No doubt you’ve been hearing a lot about Palm’s new “Pre” phone, made by a new team at Palm that looks a lot like the old team at Apple. Jon Rubinstein heads the group (and now Palm itself) and he used to be in charge of the iPod division of Apple. (Click the link to read all about Jon Rubinstein’s career– he’s done a lot.)
David Pogue (New York Times) liked the Pre– read about it here.
Walter Mossberg (Wall Street Journal) liked the Pre– read about it here.
Christian Boyce (free agent writer, currently available for assignment) did not like the Pre. Read about it right here.
Palm didn’t send me a Pre to play with, so I had to leave my office-in-the-living-room– I mean “the West Coast Headquarters of Christian Boyce and Associates”– and find a Pre on my own. Sprint is currently the only carrier with the Pre so I drove over to my local Sprint store (and then drove some more, because the store doesn’t have any parking). It took me so long to find parking that I almost gave up, but being so intrigued with the Pre’s potential, and feeling a deep sense of responsibility to the four people who were waiting for my review, I made it to the Sprint store, and there it was— the Pre! Of course, leave it to Sprint to display the Pre in the back of the store, mixed in with a bunch of other shiny black phones so you can hardly notice it. Here’s what it looks like closed (but on), front and back:
Here’s what the Pre looks like with the keyboard slid open. This is part of what I didn’t like, so pay attention. Note that the keyboard doesn’t really slide down– instead, the phone slides up.
Now let’s have a look from the side. You can see it’s sort of curvy: you slide the phone away from you, and up.
I’m not going to complain about the TINY keyboard. Some people like any keyboard more than the iPhone’s no-keyboard keyboard, even if the keys are small and rubbery and make me feel clumsy. No, the complaint is simpler, and surprising: the keyboard is really hard to slide out. Really hard. Really. (Maybe it’s because you’re trying to make the phone slide forward and UP but all you can do is push it forward and DOWN. The action is sort of a watermelon seed between the fingers thing, but it’s not slippery enough. So it doesn’t feel right.)
It’s funny how things that feel right, feel right, and things that feel wrong, feel wrong. When it’s right, you feel good every time: closing the door to a Mercedes, or putting on cowboy boots that fit. When it’s wrong, you feel bad every time, and it’s a lot easier to come up with examples for “wrong”: turning off a PC (hint: click “Start”), turning ON my Samsung phone (press “End”), telling the gas pump whether you want a receipt or not (press Red for “Yes”, Yellow for “No”– Green is for “Cancel”). You can add “sliding out the keyboard on the Palm Pre” to the “feels wrong and makes you grimace every time” list.
If Apple made a slide-out keyboard it would move as if by magic. I don’t know how it would work but I know it wouldn’t feel like two pieces of plastic grating on each other (like Palm’s does) and it wouldn’t have sharp edges (like Palm’s does). It looks to me as if Palm could have used Jonathan Ive’s touch on this– he’s Apple Vice President of Industrial Design, and more than anyone else responsible for the look and feel of Apple’s products, including the MacBook Pro, the iMac, the iPod, and yes, the iPhone. I’ll bet Steve Jobs does his best to keep Jonny from looking for new places to work.
I guess you have to try it for yourself. I’m betting you won’t like it. It doesn’t help that Sprint displays the Pre with a heavy steel cable securing it to a post, making it hard to get a feel for the weight of the Pre in your hand. But what the heck, go have a try at that keyboard yourself– and let me know what you think when you do.