(Ed. Note: Craig Froehle and Don Ferguson are longtime friends of us here at Android Central and Pre Central. They're experts in the Palm OS of old and the webOS of new. And so when they offered up a in-depth comparison of the Palm Pre versus the Evo 4G, we jumped at the chance to run it.)
Craig: Both Don and I have used the Palm Pre on Sprint for almost a year, now. We also both (independently) decided to try the EVO, getting one on launch day (June 4, 2010). This is the first Android device for both of us, so have patience with the noobs.
Don: Indeed! New to Android, but not new to this space. This will be fun since, while we certainly don’t have exactly the same perspective on this, we do share a unique perspective that differs from what most reviewers review. Unlike most “first look” reviews, we won’t be telling you the resolution of the screen or how hard it is (or isn’t) to read outside, or that kind of stuff. This review is more detailed, more specific, and more focused on the factors that make a phone truly usable and useful on a day-to-day basis.
Craig: So, we’re going to summarize initial reactions to the new kid on the blog, the EVO 4G, then go into a pretty detailed comparison about how the Pre and the EVO match up on various criteria. The whole thing is set up like a conversation so we can each express our own opinions rather than try to agree on everything (although we actually do that fairly often).
First impressions of the HTC EVO 4G
Don: BIG BIG BIG! It will be interesting, once I get it all set up and encased, to see how big this thing is in the pocket. Update on Day 2: Got the Zagg Invisible Shield put on the screen - much better: less glare; fewer finger prints; unmatched protection. Ordered a leather pouch type case for it. Already have eGrips on the back! Update: The PDAir leather case smells so strongly of chemicals that I’m sending it back. I’ll be looking for another leather case.
Craig: Yes, it absolutely dwarfs the Pre. It fits fine in my front pants pocket (sans case...I keep my phones naked), so that’s really all I care about size-wise.
Don: Absolutely beautiful hardware.
Craig: Agree...everything seems so polished and well-engineered. Fit and finish is immaculate on my EVO (except for a tiny bit of light leakage down near the capacitive buttons...something I can easily live with). We’ll see how it holds up. One thing I like about it is its “slab” form factor. I was in a restaurant and just sat the EVO on the table to use it tablet style...worked really well...felt no need to hold it like I do the Pre (due to its roundedness, the Pre rocks and spins on a flat surface when you interact with the screen).
Craig: One thing I already miss is a dedicated ringer mute switch. I’ve had one on every smartphone I’ve owned since my first Palm Treo and am baffled by the choice to not include one on the EVO. I definitely need to find the absolute fastest way to mute the phone when in meetings...any suggestions?
Don: Most likely the volume up or volume down buttons will mute it after it starts to ring. There’s an app called OneClick that lets you set up all sorts of screen buttons, one of which is a toggle between normal sound, vibrate only and silent. Not as convenient as a switch, since you have to turn the device on, swipe down to proceed, go to the screen where the button is and tap the button (at least four steps, maybe more vs. one step on the Treo/Centro). The BlackBerry didn’t have a hardware switch either...
Don: Screen is very reflective - need to get a good non-reflective screen protector.
Craig: This doesn’t bother me.
Don: Exchange setup very easy and data started coming down to the device immediately.
Craig: Yes! Account setup was stupid-easy for everything from Exchange and Gmail (as you’d expect) to Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. HTC Sense makes a lot of this really painless.
Don: Calendar day grid view was very difficult to find, but it’s there!!
Craig: Overall, the calendar app seems pretty full-featured. One oddity I found was that if you use colors in the top two rows of the color selection table on the browser version of Google Calendars, the Android calendar picks a random color to represent that calendar on the phone. If, instead, you pick a color from the bottom three rows (on the website interface), then the phone shows that calendar in the same color. I hope Google fixes this...doesn’t seem to be anything other than a bug.
Don: Already a software upgrade - good sign, or bad?
Craig: That fixed the unreadable SD card issue. It also blocked rooting the phone...for now, which is fine with me since I have a lot to learn about Android without even getting into field mods. If it’s as robust as the webOS homebrew scene, I’m sure there’s a ton of great stuff, though.
Don: Dialing extra digits - not working as set up for Pre. Need to edit them. It also dials so fast you have to put pauses where they were unnecessary with the Pre.
Don: Tap and hold on an entry in the address book or call log brings up View, View call history, Edit number before calling, Send text message, Add to favorites, Delete from Call history - nice!
Craig: I appreciate Android giving me a small scrollbar to let me know where I am in a big list of items (the webOS designers apparently thought scrollbars are tacky). I’ve been very impressed at the wealth of options offered throughout the OS...overall, it seems more configurable out-of-the-box than webOS. After just a couple days of playing, my home screen was totally customized with widgets and app shortcuts just the way I want it...for now.
Don: I also copied music to the EVO’s SD card using MediaMonkey - very easy. USB speed seems to about the same as the Pre.
Craig: I haven’t hooked mine up to my PC yet...too much fun diving through menus and exploring all the built-in apps! Update (Day 3): Was impressed to find that the USB connection menu included charge only, flash drive mode, and direct USB tethering already built in...woot! Update: The built-in tethering has been disabled by Sprint (see below).
Comparison to the Palm Pre
Don: Overall, here, of course, we’re talking about a webOS device vs. an Android device. There are design differences in the OSes that make the user experiences fundamentally different. At the highest level, the concepts that are built into webOS make for a more globally consistent, transparent operation that is in many ways superior to Android. The three UI elements that give webOS this advantage are 1) the card model (see screenshot), which makes what’s running very transparent and also makes open programs easier to get back to, 2) the gesture area, which gives each OS component and application a built-in, consistent way of navigating, and 3) the upper left corner menu (tap or swipe).
Craig: Right! webOS is extremely elegant in how it handles multitasking, at least from a user interface perspective. I don’t think anyone argues that there’s a better mobile OS in that regard. However, my Pre is hamstrung by insufficient RAM, as I’m constantly getting “Too many cards” warnings, requiring that I close some apps before I launch a new one.
Don: Android’s model is an older, more traditional one wherein one can’t really tell what all is running (a must-have app: Advanced Task Kill - that’s only to kill off extraneous running programs) without returning to where an app was launched and “launching” it again, a built-in Back button, and a built-in Menu button.
Craig: If you tap and hold the Home button, you get a pop-up listing the six most recently used apps (see screenshot). It’s good, but not as good as webOS’ card view. For instance, if you use that method to go back to an email you had open, it pops you into the list view, so you have to re-open the message...definitely NOT elegant. I also downloaded ATK, but I haven’t really needed it yet. I launch apps as I need them and, unlike my Pre, the EVO just seems to handle stuff. It’s very much like what I think the Windows Mobile experience was supposed to be like, but memory management was always inadequate. Maybe I’ll run into one of the slowdowns they talk about on Android, but, so far, I’ve not...this EVO is a hoss. Update (Day 2): had to kill off a couple of downloaded apps that were sucking up a lot of RAM...ATK is definitely handy for that (one-touch widget FTW!).
Craig: While I’m more familiar with webOS, Android seems to have most everything I want. Some things aren’t quite as convenient, such as, like you say, managing apps, but others are much more powerful (e.g., battery management). Android seems to lean towards powerful, whereas webOS seems to lean towards simple convenience. I can’t say one is more “elegant” than the other, but there’s definitely a different design ethos influencing each.
Don: Not that there aren’t some nice (superior) aspects to the Android UI. The HTC-provided launcher screen, once configured, will be far superior to the webOS launcher, and the “tap and hold for choices” implementation is easier to navigate than the upper left hand corner menu or “orange key select” choices in webOS.
Craig: Right! I’m very impressed with HTC Sense, which gives you a total of 7 home screens (plus Scenes, which multiplies those 7 times an indefinite number). I’ve long thought webOS needed a “home” screen where you could amass key shortcuts and information, and Android + Sense seems to do this extremely well (see my main home screen at right).
Don: There will no doubt be tons of high-level comparisons written about webOS and Android, so we won’t try to be comprehensive here, just focusing on the items, some big and some small, that are important to US.
(believe it or not, the stuff above is just the introduction to this section! Here goes!)
How things stack up - nuts and bolts
Don: Now we get to some of the details, prioritized in a way that admittedly mirrors preferences and biases that might not be shared by everyone.
Craig: Right. Don and I are “seasoned” (i.e., middle-aged) professionals who probably prioritize the business/productivity capabilities of our phones higher, and entertainment/media capabilities lower, than others might.
Don: I think I’m a little more “middle-aged” than you (I was years old when color television was introduced to America!), but yes, we have a decidedly business/productivity bent. That said, we both love gadgets, so the gadgety side of the device won’t escape our notice - it’s just not always the top priority. OH, and one other note: neither of us lives in a 4G market, so unless we travel, we’ll have to imagine how much faster 4G will be (not for long, though).
