Two weeks ago I purchased my wife an iPhone 4 to get her to send/receive text messages (my new toy by proxy) and I got me a couple of Palm Pre’s via craigslist, as I wanted to see what all the fuss was about for webOS’ coming out party with the just announced HP Pre 3 and new Touch Pad. Obviously, I am in the Android camp but I wanted to keep an open mind and review the competition objectively to explain why I choose Android over anything else. (I was not able to get a Windows Phone 7 device, so while it is gone, it is not forgotten).
First of all, the lot of these phones are very advanced. As I write this article, I am reminded of my 2001 Kyrocera QCP-6035 that ran Palm OS 1.x and had a grayscale screen, connected at 14kbps, and felt like it weighed more than my current iPad 2. So these all feel like some Star Trek communicators in comparison. I have listed some short hardware descriptions below but this review will be all about the software, the key differences between Anrdoid, iOS, and webOS.
I was inspired to write this article because I read far too many blogs that are populated by consumers who have never had the opportunity to actually own a competing device, except maybe for a brief fling in their friendly neighborhood wireless outlet. So a few weeks ago I got an itch to own a Palm Pre Plus again (I had one briefly back in August, 2010, solely for the hotspot capability). Well, I found two of them on craigslist and for the last few days I have used nothing but a pair of Palm Pre’s, with external batteries, and two Touchstone chargers to get the most use out of them. I have to say I am very impressed with webOS and this isn’t even v2.0. Even with the TI OMAP 500MHz, I got a pretty good idea of its potential. The Palm activation is much like an Android one. Just input your Facebook, Google, webmail, and IM account info and Synergy takes care of the rest. While it takes at least twenty minutes to fully sync with said accounts you will not need a computer this post-PC era.
The multi-tasking capabilities of webOS are simply amazing, especially with the 256MB bump to 512MB total. At any given time, I could run anywhere between two and twenty cards (application instances) and I usually didn’t notice any slowdown. Compared to my Android phone(s), it runs circles around them but it also taxes the battery very heavily. That’s bad. The ability to jump in and out of apps is very PC like and is refreshing on such a small scale. The notifications on Android and webOS are very similar, Android’s coming from the top and webOS coming from the bottom, but while webOS alerts can be cleared one at a time, Android is largely an all or nothing affair. iOS loses here because its notifications are generally annoying and intrusive to anything you happen to be doing at the time. Apple, please fix these in iOS 5.
The Pre’s icon dock at the bottom resembles the iPhone’s most instead of Android’s three pronged attack but Android can be modified with a myriad of launchers. No can do with iOS/webOS. In fact, I use one myself as I quickly grew tired of Moto’s light BLUR implementation. The biggest downside to webOS is its obvious lack of mainstream applications. Even with PreWare Homebrew apps, there is no Skype, Google Voice, or even an official Twitter app. In my humble opinion, this is the real Achilles heel. No developers = no good apps. No matter what, applications are still the dominating force behind choosing a live-in smartphone just behind the decision to pick a carrier with whom to betroth.
Android and iOS win hands down when it comes to a full catalogue of apps. With thousands available, it may as well be an unlimited number since one phone can’t possible hold them all. I have been pleasantly surprised how good iOS has gotten since the last time I owned an iPhone, v2.2. Apple’s multi-tasking is good but still doesn’t even allow for simple updates to Twitter, even in timed intervals like Android. No, for me the killer apps for iOS is the Skype integration of the FF camera and FaceTime. While these are big wins for iPhone, iOS is very much an evolutionary platform and getting better all the time. Not many changes though in Apple’s walled garden approach but I have to admit, it’s definitely getting closer to the ‘Garden of Eden’ of mobile devices if you can overlook Apple’s tight control and use of iTunes activation and sync. But I suspect most iPhone users do not think this is a major issue. The iPhone is blazingly fast and keeps a charge over three or four days versus the Pro and the Pre’s one day term. So I can see why this phone is not only wildly popular but with its good looks and app catalog it will satisfy the needs of ninety-percent of the market.
But for me, Android still wins out because it’s unadulterated integration of Google services like Gmail, Contacts/Calendar, Google Talk/Voice, Google Maps with turn-by-turn directions, and even a decent version of Skype (especially Verizon’s deal struck for Skype Mobile, not to mention the recent Sprint support for GV). Again, let me emphasize, whilst the other have email clients that are geared towards Gmail, Android truly shines here with an integrated full-on client. The UI/UX of iOS and webOS have more fit and finish, and it seems as if Android users are more concerned with functionality over form. I’m not saying that I don’t care about the UI but I will sacrifice some eye candy over usability any day. Another ingenius move by Android developers was to allow sync function of Google services to be turned of and off at will. Instead of listening to Gmail alerts all day on the iPhone and Pre whilst I receive dupe alerts on my PC in front of me. Even though there has been endless debate about just how much of Android is open source, give me a little FOSS over proprietary code any day. It’s not a coincidence that so many ROM’s have been created for Android in so little time versus iOS and webOS, just ask Steve Kondik AKA Cyanogen.
Probably the only app that makes me jealous right now of iOS is the Netflix app, however it looks as if Android could get its own any day. But what is unknown is the hardware requirements for DRM of said app. Oh and lest I forget, FaceTime is very nice, but Honeycomb has proven that Google Talk can be a conduit for video calls as well.
