Deathmatch: Palm Pre versus iPhone

In our last comparison, the iPhone buried the BlackBerry. Can the new Palm Pre unseat the mobile champ?

There’s been one promised iPhone killer after another -- the Google Android-based G1, the RIM BlackBerry Storm, the yet-to-ship, years-delayed Windows Mobile 7 -- but none has given it worthwhile competition to date. Now Palm has its Pre, a device that looks to be a serious contender for the best next-gen mobile device crown.

Not only does the Pre offer a modern, Web-oriented OS -- suitably named WebOS -- but its design leadership comes from Apple, including key players from the original iPod team. So there’s reason to believe that the Pre mixes the technical smarts and elegant usability that make the iPhone a tough device to beat.

[ See the Palm Pre versus iPhone side by side in InfoWorld's comparative slideshow | Also compare the BlackBerry Bold and iPhone 3G in our "BlackBerry vs. iPhone, side by side" slideshow. ]

If the battle between the BlackBerry Bold and the iPhone 3G was in essence a replay of PC versus Mac, the battle between the Pre and the iPhone 3G is more like a battle between Windows 7 and Mac OS X. The matchup, on paper, is close. So we set out to dig deeper. Galen has spent a lot of time with the iPhone as part of InfoWorld’s previous mobile deathmatch between the iPhone and BlackBerry, while Brandon bought a Pre as soon as it came out and has quickly made it a key part of his everyday life.

Deathmatch: E-mail, calendars, and contacts
Until the iPhone 3.0 OS update became available last month, I would have rated the iPhone and Pre equal on e-mail, calendars, and contacts. Both can connect to Exchange, IMAP, and POP accounts; make and synchronize appointments; and manage contacts. Both allow for “push” synchronization with Exchange. Both preserve your Exchange folder hierarchy for mail and make navigating among folders a snap. And setup is easy.

But with iPhone OS 3.0, the playing field has changed. First, iPhone OS 3.0 allows iPhone and iPod Touch users to initiate calendar invites, which the Pre can’t do. And although you can search for e-mail in the Pre’s e-mail app (which the iPhone 2.0 OS could not do), iPhone 3.0 lets you search within your mail and across all applications -- the Pre can do neither.

Brandon: If you get a calendar invitation as an e-mail attachment on an iPhone, such as from a Notes user, you can't accept it from your e-mail; the iPhone can only sync invites already handled by Exchange. Plus, you can't move an event from one iPhone calendar to another, such as from your personal calendar to your work one. That's just dumb.

The Pre, on the other hand, allows you to move events across calendars, and it can accept calendar invites and handle reminders from Exchange and Google.

Galen: Reading e-mail is a comparable experience on both devices, though the iPhone's larger screen, its ability to view messages in landscape mode (where the text is bigger), and controls over the inbox’s text size reduced the strain on my middle-age eyes. With the Pre, I need reading glasses.

I also liked the iPhone’s ability to select multiple messages for quick deletion, which the Pre doesn’t do. But I got frustrated that I had no way to search e-mails on the Pre, something very useful that the iPhone 3.0 OS update adds to the iPhone.

Brandon: It’s true that bulk deletion is not currently possible on the Pre. But for individual message deletion, the Pre has the iPhone beat: A single push of the screen is all it takes. On the iPhone, swiping in the right place to get the Delete button -- without opening the message instead -- is tricky.

Both the Pre and the iPhone let you view common attachment formats such as Word, Excel, and PDF. But neither can handle zipped attachments. I give Pre a nod for letting you save attachments for use with other apps, which the iPhone still can’t do.

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