Craig: Cincinnati is on Sprint’s list for 2010, so if I end up keeping the EVO, I might not have to wait very long to experience 4G.
Don: Same here in the Denver area! They're putting up towers as fast as they can here.
Don: This is my highest priority - the thing without which all the rest is meaningless. It is a combination of hardware and system software dependability. Not that other things aren’t important - just that without this, those other things are hampered or rendered ineffective by an unreliable device.
Craig: I agree, Don...as an essential tool, my phone has to be ready to do what I need it to when I need it to.
|No resets||Craig: My Pre has been more stable than previous Palm devices, but not perfect. Of course, I do have mine patched and overclocked at 800MHz, but I’ve not seen an increase in resets since making that change. |
Don: Certainly the Pre was a vast improvement over PalmOS devices. I can count on two hands the number of resets, and that was with a heavily patched Pre. I unpatched it completely before getting the EVO, so I’d have a fairly generic Pre to compare to the EVO out of the box.
|Craig: Not one so far, but it’s only been 2 days. |
Don: Only time will tell on the EVO, but HTC has a good reputation in this area, and so my expectations are high.
|No locking up||Don: My Centro/Treo locked up frequently. Again, the number of lockups of my Pre over the past year could be counted on one hand. |
Craig: My Pre has rarely “locked up” the way old Palm OS devices did. Slow-downs, where the system gets to the point where a reset is the only thing that would restore usability, are not uncommon. This is better in the Pre Plus, but that’s not the model Sprint users can buy.
|Don: Same note as resets. So far, so good! |
Craig: Android seems very good at isolating and shutting down an app that’s having problems (a “force quit”) without compromising the rest of the system, so that’s excellent.
Don: An update on Day 5. First lockup today. The thing just became non-responsive. The display was dark and would not come on. Waited patiently for a couple of minutes and then pulled the battery. Everything came back, but strike 1!
|No performance lags||Don: This one’s tricky. In general PalmOS was fairly responsive. When the phone capabilities were introduced in the Treo line, things got a little tricky, and adding playing music in the background further complicated things for this non-multitasking OS. The Pre excels at multitasking, but the processor/OS combination, even with the 800mhz patch to speed up the former, still result in sufficient lag that the user frequently doesn’t know whether a tap has been noticed or not. |
Craig: If there is one issue that frustrates me about my Pre, it’s the persistent lagginess. Yes, even at 800MHz, my Pre often leaves me unsure whether it’s thinking about doing something I asked it or whether I should repeat my input (it’s usually the former). For example, the camera on my Pre takes anywhere from 5 to 30 seconds to be ready to take a picture after I launch the app. On the EVO, it consistently takes about 2 seconds. When you’re trying to take photos of little kids doing something funny, even 3 seconds can make the difference between a nice pic and nothing at all.
|Don: The EVO’s responsiveness is flawless. Nothing lags. The Pre’s scrolling is jerky and uneven, even with the 800mhz patch, and the EVO’s, while much better, still isn’t quite as smooth as the iPhone. |
Craig: I’m still not sold on the whole “inertial scrolling” approach to user interfaces. There are times when I miss my Treo’s d-pad and the ability to scroll down a fixed amount of content with each click. That said, jerky, uneven scrolling is just terrible, and I agree with Don; the Pre seems to suffer on this dimension as well. The EVO, on the other hand, seems to scroll effortlessly...the 1GHz Snapdragon definitely seems to be up to the task.
|Good battery life||Don: My Palm/Palmpilot machines could go a month on a set of batteries. With Treos/Centros I could easily get through a day (as could my Blackberry Curve). The Pre cannot. With regular use, the Pre would exhaust even the increased-capacity Seidio battery without a little mid-day charging. |
Craig: I tend to get a day and a half out of my Pre with the Seidio 1350 mAh battery, unless I spend a lot of time in a low cellular-signal-strength area (which really sucks down the juice). The 800MHz patch didn’t change that very much at all.
|Don: From what I’ve seen so far, with an admittedly brand new battery (LiIon batteries have to be “broken in” a bit to give full capacity) I expect the EVO to be roughly comparable to the Pre, if maybe a bit more power-hungry. |
Craig: I’ve been pretty impressed! Here, on my 2nd day with the EVO, I’ve gone 16 hours of moderate-to-high use with a mix of Wi-Fi and EVDO (I’m not in a 4G area), and I still have about a 1/4 battery left. After the battery breaks in a bit, that should improve. For a device with this much sheer hardware muscle to get that out of a 1500 mAh battery is impressive. Don, you might look into getting a Seidio 1750 mAh battery if you’re concerned about making it through a day with juice to spare.
|Durable hardware||Craig: If there’s anything that the Pre has gotten a bad reputation about, it’s its physical durability. I’m pretty gentle with my phones, yet, sadly, my Pre, which is now almost a year old, has developed a crack in the body near the USB cutout. And, the tab covering the USB port came off months ago. I’ve not seen the “Oreo effect” or had issues with overheating like some have, but suffice to say that the Pre is not well-designed from a hardware standpoint. And, after a year, my Pre’s plastic screen is starting to develop a faint haze of microscratches...nothing that I notice if I’m not looking for it, but this isn’t a phone that I’d be able to sell for much after using it a couple of years. |
Don: Absolutely! I’m on my 4th Pre in a year. I had a Pre Plus briefly and that seemed much more rugged, but still with the same thin plastic outer casing. The “Oreo effect”, wherein the display section and the keyboard section of the device can rotate in opposite directions enough to feel “loose” or “flimsy” is in full effect on my Pre. I always keep it in a leather case that encloses it, and in my pocket.
|Craig: It’s too early to tell if the EVO will be durable, but HTC has a great reputation for making sturdy hardware. The EVO already has an advantage in not having a physical keyboard, especially one that slides like the Pre. There are only four moving parts on the EVO: the power button, the volume rocker, the kickstand, and the latch that secures the SD card. That bodes well for long-term hardware reliability. The glass always seems more scratch-resistant than the Pre’s. |
Don: Yes, it certainly feels solid. And with InvisibleShield on the screen, darned near scratch-proof! I ordered a side-opening leather case, just because that’s what I’ve used for devices for so long it seems like that’s what the EVO should live in. We’ll see.
Don: This is certainly the second-highest priority for me. I know some iPhone users put this third or fourth, but I use this phone all the time, and so the performance of the phone is very important!
Craig: I don’t make a lot of voice calls, so this isn’t as crucial for me. I do want it to work well as a phone, though, for I find low-quality voice calls to be particularly vexing. Granted, some of that’s the network, but we’re comparing apples to apples in that regard.
Don: Agreed. I have clients who love the iPhone and don’t really make many calls or care about call quality. I can always tell when they’re talking on the iPhone. Hissing and silent gaps and dropped calls. If I only made one call per day on my “cell phone” (as opposed to the dozens of calls I make per day) I would still want the call quality to be excellent, and consistent. It’s a professional image thing as much as an avoidance of annoyance thing for me.
|Clarity of sound||Don: This is a combination of the device and the carrier. In my neck of the woods, Sprint has better overall sound quality than any of the other carriers. The Treo/Centro were good. The BlackBerry Curve was better. The Pre was also better. |
Craig: The Pre gives decent, but not great, voice call clarity, although max volume is often still too low in noisy conditions.
Don: Yes, yes, yes! Why can’t these devices deliver enough volume that I occasionally want to turn them down! I know the answer: lawyers and insurance companies. Remember the person who sued Apple because s/he claimed that the iPod damaged his/her hearing?
|Don: So far so good on the EVO. I have had one caller say I sounded “fainter” on the EVO than previously on the Pre, but need more data. |
Craig: I’ve not had that complaint. Voice call quality seems very much on par with the Pre: good, but not great, with noticeable digital compression (probably a network artifact rather than a phone issue). The EVO’s earpiece is quite a bit louder, so that should help when it’s noisy.
|Signal reception||Craig: I’m in Cincinnati, where Sprint has pretty decent coverage: IMO, it’s not quite as consistent as Verizon, but equal to, if not better than, AT&T and T-Mobile. |
Don: In my area (60 mile radius around Denver, CO), Sprint is the best. That’s not common, I take it, but T-Mobile and AT&T just suck, and Verizon, who, by all accounts, has better coverage than Sprint, just doesn’t have it here.
|Don: So far, my subjective perception is that the EVO appears to hold on to a signal in places that the Pre dropped. |
Craig: Since getting the EVO, I haven’t been somewhere where the Pre had no coverage, but I’ve noticed that the EVO seems to indicate a higher strength signal than the Pre most of the time. Without some more use, though, it’s hard to say if either is better, but it appears the EVO is not significantly worse.
