Palm Pre (US) review
Look at me, look at me
The ability to run multiple apps brings with it an issue of how to handle all these multiple channels of information. What if you get an email while having an instant message conversation, or what if you want to pause your music while browsing the Web? Like the iPhone, the Pre allows for notifications of what’s happening in other apps, and I actually found myself liking its implementation better than the iPhone’s.
When a notification comes in, the bottom of the card you’re looking at slides up, and an icon and message appears below it. For example, you might get a notice of an email message you just received: the icon displays an envelope icon badged with the number of unread messages, along with the sender and subject line of the most recent message.
If you want to look at the message, tap it and the Pre will take you to the Mail client and clear the notification. If you're playing music, a bar at the bottom tells you the name of the current track and the artist, along with previous track, play/pause, and next track controls.
If you don’t tap the notification, then after a few moments, it shrinks down and just becomes a small icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen; you can tap it to expand the notification. In the expanded view, you can slide notifications off the screen to dismiss them. Overall, it’s simple, efficient, and above all, non-disruptive. Contrast that with the iPhone’s pop-up notifications, which demand your immediate and complete attention.
You’ve got the touch
Touch interfaces are a hit-or-miss affair; the Pre’s is a solid double. Many of the motions the iPhone introduced to the world—pinch to zoom, swipe to delete—are here, at least in some form. Some might cry foul and accuse the Pre of stealing the iPhone’s mojo, but without a legal court case to back that up, I’d argue more that the iPhone’s gestures have become conventional, part of a tactile “language” that the Pre has adopted.
Grasping the touch syntax of the Pre is pretty straightforward because of those shared gestures, but the Pre does extend upon the idea in some odd ways. For example, the black plastic "chin" below the screen is actually a touch-sensitive “gesture area” in its own right.
When you first turn on the phone, Palm walks you through making the “back” gesture, a horizontal right to left swipe performed on this section of the phone which is the equivalent of moving hierarchically “up.” It’s a good thing Palm requires you to practice this before using the phone, since this feature is inherently undiscoverable and unintuitive.
There are a few other gestures that can be performed in this area. For example, touching the gesture area and flicking up opens the Pre’s Launcher (its equivalent to the iPhone's Home screen).
On the other hand, if you drag upwards—different from flicking—starting from the gesture area, you’ll summon the Quick Launch bar, a floating ribbon of the apps that reside in the Pre’s “dock” area. That’s kind of neat, but it’s more eye-candy than useful, especially when you can also easily get to the Quick Launch bar by hitting the Center button.
In addition, the Pre’s shortcuts for cut, copy, and paste rely on using the gesture area. In most applications, you can also access these functions by tapping on the application name, which is usually in the top left corner of the screen, and then tapping on Edit.
However, I noticed that each of these had a shortcut next to them: a bull's-eye symbol followed by the usual letter for that command (X, C, and V). It took me several experiments—for example, I tried tapping the screen where I wanted to copy followed by that letter—until I resorted to the manual, which explained that you have to select some text, tap and hold in the gesture area and then press the corresponding keyboard key. There’s no way of figuring this out without being told.
I found the Pre’s touch screen somewhat less sensitive than the iPhone’s—I often had to tap multiple times for an input to register, and the lag time between tapping and getting a response was often slightly longer than I expected, leading to multiple presses. I did kind of like the “ripple” that the Pre shows you after you tap the screen. Some of the motions are slightly different from the iPhone’s, too. For example, when you want to dismiss a notification, the sideways swipe you make is less of a flick and more of a drag.