Mobility

Palm Pre vs. iPhone 3G S: The choice I made and why

This year will very likely be remembered as the year of the smartphone (at least in the IT world). A fleet of new devices are attracting new users to the smartphone market, led by the Palm Pre and the Apple iPhone 3G S. Since I've been in the market for a new smartphone, see which one I chose and why.

This year will very likely be remembered as the year of the smartphone (at least in the IT world). A fleet of new devices are attracting new users to the smartphone market, led by the Palm Pre and the Apple iPhone 3G S. Since I've been in the market for a new smartphone, see which one I chose and why.

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As I mentioned in my article iPhone: Why I may be seduced by the dark side, I am in the market for a new smartphone this summer. The good news is that there are some very strong devices out there right now, including the iPhone 3G S, Palm Pre, Google Ion, Nokia N97, and BlackBerry Tour. The bad news is that I narrowed down my choices to the Palm Pre and the iPhone 3G S (below) and I've had a really tough time choosing between the two.

Since there are other individuals, small businesses, and IT departments deciding between these two high-end smartphones, I decided to lay out my decision-making process in order to provide a little decision support to my friends and colleagues in the business world.

First, I should explain my smartphone requirements. I'm looking for a device to serve as my personal phone, media player, and backup for all of my email, calendar, and contacts. I already have a BlackBerry Curve 8320 on T-Mobile that is my company smartphone from CBS. It handles my business calls and securely manages all of my corporate email and groupware data.

The challenge is that I travel regularly and when I travel my smartphone is my primary computing device. It carries all of my travel itineraries, meeting schedules, and contacts. So, if my smartphone was lost, stolen, or seriously malfunctioned while I was on the road then I would be in serious trouble.

Thus, I need a backup. I need a smartphone that can run all of my corporate Exchange data through Microsoft ActiveSync while functioning as my device for personal calls (minimal), personal text messages, and my personal Gmail account. I'm also looking for a smartphone that can complement the BlackBerry Curve in two key areas where it is weak: mobile Web browsing and media playback.

For me, that narrowed the field to two clear candidates: Palm Pre and iPhone. If I didn't already have a business device and I was looking for a single smartphone that could handle corporate-level security and lots of data entry then the choice would have likely been between the Palm Pre (right) and the BlackBerry Tour, with a slight nod to the Tour because of its BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) backend and the fact that it will be available later this summer on Verizon Wireless, the strongest of the big four U.S. mobile networks.

In evaluating the iPhone 3G S and the Palm Pre, I'm equally impressed by the touch screens, software interfaces, and usability of both devices. These two are really the standard-setters in usability and the other smartphones on the market all have some catching up to do. I also felt that both devices were excellent for reading everything from emails to news to documents.

When I had to get down to making a decision, I came up with the following lists that break down the strengths that each of these smartphones has over the other one. I also identified the primary drawbacks to the Pre and the iPhone.

Palm Pre

  • Hardware keyboard
  • Excellent multi-tasking
  • Palm Synergy for bringing contacts and calendars into a single view
  • Separates business and personal data while seamlessly providing a merged look at the data
  • Better mobile network at a reasonable price from Sprint
  • Not locked into iTunes
  • Small form factor and very portable

Biggest drawbacks: Still needs an ecosystem of app developers, Palm and Sprint are both struggling companies

iPhone 3G S

  • Broad array of useful applications that take advantage of the strengths of the device
  • One of the best LCD screens in the smartphone market
  • Works with existing iPhone/iPod accessories (including docks in my office, bedroom, and kitchen)
  • Amazon Kindle app for reading books on the road
  • Great apps for news reading (including USA Today, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Reuters, and more)
  • National Wi-Fi network included in data plan from AT&T
  • Superior media player functionality
  • Proven platform with a ton of momentum in the marketplace

Biggest drawbacks: Lack of hardware keyboard, inconsistent AT&T network

My decision

In the end, the maturity of the iPhone platform won out. I was primarily influenced by the fact that the iPhone is now in its third generation of hardware and software and the platform features over 50,000 third-party applications (in just over a year after first releasing the iPhone SDK).