|Call log||Don: The Pre has some oddities/drawbacks: the call log lacks call duration, doesn’t remember extra digits when dialed from the address book, and, if multiple people have the same phone number but with different extra digits, what shows up in the call log seems to be a random choice of one of those contacts that share the same base number, usually not the one I actually called. Ironically, if I enter exactly the same (work, for instance) number for two contacts, without any extra digits, it always gets the right one in the call log. There's a patch to add back in call duration. No fix in sight for the other problem.||Don: Good news! Call duration appears in the call log without having to resort to a patch. Unfortunately, unless you’re careful, while the call log accurately records a phone number dialed with extra digits, it records the person called as Unknown. The trick is to use the letter ‘p’ for a 1 second pause, and to put the extra digits right alongside the phone number, rather than in the extension field. Moreover, if I do put extra digits in the Extension field in Exchange, Sprint won’t recognize the number to dial it at all. |
Craig: I’m not totally familiar yet with all the various features of the call log, and the phone function in general, in Android -- it’s certainly not as simple and straightforward as webOS is -- but it appears to have all the bells and whistles.
|Speed dialing||Craig: I found making and receiving calls on the Pre to be very intuitive once you get past the issue of not having a dedicated “Phone” button. But, as Don points out, there are lots of little conveniences and features missing from a supposedly high-end smartphone platform. One nice thing about the Pre is, because it has a physical keyboard, I can assign a speed dial to each and every letter key...that’s 26 different speed dial entries! |
Don: For sure! Not only can you assign people to the keyboard keys, but those you assign to the keys that correspond to the number keys on the keyboard can be dialed by the old “hold the number down until it dials” speed dial mechanism that’s been in cell phones forever.
|Craig: It seems that Android focuses on massive capability and lets things get a little chaotic, whereas webOS focuses on simple elegance and tries to keep things calm and manageable at all times. One exception to that “massive functionality” is the lack of an effective speed dial mechanism...I just cannot figure out how someone is supposed to dial a contact quickly without tapping the screen multiple times (while driving!?). |
Don: Yep! There are so many options in so many different part of the contact management app that it appears to have been put together by different people, with different ideas of how things should be done. It’s powerful, but “chaotic” is the right word for it! Just try, for example, to get a contact into the dialing widget, make the image that shows up there be the one from your address book rather than Facebook, and have it dial the number you want with one tap. You can do it, but you have to go to about 4 different types of preference screens/menus to make that happen. With the folder of dial shortcuts alternative (pretty much the same as LaunchPoint, but built in) things are simpler, if still a bit inflexible/unfinished.
|Bluetooth||Don: The Pre was SUCH an improvement over the generally mediocre Bluetooth implementation in PalmOS devices. It hangs on to a clear, pleasant-sounding Bluetooth connection with the headset, doesn’t disconnect, allows me to get about 20’ away from the Pre before static starts to show up. Very nice. Not so nice was the fact that, while all my Treo / Centro / Blackberry devices worked fine with my Volvo / Motorola / BMW car kit, the Pre does not. At first, and still, it won’t do speed dials. After 1.4.1 and before 18.104.22.168 (or so) Palm broke its ability to work with my car kit entirely. Sloppy. They fixed it, after several weeks of outcry from BMW owners (who probably cry out louder than we sedate Volvo owners). On the user interface side the Pre is typically simple and brilliant, allowing me to switch from the Bluetooth headset, to the handset, to the speakerphone with the touch of a button.||Don: The EVO works every bit as well as the Pre with all of my Bluetooth devices. At first I saw a disturbing series of messages saying it was connection, then disconnecting, then connecting again, etc., with either my Volvo / Motorola / BMW car kit or my Motorola H17 (current bluetooth headset of choice when I’m not in the car), but that appears to have settled down (or, in any case, I’m not seeing it lately). Three annoying things here (remembering that it generally works very well): 1) When I say “Speed dial” to my Volvo car kit, and then the number, it redials the last number dialed, no matter which speed dial number I tell it, 2) from the call screen, when using Bluetooth, the proximity sensor is still active; makes it very difficult to do anything on the screen while talking on the headset, since the screen keeps turning off as my hand nears the proximity sensor, and 3) when on a call on Bluetooth, there are no buttons on the screen to switch to the normal handset or the speakerphone; I have to go to the menu, disconnect the headset, and then I can switch between handset and speakerphone again. If I want to turn Bluetooth back on, I have to return to the menu.|
Generally Usable Device
Craig: There are many pervasive elements in a mobile OS that help, or hinder, the user to understand what he/she is doing, navigate the device, and make the overall experience enjoyable, efficient, and repeatable. Here, we talk about some of those on each device.
Don: The Pre is very easy to use. Once you get used to the gesture area and what swiping and tapping mean, it’s very consistent throughout. The built-in functions are very simple (a little too simple for my taste) and easy to understand, generally. As a charging technology the Touchstone charger is simply elegant and addictive. With the Pre off, put it on the Touchstone and the desk clock comes on. If the Pre is on the Touchstone and the phone rings, tap the answer button and it switches to speakerphone automatically; pick it up off the Touchstone and it switches to the headset. Very nice.
|Don: Android is, let’s face it, a little complicated. That’s fun for me, and I think Google and HTC have done a good job of masking some of that complexity, so on balance it might be good for casual AND more, shall we say, involved users like me. I’m still getting used to the Android way of doing things, but it appears to be close to webOS in terms of ease of use, once the initial learning curve (which was there with webOS, too; just not a big a curve) is overcome. One specific note: since the USB drive presented by the EVO is the memory card (unlike the Pre, which shows part of internal memory), one can keep using (most of) the function of the device while it’s connected to the computer in USB mode. With the Pre, when it’s connected in USB mode the phone can do nothing else (I mean nothing). This is minor, but handy. |
Craig: Android is complex at first, but it’s really pretty consistent in its organization. I don’t mind my phone being structured like a computer, as I’m already very familiar with that paradigm; learning a new paradigm just isn’t high on my want list. That said, Android + Sense is markedly better than plain Android; whether that’s still true in Froyo or beyond is up to HTC.
|Sounds & vibration||Craig: This is one aspect where webOS is sorely lacking; there just isn’t enough granularity. While I can have per-user ring tones for phone calls, I can’t do the same for text messages. |
Don: Yep, separate sounds and vibration control is rudimentary at best. It got better with successive releases of the OS (which have slowed in frequency, as of late), with the introduction of some basic customizability. My primary beef here is that there are two great models already out there for how to manage this - PalmOS and BlackberryOS - and Palm chose to ignore both and just go very basic. The practical effect of this is that one cannot, say, customize the number of and interval between vibrations to be different, say, between the phone and the calendar. On the Treo the phone vibration pattern was a rapid, insistent pulse, and the calendar vibrated more sedately. With the phone in my pocket I could tell the difference without looking or bothering anyone. On the Blackberry, I had complete control over as many unique and distinct profiles as I wanted, and so could control these things very precisely.
|Craig: Unfortunately, Android doesn’t seem to be much better, at least not straight out of the box. |
Don: True that. The built-in alarms and sounds are very basic. This is what I alluded to above, though: I think I will be able to customize it, but I don’t have to if I don’t want/need to. I get the starting simplicity with a great deal of customizability. I haven’t delved into this much yet, and so I still don’t know for sure.
|Notifications||Craig: webOS is generally lauded in this regard. Notifications take up some room at the bottom of the screen until dismissed or addressed. However, and I may be odd in thinking this, this behavior often annoys me, especially when I’m dealing with an app that’s been designed to use the whole screen -- losing the bottom 25 pixels or whatever can make buttons in the app I’m concentrating on move up and down just enough to be harder to hit. |
Don: I like the Pre notification scheme, but would like the ability to have notifications show up just on the small bottom row, rather than, by default, first showing up across the bottom 8th of the screen or so, which, yes, can disrupt what I’m doing at the time.
|Craig: Putting the notifications in the top bar seems to be more effective for me than putting them at the bottom because it avoids the annoyance of having the screen size change. The “window shade” approach is pretty nifty, although I wish I could just tap the screen and have it roll back up. As I use it more, I like it more, but wish I could interact with the notices instead of just launching the apps that handle them. Ah, opportunity! |
Don: I like it too, unless I’m on a Bluetooth call, during which the proximity sensor is inexplicably left active. The sensor is right above the window shade, and each time I move my finger to swipe it down the screen turns off!! Perhaps there’s a “Turn proximity sensor off during Bluetooth call” setting somewhere. To be fair, turning off the proximity sensor on the Pre during Bluetooth calls has drawbacks as well, since one could accidentally do something on the screen while on a call.
|App launcher||Don: The Pre app launcher screen didn't bug me at first, since it was somewhat similar to what I was used to. Better, in some ways (for ex: I can swipe up at any time to get at it). As time went on, however, just having three scrollable screens, with just three columns of icons and only being able to see 9 icons at a time on the screen became too confining. |
Particularly so in light of the fact that Palm inexplicably failed to include anything even close to the Favorites feature on the Treo/Centro, necessitating the creation (using Launchpoint after trying several) of launcher icons for contacts: one page of frequently-called people; one page of clients; one page of “other”. That’s three screens, if you’re counting. So I installed the patch to allow me to add more launcher pages, and one to show 4x4 icons instead of 3x3, and one to always return to the first page, and one to always return to the top of that page. That’s 4 patches to do something that the Pre is already capable of doing, but doesn’t do.
