Broke free of my iPhone/AT&T Bondage!: Road Test for the Palm Pre on Sprint

Palm Pre
Image by zoovroo via Flickr

Since its debut in 2007, I’ve been a fanatical iPhone jailbreaker and general enthusiast of the device. As more and more iPhones have begun bogging down the 3G network in the Bay Area, Apple/AT&T seem to be taking their customers for granted (charging ever more for data, texts, and increasingly bad customer service). When I got my new 3G S this summer, I discovered that every time I’d jailbreak it, the SIM card would die and I’d have to restore it back into Apple jail to make it work. >:-( The jailbroken experience is half the fun of the iPhone, so I was pretty frustrated that Apple wouldn’t just leave all us poor hackers alone.

The final straw came when I was scheduled for a telephone job interview– I knew I couldn’t get cell coverage at my house in the Berkeley Hills, so I went down into the flats, in an open air park, with nothing between me and the cell satellites but a sunny day. The reception was so bad, the interviewer couldn’t hear what I was saying and asked to reschedule the interview when I can get to a land line phone. It was then that I knew that AT&T had to go. I called AT&T to complain AND THAT CALL GOT DROPPED. So I went into the AT&T store, demanded to be let out of my contract without a cancellation fee, and finally broke free. (Actually it took two hours of standing in the store, being transferred on the phone from manager to “manager”, but I held firm and they let me out).

I went down to Radio Shack and bought three Palm Pres– one for me and each of my parents. Since then I have been amazed that I can get through a day without a dropped call, delayed text message, or bunged up internet connection. Sprint service is great here, and the customer service people I have interacted with are generally much friendlier and more empowered to help me out. In addition, the service plan for 3 Palm Pres on a 1500 min family talk plan with unlimited text and data is under $150. Let’s see AT&T do that with 3 iPhones.

As for the device itself, it is indeed a worthy iPhone competitor. The interface is smooth and intuitive, and the fact that it can multi-task means that I can get up-to-the minute notifications when I get a new email, SMS, IM, or call. The slide out keyboard is a great tactile experience, although I am still much slower with it than I have become with iPhone’s virtual keyboard. The web browser is comparable to the iPhone’s, having the click-to-zoom and pinch gestures that make mobile HTML browsing a joy.

It’s designed not to need to be plugged into a computer– unlike the iPhone which is dependent on iTunes for its syncing and updates. The Pre does it all over the air. This is good and bad. As a Mac head, I had my Address Book, iCal, iPhoto, and iTunes all dialed in to sync to my iPhone. The Pre uses my Gmail contacts as the address book, so I had to go through my old email contacts and delete old students, colleagues, and craigslist response emails to clean up my phone’s contact list. On the positive side, I can use the Pre as a simple drag and drop USB device, putting whatever video, audio, or documents into its 8GB internal memory and being sure that they will work from inside the WebOS interface.

As a jailbreaker, I LOVE LOVE LOVE that Palm has basically said “go ahead! hack it!” There is already a burgeoning hacker movement, supplementing Palm’s nascent App Catalog with over 200 “homebrew” apps. This is a far cry from iPhone’s vibrant app scene, but AT LEAST WE HAVE A GOOGLE VOICE APP (two, in fact). Seriously, the Pre needs more developers and more apps, but the conditions for developing these things are really good. The Pre is basically a linux box with a snazzy frontend, so linux apps can easily be ported over to the device.

Even though I have only had it for two days, I am loving the freedom and quality of coverage I’m getting on the Pre. Sure, I miss all my snazzy apps, but I have faith that once developers realize that it’s so easy and safe to develop for the Pre, the apps will come through, too.

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Written by

Ted Curran is a Learning Experience Designer/Developer for Autodesk. He is committed to empowering educators and learners to create transformational change through effective pedagogy and technology integration. You can follow Ted on Mastodon, LinkedIn or learn more at my 'About" page. These thoughts are my own.

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