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Review: Palm Pre

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Not much has changed with respect to the body since we first encountered the Pre nearly half a year ago. Fashioned after a river stone, the Pre is a delight to hold when closed. All the surfaces are rounded, smooth and comfortable. It is light, smaller than you expect, and slips easily into a pocket. Fit and finish feel a little off to me, though. The seams aren't as tight as they could be, and the phone does have a somewhat "plasticky" feel to it. These are easy enough to overlook, though, and in general the Pre is comfortable to have in your hand.

Because the Pre is covered in shiny black plastic, it's an absolute magnet for fingerprints. Not just on the screen, mind you, but all over the entire phone, including the back. I can't think of a phone in recent memory that collected more finger oils and grime. It's easy to clean off by rubbing it on your jeans, but still, wow does it get dirty fast.

When closed, the front has but a single button. This button is a shortcut to the home screen, it has good travel and feedback. When I first received the Pre review unit, the slider mechanism was very stiff and the Pre was difficult to open. Using it for several days, the mechanism loosened up some, and has become easier to use. It feels OK, not great. When open, the Pre takes on a slightly banana-esque shape. It's ever-so-slightly top heavy, but this didn't impact usability.

OK, the keyboard. First, there is a very sharp edge outlining the bottom of the phone, and it also surrounds the keyboard when the Pre is open. I found this edge very annoying and distracting. Granted, you're not touching it all that often, but when you do, you sure will know it. As for the keys, they are well spaced and covered in a rubbery coating, giving them plenty of grip. Everyone adapts to QWERTY keyboards differently. I found this keyboard easier than many others to adapt to. The keys don't have a lot of travel, but there is still a distinct click to let you know you've pressed each key. It is a four-row keyboard, with a dedicated "@" key (a must for phones these days), and quick access to many Internet-friendly characters. One thing worth mentioning is that the keyboard is small. Very small. It's similar in size to the keyboard of the Centro. The keyboard definitely isn't for everyone, but I didn't have any real problems with it.

On the left side of the Pre is the volume toggle. This button feels very cheap, and the travel and feedback is minimal and unsatisfying. On the right side of the phone you'll find the hatch covering the microUSB port. This port is used for charging and data transfer. The hatch pulls off easily. In the top right corner is the power button / display lock key. A quick press instantly locks/unlocks the phone. A long press turns it on or off. This button, too, has minimal travel and feedback. Next to it is a switch for turning all sounds off. It lets you easily reach into your pocket and silence the phone without retrieving it. This is a standard feature on Palm devices. Also on top is the full 3.5mm headset jack, which lets you use most regular stereo headphones.

The battery cover is a real pain to take off. The pin to release it is very small, and after pressing it to release the clasps, you have to pry the back cover off with your fingernails, sliding them around the edge of the phone. Thankfully, this is not something you're probably going to be doing all that often. There's no microSD card port under there to interact with.

In sum, the Pre feels best when closed. It does come off as somewhat cheap feeling. For a device that is supposed to lead Palm to salvation, you'd expect them to spend a little bit more money to make the hardware amazing. Instead, Palm has chosen to merely do a "good" job.

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