Craig: About half of the patches/mods I’ve made to my Pre have to do with making the launcher more functional. As is, it’s barely adequate for even the least demanding of users.
|Don: Eye candy!! The HTC default launcher arrangement, the active wallpaper that responds to touch, the widgets that do so many useful things. Productive eye candy - there’s nothing better! Limitations, surely: 7 screens total; 16 spaces each for icons (I phrase it that way because some widgets take 1 space, some 2, or three, or even all 16 on a page) per page. No ability that I’ve seen to go beyond that. So far, that’s enough, but I am searching for something equivalent to the Treo Favorites feature. There is a 4x4 (takes the whole page) widget to show pictures of favorites which can be tapped to dial. It’s scrollable, but has severe limitations: alphabetical order only, have to add contacts one at a time. One can also create a “folder” on a launcher page, and folders can contain dial shortcuts. This is limited as well - no way to rearrange icons in a folder, for example. Anyway, the launcher is in general superior to what the Pre offers in terms of putting function right in front of me. My home screen, for now: |
Craig: Oh, how I love the widget paradigm of Android! That, plus HTC’s wealth of nifty and useful add-ons really makes this a tweaker’s dream. Sure, I’ve spent like 4 hours playing around with widgets and getting everything on the EVO’s 7 home screens organized, but it now feels like a phone I could really live with...and that’s nice.
|Multitouch||Craig: Multitouch on the Pre works as expected...or at least as I expected. Pinch to zoom, and the reverse, are available in most apps. Also, webOS lets you pan while pinching, which is very helpful in getting just the right view of your page, image, etc. lined up. |
Don: Multitouch is very handy in many apps. It would be more handy if more of the apps rotated to landscape.
|Craig: Interestingly, Android on the EVO, permits multitouch pinch-to-zoom, but there’s no panning until after the pinch/zoom operation is completed. So, if you want to zoom in on something and you don’t center on it exactly when zooming in, you have to finish the zoom and then recenter it as a separate second step. It sounds like a minuscule point, but the usability impact is actually quite noticeable (for the worse). |
Don: I hadn’t noticed that, but would have. Pan and Zoom together would certainly be a good productivity boost here. My daughter’s Droid didn’t have any multitouch at all initially, if I recall correctly, so perhaps this is just evolving.
|Keyboard||Craig: It’s difficult to compare the physical keyboard on the Pre with a virtual one on the EVO, but the Pre does a couple of things I really like. First, it has dedicated keys for @ and . -- two symbols I use all the time for email addresses and shorthand. Second, the symbol/number key is a temporary action, like Shift, unless I hit it twice. That’s convenient for entering just one or two symbols, as I don’t have to switch to another keyboard. In the end, a physical keyboard will always be preferable to me from a sheer usability perspective, and the Pre’s is pretty good. |
Don: Yep! The Blackberry keyboards with discrete keys are still the very best; Treo 755p is probably second best, and the Centro and Pre are a fairly close third (with the Pre Plus being slightly better - almost as good as the Treo). The raised border surrounding the bottom and sides of the Pre keyboard, and the closeness of the top row of keys to the bottom of the display, make typing on other than interior keys a bit difficult at times.
|Craig: The EVO is my first virtual keyboard on my daily device since...well...I guess since late 2003 when I got my Treo 600. That’s a long time and I have to say that typing on a virtual keyboard is far from my favorite input mechanism. Thankfully, the EVO’s big screen makes it not so terrible, although the lack of tactile feedback (haptics notwithstanding) leads me to mistakes. Putting the suggested words all the way at the top of the screen is majorly inconvenient...it’s quite a stretch! The ability to press-and-hold to get symbols is nice, although I wish there were dedicated keys on the alpha keyboard for commonly used symbols other than period and comma, such as @ and /. The voice dictation utility is a nice touch and it’s actually pretty usable! |
Don: Agreed, agreed, agreed and agreed. I “practiced” on my son’s iPod Touch for a couple of days prior to the EVO release to see if I could really stand a virtual keyboard, and decided that even with that (relatively small) one I could learn to live with it. The EVO keyboard is better, bigger, and I think it won’t keep me from keeping the EVO.
Craig: I just realized that the virtual keyboard does give you dedicated @ and . keys when it thinks you’re entering text into an email field, but not at other times. This would be a good user option, IMO.
Don: As would adding a row of numbers atop the qwerty keyboard arrangement, obviating the need to switch back and forth between keyboards with the little 12# key.
|Browser||Craig: Web browsing is so central to any connected device that I feel I need to discuss it here (Don, feel free to disagree). On the Pre, the browser -- a Webkit variant -- is quite capable. A recent OS update added the ability to capture text and images from web pages, which is immensely helpful. Bookmark management is also pretty good, although the interface for managing bookmarks trades off convenience for simplicity (a common webOS theme). My main, if not only, complaint about browsing on the Pre is the speed with which things are rendered...it’s rarely quickly, even on a high-speed Wi-Fi network, suggesting (again) that the hardware isn’t up-to-snuff. |
Don: Yep, to all of that. One other annoyance with the Pre’s web browser is that pages have to get reloaded when you return to them after looking at something else, even if nothing on the page has changed.
|Craig: On the EVO, web browsing is delightful. The big, high-res screen, combined with the responsiveness of a fast processor makes it quite an enjoyable exercise. Bookmark management is not that much better than on the Pre, so there’s some opportunity there for both platforms, I’d say. One thing that isn’t as great about the EVO’s browser is that it only rotates 90 degrees -- something that should be fixed with the Froyo/2.2 update. I’m conflicted on having to push the menu button to access the Forward button -- webOS shows it on-screen only when you’ve gone back a page -- but it’s something that I suppose is a decent trade-off versus using up screen real estate and hiding content. |
Don: One additional note (and yes, I agree with Craig on everything else) is that the EVO’s browser reflows text columns to fit whatever zoom level (via mutltitouch or double tap) the user selects. Makes it very easy to read text on web pages without scrolling back and forth as required on the Pre. This is very nice for someone whose eyes don’t focus as close as they used to.
Craig: Ah, yes, the automatic reflow of text is wonderful...it was one of the features of the old Palm OS browser (Blazer) that I found I missed terribly when moving to webOS.
|Search||Don: Universal Search is far from universal (one still cannot search the calendar, for instance, even after a year), but it’s handy to be able to just start typing something and have the option to find it on the device, in Google, Wikipedia, etc. You just start typing. Very handy. |
Craig: Right...being able to search the web from anywhere is nice, but IMO not worth losing the ability to search my calendar, most of my contacts’ information, or tasks & memos. Why this was removed I can’t imagine.
|Don: Android seems to have universal search being really universal. If I go to the Google Search widget and type my son’s name, I see appointments, contacts, text messages - apparently everything - that has his name in it is there, along with the ability to do a Google (not Wikipedia, etc.) search, along with some random Google suggestions that include his name, that come from somewhere. Within the calendar, specifically, when one pushes the Search button, on can search the calendar. |
Craig: The output is a little chaotic, but it does find everything. So, in that regard, I find it preferable to webOS’ approach. Being able to search at any time via a dedicated button is no less convenient than webOS, too, so I think this is a clear win for Android and the EVO.
|Other||Craig: One little feature webOS has that the EVO does not is that the name of your currently viewed app is always displayed in the upper-left-hand corner. This may sound trivial, but if you’re looking at a useful screen, knowing how to get back to that (i.e., what app you’re in) is very helpful. |
Don: Yep, that sounds small, but I’ve noticed several times that on the EVO I don’t know where I am, and with the Pre, I always do! OK here’s another small one: when setting a contact picture on the Pre I can not only position the little viewfinder on the part of the picture I want, but can also zoom (with multitouch) in an out, sizing the selection. Can’t do that on the EVO! Pan yes; zoom no.
|Craig: In contrast, in Android, I’ve found myself staring at some data or list or something wondering exactly how I got there. Maybe this is a result of combining Android and HTC Sense, but navigation is not as “clean” (for lack of a better word) an experience for this user as on webOS. |
Don: Yep! The Pre, limited though it may be in other areas, shows a great deal of thought when it comes to little touches in the user interface.
Craig: If I could just toss both webOS and Android into a blender, we might have the ideal mobile OS. Maybe that’s what Matias will be doing at Google.
Great Email & Messaging
Craig: For me, personally, email and text messaging are two functions I would rank higher on importance than voice calls.
Don: Close, for me, but phone is still where my clients, family, and friends are hearing my voice (my real voice) where something closer to personal interaction takes place. With clients in Arizona, California, up in the mountains of Colorado and in Costa Rica, phone has to be the best it can be, and since I carry my laptop nearly everywhere, doing email on the mobile device isn’t quite as important to me.
