Deathmatch: Palm Pre versus iPhone

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

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Brandon: With Flash expected to arrive on the Pre this fall and its status on the iPhone a continuing mystery, the Pre may soon be a better Web device than the iPhone.

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The winner: A tie. Both the iPhone and Pre are real Web devices, giving you the true Web experience -- minus Flash.

Deathmatch: Location support
Both the iPhone and the Pre support GPS location, and both can triangulate location based on Wi-Fi signals. Both devices also come with Google Maps, which can find your current destination, provide directions, and otherwise help you navigate. Both devices let developers integrate location information in their apps, so location is just another native feature.

I have to admit I like the Pre’s implementation of Google Maps better when it comes to following directions. The iPhone pages from one junction to the next, so I lose the context of where I am in relation to my whole trip. The Pre moves the map along the path, so you have a better handle of the next junction point.

Brandon: Well, you took the words right out of my mouth. In both devices, location really is built in as a foundational capability. That’s why in both devices, for example, a single click on a contact’s address can automatically set a destination in the Google Maps application.

The winner: A tie.

Deathmatch: User interface
One of the biggest criticisms of the iPhone is its touch-based virtual keyboard. I admit that it takes longer to get used to than a physical keyboard, but once I navigated that learning curve, I found I was just as fast on it as on a physical keyboard. Still, I have trouble on the iPhone with Q, W, O, and P, due to the optical illusion as to their location caused by the glass.

But not having a physical keyboard lets you enter text on the iPhone when it’s rotated -- try that with a keyboard. Sure, Apple (or someone) should sell a plug-in keyboard for the iPhone, but overall, I think the virtual keyboard criticism is overstated.

Brandon: I like having the physical keyboard because it is faster to use and doesn’t require a learning curve. I can get used to the touch screen for typing, but with the Pre I don’t have to. And I like how the Pre has keyboard shortcuts -- something that isn’t possible with the touch-only iPhone.

Galen: I didn’t like the Pre keyboard as much as the BlackBerry’s. The biggest reason: Its keys are shiny, so they’re hard to read in sunlight, such as near a window. And the red-on-black for the number keys is hard to read even in controlled lighting. As with the BlackBerry, the keyboard’s labels are so tiny I needed my reading glasses to use it.

Typing numbers and special symbols on the Pre can result in hand-wrenching positions, and you really do need to use both thumbs, due to how the Shift and Orange keys work. (The Orange key is sort of like a PC’s Alt key.) Entering numerals with regular text is particularly burdensome. The iPhone works best if you use just your index finger, which, for me, is quicker than double-thumbing on a Pre.

And speaking of reading glasses, I need them to do almost anything on the Pre. The reason: The Pre’s smaller screen and smaller text -- and the lack of options to increase text size in most apps.

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