I was tempted by the powerful multi-tasking of the Palm Pre and its Synergy functionality, but the iPhone's huge selection of apps makes it infinitely more useful at this point. I also wanted a functional media player since I was going to be carrying an extra phone I wanted to be able to leave my iPod behind. That meant that I needed to be able to carry my favorite music playlists along with podcasts and audiobooks. While the Palm Pre is serviceable as a media player, the iPhone is obviously superior because of its iPod roots.

The other big draw to the Palm Pre is that it is on the Sprint network, which offers more consistent network service than AT&T and is even cheaper with the Simply Everything plan.

But, remember that I was primarily looking for a data device. If I was going to be using this as my primary cellphone for voice calls, the iPhone would have had a big strike against it because it's not very strong as a phone and AT&T has problems with its voice network, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area where I travel regularly. However, I typically only make a few personal calls a week with this smartphone, and if I run into connection problems I still have the BlackBerry Curve in a pinch (although I try not to use it to make personal calls since it's a company phone).

For all of those reasons, the iPhone 3G S made the most sense, but as I've noted the Palm Pre was pretty impressive and could be a viable option for many business professionals and companies.

For more insights on iPhone, Palm Pre, and other tech topics, follow my Twitter stream at twitter.com/jasonhiner

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

126 comments
The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

As there have been reports of overheating iPhone 3GS due to faulty batterys. Sad thing is as you cant just pop the battery out and replace it - the whole handset has to go back!

venih1
venih1

Not very helpful since your review was biased as you'll be keeping your Berry for backup -- would've been better if you'd taken it out of the equation; then I think the Palm Pre (which I'm considering), would've been the logical winner.

Spiritusindomit
Spiritusindomit

It's been out just over a year. I'm sorry, but I don't care how many times you increment, that's not mature. So far as the 50,000 applications go, I suppose if you want a smartphone as a toy,go for it, but the iphone doesn't have much in the way of business apps.

GeorgeCarvill
GeorgeCarvill

While it must be nice to have a job where you can pick whatever phone you want, it just isn't reality for most of us. I might like to have an iPhone. But I am a Sprint customer, locked into a contract with three other phones in my family. So the question I need to answer is whether or not the Pre is better than the Sprint phone I am currently using. The answer to that, by the way, is, "no." The Pre does not support voice dial. Since my primary use will be making calls while driving, it's voice dial with my BT headset or nothing.

onephatcat
onephatcat

Sprint kicked me off their network because I was roaming too much on an "unlimited roaming" plan. I wanted to get a Palm Pre, but guess what, it was a Sprint phone. The only service that really works well in rural California for me is AT&T. So, I finally gave in and ordered an iPhone. I don't understand why a company like Palm would want to lock themselves to one carrier like that instead of accessing a much broader market with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and whatever else is out there.

drewcollier
drewcollier

you missed the biggest failure with the PRE. it will not connect to active sync if the PIN Lock setting is enabled. this is huge for the enterprise folks. if your company requires a pin on the phone from the exchange server, and they should, you'll never connect until Palm updates the OS.

david.valdez
david.valdez

There are two reasons why I cannot, in good conscience, spec the Pre in my enterprise: 1. They did not secure either an iTunes nor an ActiveSync license, so both services could be disabled at any time by a simple software update 2. The Sprint network may be more consistent where you live, but here it's the fourth out of four carriers, so I cannot endorse it. I've sent email to all my GMs stating that IT will not support the Palm Pre due to its unsupportable, hacked features. Palm had a chance to lay a golden egg, but then they had it come out of a different orifice.

rathornton
rathornton

The severely disappointing battery life & horrendous AT&T service make the iPhone a bad choice - IF only it were on the much more reliable Verizon network I could overlook the battery. But the dropped calls, the static, the poor customer service - all on a network that is supposed to be the best - sorry, I am jumping from the AT&T ship as soon as I can afford to.