Don: We’ve covered these devices in general and for communication. We now enter the world of them being productivity devices. All other apps aside, if these basics aren’t covered, the device is not useful.
Craig: Precisely. What sold me on the original Palm Pilot was its usefulness as an organizer -- contacts, calendar, memos, to-do list -- and that functionality is certainly no less important to me today.
|Overall||Don: Way back when, PalmOS set the bar very high here. Most PIM functions required as few steps to manage as one could imagine. The Pre and webOS added steps to most functions, but it was so much fun DOING the steps that one didn’t mind. |
Craig: I minded. One of my constant complaints about webOS has been the movement away from the “Zen of Palm” that had guided Palm OS apps to be incredibly efficient (minimizing taps, etc.) yet reasonably full-featured. webOS somewhat compensated for that with the magic that Synergy brought, but the daily annoyance of extra screen taps tends to pile up over time. Google and Exchange integration work very well for Calendar & Contacts, but Tasks & Memos are just shadows of their former selves.
Don: I minded too, actually. And still mind on Android (and every other platform but PalmOS and the Blackberry).
|Craig: On the EVO, PIM is not especially emphasized. In fact, if you take away integration with Google Calendar and Contacts, it’s far less robust than webOS’ stock offerings. Google and Exchange integration are good...better than webOS in some ways (see below), but oddly lacking in others. It’s really clear that whoever designed these apps isn’t really all that concerned about PIM. Maybe I’m a throwback to a previous era, where your schedule, contacts, etc. were critical to your effectiveness as a business professional (and take personal commitments seriously), but it’s painful to see the lack of interest in making a truly world-class PIM suite standard in Android. |
Don: Hear Hear! I think it’s not just lack of attention - I think there’s a fundamentally different way of viewing these things that some people (notably in Google and Apple) are trying to push, and the world is pushing back, so they’re evolving in the right direction. I’m heartened by this, as long as they continue to evolve. The world shapes things, given time.
Don: Again, PalmOS set the bar VERY high here for efficiency, if not aesthetics. webOS’s calendar is beautiful and somewhat intuitive, and yes, requires many extra steps to do the same thing, when compared to PalmOS.
Craig: Right. Two features that webOS has that Android does not are (a) the ability to move events between calendars (e.g., something comes up on my Exchange calendar and I want to move it to Google...this is trivial in webOS), and (b) the ability to change the colors assigned to different calendars (again, trivial). Call me shallow, but those are really handy and important to my daily use (OK, well, not the color issue, although I do seem to get bored with my calendar colors fairly often...I wonder if there’s a name for that mental illness).
|Don: Android’s calendar is fine, once set up properly. Who knew it would take so long to find the place to cause the day grid - standard on every other calendar in existence - to be the default display. The default (and only) color for my Exchange calendar is orange - not particularly pleasant. |
Craig: Those two things I mentioned that Android can NOT do may sound trivial, but once you get used to being able to do them, not having the ability is very frustrating. Plus, added to the color selection bug I mentioned above, the EVO’s calendar is adequate, but not stellar. Also, the EVO’s calendar doesn’t offer the same range of repeating event options that webOS does (or that’s available even via Google Calendars’ web interface, which I find odd). On the other hand, one capability it has that webOS doesn’t is being able to add participants to events (something a lot of people rely on).
Don: Yep. One thing I’ve seen repeatedly in the “literature” is that Froyo (2.2) will address at least the recurrence pattern limitations. We’ll see how much, I guess!
Craig: Oh, one other issue: what’s with the use of scrolling wheels to pick numbers for setting the time on events? Both webOS and Android do this. Talk about inefficient! I wish they’d just pop up a pick-list of times so I can get the number I want in 1, maybe 2, taps instead of having to spin through a wheel...I feel like I’m on Price is Right (and not in a good way).
|Contacts||Don: I always found both PalmOS and webOS contacts application to be completely adequate for the task at hand. I also found Synergy, a big feature of webOS contacts, to be completely annoying, merging as it did contacts together even if I didn’t want them so merged. |
Craig: I LOVE Synergy. I have had zero complaints about how it merges records from different sources (e.g., Facebook, Google contacts, LinkedIn, etc) into unified contact profiles. In fact, if I could name one killer feature of webOS, this would be it...it really is stellar. It handles duplicates with aplomb, merging most into single profiles without my intervention. While it doesn’t remove the duplicates, it does hide them, and I’m not OCD enough to care beyond that.
Don: Here’s why I don’t like Synergy, in a nutshell: 1) I keep all of my contacts in my Exchange account. Can’t really imagine it being efficient/effective to do it any other way. Yes, there are technically “contacts” in my Facebook account, but that’s not where I keep information about them, and 2) I have multiple entries in my one address book with the same (usually work) phone number. Synergy always tries to merge these into a single contact view, so I’ll end up with six people from the same company, with the same phone number, merged together. It also merged my sister and my brother in law, since they had the same home phone number. Not at all what I want, and I have to undo this every time I reload the address book from Exchange (as when I received my second, third and fourth Pre due to hardware product quality problems).
|Don: The Android contacts application is much more powerful and much more complex than on the Pre. The simple and elegant concept of favorites, introduced on the Treo line, is noticeably absent from Android, too. Not that it doesn’t have one, sort of: there’s a widget that displays one grid, three wide and as deep as one wants. It takes up a whole launcher page, though, and so if I want one Favorites page for frequently called people, one for clients, one for infrequently called, etc. etc., I have to use up a whole page to do it! There are several apps in the Market for this type of function, but nothing I’ve seen so far that even comes close to the Treo’s seven Favorites pages. |
Craig: I find Contacts on the EVO to be a bit like a less well-thought-out version of webOS’ Synergy. You can merge a person’s records from different sources, but it’s mostly manual and doesn’t seem very smart about it. One advantage (to me) that it offers is the ability to include Twitter friends in your contacts, which is something webOS can’t do (although there’s no reason Synergy couldn’t). But, again, there seems to be no real effort to make contacts management a powerful ability on the EVO...it’s there because it has to be, but wading through my contacts reveals a hodge-podge mess of records from various sources with lots of duplicates. In the end, I use it the same way I do with webOS...that is, to ignore it and just call up people’s records as I need to contact them. But, if someone was really obsessive about managing their contacts, this could get ugly fast.
|Tasks||Craig: I don’t use Tasks / To-Do, as I tend to dump things I have to do into Calendar. |
Don: The Pre is the only device of which I’m aware that seamlessly syncs tasks with Exchange over the air. This is nice! If you’re a person who uses Tasks (as I am now that I found Mark Forester’s Autofocus system) this is a nice thing.
|Don: There doesn’t appear to be a To-Do application... I guess people at Google, like people at Apple, are so smart they just remember everything. |
Craig: Or they just put it in Calendar. ;-)
Don: True, that, but if one puts something important on one’s calendar and then doesn’t do it, there it sits, in the past, not staring one in the face, no longer a call to action.
|Notes/Memos||Don: It’s there, but it’s very basic and doesn’t sync with anything. I never used it. I switched to Evernote instead. This is OK with me, though, since the Notes application in Outlook is just as bad as the one on the Pre! |
Craig: Meh. It looks pretty, with the little Post-It theme, but it’s rudimentary at best. My wife just moved from Palm OS to webOS and her only major complaint was how poor the Memos app is on her Pixi. I don’t even use it any more, it’s so pathetic (I’ve also started relying on Evernote instead).
|Don: No Notes app either. Again, I guess people at Google just keep track of everything in their heads! |
Craig: There’s a Notes widget available from HTC available as a download, Don...you might want to check that out. Also, there are several free and highly rated memo apps in the Android Market.
Don: Interesting! My priorities for the Notes app, though, are: 1) usable, 2) allow at least some form of rich text (if not tables) and 3) Sync back to somewhere where I can get at ‘em on my laptop. The Treo and the Blackberry can do this. The Pre and EVO can’t. So: Evernote!
Don: So, I just downloaded the EN app on the EVO. Very rudimentary. I can capture new stuff, but can’t see any of the stuff that’s already there? Yikes? Lame!
Craig: Dude...remember to hit the Menu button...lots of functionality buried in that on many apps, including Evernote. Everything’s there...all the functionality you want...it’s all good... ;-)
Don: Hey, Professor, did you call me Dude? (inside joke). I pressed Menu and found, I thought, buttons for Pending Notes, About Evernote, Settings, Sign out. What I failed to see was a huge button at the top of all the other buttons that says “Notes”. It looks like a title, but it’s a huge button. There are all my notes! User interface, user interface, user interface.
Don: How well does the device obviate the need for a specialized device for a given function? In addition to giving me a chance to correctly use the word obviate, this section describes the kinds of specialized devices you may not need to carry if you carry a Pre or EVO.
