I got a closer look at the Palm Pre before leaving Las Vegas this weekend, and I think it's still Best of Show from CES. The phone can do video, which was one lingering doubt.
Several readers have pointed out in the past that smart phones are about the software. The Pre's is more impressive in detailed demos, though Palm kept reporters and analysts from hands-on tests.
That said, Priya Ganapati at Wired's Gadget Lab explained a key point about the power of the new Palm software. The "cards" metaphor that the Pre uses is more than just a gimmick. It's about juggling multiple tasks:
The iPhone's apps are great and a big part of the phone's appeal. But have you ever tried to listen to Pandora while you're checking Gmail? Can't do it. The iPhone's limitation on running multiple apps is a serious drawback. The [Google phone] tries to improve on that with the notifications drawer, but it's an insufficient solution because it's still too hard to see what's currently running. The Palm Pre solves that problem.
But the iPhone's defenders came out in numbers. A thorough, somewhat technical and harsh review came from Daniel Eran Dilger at RoughlyDrafted Magazine. He concludes:
Palm has accomplished step one in defeating Apple: introducing copycat hardware that apes some of the iPhone’s features. Considering the waves of similarly ineffectual iPod-killers that washed up dead on Apple’s shores over the last 7 years, that’s not enough to claim victory.
I have to take issue with him on another point, though. He seems to think we in the media have some axe to grind with Apple:
This is just another gagging example of how the tech media can complain about the downsides of getting Christmas ponies from Apple while marveling at the potential of diamonds from the chunks of coal thrown at them by other tech companies.
What? If anything, the iPhone is a media darling and the press heaps praise on Steve Jobs and Co. Maybe it's that Palm is now the underdog, but I'm glad to see it trying to take a bit out of the iPhone.