows Mobile can do that just fine, but webOS’s card view makes it so simple to work with.
  • Touchstone – The Touchstone charger is great — no cable to plug in, not even a dock. You just set your phone on it and pick it up fully charged later.
  • Ares – The online IDE that is in beta right now is pretty impressive. I’ve been doing a little development, and dropped Eclipse like a rock when Ares showed up. Ares, like webOS, is simple and elegant. Maybe a little too simple right now.

And a few things that need improvement:

  • Missing apps – I need a reader for LDS scriptures, a decent place to put my passwords, and a way to sync my “to do” list to a desktop machine (preferably to Google tasks, though I’m not sure if they have an API yet).
  • Smoothness – The iPhone is soooo smoooooth in its operation. The Pre lags a bit sometimes.
  • Bedroom manners – Although the Touchstone charger is great, it sometimes doesn’t behave nicely on your nightstand. The screen turns on or the “charging” tone rings during the night.
  • Dev confusion – While I think Ares is a nice step forward, it has been hard to really learn WebOS development. I’m a software engineer, doing causal exploration of the SDK, and sometimes things just seem disjoint. I think I read somewhere that Palm changed the development model late in the game, and sometimes the documentation seems fragmented and the examples possibly obsolete. The one webOS book’s reviewers say it is all about the old model, so it is almost unusable.

So… Why didn’t I just get an iPhone? I could probably come up with some good rational reasons, but the biggest ones are more emotional.

  1. As I said, having had such a great experience with Palm in the past, the Pre makes me feel warm and fuzzy.
  2. iTunes… no thanks.
  3. I’m an anti-herd kind of guy. If everybody is doing something (namely, buying iPhones) it makes me want to do something different. Yes, totally irrational.



One thought on “Succumbing to the Smartphone Siren

  1. Interesting to read why you picked the Pre. I got it myself for many of the same reasons. Of course I never departed from Palm as I continued through the Treo era. I did get pretty disgusted with Palm at one point and wrote them to tell them so. Primarily I was disturbed with their lack of marketing skills but they didn’t bother to respond. I agree the Pre suffers from a lack of apps, at least compared with the iPhone. Still I’m able to do almost everything I want to do. One of the things I do miss is video recording but I guess that will be fixed shortly with another OS upgrade. Of course with only 8GB of memory much video recording can use that up pretty fast. I was surprised they put out the Pre with only that amount of memory but I see they have addressed it to some extent with the Pre Plus. In any event to this point I have not suffered from inadequate memory. I read somewhere that the average iPhone user only regularly uses 16 apps out of the 150k or so available. Even for WebOS many of the apps are truly silly and I can only imagine how much is is worse for the iPhone. Anyway, like you I am happy with the Pre and even Sprint hasn’t been all that bad.

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