Craig: Well said, my magniloquent friend. If, one day, my phone completely eliminates my need to carry a point-and-shoot camera, I will be deliriously happy.
Don: OK, never try to match vocabulary with a college professor! With the Pre I felt far less need to carry a “real” camera with me, and the EVO continues the, ahem, EVO-lution of that feeling. Let’s see what other devices one can forego when one has a Pre or EVO in one’s pocket.
|Laptop (email, web, document production, etc.)||Don: I carry a laptop with me most everywhere. It’s reasonably small and light (ThinkPad x301). Still, the Pre offered me much of the same “safety valve” for some laptop functions: check email quickly, consult “The Oracle” (google.com and/or wikipedia.com) for information as questions come up in the course of daily life. Document production on the Pre: not so much. We still don’t have Documents To Go editing of documents on the Pre, so it’s still read-only. |
Craig: Right...as a read-only tool, the Pre does most things reasonably well. But it’s pretty much a non-starter to consider doing anything more than whipping off a quick email or text message, let alone a complex Office document (even if we had the app to do it).
|Don: The EVO offers what the Pre does, and more. The large screen and generally great browser makes “consulting The Oracle” even better, the email experience is comparable, and, once I decide to keep this thing I can spend $20 and get full document editing! |
Craig: Given the EVO’s big screen, I could finally see the potential in pairing it with a Bluetooth keyboard and getting some actual work done. At a resolution much less than the EVO’s 800x480, I just can’t see enough to want to do serious document creation.
|Calculator||Don: Nothing special here; the Pre calculator is very rudimentary. I enjoyed using the HP48 simulator on the Pre. Perhaps there’s on available on the EVO. |
Craig: I simply don’t understand why there’s not a decent scientific calculator included with any smartphones. It’s not like it would be that hard to code up, and, since math ain’t changing any time soon, you could re-use it on every device on that platform.
|Don: Nothing special here; the EVO calculator is very rudimentary. Downloaded RpnCalc from the Market. Quite good! |
Craig: RPN? You are weird.
Don: No question about it! However, I started sing HP calculators 40 years ago, and I really like RPN! That said, I typically just use the regular calculator. Point is: no calculator needed when I have my EVO!
|Navigation system||Don: The big drawback here is that one has to have cellular coverage to navigate, so this can’t really fully replace a “real” nav system. There may be some differences with Sprint Navigation and Google Maps, but I haven’t found them yet. |
Craig: Don, one big difference is that Google Maps on webOS doesn’t offer verbal instructions, whereas the Sprint Nav app does.
|Don: Same drawback. Perhaps someone will invent a navigation app that preloads maps so it doesn’t need the cellular connection to function. The EVO’s large screen and zippy performance make using navigation easier than on the Pre. Not surprisingly, Sprint navigation works equally well here, and Google Maps works better. |
Craig: To be honest, if I’m venturing somewhere where I will have no data service at all, I’m going to have my stand-alone GPS with me...and some paper maps...and probably some survival gear (have you seen the teeth on a bear?!?).
|Music player / Video Player||Craig: It’s adequate. I can honestly say that I listen to music on my phone maybe three times a year, so this just isn’t that crucial for me. |
Don: It’s fine, and with cover art, it’s pretty!
Craig: The Pre handles just about any audio format anyone cares about (sorry Ogg fans). While it claims to natively handle MPEG-4, H.263, H.264 video formats, I’ve struggled to get Handbrake to output something it’ll play, so the stock player must be rather finicky. It’s really begging a much more complete (format-wise) media player app.
Don: Music has been fun on Pre, and the player works very well. I must admit to being a little behind the curve on putting media on the device(s). On the Pre I just worried about filling up the 8gb of memory, half of which I’ve already filled up by putting a small fraction of my music on the device.
|Don: Fine. Looks like there might be better integration, at least when using MediaMonkey to sync, for accessing playlists on the mobile device. |
Craig: I’ve not yet done much with the media player on the EVO, but since all my music is in reasonable-quality (for me) MP3, I’m pretty much guaranteed it’ll play fine. On the video side, I was (again) disappointed that none of my library, which is a mix of Xvid and H.264, would play on the EVO. Looks like there are some 3rd-party apps in the Market that may work. Also, I just read that Froyo (Android 2.2) will include support for Xvid, which is 90+ percent of my catalog, so I might just need to wait a bit.
Don: I’ve not gotten too far into the video side of this. With the power of the EVO, and with the 32gb card i’ll inevitably buy, I might!
|Camera||Don: The Pre camera works OK, but the lag in all aspects of operation was somewhere between inconvenient and annoying. The picture quality was better, for sure, than its predecessors from Palm or RIM. See Craig’s comments about this as part of the discussion about the general lagginess of the Pre, above. |
Craig: Right, when the camera works, it takes decent photos. In my opinion, they are overly sharpened and post-processing obliterates fine detail, but they look pretty on a small screen. I wouldn’t ever consider the Pre’s camera as a replacement for even a modest pocket digital camera...the optics and sensor are just so inferior. Plus, there are nearly no options to set on the camera...you’re stuck with a set image size, contrast, etc. I do like the fact that, even though there’s no dedicated shutter button on the Pre, I can use the space bar as one.
Don: The camera starts and operates much faster. The picture quality appears to be great! Need to experiment more.
Craig: Yes, I’ve played with it a bit and the configurability is amazing! Focus can be a little slow, especially in low light, but that’s not surprising. I definitely do NOT like having to tap the screen to fire the shutter...a dedicated (or assignable) hardware button is now part of my gold standard.
Craig: Wow! Those are nice!
Don: Thanks! One additional note here, and I must admit sheepishly (but with finger pointed at Google): it took me a long time to figure out how to just get to the place where one can look at all the pictures on the device. The app is called “Gallery”. I was expecting, and looking for, something like “Pictures”.
|Video camera||Craig: VGA at close to 30 fps is my baseline, minimally acceptable standard for video capture, and the Pre just barely crosses that hurdle. It’s fine, but audio is often too soft. I do like that it’s really easy to switch back and forth between still and video shooting on the Pre...when it responds, that is. |
Don: The Pre video capabilities, which were (finally!) added recently, work very well. Editing videos (trimming the ends, actually is all this will allow) works well too.
|Don: the widescreen video quality is very good. The video camera is as responsive as the camera. |
Craig: Yes, it’s very fast. I didn’t notice an option to edit videos like the Pre can (now) on the EVO...may have to dig around some more. I also noticed that you can record video in 3GPP and MPEG4...only a geek would care about that...and I love it. :-)
Don: No editing (trimming, really) capability that I’ve seen. The quality is pretty good, though! Here’s an early sample, which may or may not be able to play on your computer, depending on whether or not your computer knows what to do with a .3gp file.
|Time-related devices: Clock, Alarm Clock, Timer, Stopwatch||Don: I actually use the Pre on the Touchstone as my alarm clock. It worked very well until webOS 1.4.1 introduced a bug which causes the alarms, once set, to revert to a generic time, generic name, and to be set to Off. The Pre has no timer or stopwatch functions built in. I must admit it here: I got spoiled by the Touchstone. To seamlessly set the Pre on the Touchstone and just grab it and go (or grab it and have it answer the phone if it were ringing, is very convenient! |
Craig: It was inadequate for anything beyond a daily alarm.
Don: There is a Desk Clock which does a nice full screen clock/weather, and has buttons for either a deskside (brighter) or nightstand (dimmer) simple day/date clock. As with the Pre, the dimmer nightstand version is still a little bright for my taste.
The interface for setting and using alarms on the EVO is not quite as streamlined as on the Pre. For example, the only way to set an alarm “just for tomorrow” on the EVO is to uncheck all the days under the Repeat section. The kickstand allows the Evo to function on my nightstand about as well as the Pre does on the Touchstone.
Craig: The EVO’s Clock app is really nice. It combines all the time features you’d want: clock, alarms, stopwatch, countdown timer, and a world clock. I don’t have the same beefs as Don does as I rarely use my phone as an alarm.
|Voice recorder||Don: Um, well, no. Nothing. For a year. There is a homebrew app for this, and I suppose there will eventually be a real product, but really! |
Craig: The lack of something this basic and fundamental gives me pause about the entire platform. It’s a phone...it has a freaking mic...why can’t I capture sounds??
Don: Yey! A voice recorder!! Haven’t used it yet, but am comforted that it’s there! The Voice Dialer, on the other hand, from what I can tell with just minor use, and put very politely, sucks.
Craig: Yes...a voice dialer is one of those things that I think works better in theory than it will ever work in practice, but it’s one of the few science fictiony things I’m a skeptic about.
