I did for many the impossible. Two weeks ago I traded my top of the line Nexus One, the super smart phone released by Google through Taiwanese manufacturer HTC for the Palm Pre 2 released by Hewlett Packard (HP). And guess what? I have never been so productive with a smartphone and I’ve played with the best smartphones the world has to offer from Apple to Google.
The Palm Pre 2 was in development and possibly almost ready to be launched for the summer 2010, when HP bought struggling mobile manufacturer Palm in July 2010. Plans to release the Palm Pre 2, the successor to the original Palm Pre (better known by fans as the Pre Minus) and the Palm Pre Plus seem to have been halted. The Pre 2 was only made available to users through HP in December 2010 and through Verizon in the United States, Rogers in Canada and SFR in France in early 2011. Unlocked versions for other markets seem to be available straight from HP. The Pre 2 has had a bad rap by tech blogs such as Engadget before it even launched. Pundits criticized the form factor which was similar to the original Pre, although the hardware was much more reliant. The Pre 2 packs the same type of processor as the latest iPhone, Windows 7 Phone (WP7) devices and many recent Android smartphones.
To be fair, I owned a first generation Pre Minus running on the old Bell Canada CDMA network. It was laggy, crashed often and felt incomplete. The very first one I had was showing signs of the infamous “oreo” effect where you could split the keyboard from the screen part by twisting them apart. I was still using my second Palm Pre as a wireless only portable computer while I was using my Nexus One, running the latest Google Android version of the day. I used my Pre Minus for 10 months exclusively and my Nexus One for 9 months, but with my Pre Minus for my social networking (the Facebook app on webOS is the best of any mobile platform and app developers seem to love making cool Twitter apps).
By all accounts, in the phone world, my Google Nexus One phone was already old, having been released just over a year ago. However, as my first and only Android device, it was a sweet phone that gave me more bang than an iPhone. People keep saying that Google’s Android copied the iPhone’s iOS. I disagree. While Android has a deck of icons on its screen, it also packs widgets and multiple customizable screens. There are things about my Nexus One that I just loved. Voice search is unbeatable. It seems that with time, it understands my voice and my lovely French Canadian accent even better than the first time I tried it. Then there are the aesthetic qualities of the Nexus One. It’s one beautiful phone. HTC has been trying to copy that look with its Desire line ever since, but nothing to my mind looks as beautiful as my Nexus One. If you’re gonna get a sexy looking Android device, settle for HTC. Unlike Motorola and Samsung, most of the recent HTC devices, including the Nexus One have their own look and don’t feel like cheap iPhone knock off or square four inch boxes that can’t fit in my front pocket. The fact that my Nexus One was running on Bell’s HSPA (GSM) network and could be switched to any of the other two larger Canadian networks, if I wanted to was the best selling point.
My Palm Pre 2 is also unlocked. The moment I switched to my Palm Pre 2, my productivity increased 1000%. I’m not exaggerating. Although the Nexus One and other Android devices claim that they can multitask, their multitasking is marginally better than the one on an iPhone. You can switch between apps in Android, but unlike on my Palm Pre, real multitasking does not exist on Android. You see, the Palm Pre runs HP webOS, the sweet web-based operating system that syncs easily through Internet services (also known as cloud services) and updates my phone in real time continually. No, your iPhone and your Android phone don’t do this. At least, not as well as the most primitive webOS devices do. All contacts from my Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, my calendars and more are all mixed together in something called Synergy and updated throughout my core apps, like my phone dialer, my contacts, my text messaging app. In webOS 2.0, I can even add services like AOL AIM and Yahoo Messenger through Synergy. Synergy is smart enough to know that my friends and contacts from Facebook, Linkedin, Google Gmail, Yahoo Messenger, AOL and more are probably the same people and takes care of merging them for me. If a contact changes their phone number in their Facebook account, their phone number is automatically updated in my Palm Pre. To do something similar on an iPhone, I’d have to buy a few apps and hope it works. I’ve tried such an app on an iPhone and it was a piece of crap. It just messed up my contacts further.
But the best part of webOS and the part that other vendors such as Rim’s BlackBerry’s and Microsoft’s WP7 are copying is the card interface. In webOS, each app, each Web page, each email I write, is opened in a separate instance known as a card. I have this routine, every morning, while commuting to work where I’ll check about five Websites, check new emails, check some core news site, monitor The Comic Book Bin site and services and so on. I can’t do that on my Nexus One. And it’s even more difficult to do that on an iPhone. I just can’t. Here’s why. The first thing I did when I got my Palm Pre 2 was check out my Basecamp account. Basecamp is an online project management platform. That’s how I manage changes at the Bin, like the new Website design I promised, new versions of our apps, animated projects at Toon Doctor, my personal company and projects for my current employer – where I am their mobile app and IT lead architect. I need to stay on top of a lot of stuff at the same time. On the Nexus, it was a pain, because the multitasking was not reliable. Moving from one app to the other, one page to another is not seamless. Also, just like on an iPhone, old Web pages I have consulted may linger on for days in the background unless I remember to shut them down. The process is so weird on both Android and the iPhone, that I still don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to do to shut an app permanently or an instance of a Web page. On my Palm Pre, once I’m done with some app or a Website, I swipe it up, and that’s it. It’s gone. Because cards are easily accessible, I always know what’s running in the background.
