From the Canyon Edge -- :-Dustin

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Palm Pre Rant

While I'm usually a rather positive person, this post will not be, so beware...

I use a Palm Pre as my primary phone. I previously wrote about about my Pre and my G1. I love that it's running Linux (WebOS), and I really like many things about the phone and OS. But there's a ton of little things that are really starting to drive me nuts about it.

Every time Palm forces an upgrade of my OS, several things break. Most recently, the 1.4 upgrade broke Terminal and MyTether -- two of my most frequently used applications. Moreover, what's with forcing a user to upgrade? I was so much happier with the old version.

The Touchstone charging station is a complete waste of money. I thought it was pretty cool that it uses magnetic induction to "wirelessly" charge the phone. But the software integration with it is absolutely terrible. It's simply unusable on the nightstand next to the bed, since the backlight is forced on (with no way to disable), so bright as to disturb your sleep. Other times, it appeared to be charging, but wasn't actually doing so, and the phone just slowly committed suicide. It's $70, doesn't include a USB cable, and doesn't work very well at all. Buy yourself a $5 retractable microUSB cable and skip the Touchstone entirely.

I love that the headphones jack is a standard 1/8" plug. But about half the time I use it, the sensor that detects whether it has a plug in it or not gets "stuck", and I spend the next 20-30 minutes plugging and unplugging the 1/8" head phones plug into the slot until I can by chance get the friggin' sensor to reset. This is a giant pile of suck that renders your phone unusable until you can get the sensor to reset. I pray that I'm never in an emergency situation where I need my phone and this happens :-/

And finally, it just recently "ate" a bunch of pictures that I had taken of some flipcharts we were using to take notes at an Ubuntu Server sprint. Yeesh. So I can't really even trust it to save the pictures that I take.

So my take on the Pre after ~6 months, from best to worst...
  • Linux -- awesome
  • Real keyboard -- awesome
  • App store -- decent, but less than Android or iPhone
  • Flip-mechanics -- feels kind of cheap
  • OS graphics/effects -- pretty nice, I guess
  • OS stability -- okay-ish
  • OS speed -- kinda slow for some things
  • Battery life -- not so great (less than 24 hours)
  • Sprint forcing OS upgrade -- highly undesired
  • Touchstone -- waste of money, skip it entirely
  • Headphone jack issue -- should force a recall of the devices, IMHO
  • Arbitrarily deleting pictures -- WTF
So I guess I'm starting to look for another smart phone. I don't think I'm in love with the Pre. We were never married, of course. Just courting. And in the end, I don't think we're meant for one another. She's just a little bit unstable and immature for me :-)

How long until I can buy a mass market smartphone running Ubuntu? Is that too much to ask? ;-)



  1. Dustin,

    You should report your headphone jack issue to your carrier. That is a defect and it should be replaced. I had a unit with a dead touch sensor and a unit with a dead GPS receiver.

    Also, WebOS fixes the photo overwrite issue. I'm sure your phone has already updated itself, as the download was 6MB or less.

    I think if the NexusOne came to my carrier and had the WebOS task switcher, I would use Android in a heartbeat.

  2. Not sure what carrier you are on, but I've been using the Motorola Droid for a little over a month now and I am pretty impressed with its capabilities. Really the only minor complaint I have about it is that the camera application is slow. Not a good thing when trying to take pictures of a very quick 2 year old. The exchange compatibility is incomplete, but touchdown or moxier mail can fill those gaps. And the Android 2.1 update is out, which I should be receiving any day now.

  3. "How long until I can buy a mass market smartphone running Ubuntu? Is that too much to ask? ;-)"

    I'm waiting too!

  4. > How long until I can buy a mass market smartphone running Ubuntu?

    Ever heard of Nokia N900? AFAIK, the Mer distribution is pretty much Ubuntu.

  5. Dustin, get a Nexus One or an iPhone.

    As an open source guy, the Nexus One isn't too bad... pretty easy to hack. The iPhone is my dirty mistress though... it's just a better user experience at the moment (and more applications)

    Palm is a terrible choice.

  6. Hi,
    I have a GSM Pre and I have a few complains about it as well, but right now I can't think on any other mobile OS that I would happily switch to, and looking at the improvements of the last 9 months I'm pretty sure that in 6 months I would be even more convinced.

