Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The underrated Palm Pre

Firstly I should say, "Sorry"; to Palm. Palm sent us a complimentary handset some 2 or 3 months ago. A fellow colleague quickly made it his own and gave us all the following review, "It's ok".
Which technically is true. It is ok, but it's also something a bit special that I fear we may have overlooked.
For a start, it has a glowing, almost mythical, white nipple (its not a 'ball' as it doesn't appear to roll!) at the base of the screen, with two lights either side of it, that pulsate from time to time. The phone has some odd, but intuitive features. Much like the Sony Ericsson's old dedicated  'Bent Arrow','back' button, the Palm Pre asks you swipe right to left just below the screen to perform the same function. This tactile motion brings you closer to the phone and after a while, becomes familiar and natural. The phone will also 'multi task' relatively easily and simply places each open program window next to each other on the home screen. When no program is running however, the home screen is pretty much a drab vacant affair and defunct. It doesn't appear to be customisable. It only has the 4 or 5 icons in the dock at the bottom of the handset which can be quick launched, and changed if desired (facebook app anyone!). Otherwise, there is nada to see!
When you do have programs open, closing them is one of the coolest things on the phone. You simply swipe your finger up over the magic glowing nipple, this takes you back to your home screen with the program screen reduced. To close the program, you simply throw it, with your finger, out of the top of the handset. The other programs neatly regroup (assuming there are some others open), to re-fill the gap left by the program you just killed.
 The main menu is simply launched by pressing the icon that is half arrow, half house (see pic) or swiping up on nipple on the home screen. This launches 3 screens (scrollable left/right), two with apps and the right most for settings. Apps/icons can be dragged where you want them in an iPhone like way to any other location or screen. No phone is complete nowadays without a fully functioning App store, however, and the Palm obliges with it's own "App catalogue". Palm's selection here seems less than Android and clearly years behind Apple's, but there is plenty here to keep the casual phone user busy (including a "Violent Games" category!). There is the obligatory facebook app, although this doesn't appear to be as well developed as the Android and Apple versions. The "App catalog" store is well laid out and very simple to navigate, review apps, prior to installing, and install them straight to your handset (some apps have demo video's too, which is pretty neat). Installing apps, is Android like and better than the iPhone, in as much as you're not ejected back to your home screen whilst installing (take note Apple!) Deleting Apps is easy as well. Tapping the top left of the handset (which feels very 'mac-like') opens up sub menu's with options to copy and paste data, edit program preferences etc. Tapping the top right opens time and date settings, shows you battery %, the wifi network you're connected to and allows you to trigger airplane mode.
I noticed very early on that the corners of the display are so curved that a significant amount of video or photo's would be missing, when viewed back, however, this is purely an aesthetic element as these corners 'square off', quite stylishly, when a video plays.
The phone also has a wealth of help video's and I noticed on one, that there is a superb "powermat" style charging base unit for it. Disappointingly I can't confirm whether this cool accessory is included as I have only brought the handset back to test this evening (I haven't even opened a user manual yet, which I guess illustrates the intuitive nature of this handset) I will update tomorrow when I find out for certain if its included.
The Camera seems decent enough, the flash is the standard LED affair, which does a reasonable job, although indoor flash pics are a little grainy. The video recorder is ok too, and does better indoors in low light than the camera does!
Photo viewer is as good as can be expected, Texting (is chat like), the web browser has the now almost traditional pinch and zoom and tapping to zoom to text functions and works as well as you'd expect it to. There is a music player which does what its supposed to. Google Maps is present, but lacks the non essential, but increasingly useful street view (the first minus?) Youtube App, PDF viewer Calculator etc are all present and correct.
Overall this phone has surprised me. I have warmed to it alot this evening, the more I use it, the more I like it. Palm have made a product that you will quickly start to form a bond with. It lacks some of the wow factor of the HTC Desire and iPhone but its a great designed little unit (you'll notice I've ignored the 'blackberry-esque' rubberised tiny functional sadly essential keyboard from my write up) that feels great in your hand and superb to use for the most part.
The problem with the handset comes down to price. It's a Nissan GTR competing in Porsche territory. To date it's only available on higher tier tariff's and when thats your only option to get one, its by no means the sane man's choice. The HTC desire is available on cheaper tariffs, the iPhone is available for the same money. If this was competing with the likes of the Tocco Ultra and the 5230, it would wipe the floor with the competition. Against the iPhone and HTC products, it all feels a bit fisher price. Simple and effective yes, but not quite desirable enough. 

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The HTC Desire

There would be little point in HTC loaning us one of these little beauties if we weren't going to spend some time giving it the once over and letting the world know our thoughts. There's a mountain of things to say about this phone. So I'm going to whizz through them point by point so its not too boring. I've limited myself to 30.

