What I look for in a “Smart” Phone – aka is it a Palm Pre Plus in Australia?

I’m a self-professed tech junkie, addicted to not only playing with the latest gadgets but actually trying to use each and every one for day-to-day purposes, and see how they benefit or detract from my daily life.

As some would have read on my blog before, I’ve tried using an HTC Desire as well as an iPhone to do so, and have ended up back on the iPhone for the time being. I’ve also tried an HTC Mozart (Windows Phone 7) and an imported, unlocked (AT&T) Palm Pre Plus. This post contains my thoughts on the Palm Pre Plus (specifically an imported model not supported in Australia yet). 

Each person, of course, has their own requirements for a smart phone. Mine are the following: 

  1. Let me make and receive phone calls.
  2. Have reasonable battery life.
  3. Let me access both MS Exchange & Google Mail/Contacts/Calendars.
  4. Support more than one calendar per Exchange account.
  5. Social media – Facebook, Twitter necessity – and as seemlessly as possible.
  6. Have a good media player, and for me that includes good podcasting support.
  7. Support GPS (including A-GPS for good indoor location) for mapping.
  8. Allow me to run apps that help me stay in contact with friends/colleagues on iPhones (such as WhatsApp).

The HTC Mozart fails on point 2, 4 and 8. The Nexus One (2.3.3 Gingerbread) is close, but the OS still needs work (CyanogenMod helps here, but shouldn’t be necessary). 

So I come to trying out a (HP) Palm Pre Plus AT&T model. These days you’d be better getting the Palm Pre 2 either direct from HP or on eBay.

Let me firstly say, the phone I have by default supports version 1.4.5 of WebOS, the operating system that runs on the handset. Through the great work of WebOSInternals, I’ve gotten the handset to run the latest 2.1.0 – I wanted to see how different it made things. If you have one of these handsets, I highly recommend upgrading – it is worth the pain (but I take no responsibility if you break it). It didn’t fix any specific Australian issues though (like GPS, see below).

So how does the Palm Pre Plus (running 2.1.0) measure up based on the 8 points I have above?

1. In Australia, the handset I have only supports the 850MHz frequency band that Telstra have. This gives it excellent “NextG” coverage, and phone calls work perfectly. The phone even has the APN details built-in for Telstra, so no manual configuring is required. You’re out of luck if on Optus or vodafone though, but there is a model sold in the UK & Germany that you can import if you want.

2. The battery life isn’t great out of the box. My iPhone 4 lasts an entire day, with regular browsing/app usage, and dozens of phone calls made and received. The Palm Pre Plus is lucky to make it to midday with the same level of usage. This has been a complaint of this handset since it’s introduction, so I expected this, and have a car charger to keep it going. Still, it’s a fail in comparison to the iPhone 4, and on par or a little worse than the Nexus One. Good news is via the Homebrew community (via Preware homebrew app store) for WebOS, Uberkernal and Govnah are available that under and overclock the phone automatically based on usage, stretching the battery life out considerably.

3. By far an absolute winner in regards to MS Exchange and Google connectivity, trouncing the iPhone and Nexus One by a large margin. The “Synergy” tech is so good I could work off this handset far more effectively than the other phones. Definitely a win here.

4. Multi Exchange support is a given, and it is seemless.

5. Social media is WebOS’s speciality, and it deeply integrates far better than any other handset. Check reviews on Engadget and other sites for more insight here. Lets just say it is awesome and move on 🙂

6. Media player is OK, but not as good as the “iPod” app on the iPhone. It is better than Android 2.3’s default media player on the Nexus One, but not by much. Low internal memory is also a big limitation here, meaning you can’t store much music in the 16GB of space (my iPhone has 32GB), and you can’t expand it either. As for podcasts, I’ve installed the DrPodder app from Preware (homebrew app store) which works extremely well. DoggCatcher on Android (in the Marketplace) is a better alternative for Android users – highly recommended if you listen to podcasts. I’ll give it a pass, but only just. The iPhone is the better choice here.

Note there may be better options in the paid App Catalog for WebOS, but this is not available to Australian users unless you activate your handset and Palm Profile using a US SIM Card whilst physically in the US, then pay for purchases using a US Credit Card – lots of pain.

7. GPS is a real letdown for me here. I don’t know if it functions better in the US or not, but here in Australia the Palm Pre Plus has two settings for it’s GPS in Location Services – GPS and Google Location. With GPS on, the Palm Pre Plus gets a GPS lock when outside in clear view of the sky without issues. With Google Location on as well, this slows down, but doesn’t seem to do anything of benefit. When indoors, you might as well not even try. The maps app will continue to complain it can’t find your location. Compared to iPhone or the Nexus One, this is just not acceptable. Both the iPhone and the Nexus One get my location within seconds when indoors. Whilst it’s not a perfect location, it is enough of an estimate that it is usable. The Palm Pre Plus is just plain useless for GPS apps, especially social media apps like Foursquare etc.

8. Lastly, keeping connected to my friends on other platforms. For me, the app everyone uses is WhatsApp Messenger. Whilst this isn’t HP/Palm’s fault directly, WhatsApp have a client for iPhone, Android, Nokia/Symbian and Blackberry – nothing for WebOS. Without this I might as well not exist for alot of my family and friends, as they all use this for messaging instead of SMS now. There is a petition to get WhatsApp on WebOS – so if you are interested go and add your signature to it.

So where does this leave me? Again, I’m back on the iPhone. It’s a love/hate relationship. I love the hardware, but the OS is starting to grate on me. WebOS does so many things right, and the upcoming Touchpad and Pre3 have me really excited, and the Veer has me intrigued.

In the end though, they need to handle the 8 things above that I need to get me using them. I hope HP makes it happen, because all of the benefits WebOS offers are too enticing to ignore.

So – what things do you look for in a device and/or mobile OS? Similar to mine or completely different?



Disclaimer: I work for HP, but have nothing to do with the Palm Business Unit. My thoughts here are completely my own and do not necessarily reflect HP’s thoughts or position in any manner.