In the comparison that follows, I'm not trying to be comprehensive. There are many sources for detailed specs for each device (I recommend gdgt). And some things are cool (like Sprint TV, NASCAR, & NFL), or might be crucial to you (like music), but are irrelevant to me. So here is a summary of the features that, for me, separate the Pre and the 3GS, the winner for each feature, and why it excels:
- Keyboard: the Pre's physical keyboard is much better than typing on the screen.
- Multitasking: the Pre can do it; the 3GS can't. This really grows on you, to the extent that you find yourself wanting to "swipe" a 3GS app out of the way to get to the next one -- but you can't.
- Contacts; the basics are pretty similar, but the Synergy of the Pre, automatically updating from your Google, Outlook, and Facebook accounts, and merging them together, makes it a winner.
- Calendar: again the Pre outdoes the 3GS by tracking multiple calendars and updating over the air effortlessly.
- Phone: again pretty similar, but the 3GS wins by virtue of voice dialing, and an overall more polished feel to making, receiving, and controlling a call.
- Camera: both have plenty of pixels, but the 3GS has a better auto focus feature, video, and on-phone video cropping.
- E-mail: this is tougher. Both can do landscape, but the Pre only with an annoying hack. The Pre unifies inboxes & other folders nicely under user control; the 3GS takes more looking around, but it can search! The 3GS seems smoother and more mature overall, with features like automatic bcc, so it gets the nod.
- Messaging: both text ok. The 3GS requires a separate app for IM; the Pre not only has it built in, but integrates it with SMS, so that your communication with your contacts is seamless.
- Music/Podcasts: the 3GS is "the best iPod ever", so no contest. This is the one area that it can multitask. On the Pre, it is nice to have Pandora and the ability to sync with iTunes, though. I want a wireless podcatcher, though!
- Video: the 3GS has a bigger screen, so you'd think it would win, but they have the same resolution and this gives the Pre a much better looking picture. When on WiFi or 3G networks, they playback speed is similar. The YouTube app on the 3GS is a little more mature, but the Pre's is adequate.
- Google Maps: pretty comparable in most areas, but the killer is the Street View on the 3GS. Wow! It is just fun! And useful when your in an unfamilar area. Satellite view is nice, but sometimes it's just not enough.
- Battery: It's a good thing that the Pre battery is removable, because if I were on a crucial trip, I'd take a spare. I'm used to just getting through the day and charging every night, based on my Treo. But the Pre is a twice-a-day charge for me. Only once did the 3GS not make it for 16 hours of comparable use during my parallel testing. The iPhone may have a reputation for short battery life, but the 3GS was adequate for me. The Pre needs to improve.
- Updating/Backup: OTA (over the air) backup and update of the Pre are just nicer than the plug in and sync method of the past (invented by Palm). Apple and the 3GS still continues to use those nasty wires. And you have to remember to do it. The Pre takes care of you in the background.
Which device is the winner? If it were running on the Sprint network, it might be the 3GS. But until AT&T adds more capacity and coverage here is Michigan, the Pre is the winner: a great device, a very good network, and a better monthly price, too.