1 Outside in sunlight, the handset looks pink, and for a smartphone, for a bloke at least, thats not cool. 
2 The optical track pad thing is cool however. it works brilliantly. Although there is no cursor on screen. Its used for zapping between options, home screens, scrolling webpages and text.
3. The phone is quick. Really quick. It has a 1Ghz processor in it, so that was a given really. 
4. It doesn't ever seem to crash. It does (very) occasionally slow down a tad, but never enough to worry the majority of users. 
5. Android Market place is every bit as good as Apple's App store, perhaps better. When you choose to install an App, it does it immediately and puts you back where you left off in the app store. Apple iPhone users will know what an annoyance installing apps and being booted back to the home screen is. 
6. Why there are separate email and Gmail Apps I don't know. One sits neatly on your home screen and previews your email. Yet the Gmail one is a separate App. You can configure the normal email program to work with Gmail, but it begs the question, why have two? 
7. Odd white dots are clearly visible when using the handset outside in daylight in landscape mode. This is due to the way the screen is manufactured but it looks odd, nevertheless.
8. The SEVEN home screens are easily customisable with LIVE weather, facebook, news and email Apps. Very cool and the wallpaper behind can be animated, aka 'LIVE'.
9. The in built electronic compass gives free Apps such as 'Metal Detector' and 'Google Sky Map' an incredible "Wow" factor. Boot up Google Sky Map and click the magnifying button on the bottom right, type in "Ursa major" and a circular arrow appears on the screen (with the sky map behind it) to show you exactly where to look in the night sky. Move the phone closer to the constellation and the circle glows red. 
10. Moving the cursor to text you want to correct in a half written email or SMS is a little awkward. Moving the cursor around is best done with the optical mouse thing, but the iPhone way by tapping and holding, it has to be said, works better.
11. Installed on the supplied memory card is HTC Sync.exe, this is non Mac compatible. Syncing with a Mac appears to be a lost cause. (There is no official support at least).
12. It takes 5-6 hours to charge fully, but the battery life seems adequate. The iPhone appears to charge far quicker. A short 1 hour charge last night, did nothing to help, within 30 minutes it was complaining it needed charging again. 
13. Drawing a 'join the dots' style pattern across nine big dots on the screen to unlock it, is a great innovation and fun too!
14. Dragging an application from the 'all programs' to the 'remove' that appears at the bottom of the screen doesn't uninstall it, or remove it from the all programs folder*. Uninstalling programs is a windows like affair, meaning navigating your way to the 'applications' area of the settings and selecting 'remove'. This invokes a list of trillions of apps, most of which aren't in the all apps folder at all, most of them I didn't know what they were for!
[14b * what you're actually doing is dragging it out of the apps folder to one of the home screens, the remove button appears when you drag any app on the home screen to another location, or, if you drag it to the remove button, it simply takes it off the home screen]
15. The weather updates are animated, which is very cool. But the list of supported locations is poor. Choose your nearest city. If you live somewhere remote, you'll become frustrated by the 'no data available for this location message'.
16. The internet browser will only auto rotate to the left! This is the same even if you install Opera mini. Why?
17. TV catchup (a favourite with iPhone users as it allows free live viewing of TV channels), does not work with Android and it appears (besides Beebplayer, which only does BBC channels) that there is no alternative.
18. The screen is incredibly clear, easy to read and the touch sensitivity is superb. Pinch and zoom work well in apps like maps and the internet. IIRC pinch didn't work at all on the HTC Hero in Maps (this is possibly an Android update). 
19. The speaker is appalling. 
20. A handy widget can be put on one of your seven screens to allow you to easily switch on/off your wifi/Data/GPS/Bluetooth etc. Which is very handy.
21. Screen brightness auto adjustment is OFF by default. This renders the screen unusable outdoors in sunny conditions. Turn it on and its fine.
22. Predictive typing is every bit as good as the iPhone. Head down hammer away usually works well. 
23. The camera is excellent. The flash does a great job of illuminating the dimmest of rooms (for close up pics), auto focus works well and if you tap the screen, the handset will focus on that one spot. 
24. The video camera is disappointing indoors. Very jerky and not particularly impressive. Outdoors things improve and picture quality is very good. But motion is dealt with very badly and the image sways as if underwater. I'm comparing this to say a much older Nokia N series phone, where the video quality was exceptional.
25. You NEED a google account to make the most of it. Use google contacts, google Mail and Google calendar. With a simple username and password entry during setup, the handset will configure everything for you. And contacts will be sync'd easily with the Google web service. Which I guess makes point 11 for Mac users, somewhat moot?
26. From the home screen if you 'pinch' or press the home button twice, all of your home screens pop into view so that you can simply press the one you want to switch to.
27. The contacts favourites widget is difficult to correct. I selected our Chinese takeaway as a fave, but must've tapped email, (which is odd as I don't have their email). When I tried to delete the contact from the favourites folder, it deleted the contact altogether. Very irritating. 
28. The handset will marry up (easily) your facebook contacts with your phone contacts, via means of a broken or linked (green) chain. This imports their photo into your contacts store on your phone. 
29. Street view in google Maps DOES work. even though there is no obvious way to trigger it. Hold your finger over the road you want to view, wait for the address to load, tap the window that appears and then you should see the familiar street view stick man. 
30. Tapping the screen in the web browser doesn't always resize the page the way you expect or want it to. Safari on the iPhone tends to work a little slicker. Instantly zooming to the text box you tapped. I've found several times I've tapped part of the screen and it zooms it too much or not enough resizing the text to fit the screen. 

Although there are quite a few negatives in the above brief summary, the handset is, as the name suggests, very desirable. The new Android OS is a real pleasure to use. The handset is almost identical in size to the iPhone. The screen looks great and the ability to choose what capacity you want it to be is a major benefit. The Camera is good, its easy to use. Putting my iPhone sim into it was a painless process. The phone configured itself for the o2 data and as a previous Gmail user, the auto setup made using the phone Childs play. 

Far simpler than any Blackberry or Windows phone to use, but still not quite as easy to use as the iPhone.  
If it synced with itunes and I could hook it up to my Ipod car kit, I'd be seriously tempted. But it doesn't, so for now I'll stick with the 3G and wait and see if Apple have anything up their sleeve for this summer. 

If you want to be different however, and have been looking for something equal or better to an iPhone. This is a tremendous handset, make no mistake. Definitely the best alternative to date and arguably better? The HTC Hero was a great phone. This one is even tremendous. HTC and the Android platform going from strength to strength. 


Oh, sorry, I forgot to mention, call quality seems pretty good too.

Simple laptop buying advice.