Norm Cimon
Norm Cimon

It was a relatively easy choice for me since (1) AT&T would not allow me to keep my existing phone number Sprint could do that, and (2) Sprint service is superior out here in rural Oregon where I live. Both my personal and company email were trivially added to the Pre's list of email accounts. I have one client who recently took down web mail, where I have another address to their Intranet email but that will hopefully be back up soon. If so, the device would easily let me do that. The other features are useful but not essential. That said, the web interface, browsing capabilities, and the sound are all very good on the Pre. The interface and screen quality are outstanding as well. The apps will come since this is an easy system to work with, and they're already appearing.

csmith
csmith

Everyone is different but, I can't finger paint my email sorry!

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Superior because of i-Pod? I find i-Pod the worst form of music quality, the worst prorietary interface available in th eMP3 player industry. They offer NOTHING that competetive players don't already offer while other players offer far greater output quality, better batttery life, a much better tone control system (EQ, Bass boost etc) and an ability to play multiple formats (including FLAC that is supported on Samsung players). i-Pods are bottom of the barrel as far as music playback capabilities are concerned. But they are neato and everyone has one so they must be better! As far as the touch screen, despite the fact tha Apple integrated multitouch technology, the base screen technology and durability is behind the pack by years. They bought a failed capacitive touch company and modified their technology, that was proven useless and rarely used. By 'improve', they added multi-touch chips for functionality, but that doesn't detract from the failed, unreliable base technology (which is not the same, popular capacitive touch introduced by Elo/Tyco). It looks nice and feels nice but it isn't accurate and isn't durable. Compared to single point capacitive touch and 5-wire resistive touch it isn't durable anyway, compared to IR and Accutouch it is an equal. The only place where I can see your choice as being valid and worthy is that it is your second phone and you already have a smarphone. You like the multimedia interface compared to others, but Apple's i-Phone does not record video or edit video. It's camera is that of a 10 year old cell phone. It pales in comparison to smart phones with full Windows Media Player, you can't run a database, even a personal one and synch it with anything else. As a second phone to have a neato online store and games, i-Phone has some merits, as a synch device or backup (meaning you would have to rely on it being able to do your office tasks too) it doesn't even come close to being SOMEWHAT worthy. Despite your conclusions, which I feel are flawed and based on media hype, you clearly decided to get an i-Phone because they were popular. They were trendy and all the other kids have one. Your findings and comments actually make the Palm a better choice, based on your needs. Face up to the facts, Jason! You are even fooling yourself now.

enriquehernz
enriquehernz

One deciding factor between Palm Pre and iPhone: No multitasking. I rest my case.

trancify
trancify

My solution: Verizon cell phone for voice, the new Verizon MiFi device for data access for up to 5 devices, and an iPod Touch. Works great.

zage
zage

I'm not of those who are technozombies that jumps to a new tech because the market dictate so... when I buy something, longevity is one of the characteristic I look for because I try to get the most from it and I don't want to waste my money... I'm not controlled by the market every time they decide to say that you have to...also reducing that futile acquisition helps reduce toxic waste that affects the environment... For me the first flaw I saw in iphone is the unremovable battery... you need to have the recharger all the time to have the device ready... I think a biz-man doesn't have time to be charging its dependable device every time... charging it frequently approach its end-of-life more faster... when it gets its end-of-life you have to depend on Apple Dealers for the replacement... So that's why I like it with removable batts.. I bought some of them to reduce the memory-effect (and also are more ez to carry) that the frequent recharge do... when the batt has its charging level low, I change it...I avoid the restriction of having the device hooked up to a charger by using an external recharger when I get home... Apple and Sony are two companies that I try to avoid, their tech is of HQ, but they create a virtual monopoly by creating products that aren't dynamic and compatible with other manufacturers...they are only compatible with them...also EXPENSIVE!!! For the smartdevice, I prefer mine (not an iPhone) because I having it doing more than when it was original.... for those that understand me!!! >:-> And as closing statement, iPhone is an iPod with phone functions added.... those are my two cents!!!

