Let me start with the end: the Palm Pre is really a great device.
I have played with a lot of cool gadgets, forcing Rose many times to wait in line at 5 am with some weirdos (thanks Rose, you are awesome!), but I have been rarely impressed. The one that shocked me was the iPhone. I could not believe how good it was. The other one was the G1. I could not believe how ugly it looked (although the software was nice).
The Palm Pre first reaction is similar to the one I had with the iPhone: good hardware, great software, I want to play with it.
It also passed my wife's three-seconds taste test (her first reaction to the G1 was "it is a garage door opener?"). She said "it is better than the iPhone". Wow. I guess the mirror they put behind the sliding keyboard (pure genius, ladies will dig it) impressed her.
The device feels nice in the hand. The screen is gorgeous. The touch system works great. I have to say the keyboard is not that good, but I can live with it (better than trying to type on an iPhone, but probably not as good as my BlackBerry). The button to turn the device on and off is strange. The little thing that hides the mini-USB port took me a minute to open. Obviously, they want you to buy the Touchstone wireless charger...
Pictures are way better than the iPhone. Video looks ok. Calendar is missing the Agenda view (a killer for me). The App Store has few apps but useful and the download+install procedure is a snap: I downloaded the Weather, Linkedin and Twitter one. All absolutely great apps, which is a very good sign for the Palm SDK. I have to say the browser did not impress me, but maybe I am picky (however, they did not put it in the list of the top apps at the bottom, so they might agree with me).
I upgraded the operating system to WebOS 1.0.2 and it was a breeze. All over the air. No cables, no iTunes, no waiting for Tmobile to decide when the upgrade would be available for me (a thing I really hate about the Android OS upgrades).
The UI navigation is a pleasure. The deck metaphor is easy to understand. Swiping to erase is just one movement. Throwing away apps makes you feel good. How to move back using the hidden bar was not that intuitive, but once you try it one time, you are good to go. I have to say I still have to understand how to paste without using the menu, but maybe I am just dense. Beside that, this is the iPhone UI with benefits. The ability to have more than one app at a time is such an improvement (for a geek, at least). You can copy something from an email, put it in a contact, come back and the app is still there waiting for you... Oohh...
All nice, but the killer app is Synergy. I know I am biased, but this is the best implementation of synchronization I have seen so far. I started adding a Gmail account. Immediately, my contacts and calendar and email from Google appeared on the device. I have two different calendars in Google, both showed up, and with different colors (and I could see only one if I want). Anything I changed on the device appeared later in Google, anything I changed on Google appeared on the device. Two way sync. Transparent as it should be.
Ok, you might say this is exactly as the G1 works. But then I added my Facebook account and the magic started. My friends appeared on my contact list with pictures. Where possible, the app merged my Facebook and Gmail contacts (I guess using their email or cell phone or name). Visually, it reminds you if a contact is merged, because you see the contact picture in a deck (easy to see than to explain). You can remove the link, or add a link to connect two contacts that are the same but do not share any common info: for example, my wife that has no email address in Facebook so it could not be linked, but now I have her picture on my phone and it will change if she changes her profile in Facebook. When you edit a contact, it shows you where every field came from. Some can't be modified (you can't change any of your friends info from Facebook, they do). It even merged two contacts I had duplicated in Gmail by mistake... Awesome. Sync nirvana. Finally.
I do not know if the Pre will be a big hit. There are many factors in play, starting with the carrier they launched it with. With Verizon and AT&T saying "we'll have a Pre too" (true or not that is, marketing is everything...), many are questioning if they should switch. Most won't do it.
However, I am sure it is a fantastic device. It will be a hit, and Palm does not need for it too be that big. An ok hit is what they need.
And the sync is awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Every carrier in the world should have the same capabilities. They should not leave it to a device manufacturer to make their services sticky. They should not allow others to make them a pipe. They should just give me a call :-)
Oh, the Pre is also capable of functioning as a phone and calling people. But who cares about it?