Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pre Review -- Part 2. Cons (A Dozen Downfalls)

Where does the Pre fall short? What are the features that are lacking or less capable than other devices I've used (mostly Treo & iPhone).

1. Tasks are less capable than Treo. A primary reason I carry a smartphone is for the PDA features, especially Tasks (ToDo List) and Calendar. Palm created the PDA market 13 years ago, and the Treo was a highly evolved version of the ToDo List. I have made use of almost all the features. The Pre is missing several of them: categories, alarms, repeating items, sorted lists, priorities (5 vs 3), record completion date, and multiple views. I've tried to work around some of the missing features in the native Pre Tasks, but that is essentially impossible. I can only hope that future versions will introduce some of the more robust features that are a Palm hallmark. In the meantime, I'm using the Classic app and running my transferred ToDo list from my Treo.

2. Calendar lacks some important features. Again, Palm chose not to implement categories in the calendar. I'm used to quickly looking at my month view and seeing color-coding to indicate the type of activities on each day. The Pre overlaid calendars (from Google and Palm Profile and Outlook) can be color-coded and act in this way to some extent. But, they turned off the color coding in the month view!! Everything is just gray. I could set up a different Google calendar for each of my Treo categories, but it wouldn't show up, except in the day or week view. This is just a mistake on Palm's part. I hope they fix it. Also, the Calendar reminder alarms are very limited. I'm used to setting anywhere from 1-99 minutes, The Pre only provides for 5,10,15,30, or 60. This is particularly frustrating as my two most common reminder alarms are 20 and 90 minutes! Interestingly, items that were transferred from my Treo retained their alarm times. It's a shame the Pre took a step backward in this area, and I hope updates will add more back.

3. Memos are completely different. Again, no categories, no private or secure items, and practically a limited number due to the "post-it note" paradigm, rather than a list paradigm. Furthermore, my Treo Memos didn't even transfer to the Pre (something I'll have to remedy with a support call someday). Meanwhile, they transferred from my Treo into the Classic app just fine, and I'm using them there. The Pre memos are ok for a quick note, but not for the kind of lists and memory aids I had in the Treo (and continue to use in the Classic app). I may have to look to another app with native Pre support that handles lists. The secret (secure) items will need to be put into something like SplashID (which I'm using in beta) or just kept locked away in the Classic app.

4. Only 4 direct access launch buttons. On the Treo, there are also 4 buttons, but 3 of them are assigned a second "shifted" function, and the side button below the volume control is assigned a function, too, so in effect there are 8 functions at your finger tips in one "click". True, the Pre can find any app via universal search from the keyboard, so usually within 2 or 3 "clicks" you can call up what you want. And the launcher view has 12 or more per page. But the Treo also has alternate screen views that provide more or different functions, and the iPhone has a whole screen full of buttons all the time. It's just that launching on the Pre seems to take more thought and more time. Palm has again gone backwards from it's manta of Jeff Hawkins to reduce the number of steps to do anything. In their desire to keep the home screen esthetically clear, they've given up some functionality. Not good in my view. I suppose I could just keep the launcher open all the time. Maybe I'll try that.

5. Touchscreen collects fingerprints. This is to be expected and also true of the iPhone, and the Treo to a lesser extent. But the Pre uses the touch interface extensively and so a daily wipe is manditory and often mid-day as well. Of course, I prefer keyboard shortcuts or command line control over mouse, too. I guess I'll get used to touchscreen in time. But I'm glad there is a keyboard on the Pre, or I'd probably not have it.

6. No video recording. Not that I ever did much, but it's ironic that the Pre drops the feature, just as the iPhone adds it. It's handy once in a while when a snapshot just doesn't quite capture the action. The Pre camera is nicely improved over the Treo, but why no video?

7. No voice: memo or dialing or command. Again, not something I used much on the Treo (memo that is, it didn't have dialing or command). But while testing the iPhone 3GS, it was kind of neat to make a call or request a tune. And even my wife's old Nokia dumb phone could voice dial.

8. No removable storage (SD card). Again, this may not be a big deal, as the 6GB+ of available built-in storage will likely be more than enough for me, since I don't carry around my whole music library. Right now I only have 2 John Coltrane songs on my Pre. If I want music, I'll probably just stream Pandora. On my Treo, I mainly used an SD card for photos, and again, only a few MB worth. The only reason I'm uncomfortable is that there is no way to back up or load data in a hard sense. So I guess the Pre is more of a netbook than a notebook.

9. Short battery life. This is somewhat of a concern. So far, I've never made it through a whole day without a recharge. Since I work at home and my touchstone is right on my desk, it's not too big a deal, but I am concerned. Only rarely would my Treo run down after 16 hours of use. The Pre typically goes from fuil charge to 20% remaining in about 5 or 6 hours. And I make very few phone calls. It may be, though, that the phone signal is weak and the battery is being drained trying to reach the cell tower? Or maybe the fact that my most used app is the Classic, for Tasks all day long? Whatever the reason, a battery should last all day unless heavy use of phone calls or browsing.

10. No landscape in e-mail. Yeah, I know about the secret code "RocknRollHax". But why isn't it just enabled by default? Easter eggs are for kids. Missing an important feature is just annoying.

11. Not enough native apps. The Treo has thousands of apps; the iPhone has thousands of apps; the Pre has 30 apps. Fortunately, via the Classic app, I can (and do) access some important PalmOS apps from my Treo. And I like Pandora and AccuWeather. Some things, though, would be much better in WebOS. And some things that the iPhone 3GS had, like the Public Radio Tuner, would be nice to have. Many of the apps I looked at on the iPhone, though, were useless to me. I'm mostly not interested in games or music, so that leaves out a very large part of the app store catalog. And a couple of things I tried, like Groceries, were awful on the iPhone. I use SplashShopper every week for my grocery list, and while the PalmOS version runs ok under Classic, it would be nice to see what they can do using WebOS. I do miss PocketQuicken and PeanutReader and DietDiary a bit, even though I didn't use them much. It's nice to have them on board. They are all PalmOS, so I could load them, but, again, native apps might be better.