amol_heda
amol_heda

It's a biased article from a iTunes loaded user! Jason has a focus on getting his iTunes into his phone device. That itself sets the article up for a bias. I am a iPhone user and I have not been able to get all my contacts and calendars in from my previous device for the last year or so. I don't want to pay for any additional software or devices to do such fundamental tasks! As mature a platform as iPhone can be, I think such fundamental weaknesses are still not addressed.

mehinindiana
mehinindiana

I faced a similar choice, but I went with the Pre. For me a hard keyboard was a necessity. I got it on day #1 and so far am delighted. I used a HTC Touch Pro with Windows Mobile (after several Treo's) before purchasing the Pre. With Windows Mobile I felt like I had been cast away to He**. What still astounds me on the Pre is how simple everything is...no complex menus, no 25 questions - it just does what it does very elegantly. you are right about other phones having a need to catch up. The Pre and IPhone have raisd the bar significantly. Now, lt's hope by this time next year there are 50,000 apps for the Pre. Let the competition begin.

bretferris04
bretferris04

you've totally overlooked far superior platfroms from HTC??????

bretferris04
bretferris04

you've totally overlooked ar superior platfromsfrom HTC??????

jpdecesare
jpdecesare

Jason, I develop software in Visual Studio 2008, my teeth are sunk into SQL Server and Oracle daily, I adopted Office 2007 and Vista the moment they came out, and am already running 7 RC as my main OS on my dev machine at work. Add in the 16 Microsoft cert exams I've passed in the last 9 years, and it's obvious I embrace Microsoft and corporate technologies. But when the smoke clears, Apple has done the iPhone so incredibly well, I'll never subject myself to arguing with the cramped ugly UI's in Windows Mobile and the Palm OS again (and forget Blackberry, I almost stomped on it after 3 hours). All those phones feel like you have to work to get what you want. The iPhone is this incredibly fun breath of fresh air. Every phone has some drawback, but if I'm going to have a phone, it might as well be the slickest and most intuitive UI out there. Apple excels in that arena, no arguments needed. Good choice!

ketan_san
ketan_san

With so many people needing to separate business/work and personal phone calls, why not consider the option of dual-SIM phones? Why is it that there are so few good dual SIM phones available in the market? Could someone please look at the PROs & CONs of this option?

dweil
dweil

One of the biggest and most pleasant surprises in my short time with my Pre is the discovery of Pandora. I've already created the maximum 100 radio stations, and I find that this facility in may ways negates the need for traditional media storage and playback. Pandora will not only shuffle my favorite artists individually or collectively, it provides an excellent gateway to new music discoveries. And all while consuming virtually ZERO gigabytes of storage. Of course, Pandora also would provide the same benefits on the iPhone, so this doesn't really provide any edge to the Pre. But I think it does at least minimize, if not eliminate, any edge that the iPhone has in the area of media playback, unless we're talking about non-music media.

GoodOh
GoodOh

I have heard some fairly loud and sustained wailing about very poor battery life on the Pre. Any comments on that aspect from those who know more than me.

rajan.sowri
rajan.sowri

I really do not know why your reviews are limited to US when there are TechRepublic readers all over the world. This kind of review won't help us in any way. Keep in mind when you review a product next time. Look foward to product reviews globally.

