From the Canyon Edge -- :-Dustin

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Palm Pre (WebOS) vs. HTC G1 (Android)




I blogged a couple of weeks ago about my new Palm Pre. I've been using it for over a month now, and I have a few more thoughts to share. But also, I won an HTC G1 from Qualcomm at the Linux Plumbers Conference in Portland. This was fortuitous, as I was quite interested in this device too.

I thought I would provide a comparison of the two devices, based on my experiences...

Network

Originally, I bought the Palm Pre because the G1 was not available on the Sprint network. While Sprint has disappointed and frustrated me more than once in the past 10 years that I have been a customer, their coverage in the USA is pretty good, and the unlimited data plans have served me well. I have not been under a contract in over 9 years, and don't intend on getting into a contract again with Sprint or any other carrier. I can use the Palm Pre in most of the USA, Canada, Mexico, and South America. But on the down side, I cannot use it in Europe or Asia.

The G1, on the other hand, takes a SIM card, and can be used on most any GSM network. I won a developer version of the G1, so it was unlocked by default. I simply borrowed a SIM card from a friend for 2 minutes, long enough to access the data network to login to my Google account and register the phone. After doing this, I gave Ted his SIM back, and my phone was functional as a stand alone "computer".

As it turns out, I do actually have a pre-paid SIM card from eKit.com, which I use in an ancient Siemens C60 phone when I'm traveling in Europe. While I have to use a second cell phone, I do prefer the prepaid route, as it's just too easy to spend several hundred dollars on your native carrier when traveling. So I was able to pop my eKit SIM card into my G1, and place and receive calls. I don't have a data plan on that SIM yet, so I wasn't able to test that.

HINT: To place a call using the eKit SIM on the G1, I needed to prepend *126* on the number I want to dial, and append #.

Connectivity

Both phones have WiFi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity, which is quite nice for large downloads. This, of course, absolutely drains the battery.

I mostly use the G1 as a WiFi device right now, since it's not connected to a cell service. It's great for browsing the web or using the various applications available on the platform (more about that below).

Most importantly, though, I have been able to make and receive calls over WiFi. There are many other blog posts floating around explaining how to do this. But basically I needed to:
  1. Apply for and receive a Google Voice account
  2. Register and activate a Gizmo5 account
  3. Add my Gizmo5 number to my Google Voice account
  4. Download and install SIP Droid on my G1
  5. Enter Gizmo5 username/password, and proxy01.sipphone.com as the server
  6. Enable WiFi, and wait for SIP Droid to authenticate (this part is buggy, as far as I can tell)
I have been able to do this well, from my home WiFi network. I'm looking forward to trying this abroad.

Tethering

The Palm Pre is a dream come true for anyone interested in tethering (though Sprint may apply additional charges to your account). With great pain, I have managed to tether using my last 3 Palm Treo's. With the Palm Pre and Ubuntu, however, it's ridiculously easy. I simply needed to root the device, and install My Tether. When I enable USB tethering, Ubuntu's Network Manager detects a new usb0 device, and grabs an address over DHCP. My practical download rate is an extremely respectable 150KB/s. I was able to maintain connectivity while riding passenger in a car over 7 hours and 450 miles between Austin, Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana last Thursday.

I have not been able to test the same operation on the G1 yet.

Console Access

I love that I can get a Linux shell on both of these devices. They both have small terminal applications accessible through the phone interface, but, of course, these keyboards are tiny and clumsy to do anything serious. Using vi, for instance, is a nightmare. But it's trivial to access either device through a terminal application from my Ubuntu desktop over the USB connection, and use a real keyboard.

I was able to install an SSH server on the Palm Pre, which is really nice, because I can now SSH directly to it, when it's connected on my WiFi network. No need to deal with cables or special terminal applications on my desktop.

Also, I like that I have root on the Palm Pre, and that it's possible to install packages from the command line. I have not yet obtained root on the G1. It looks slightly more difficult. I'll give that a shot soon.

Physical Device

The Pre is significantly smaller than the G1. It's easily the smallest cell phone I have ever owned, which is truly remarkable when you consider how powerful the device actually is.

I'm not a big fan of the little curve on the G1 toward the bottom. I think a completely flat device would be a bit more sleek.

However, the G1 feels like a very well made device. I like that you rotate the device sideways, when using the keyboard. The QWERTY keyboard is huge compared to any of the Palm or Blackberry devices. It's actually quite usable. Big keys, decent spacing. The hinge mechanism feels very sturdy, solid. I like the way it snaps into place, with no wiggle or play. I also really like the roller ball. There's some times I just don't want to touch my screen. Or I don't want someone else touching my screen. The roller ball, with the ability to go up/down/left/right and select is an excellent design feature.

Unfortunately, I think the physical design of the Palm Pre is its weakest point. The hinge feels very flimsy. It wiggles and has way too much play. It feels like it's about to break pretty much any time you're opening or closing it. It slides vertically, so, the screen is in portrait mode if you're using the keyboard. Most web pages and applications, it seems, perform better in landscape mode. The keyboard is also very small. The buttons don't rise as much as on the older Treos, and it takes a little while to get used to. I also very much hate that there is no up/down/left/right/select button. Everything has to be done with the keyboard and on screen gestures. This can be very painful for some applications, in my opinion. I'm really hoping the Pre is a "preview" of better hardware to come...

Ports

I love the fact that the G1's charging/syncing port is a very standard mini USB connection. I probably have 10 of these cables floating around, and it's fairly likely that if I don't, someone near me does, that I can borrow for a few minutes of juice.