Don: Well, yes, that. But on my Blackberry Curve (ancient as that device seems now by comparison) the voice dialer worked nearly flawlessly.
|TiVo remote control||Don: Nope. Never even occurred to me to want the Pre to do this, and I was content with my lack of vision.|| |
Don: OK I just had to put this in here - IT’S SO COOL!! (yes, I was shouting) The new TiVo machines (Series 3 and Series 4) support remote network access/control. The Android market has a TiVo application that controls TiVos remotely via Wi-Fi. No line of site needed. I have a Series 3 in the home theater in the basement and a Series 4 in the family room upstairs, and I can control them, with NO LAG at all, using this app from anywhere in the house. It crashes frequently, but reports the error information (after asking politely) to the developer, so I assume he/she will address this over time.
Craig: [Bolts for the Android Market to get this]. On a related note, I found a decent controller app for managing our network of Logitech Squeezebox music players...no more running upstairs to get the remote control! If they make one that controls Pandora, too, I’ll be all set.
Apps and Miscellaneous
Don: Yes, the vast majority of the things at which the iPhone excels come under the category of “other” for me. They are nice; they are fun; they are flashy; they can even be productive. But without the items mentioned prior to this section being solidly in place, for me, the rest doesn’t matter much. In the area of Apps in general, the iPhone still has a (dwindling) lead over everyone. Android has roughly 20x the number of Apps available for webOS.
Craig: As a father of two young children, I consider a decent camera and camcorder to be essential fare on a smartphone. I don’t need 8MP...heck, in fact, I’d rather have a really excellent 2MP camera...but video recording is a must-have for me. I do also like me some social media once in a while, so integrating at least Twitter (@CRA1G) in my smartphone is nice.
Don: You know, this side of the device is growing on me. I like having my camera with me all the time, and all the other yummy goodness that this these devices can do beyond what appears above. Maybe rather than a linear list of priorities, it’s more like Maslow’s hierarchy, with reliability at the base, phone and then PIM apps on top of that, narrowing to the top with replacement device, and topped with apps (the fun stuff).
|Phone favorites||Don: Big, big, big disappointment. I’ve mentioned this above, I think, but the Treo favorites function is so useful, simple and powerful. Fill it quickly from the address book, but allow customization. Granted, PalmOS didn’t allow pictures to be assigned here, but the base function is seriously missing from the Pre. There are apps for this, and I settled, after buying several, on LaunchPoint as my favorite, ahem, favorites manager. Still not even close to as simple and elegant as Treo/Centro Favorites. |
PalmOS Treo Favorites: the functional gold standard: 5 screens of 14 shortcuts each. It’s plain, but it works so well!
|Don: Again, missing function. I discussed how the EVO does this (above), but I’m still looking for the best answer to replacing the simple and elegant function of Treo Favorites pages, enhanced by the yummy goodness of pictures and the big, bright screen.|
|Encrypted password storage||Don: I never found a suitable tool for the Pre. The tool has to be easy to enter/search for entries, operate in Windows and the device, and sync between the two, both ways. |
Craig: Right...I was an ardent SplashID user on Palm OS, but have been going without since moving to webOS.
|Don: I haven’t started looking yet, but I’m guessing the choices are more numerous here. |
Craig: We can only hope.
|iHeartRadio||Don: OK this is maybe silly and little, but gosh darn it the iPhone and Blackberry have this, and so should <your device here>. Can’t fill in “Pre”.||Don: Yey!|
|Expense reporting||Don: PalmOS had a typically elegant, simple and powerful expense application which went away during the Treo days. I found Expensify for the Pre and found it nifty, if not an exact one-for-one replacement, but useful in many ways. I wonder if it’s available on the EVO . . .||Don: . . . why yes, yes it is available on the EVO.|
|Don: I didn’t use this much, but it worked fine. |
Craig: Palm’s Facebook app for webOS was pretty decent, actually. I really don’t do much with Facebook (except block apps...I’m a pro at that), but it was decent for commenting and posting updates and photos.
|Don: Same here. The app, especially monitored through Friendstream, works fine. I haven’t fiddled with posting pictures, etc., from the EVO. |
Craig: It’s actually not as well-thought out as on webOS, I think. Maybe I’m missing something, but the HTC widgets and apps are not well done. The official Facebook app for Android is similarly meh, but I don’t mind so much...it’s just Facebook.
|Craig: As a heavy Twitter user, I’ve come to really love Tweed. |
Don: The various Twitter apps for the Pre work just fine, but I’m not a frequent user, yet.
|Craig: I’ve tried several Twitter clients for Android, now, including buying Twidroid Pro, and I’m not nearly as happy as I was with Tweed on webOS. Twitter’s official Android app is about as good as any, which is to say not as good as Tweed. |
Don: I haven’t messed with this, yet.
|Shopping list||Don: OK, this is one that you either get or you don’t. I had Handyshopper on PalmOS, and it was just so, well, handy. Enter (over time) all the items for which you shop; add them to your “needed” list (over time, as the need becomes apparent - no more “where’s that shopping list?”). When it’s time to go shopping, switch to the “needed” view - sorted by aisle order - and grocery shopping becomes just so easy! I had a similar app on Pocket PC during my brief but painful time there, on my Blackberry, and on my Pre (Shopping Manager - very good).||Don: Just spent some time looking at this, and am trying ToMarket. It has the ability to import my list that Shopping Manager has the ability to export. The UI is OK. I know I’m a dork for focusing on this, but one of the reasons I took the Blackberry Storm back to the store after only 2 days was the absence of a workable shopping list program (along with poor battery life, infuriating touch screen, poor cellular signal reception).|
|Where’s My Car?||Don: We’re getting a little bit deep in the weeds here. Where’s My Car is just fun - one of many. Mark where your car is; leave it; have the app guide you back to where it is.||Don: There’s probably something like this, but I haven’t looked yet.|
|Airline flight status||Don: Flightview for the Pre is just so handy. It’s a free app, allows me to enter an airline and flight number and it shows me the status, even with a nifty little map showing the approximate position fo the plane. |
Craig: I love Flightview...it’s saved my bacon on more than one occasion.
|Don: Haven’t looked yet, but I’m guessing there’s an app for that! |
Craig: I haven’t scoured the Market for something like this yet, but if I can’t find it, I will be a sad monkey.
Don: Me too! I was out at an art market yesterday and a friend needed to know the status of a flight. EEK! I didn’t have Flightview! However, I just typed “Frontier flight status” into the Google widget on the EVO, and Frontier Airlines link was topmost. I selected the sub-link for flight status, and ta-da! I was Mr. Techno Genius Go-to Guy once again. Flightview would’ve been easier.
|Pandora||Craig: Brilliant...works like a champ in webOS. The presence of play controls right in the notifications area makes this a really excellent client.||Craig: Adds more information views than the webOS client, but is slightly less convenient to access. Also, it crashes a lot, so this isn’t exactly fully baked yet.|
|Stock tracking||Craig: Nothing built-in. |
Don: There’s an app for that!
|Craig: There’s a nifty stocks widget. |
Yep - works well. Now if it could just get those stocks to go up . . .
Don: Big discussion topic in multiple discussion groups. Sprint missed the mark, IMNSHO, by pricing “up to 8” device connectivity at $30/month. What I need, and I suspect what many people need, these days, is *occasional* short-term use of tethering when wifi is not available for my laptop (iPad, etc. etc.).
Don: MyTether works just fine, eventually. Required a bit of work to set it up! Of course, the Pre Plus gets FREE tethering supported by Verizon. “Free”, or course, in the context of costing more than the Pre does on Sprint.
Craig: Yes, I’ve used MyTether a few times, but setup is a pain and it seemed like I had to reinstall it after every OS update. Not a solution for the masses. The fact that Verizon Palm Pre Plus users get this for free in addition to all the stability bonuses of more RAM reminds me of the pain of being an early adopter.
Craig: Having the option of using my smartphone as a cellular Wi-Fi router is wonderful for the occasional traveler. I think Sprint is charging a bit too much ($29/month) given that there are free solutions for geeks and Verizon offers this for free.
Don: PDAnet appears to address this requirement, although flying under the Sprint radar has a reputation for being a dodgy practice. We’ll see.
Craig: Yes, since the EVO’s built-in USB tethering has been disabled by Sprint, you can always opt for the PDAnet option. At $20 or so, it’s cheaper than a month’s Wi-Fi Hotspot service, but only gives you connectivity for a single PC at a time. At least you have a choice.
Don: The real solution here would be a $5-$10 per month option to allow just one device to tether with the EVO. I’m very skeptical about how many people will really use more than that, and Sprint should take that into account.
Craig: Sprint lets you turn on and off the Hotspot functionality as you need it and will bill you on a prorated basis. So, that’d be just a dollar a day. At around $8 for a week’s use, that’s far cheaper than hotel Wi-Fi, and you’re not going around the system.