FrostyTS
FrostyTS

I just wanted to point out that the Pre has an app for reading books now, although I don't think it's from Amazon (I haven't dug into it yet). There are also apps for news: Sporting News AccuWeather (love this one) AP News Express Stocks The New York Times Today Show And there are other apps that include news feeds like "Where", which is another of my favorites. Now if Palm would just release their SDK to the rest of us nerdy folk!

gem
gem

I just spent three hours + talking to India. Short story is that Exchange Active Sync doesn't work on the Pre. The Pre will not accept valid SSL certificates, even if you manually D/L them to the phone and import through the Certificate manager. "We are seeing much of these calls" said "Amanda Smith". "Our engineers speak that they know of the problem and are working at it". My local Sprint rep is getting flooded with calls as well. He thinks about a month. We shipped all Pre's back and are sticking w/ BB for the time being. The good news is that the WEB site you have to register with at setup does allow you to control data on the device - it backs the device up and you can erase the device remotely. Barely a shadow of BES, but better than nothing.

shahrom
shahrom

I'm in real doubt...since both have great features and overiding each others....still PALM Pre with the WebOS look more promising to me. Jason, what abt the processing speed of swapping/multi tasking apps (PalmPre/Iphone 3GS)?

peter.brouwer
peter.brouwer

Also take into account palm's track record of not supporting old platforms. I moved away from palm after 3 generations of hardware changes Each time they dropped support for the current range of hardware in the field as soon as they released a new version. On top of this for each new generation the physical connector format changed, so new cables needed each time. The first generation of iPhone is still fully supported, including upgrade to OS 3.0!

techrepublic
techrepublic

Interesting comparison of the phones. The major ommission for me is that iPhone is only available on O2 and that is a mobile network that stinks both for voice and data. Too many people tell me they can't get throuogh to my phone. Signal quality is lousy. Data speeds (in the UK) suck but are good in Holland and France - so it has to be O2 that is the weak link. And european call charges from O2 are a throw back to the old rip off days. Just to add a bit of balance; I have taken O2 broadband at home and that is an fast service at a VERY reasonbale rate. If the mobile service was that good..................

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

yet buys the iphone and now has to carry two devices instead of one. Claiming maturity as the winning reason against a device that has just been released is not really a fair fight. In fact it is impossible for ther Pre to win on that factor. As for data device only, there are far better data device only options out there than an iPhone I would say.

philip.arnold
philip.arnold

If you had made the choice towards the iPhone prior to the 3GS then I would have just laughed - I'm amazed that Apple have taken 2 years to bring their product to some kind of functional level that other phone/smart-phone manufacturers have been doing for 3-5 years. It's only now that it does text forwarding, copy & paste, MMS, decent email push and other features that I'd be tempted to move from my BlackBerry to an iPhone. My biggest gripe with them is still the iTunes restrictions - with other products you can just drag & drop media onto the device, but the iPhone still handcuffs you to it's service and forces you to jump through hoops just to get one tune onto the device. I have yet to play with a Pre, but it does look very nice, and I LOVE the slide out keyboard - it's a tough choice, but I think in the end you have made the right choice on hardware - now if only they had decent network coverage...

nappyshades
nappyshades

Thank you for posting this. I've been looking for a unbiased assessment of these two devices, as I have very similiar requirements. Your detailed feature evaluation between the two, and also the service providers pro's/con's is very much appreciated. I have to make an investment soon, as my Treo is on it's last leg, and your post makes a compelling argument for moving to the iPhone. Coverage is the only factor that is delaying the decision, but you can't have everything right! Thanks again, great information!

pickleman
pickleman

As soon as I saw the title of the article, I knew with 100% certainty which one you would pick. You're the type that has "iDweeb" written all over you. The one and only thing that shocked me about this article was that the word "cloud" wasn't mentioned even once. But I'm sure the next one will more than make up for that.

yves
yves

> Best LCD screen of any smartphone on the market? absurd. HTC 480x800...

spam
spam

Good luck to you @ 1.3 SAR rating ;)

mail.dave
mail.dave

Unfortunately, I expect you'll get some flack from those who see only negatives in any Apple product. I work primarily with Apple hardware & software but certainly not exclusively, and even with the new iPhone, I still chose not to use it as my primary cell-phone. Because the plans are still outrageously expensive compared to what I can get with a non-Apple phone. So I settled for an iPod touch, and kept my non-Apple cell-phone.

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