Although there is a webOS app for Basecamp, by a third party vendor, Basecamp offers a decent mobile site, although it has a few bugs. I could never do any serious Basecamp work on my Nexus One. To this day, I’m still looking for the memo / note taking app on my Android device where I need to jot down notes quickly that I can easily copy and paste into the project management workflow in Basecamp. I can’t even work with multiple emails in Android. In webOS, I can start to write several emails, copy from past ones, move back and forth. Copy and paste notes to the Memo app. Clean up everything and then bring it all to Basecamp, as easily as if I was doing this on a computer. In fact, I do a lot of that project management work and planning while I commute to work, flipping like a madman from card to card, taking information from one app to another one and organizing my work effectively. By the time I reach the office, my Basecamp projects have been updated and I’m ready to roll. I just can’t do that with my Nexus One. It’s way too painful.
My Palm Pre brought other benefits. There are some longstanding bugs on Android that Google just won’t fix. I use Grooveshark for my music. It’s the best streaming service ever. Forget about iTunes, Grooveshark is the real deal. Sorry iPhone folks, they used to be on iOS, but Apple pulled the plug on them. My music lives in the cloud. I can find any song from anywhere. My different playlists are shared across my work computer, the one at home, my Nexus One and now, my Palm Pre 2. I just love Grooveshark. Well, on my Nexus One, everytime I get a phone call, I may or may not be able to continue using Grooveshark. It may kill the track I was listening to completely or not. It’s unpredictable. Worse, whenever I pull my earbuds from my Nexus One, it starts the annoying Android Music app which invariably kills Grooveshark. That bug has been reported to Google over a year ago, but the company still doesn’t think it deserves to be fixed. Other apps don’t work as advertised. For example if I try to flip from the Engadget app to another one and go back, I may be sent back to the main Engadget menu. Pages of comments are ignored. Anything that interrupts a running app in Android seems to create random results when you try to go back where you left off before the interruption.
Now the Android hardcore fans will blame me the user, for my lack of comprehension of Android, for how I failed to download one of the gazillion memo apps, for how I don’t really understand Android multitasking, for how I could have replaced my default Android music app with one that didn’t suck and so on. My answer to this is that on my Palm Pre and to some extent on an iPhone, I don’t need to worry about this crap. Things just work. A phone call won’t shut down Grooveshark on my Palm Pre. The song that was playing starts playing again once the phone call has ended. I can flip through pages of comments on Engadget and then open a YouTube video, write an email, copy and paste stuff from the memo app to Basecamp without losing any of my work or train of thought. My Palm Pre can actually keep up with my chaotic work style where I jump from one app to another continuously. I don’t have to think about this stuff because webOS on a Palm Pre 2 is fast enough to keep up with me. Menus and options are easy to reach. Notifications don’t monopolize my screen space like on an iPhone. I can also get rid of them individually out of my face just by swiping from left to right. On Android, I have to clear all notifications to get rid of a stupid missed phone call icon from two days ago.
The worst part of Android and my Google Nexus One was Gmail. You would think that Gmail, produced by Google would be sweet to use on a Nexus One – it’s Google’s official phone after all. Well, for the life of me, I can’t figure out how to set up the IMAP options so email stays in my box instead of disappearing the moment I open my desktop computer. On my Palm Pre, it just worked. Also, in Gmail, I have no safe and efficient way of dealing with spam. I still haven’t found out how I could empty my spam folder without having to open each email manually. On the Pre 2, I can delete any email without having to open them first. There are menus in Android that are badly designed. When I enter a new contact in the Contact app, I have the submit button that gets in the way of entering the family name of the user I’m creating. It’s annoying. Again on my Palm Pre 2, such nuisances just don’t exist. It’s clean, well designed and stupid buttons are not floating on top of fields I need to fill in like in Android.
I noticed, since I got my Palm Pre 2, that many annoyances I had while using my Nexus One on a day to day basis have vanished. Some people claim that the iPhone is as clean and possibly better and more intuitive than HP’s webOS. I beg to differ. I once switched my menus to French and then switched them back to English in iOS. To this day, my iOS device is plagued with a mix of English in some menus, French keyboards in others – all randomly installed. And people say Apple knows how to design products? On my Palm Pre, when I switch from French to English – I have to, I’m a French-speaker living in an English world – everything is switched at once. I don’t get remnants of French lingering on after I purposely switched to English. Mind you switching language on the Nexus One is as easy as on my Palm Pre, but for some reason, it thinks that I’m in France. The French options on the Nexus One are useless to me. I’m a North American, not a European. I want French options suitable for a North American, not a guy who lives in Paris, France.
The Palm Pre 2 will soon be upstaged by HP’s Pre 3 which will boast a larger screen and better technical specs. However, for the time being, I can vouch for the Palm Pre 2 and say it is a good device for workaholics like me who use their phones as a miniature and portable office. People keep saying that there aren’t nearly as many apps on the Palm Pre as on Android and the iPhone. To these people I say, for this power user, the apps available may not offer the most choices, but for the work that I do and that counts, my productivity is leagues apart on a Palm Pre 2 than on my good old Nexus One or anything made by Apple.