Don: Good thinking! I shall have to see how easy it is to turn on/off (for billing purposes and for use). If it’s granular enough and quick enough, this might be a better option than I thought initially.
|App Marketplace||Craig: Palm’s App Catalog is thin but reasonably well-organized and usable on the phone. Batch updating of apps is a nice touch, even though I wish there was an automatic update option (right now, it’s fully manual). The ratio of free to paid apps is lower for Palm’s market than for Android’s, which I guess is to be expected given the smaller scale. Palm’s App Catalog app on the Pre should let users rate user comments...or at least mark them as inappropriate; I wouldn’t let my kids browse apps right now due to the language in some of the apps’ user comments. |
Don: I was excited, some nine months ago, to see the App Catalog start to grow with new apps appearing all the time. My enthusiasm flagged a bit as time went on and there were seldom “oh my gosh!” apps in there waiting for me.
Craig: Flipping through the Android Market for the first time on the EVO is like wandering into a Costco...there’s just so many options for everything. Sure, there’s a lot of garbage, comment spam, and the whole place is a bit unruly, but it’s vibrant and the quality of the free offerings is truly amazing. Being able to sort, or filter, by user rating within one’s search results would be a nice improvement.
Don: Yep! Like Costco and Best Buy and more, mostly for free, and often for $0.99. I’ve already bought a couple of things. Fun! I also like the Report as Spam thing I can do to the user comments about apps. The immediate effect is that the comment on which I take that action disappears. I assume that somehow on the back end my action causes someone to look to see if the comment is really spam and take appropriate, permanent action.
|Games||Craig: There’s been a lot written about the games available for webOS (i.e., there are a lot of high-quality titles, including excellent 3D games), so I won’t go into it much here except to say that the Pre’s lack of RAM kept me from enjoying most of those 3D games. Unless I restarted the phone, running most 3D games always resulted in a “Too many cards” (i.e., not enough memory) error, which prevented the app from running. So, I generally satisfied myself with more casual games like Pribbage and Bubble Puzzle. Let’s Golf by Gameloft ran nearly every time, and it was an excellent 3D golf game. Plus, my 5-year-old daughter became hooked on the “Magic” series of spelling and math games by anusen. |
Don: Whether on the Treo/Centro, Blackberry, Pre or EVO, my gaming is pretty basic - bubbles, brickbreaker, Boggle. Doesn’t take much horsepower on the device.
|Craig: Gaming on the EVO, and for Android in general, doesn’t seem to to be quite as advanced. There are more titles, but most are not the eye-popping 3D graphics that Gameloft, EA Mobile, and the larger software houses prefer to put out. However, there are some excellent titles. I’ve already wasted far more time than I should have playing Robo Defense (a tower defense game). And, I’ve already been able to find a couple of suitable games for my kids, including the ones they liked on the Pre. So, as gaming on my phone is a pretty low priority, I’m easy to please, and this is sufficient. I have a hunch that, given the hardware available and the size of the developer community, Android games will get better fairly soon. |
Don: I try to keep games my kids like OFF of my device - difference having older kids, perhaps? - since I’d rather have them drain their own batteries! My daughter has an iPod Touch and a Motorola Droid; my son has an iPod Touch, a Samsung Reality, and every “real” gaming device known to mankind - so they’re well cared for, gaming device wise!
|Wi-Fi||Craig: Wi-Fi reception is one area where the Pre seems to beat the EVO pretty cleanly. In my house, the Pre consistently gets 50-100% signal strength from our access point. At work, it ranges 30-100%, but never drops its wireless connection. Setup and SSID network management are also very easy on the Pre. |
Don: Never having had a wifi mobile device other than my laptop before, I didn’t have anything to which to compare the Pre, but find it to be pretty good at hanging on to a wifi signal. The WRT54G2 router from Linksys that I prefer has tremendous range for a retail wireless router, and so in most of my house the Pre has a good wireless signal. It’s a long way from corner to corner in my house, and unfortunately the wireless router is in one of those corners, so this is impressive!
|Craig: The EVO has mediocre Wi-Fi, at best. I have to be within a few feet of my router to get it to register full strength, and on our 3rd floor, it’s at one bar (about 25%)...and gets roughly half the throughput of the Pre. At work, there are some spots where the EVO has to rely on cellular as it just can’t locate the access point. You’d think that, with a device this big, optimal Wi-Fi antenna positioning would be fairly easy, but I guess not. Update: Apparently, the EVO’s Wi-Fi range isn’t great, but it’s throughput is pretty good. |
Don: I haven’t pushed this much, but sitting here in one of the other corners of my house, my laptop has 4/5 or 5/5 bars and the EVO has 0 or 1, and shows 11mbps with signal strength “Poor”.
One can’t expect very good wifi reception with these teeny (relatively speaking) devices, but the Pre does seem to have the edge here, when one would think the advantage would go to the EVO!
Craig: webOS is terrific. Android seems pretty good, but the EVO’s hardware is amazing. One thing I’d like to see is webOS on a really excellent handset like HTC’s EVO (or Incredible). In fact, I think you could do it pretty easily. Not only is the processor compatible with webOS, the phone already has a capacitive area below the screen (currently where the Home, Menu, Back, and Search buttons are) that I bet could be used as a webOS gesture area. Imagine being able to swipe and issue other commands through gestures without opening up the menu! I think that would be a terrific combination of some of the UI strengths of webOS with the flexibility and power of Android and the EVO’s hardware. Until then, there’s a choice to be made.
Don: I think I’ll be keeping the EVO, from what I’ve seen. The issue with finding the day grid on the calendar almost caused me to take it back, as did the initial issues with Bluetooth, but those seem to have been resolved satisfactorily. I agree that webOS on this HTC hardware would be amazing, but I’m somewhat disillusioned with Palm and webOS as the months drag on with little movement on important issues and capabilities that need to be addressed. Further, with the uncertainty about the future of webOS, things (including number of apps) seem to be decelerating, rather than accelerating for Palm, whereas things seem to be heating up dramatically for HTC and Android. What Google needs, as Google always does (and I’ve refrained from saying this until this point since I’d probably say it in every section), is to hire some really great user interface people to give Android the once over. “What? Applications don’t have title bars so they tell you what they are when they’re running?” “What? You can’t pan while you zoom?” “What? you can’t switch between Bluetooth, Handset and Speakerphone from a single control” “What? Some of the time the virtual keypad covers up the ‘OK’ or ‘Save’ button and some of the time it doesn’t” You get the idea, I could go on and on and on and on. That said, and as much as I appreciate the elegance of the webOS user interface, I think I’ll be keeping the EVO. (Update on Day 10: The rebate form is in the envelope, waiting to be mailed - most likely tomorrow; that will make me an official EVO owner.)
Craig: Yep...the more I use the EVO, the more I really enjoy it. It’s not perfect...no device is...but I think it meets my needs right now better than the Pre does. I’m optimistic about Android’s growth potential and the developer community seems sizable, passionate, and engaged...all indications that good things are in store for Google’s little experiment. And I’m hopeful HP can do something really wonderful with webOS that involves making great phones. When I do turn in my Pre, it will be the first day since April, 1996, that I will have been without a Palm as a daily use device (although I’ve dabbled with various platforms over the years). And with that admission, I want to thank Don for taking on this little writing project with me...it’s been fun. Let’s do it again in, oh, 14 years. ;-D
Don: My past hasn’t been quite as Palm-centric as yours, but, as an IT person, I find the need to experience a variety of technology-related stuff, and so I’ve had a Pocket PC and a Blackberry in the midst of all the dozens of PalmOS devices and, most recently the Pre. I, too am enjoying the EVO more and more as I use it. It’s nice to discover all the little options that allow me to tweak/tailor the user experience. This ability is also there in the Pre, it’s just that Palm hasn’t exposed the ability to do this in the standard UI; hence the need for homebrew apps and patches.
Craig: Yes, that AND the lack of hardware capable of keeping up with webOS. If Palm’s next handset has a robust set of hardware features, and webOS continues to evolve, I could easily see me switching back. It’s wonderful that we have so many compelling smartphone platforms available today...truly a consumer’s paradise.
Don: One final note. I visited the local Verizon store today. I took a look at the Droid Incredible, another HTC Android device, and saw enough to say that what Craig and I discussed above would probably apply very well to a comparison between the Palm Pre Plus and the Incredible. So, you get two reviews for the price of one! And yes, this has been a lot of work, but a total blast, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed co-authoring it with Craig! I hope it will help guide some folks in making a choice between these two great devices.
About the Authors
Craig has been involved in the world of Palm and its successors and competitors since 1996 when he bought his first Pilot 5000. Craig also founded MemoWare, the first document repository for mobile devices, which he ran until it was acquired by Handmark, a US-based mobile software company. Craig is currently a business professor and healthcare operations researcher.
Don entered the same world, as an impressed Palm user, in 1996 when, at the suggestion of his friend David Siegel, he bought his first Pilot 1000. He joined the ranks of Palm and mobile device veterans like Craig, and has owned nearly every type of mobile device made (except Symbian) since then. After 20 years with IBM in jobs ranging from sales to services and from staff to management, Don runs a technology consulting firm that specializes in complete I/T services for small businesses.
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