The Palm Pre uses a strange little micro USB connector. Of course, I didn't have any of these cables, and one cable isn't going to cut it. So yes, I had to buy an extra cable or two (at $25 each). Disappointing. But, still, it's USB, and can charge nearly anywhere these days.

On the flip side, the Palm Pre has a standard 1/8" stereo jack. I can use my Palm Pre to play my MP3s or stream Pandora or internet radio stations directly to my stereo receiver, or to the auxiliary input in the car. I actually streamed 4 hours of the Saints/Dolphins football game on Sunday, driving back to Austin from New Orleans, pulling internet radio over the cell network and output to the car stereo. That was really cool ;-) And the Saints put together an amazing come-from-behind victory!

But the G1 uses the USB port to output sound too, which is odd. It came with a pair of stereo headphones, but I'll presumably need some sort of an adapter to send this signal to the car stereo.

It's disappointing that neither device quite gets the connection ports right. I want the Palm Pre's 1/8" audio jack, and the G1's standard micro USB jack in the same device. Is that too much to ask?

Storage

The Palm Pre ships with 8GB of storage built-in, but no expansion slot. The G1, on the other hand, has a microSD expansion slot. It was able to read my 16GB microSD card.

Seriously, Palm... This is really disappointing. The card and card reader are tiny. This omission is so obvious I conclude that this design decision is to ensure that Pre owners must upgrade their hardware to obtain more storage in the near future. I'm afraid this might well backfire on Palm, though.

My music collection has been under 80GB for almost 5 years now. At the rate that microSD cards are growing, I expect to buy a 128GB microSD card in the near future, and would hope to be able to carry my entire music collection on my mobile device. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that the Pre will be that device...

Operating System

I'll probably devote an entire post to WebOS vs. Android, so I'll just hit the highlights here...

Both are Linux, Linux, Linux. That's just pure awesome. I've said it before... We have been hearing about Linux cell phones in the USA for years now, and that day is finally here.

Terminals on both--that's great. Both OSes are very stable and responsive. They both take a long time to boot, but the uptime has been excellent. I rarely need to reboot either of them.

The icons and effects on WebOS are perhaps a little sexier, but that's among the least of my concerns. I do find WebOS far more intuitive than Android. Finding applications, menus, settings, etc., is easier on WebOS.

Multi-tasking on WebOS is simply amazing. Launch program after program, moving it to the side, and bringing it back when you need it. It's ALT-TAB for your phone. I love it.

I see a lot of promise in both operating systems.

Upgrades

I have managed to upgrade the OS on both devices. The Palm Pre was very simple. Much like Ubuntu, I just checked for updates available, and applied those. I did so over the WiFi which was a bit quicker than over the cell network. Unlike Ubuntu, I couldn't easily see what was being updated. I'd like to find the equivalent of the ubuntu-changes mailing lists for WebOS...

Since I have the developer version of the G1, I was able to upgrade my OS to Android 1.5 (and I see that 1.6 is now available too). The upgrade procedure was straightforward, though definitely intended for developers, as you had to use the SDK to upload a new binary to the phone, and reboot into a special mode with an odd key combination. That said, this is fun for me, so I'm enjoying the G1 from the developer angle.

Applications

Android has been around a bit longer, and it seems, at least at this point, to have a larger developer community. The Android "Market" has more applications than the WebOS "App Catalog", just from a numbers perspective. But there are a lot of duplicates. I have found almost all of the key applications I need for my Pre (with the notable exception of a SIP client, though it appears that one is under development).

It's clear that Apple's iPhone has a tremendous advantage on the App Store front. I think the rest of the cell phone OS market would do well to converge a bit, and confront Apple together.

That said, I would really, really love to have access to Ubuntu's archive of 20,000+ applications on my Linux devices. It seems like such a rich resource to tap into. Most of these devices have ARM processors, and we're actively working on Ubuntu's ARM story. With the 8GB of space on my Palm Pre, I could easily apt-get install most of the applications I carry around on my desktop. I'd like to think we're not too, too far away from that day...

Accessories

I don't collect a lot of accessories. Actually, I don't have any accessories for the G1.

I did buy 2 Palm Touchstones, on the premise that this technology was pretty cool. It's a little hockey puck sized "wireless charger". It uses magnetic induction to charge the Pre. When it works, anyway. I've run into a number of problems, most of which seem to be software. It seems that the software side doesn't always detect that the phone is sitting on the Touchstone. More importantly, it seems that if the software doesn't detect that it's on the charger, it doesn't start charging. I have run my Pre completely out of battery more than once now, and when this happens, the Touchstone won't do you any good. You have to plug into the USB. This creates a vicious cycle, if you put the Pre on the Touchstone, but it doesn't charge, it runs out of battery, and then you have to plug into the USB to get it usable again. I must say that I'm extremely disappointed with the Touchstone. I think I'm going to try and return them. This issues might be fixed in a software update, I suppose, but right now, the Touchstone is not worth the already-overpriced $70 tag.

Conclusion

I'm definitely enjoying both devices. Linux on the phone has a promising future. WiFi, QWERTY keyboards, App Stores, these are all great things.

The Palm Pre would be the perfect device if it had:
  • roller ball for up/down/left/right/select
  • removable microSD card slot
  • sturdier sliding mechanism
  • standard mini USB connector
  • decent SIP client for VOIP calls
  • longer battery life
The G1 would be the perfect device if it:
  • were slightly smaller, lighter
  • were available on the Sprint network
  • had a stereo audio output
  • had longer battery life

:-Dustin