Palm Pre in my hot little hand

At last I have attained my heart’s desire: to trade in my 5 year old Treo 650 for a Palm Pre. I never thought I’d be the type of person to line up for a gadget — and as it happens I didn’t have to — but it would have been so worth it. I think it’s love, I really do. I’m not saying my tastes are universal by a long shot, but I think there are enough people like me that this phone will hit a lot of sweet spots.

The evening before the June 6 launch, there were unannounced launch parties at a handful of Sprint stores nationwide — including the one on University Avenue, where the Panda and I just happened to be lurking. We waltzed right in and allowed the pumped-up sales associates to ply us with beers, light wines, and bubbly water while they bagged up our phones. Interestingly, my new Sprint plan costs slightly less than the old one. I’ve had Sprint for almost 10 years now, and never particularly saw a good reason to switch so that was a nonfactor for me.

Basically my excitement about the Pre beforehand had boiled down to two factors: 1) using a touchscreen for the things touchscreens are good for, and a thumbpad for the things a thumbpad is good for; and 2) app development using web standards. The thing I didn’t really grasp was how WEBBY and asynchronous the user experience on this thing really is. It’s so much more like having your computer hooked up to broadband than I’ve ever experienced before — in some ways perhaps even better once you get over the initial pain (which can be considerable).

One example will suffice to demonstrate the pain AND the payoff. Obviously first thing I wanted to transfer my phone numbers from the Treo to the Pre. But this involves a conceptual shift rather than just a mechanical thing — because the Treo just has local storage with optional backup to a local computer, whereas the Pre relies upon remote storage using a complicated system of its own profile and third-party web services you were already using.

So I had to dig out the Treo 650 hot-sync cable and download the old desktop client which frankly doesn’t work so well any more. Export data to a vCard file, then import that data to Mac’s Address Book app. Then plug in the USB-to-MiniUSB cable that forms part of the Touchstone charger, download and run a helper app, and… I don’t see my phone numbers, hmmm. Plus now the phone will want to permanently sync with Google Contacts — which means you’ll instantly download 500 emails and zero phone numbers, which you can only reduce by cleaning out your Google Contacts list manually. Then the Pre will try to do some magic de-duping stuff to match up multiple listings from multiple sources into a single card per person, and sometimes it will work great but other times it will mysteriously fail. But at the end of this ordeal, if you change someone’s contact info on Google, it will automatically push an update to your phone forever — and you’ll start to wonder why no one else does it this way.

I underestimated how awesome it would be to walk around while getting notifications of everything I’d be getting if I were sitting in front of my lappy at home: Tweets, Facebook updates, emails, IMs — plus phone stuff like texts, calls, and voicemails. In fact sometimes it gets a little oppressive and you want to turn all that stuff off… but of course one feels that way sometimes online too. I’m also very pleased at the speed and usability of the apps even compared to the iPhone versions that I’ve seen.

What don’t I love so far? The hardware is a little “different” — especially the mini-USB port door which seems like it’s going to fall off at any moment. It took me forever to figure out how to change the backplate for Touchstone, and generally how to use the Touchstone adapter… which is cool but honestly saves you no time or effort for your $70. The thumbpad is REALLY recessed, and only has the shift key on one side. I’m not sure the browser on this thing is top-notch… seems to be a bit retarded about scaling. And maybe this bespeaks a unique mental weakness on my part, but I have had a hell of a time figuring out when I need to be scrolling through a long list by flicking up-and-down versus side-to-side.

But all in all, I am more than happy I stuck with Palm — and I hope the company really does well from this. It seems like one of those situations where they were so far down that innovation was the only option… and I’ve always loved those stories. Now if I can only get my SDK, I’ll be a truly happy camper!