When Palm launched its Pre at CES, we were both blown away and pretty overwhelmed. Besides issuing new hardware, the company also demoed a completely original operating system called webOS which incorporates some pretty heady ideas about what a mobile phone can do. Now that we've had a little time to step back, we're taking a more methodic look at the device and its software, and hoping to answer some of those nagging questions you've been asking. Read on for a look at everything we know about the phone right now.
While we didn't see the final, final version of the hardware, Palm has gone to great lengths to bring its industrial design up to date, and they've landed a winner. The casing of the phone is made from sleek, glossy plastic, and the 3.1-inch touchscreen is flush with the face of the device, just like the iPhone or Touch Diamond. The phone has a bit of a curve to its body both in the back and around the sides, but would easily slip into a pocket. When you slide out the QWERTY keyboard, it has an almost banana-like shape to it, curving slightly to meet the contours of your hand and face. As you might expect, it feels great in the hand -- it's slightly smaller than an iPhone when closed, slightly larger when open, and roughly the same width.
Using the interface is mainly accomplished with swipes along the screen and by pushing the center button. A quick swipe up with your thumb slides a launcher (essentially a prettied up traditional Palm app screen) over your current state. What's notable is that you never leave the application you're in to do this. It goes up, then it goes away. Unlike the iPhone (which is really its nearest competitor), webOS provides true multitasking, allowing you to switch between active apps. You don't have to close and reopen, just shuffle through your programs. If you switch to another app, the UI scales back the program you're in down to that deck of "cards," then zooms up the new selection. By pressing the center button on the phone, you zoom out all of your cards, and can swipe through them to find what you're looking for. The content inside of the cards isn't just a snapshot like tabs in Mobile Safari -- they're live applications that can be flipped and manipulated. You can also rearrange the cards in any order by touching and holding, then sliding them around. Gestures can also be used to move back and forward in a document or webpage (swipe left or right), and there's a gesture used to bring up a quick launcher "wave" over top of whatever application you're in.
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