12. Browser shortcomings. Of course, every mobile browser needs Flash support, and none has it -- yet. Bring it on and soon! And there is no way (that I've found) to right-click on a link and download what it's pointing to (like a podcast). Again, I'm being picky, since I don't think any existing mobile browser can do that either. But, hey, this is supposed to be revolutionary WebOS, isn't it?

So, overall, I guess I'm most disappointed that Palm took somewhat of a step back in it's PDA functions and intuitive user interface (minimize the clicks!). Most of the other shortcomings may well be fixed as software updates (and apps) come along in the next few months. I'll have to live with the limitations, but that's always been true.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pre Review -- Part 1. Pros (Fourteen Fine Features)

What are the features that make the Pre better than anything I've used before? Or the things that it does better? These are the Pre Pros:

1. Multitasking. Something we take for granted on our computers, but have assumed wasn't possible or needed on our smartphones. But when you have it, you never want to give it up again! On an iPhone I'd wear out the home button switching from app to app, and on my Treo, the menu and function keys took a beating. And it was oh, so frustrating to be looking a a Web page or a calendar item or talking on the phone and wanting to switch and do something else only to be limited in the possiblilities. I've already become so used to it that I can't go back. There is also an underreported "advanced gesture" feature that you can turn on which allow switching tasks with a left-to-right or right-to-left swipe across the entire gesture area with apps fully open. You don't have to tap the home button first or have the cards in reduced size. I typically have 3 or mre cards open at a time and swipe from card to card without ever returning to the home screen.

2. An outstandingly clear and beautiful screen. Bright, readable, useful. Which makes e-mail and browsing practical.

3. Complete HTML e-mail with reasonable speed and readability. The Treo was never quite up to snuff on e-mail. Clearly Blackberries and the iPhone have had this down for a while, but now my Pre has become my first line of e-mail reading ahead of my desktop machine.

4. A Web browser that is quick enough and usable with the multitouch screen. Again, browsing was possible on the Treo, but not for long or frequently when side scrolling was needed and rendering was sometimes incomplete. In my tests against the iPhone 3GS, the Pre matched it most of the time and exceeded it some of the time. Now all we need is a Flash player.

5. The ability to play audio and video podcasts. The ability to sync with iTunes to load the podcasts! In the past, sometimes I'd go thru the trouble of loading or downloading a podcast onto my Treo, but it was hit or miss, and generally not worth the time it took. And video playback and quality was sketchy. Now if there was some kind of wireless podcatcher or sync
for the Pre, the process would be complete.

6. Calendar and Contact Synergy. It is amazing and helpful to have automtic wireless synching with Google, AIM, Facebook, Outlook (although I don't use it all). I can see my son's and wife's Calendar items and don't have to duplicate them in my own -- they just appear! And Contacts update themselves to some extent, if on Facebook.

7. Integrated messaging among IM, GTalk, and SMS. This is handy indeed when contacting my kids, who each use different phone networks and methods. Also, the inclusion of unlimited text messages in the Sprint Pre data plan means I'll use them to contact my kids, which is often their preferred method.

8. App Catalog. The Pre takes a lot of stick for having only 30 apps so far, compared to the iPhone's thousands. But the ability to just wirelessly load a new program is a vast improvement from the sync methods of a Treo. And among the 30, I found a few that are very useful to me: AccuWeather, Pandora, SplashID, and most of all, the Classic (PalmOS emulator). I'm sure there will be more, and it's very handy to get free updates over the air.

9. Classic app!! The ability to emulate PalmOS has been a terrific transition tool, immediately loading all my existing Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, and Memos in the format I'm used to. The same data was converted / loaded into my new Pre Profile in the native apps, but some features are different. It's comforting to be able to see how things compare right side by side (literally, with multitasking!). And a program like SplashShopper, which I use every week for groceries, can run unchanged, until the Pre version comes along. In effect, there is a whole library of existing apps from PalmOS that can run on the Pre. Arguably, many are more useful than anything on an iPhone.

10. GPS and Sprint Navigation. Using Google Maps with GPS on is much more useful. And the included Sprint Navigation service means you don't need a separate GPS/Nav gadget in your car. Not that I've ever had one, but it sure is handy to use when needed.

11. WiFi. Of course, it's assumed now in all high end smartphones, but the Treo never had it and it sure is handy when cell reception is p0or (like right in front of my computer!). In comparison tests against the iPhone 3GS, the Pre is faster, too. And it's practical to browse the Web or read email at the lunch table or in the living room or on the porcelain throne ;)

12. Automatic backup and updating. It's reassuring to know that everything on the phone is backed up wirelessly every night to Palm Profile servers via the Sprint network. And it's nice that over-the-air updates take place to revise the software/firmware of the phone with regularity. No more downloading and syncing to get patches.

13. 3.2 megapixel camera. When I got the Treo 600, I wondered what I'd do with a camera. But it is surprisingly useful to be able to snap a quick picture. My old Fuji film camera has now been gathering dust for almost 5 years. I never bothered to get a digital camera at all. The improved quality of the Pre is appreciated, too. I miss the video that the Treo 700p had, but not much, as I think I only show about 10 videos in 2-1/2 years. The Pre may get video via software update eventually.

14. And finally, WebOS. The new operating system is a fairly well-though-out set of methods and gestures for managing all the functions and features of the phone. It looks good, it works smoothly, and as Arthur Clarke wrote, "Any sufficiently advanced Technology is indistinguishable from Magic.".