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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I also get frustrated at how basic copy and paste is not accessible in many applications on the Pre. You can’t copy text from e-mail, the Web, or Doc Viewer, for example, though you can on the iPhone. Nor can the Pre copy graphics. When you can copy and paste on the Pre -- editable fields, such as a URL, phone number, or address -- it doesn’t work as easily as it does on the iPhone, as the Pre makes you tap to choose a start point, press the Orange key, then hold Shift while you select the text. (With the iPhone, you just tap and hold the start point, then drag to select what you want.) When I try to move the Pre’s selection pointer, the device often thinks I am clicking elsewhere and moves to an adjacent field because I haven’t pressed Shift fast enough. And it rarely copies my entire selection even when I do press Shift in time.

But my biggest UI complaint on the Pre revolves around its touch interface. The main screen is a touch screen, so you can tap, scroll, swipe, pinch, and so forth. But there’s a separate area that you use for gesture-based navigation, such as going back a level in an app or “minimizing” the current app card to see the other open apps’ cards. I find the two touch areas confusing, especially because sometimes you can use either for the same function but other times you cannot. I’m sure over time I’d develop the muscle memory necessary to know when to use each, but it’s not logical or obvious. By making all gestures occur on the touch screen, the iPhone prevents such modal confusion.

Brandon: I share the frustration over the Pre’s copy and paste, and I agree that having a separate gesture area on the Pre imposes a steeper learning curve, but it also supports the Pre’s commitment to dissolving the walls between applications. The gesture area and the button that sits in the middle of it offer quick ways to move from app to app or to return to the card view to quickly get a higher-level view of the tasks you want to accomplish. The gesture area breaks meta-navigation out from the inner workings of each app so that movement from one to the next remains consistent despite the UI choices made available by disparate app developers.

The iPhone makes you switch modes by pressing the Home button to return to your Home screen and select the next app. In a sense, it uses the Home button as the much more limited equivalent of the Pre’s gesture area. Pre’s approach can scale, while the iPhone’s cannot. As for the screen's readabiity, I had no problems.

The winner: The iPhone, by a head. The Pre has a lot going for it, with most differences that an iPhone user might object to being the result of legitimate design decisions, not due to poor choices. The iPhone wins here because the Pre should have a more legible keyboard and the ability to make onscreen text more legible. And the Pre’s limited copy and paste is inexcusable.

Deathmatch: Security and management
Speaking of modal confusion, the Pre also frustrates me in how it handles device preferences. They’re scattered throughout the apps, with a few dedicated apps for specific device preferences mixed in with your other apps. It becomes a treasure hunt to find, for example, where you turn on the device password or wipe the app’s data. Setting up a VPN or installing a security certificate happens in yet other places. The iPhone’s Settings app is much easier to use, putting core preferences one place (individual apps can have their own preferences directly accessible within them).

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