    BTW, you forgot to mention the most amazing thing IMHO "THE PATCHES", the whole UI is done using HTML and js and you can just ssh to it and change the UI, not need to jailbroken it or anything, Palm doesn't mind.

    About your issues:
    *The forced upgrade, it is forced just after 2 weeks, you could just wait and in that time the apps should have been updated. And your complains (terminal and MyTether) are both unofficial applications.
    I think that forcing the upgrades is a good idea because avoids device fragmentation (look at the Android camp), makes the lives easy for the developers, for Palm and improves your phone the whole time.

    * Touchstone, I'm waiting mine to arrive this week, are you sure that you don't have a faulty one? Most of the people that I saw commenting the Touchstone are very happy with it.
    Doesn't the Power button blank the screen? If not, you should be able to find a PATCH for it

    * The headphone jack issue is a hardware issue, you should be able to get your phone replaced. I personally use a Bluetooth headphone.
    BTW, in case of an emergency, remember that you can always use the"speaker mode"


  7. Hi Tom-

    Yeah, the task switch is excellent. Definitely the way things should be!

    Many Pre users are complaining about the headphone jack issue. Doesn't appear to be a firm resolution yet, unfortunately.


  8. Hey Paul-

    Yeah, I really like my developer G1 running Android. Unfortunately I can't use it on Sprint, but I do use it exclusively when I'm traveling abroad. I'm very carefully watching the Droid phones coming online for Sprint. I think I'm going to ditch the Pre for one of those soon...


  9. Chris-

    Yeah, the Nexus One is interesting. I won't own an Apple product though, I'm sorry, so no iPhone for me.

    I've had 4 Palms so far, and have been generally satisfied. The Treos were way ahead of their time. And the Pre could be the perfect device if not for a few minor issues and a crappy QA release process of their OS. I'm hoping they get it right eventually.

    In the mean time, I'm on the prowl for a real power Linux user smartphone.


  10. Hiya JD-

    I have blogged before about the beauty of the Pre, in terms of being developer friendly. I do love how much access I truly have to the device. That's pretty cool.

    Even after 2 weeks, I don't want to be forced to upgrade. Every time I upgrade, stuff breaks, and I'm stuck in the forums trying to figure out how to fix all the crap they broke.

    I couldn't disagree more with you about forced upgrades. That policy is terrible, I'm sorry.

    I'm going to do some digging through my WebOS and try and figure out what process is detecting the upgrades and disable or block that. I want to upgrade on my own schedule, and only when something is broken or there's a new feature I need.

    Good luck with the Touchstone. Let me know if you want 2 more, as I'm about to hock those on eBay.

    Thanks for the info!


  11. Hey, I just got back from a trip overseas. By some coincidence I ended up having both a nokia n900 and a nexus one with me for the whole trip.

    If you have the option, then go the n900, it is so much more pleasant to use than the nexus one. The screen is more responsive (and accurate - every morning I found myself desperately mashing the nexus ones "ok I'm awake now" button on the alarm clock, and it wouldn't shut up). The n900 has a resistive screen, which basically means that you end up using your fingernail instead of your finger, and this gives you a whole lot more accuracy.

    Android has the 4 buttons down the bottom for "back", "menu", "home" and "search".

    The "back" button seemed a bit overloaded. For example, if you have a popup you want to close, you press the back button (on the n900, you press somewhere outside the popup in the blurred area... it is very natural - you think of it as tapping the thing you are interested in).

    The "menu" button was confusing just because it was never obvious when it was going to do something, and since it often didn't notice my fingers (or something like that), I would find myself poking it multiple times before it did its thing.. and if it didn't do anything, I didn't know if that was because it didn't like my poking, or because the application didn't care.

    The "home" button is how they did multitasking. It has nothing on the n900. The n900 has multitasking done the right way. Find a video of it or something if you don't believe me.

    I never used the "search" button.

    Typing on the nexus one was was slower than the n900 (the wonders of a real keyboard).

    In terms of getting ubuntu on there... it has been done (google it... copy/paste doesn't seem to work in this comment box), though I don't imagine it would be as useful as the default OS.

    (as to why I was using the nexus one... I managed to bend the usb connector on the n900, so it couldn't charge any more... so I ssh-ed into it from my laptop, copied all of my stuff off it and switched it off so it can be repaired)


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