Palm announces killer phone

CES 2009: Palm today announced what promises to be the product that finally matches and even betters the Apple iPhone, and certainly looks to be the most important product announced at the show.

Tim Danton
8 Jan 2009

Page 1 of 2 Palm announces killer phone

CES 2009: Palm today announced what promises to be the product that finally matches and even betters the Apple iPhone, and certainly looks to be the most important product announced at this year's Consumer Electronics Show.

VIDEO - See the new Palm Pre's:

Gesture controls

Applications

Keyboard and browser

"Synergy" applications

Click here for full coverage from CES 2009

It's based on a completely new operating system, called Palm webOS, and Jon Rubinstein, executive chairman of Palm, explained the thinking behind it.

"[The operating system] needs to be more than a bundle of apps bolted on top of a phone. We all live complex lives and keep our information all over the place.

"The opportunity is to take all that information, put it all in one place in your hand and be able to access it quickly and let all the data interact."

In practice, this means that Palm integrates your data from sources such as your work email - it has full support for Exchange - and Facebook and brings it into one device.

And the device is the Palm Pre. Its key specs include a 3.1in 320x 480 touchscreen, 8GB of storage, UMTS HSDPA support (in the UK version of the phone), 802.11bg WLAN, Bluetooth and GPS. It also includes a slide-out Qwerty keyboard, 3.5mm headphone jack and what Palm described as the "fastest ever" Texas Instruments OMAP processor.

In a live demo, the phone proved responsive in use with the interface reacting quickly to commands, and one of its undoubted highlights is a very intuitive user interface.

Gesture controls

Quite aside from multi-touch support, so you can pinch to zoom in just like the iPhone, for instance, it also supports gestures.

"Our touch is special, it goes beyond the screen," said Matias Duarte, Palm's senior director for human interface and user experience.

"This opens up a whole new world of gestures. Flick back from right to left and it goes back, like turning a page in a book."

Palm also answers the long-standing criticism of its operating system, that it's difficult to switch between applications.

"Instead of a desktop-like interface where you pile up papers on a broad surface, we think of a pack of cards," Duarte explained.

The idea is you flick from side to side to flick between the open apps, and if you want to close one you just dismiss it by flicking it upwards.

Missing features

Though the demonstration was impressive, notable absentees from the demo were video streaming and any in-depth show of the music player.

Both of these are big strengths of the iPhone, which Palm clearly has in its sights with the Palm Pre.

For example, Duarte cattily said: "By popular demand we've allowed you to remove the back and replace the battery," which was greeted with much enthusiasm from the largely American crowd.

The web browser certainly looks to be a match for Apple's. Pages load in full-page mode and when you tap in it reacts intelligently in terms of where it focuses - so if there's a block of text, it zooms to fit this in.

The biggest downside for the Pre is that it's not yet available. Palm says it will release the phone in the US "as soon as possible" in the first half of 2009.

Page 1 of 2 Palm announces killer phone

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