In closing, iOS and webOS are very good mobile platforms, great in fact, and are worthy competitors and both are wildly successful in their own ways. And I have new found respect for these platforms as there is definitely enough room to have healthy competition in the new mobile society in which we live. Between the three platforms, there is so much that can be taken away as positives like iOS’ ecosystem and UI, webOS’ true multi-tasking abilities, and Android’s openness and Google integration. But I choose to be an AndroidGuy because I believe in community driven open source projects that produce good software, Google’s determination to make a world class mobile platform, and no matter the current carrier conflicts with Android, it is still a beautiful dream to have a “free” OS that is hardware agnostic. Not to mention that no matter the hardware preference, there is definitely a device and form factor for you available from Acer, Archos, HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson just to name a few. The iPhone and Pre are limited to just two: the slab and the slider. Not necessarily bad but I like to err on the side of Choice.
Palm Pre Plus, Verizon
- Sleek hardware with full, albeit small QWERTY keyboard. But a small tactile keyboard is better than none at all
- Feels the best in the hand with almost perfect weight and balance resembling a river stone it was modeled after
- No front-facing camera but the 3MP camera takes quick sharp snapshots like a point-n-shoot
- No true GPS driving app except for Verizon’s VZ Navigator
- webOS 1.4, will never be upgraded to v2.0 (Palm’s version of the G1)
- Free hotspot app with no monthly charges up to 5GB/month. Thanks Verizon!
- Need PreWare Homebrew Apps to turn into a daily driver via side loading apps via your PC and/or alternative appstore
- Adobe Flash coming in v2.0, Palm Pre 2/3
- Touchstone induction charge is a nice accessory and comes in very handy, IF you can position it right to keep it from chiming incessantly and keep the “charging battery” message from popping up every 20 seconds
- Removable battery and Touchstone
- 16GB ROM out of the box but no external SD card
Quick walk around:
The Palm Pre Plus looks great and you can get it in any color as long as it’s black. The sides are smooth except for a volume rocker on the top left corner and the power/sleep button top. The face of the Verizon Pre is smooth since losing its home button that debuted on the Sprint version, and the only differentiation between the north and south of the device is the silver ear piece. The sliding mechanism feels strong and secure, and the keyboard is manageable with some practice.
iPhone 4, Verizon
- Apple’s iconic shape of love and hate for so many of you users out there
- Until the iPhone 5 arrives, the 4th Gen remains the pick of the litter with a rear 5MP (w/ LED flash) and front facing camera enablement for Skype and Apple’s own FaceTime
- Retina display is ridiculously clear and sharp
- The big story here though is iOS 4.2 and its version of multi-tasking that allows real-world usability. Will most likely be upgradable to iOS 5.0 in the future
- The iPhone 4 is very thin but very fragile as well. With its front and back glass casing, I don’t see how it would survive a drop without one of a thousand available cases
- Verizon enabled hotspot but will add $20/month to your already unlimited data plan with only 2GB allowed montly.
- No Adobe Flash….EVA!
- Netflix app that looks better than Silverlight on a Windows PC
- Needs a good jailbreak and possible unlock to “unlock” its potential using Cydia, for example, http://cydia.saurik.com/
- No removable battery but it doesn’t need it with great battery life
- No external SD ROM addition
Quick walk around:
With the exception of the ever elusive white iPhone 4, the default model in black is still stunning. A silver band divides the front and back, and keeps the iPhone looking balanced and chic. Stellar design and attention to detail keeps it looking both futuristic and the one to copy. Also feels like an aspirational product, even though everybody and their brother has one. Apple has kept the home button the integral part of the iPhone user experience and instantly makes iOS users feel at home.
Motorola Droid Pro, Verizon
- One of only two Android phones that Motorola produced with a full QWERTY keyboard, but the Pro mimics even the best BlackBerry
- Largest phone of this bunch but still small by the new super phone standards set by the Droid X and the EVO, Thunderbolt, et al
- The Pro doesn’t look overly flashy and while it won’t win any beauty contests, it definitely shows up with its business suit on. This thing’s not called ‘Pro’ for nothing
- Android 2.2, will probably never see 2.3 AKA Gingerbread but I can dream, can’t I?
- Runs Adobe Flash 10.x in the browser
- Verizon offers their proprietary hotspot app but the Pro can be rooted in about a minute and then you have your pick of Barnacle or WiFi tether to use for FREE
- Removable battery and option for an extended version that adds at least 8 hours of life
- Camera w/ LED flash is 5MP but is slow for most picture applications, ditto for the camcorder
- Most Android devices can be made even more awesomer by adding some Cyanogen love
- SD card for adding ROM
- Side loading of apps is supported
Quick walk around:
The Pro definitely comes from the Droid bloodline, that Verizon’s marketing has made both a blessing and a curse for us Android fans and not just “Droid” users. Anybody who has seen a BlackBerry, will know exactly where Motorola derived its inspiration. In the Pro’s case, imitation is certainly the best form of flattery. The screen resolution on the Pro is not the highest but will work in most conditions except for movie watching. In short, the Pro is the best Android phone for people who require a full QWERTY but do not want a sliding mechanism to get it.