iPhone 3G S or Palm Pre? The decision-making process

iPhone 3G S or Palm Pre? The decision-making process

Summary: This year will very likely be remembered as the year of the smartphone (at least in the IT world). A fleet of new devices are attracting new users to the smartphone market, led by the Palm Pre and the Apple iPhone 3G S. Since I've been in the market for a new smartphone, see which one I chose and why.


As I mentioned in my article iPhone: Why I may be seduced by the dark side, I am in the market for a new smartphone this summer. The good news is that there are some very strong devices out there right now, including the iPhone 3G S, Palm Pre, Google Ion, Nokia N97, and BlackBerry Tour. The bad news is that I narrowed down my choices to the Palm Pre and the iPhone 3G S (below) and I've had a really tough time choosing between the two.

Since there are other individuals, small businesses, and IT departments deciding between these two high-end smartphones, I decided to lay out my decision-making process in order to provide a little decision support to my friends and colleagues in the business world.

First, I should explain my smartphone requirements. I'm looking for a device to serve as my personal phone, media player, and backup for all of my email, calendar, and contacts. I already have a BlackBerry Curve 8320 on T-Mobile that is my company smartphone from CBS. It handles my business calls and securely manages all of my corporate email and groupware data.

The challenge is that I travel regularly and when I travel my smartphone is my primary computing device. It carries all of my travel itineraries, meeting schedules, and contacts. So, if my smartphone was lost, stolen, or seriously malfunctioned while I was on the road then I would be in serious trouble.

Thus, I need a backup. I need a smartphone that can run all of my corporate Exchange data through Microsoft ActiveSync while functioning as my device for personal calls (minimal), personal text messages, and my personal Gmail account. I'm also looking for a smartphone that can complement the BlackBerry Curve in two key areas where it is weak: mobile Web browsing and media playback.

For me, that narrowed the field to two clear candidates: Palm Pre and iPhone. If I didn't already have a business device and I was looking for a single smartphone that could handle corporate-level security and lots of data entry then the choice would have likely been between the Palm Pre (right) and the BlackBerry Tour, with a slight nod to the Tour because of its BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) backend and the fact that it will be available later this summer on Verizon Wireless, the strongest of the big four U.S. mobile networks.

In evaluating the iPhone 3G S and the Palm Pre, I'm equally impressed by the touch screens, software interfaces, and usability of both devices. These two are really the standard-setters in usability and the other smartphones on the market all have some catching up to do. I also felt that both devices were excellent for reading everything from emails to news to documents.

When I had to get down to making a decision, I came up with the following lists that break down the strengths that each of these smartphones has over the other one. I also identified the primary drawbacks to the Pre and the iPhone.

Palm Pre

  • Hardware keyboard
  • Excellent multi-tasking
  • Palm Synergy for bringing contacts and calendars into a single view
  • Separates business and personal data while seamlessly providing a merged look at the data
  • Better mobile network at a reasonable price from Sprint
  • Not locked into iTunes
  • Small form factor and very portable

Biggest drawbacks: Still needs an ecosystem of app developers, Palm and Sprint are both struggling companies

iPhone 3G S

  • Broad array of useful applications that take advantage of the strengths of the device
  • One of best LCD screens in the smartphone market
  • Works with existing iPhone/iPod accessories (including docks in my office, bedroom, and kitchen)
  • Amazon Kindle app for reading books on the road
  • Great apps for news reading (including USA Today, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Reuters, and more)
  • National Wi-Fi network included in data plan from AT&T
  • Superior media player functionality
  • Proven platform with a ton of momentum in the marketplace

Biggest drawbacks: Lack of hardware keyboard, inconsistent AT&T network

My decision

In the end, the maturity of the iPhone platform won out. I was primarily influenced by the fact that the iPhone is now in its third generation of hardware and software and the platform features over 50,000 third-party applications (in just over a year after first releasing the iPhone SDK).

I was tempted by the powerful multi-tasking of the Palm Pre and its Synergy functionality, but the iPhone's huge selection of apps makes it infinitely more useful at this point. I also wanted a functional media player since I was going to be carrying an extra phone I wanted to be able to leave my iPod behind. That meant that I needed to be able to carry my favorite music playlists along with podcasts and audiobooks. While the Palm Pre is serviceable as a media player, the iPhone is obviously superior because of its iPod roots.

The other big draw to the Palm Pre is that it is on the Sprint network, which offers more consistent network service than AT&T and is even cheaper with the Simply Everything plan.

But, remember that I was primarily looking for a data device. If I was going to be using this as my primary cellphone for voice calls, the iPhone would have had a big strike against it because it's not very strong as a phone and AT&T has problems with its voice network, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area where I travel regularly. However, I typically only make a few personal calls a week with this smartphone, and if I run into connection problems I still have the BlackBerry Curve in a pinch (although I try not to use it to make personal calls since it's a company phone).

For all of those reasons, the iPhone 3G S made the most sense, but as I've noted the Palm Pre was pretty impressive and could be a viable option for many business professionals and companies.

For more insights on iPhone, Palm Pre, and other tech topics, follow my Twitter stream at twitter.com/jasonhiner

Topics: Hardware, iPhone, Mobility, BlackBerry, Smartphones

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  • A funny thing happened on the way to the iPhone store

    As I looked at your list of requirements, I couldn't help but notice a pattern.

    Best browser: Opera Mobile. Perfect score on ACID3 test, consistently voted best mobile browser in head to head tests with the others. Available on Windows Mobile.

    ActiveSync: Works best on Windows Mobile, especially Tasks.

    Large 3rd party dev support: None larger than Windows Mobile.

    Carrier flexibility: Windows Mobile available on all carriers.

    Media playback: All the new devices work the same at the end of the day.

    But if you'd already decided on an iPhone, I think that your decision making process goes a long way in supporting the decision you'd already made. :)
    • Except WM is next to unusable.

      Unless you are just a feature whore. Lots of "features" little or no
      thought into how to use them.
      • Unusable??

        How ironic that you just replied to a post created with an unusable device. :)
      • Its useable

        You obviously have never tried though.
        • WM is still crap...

          ... to the point that mobile phone makers try to hide / replace its interface with their own. But they never succeed to make it real good. One of my friends has a Samsung Player Addict, and he has a (little) problem with it: Time is very often wrong by one hour or more when he starts to use it after waking it from "sleep" mode. And usually it is fixes after 5 mns or more. I won't call it a usable phone...
      • Windows Mobile isn't very competitive

        I had a Treo 700wx as my very first smart phone and then I bought a Treo Pro, and compared to the iPhone and the Palm Pre, Windows Mobile is generally slow, so Microsoft has a LONG ways to go.

        Yes, .NET is easy to develop on, but the overall sluggishness of Windows Mobile itself reduces the .NET advantage, even with the Skyfire Flash-9 supported browser (nobody else has Flash 9 support yet).
      • Exactly!

        What good is all those features if you can't use them? Windows mobile is
        just like Windows... designed by engineers without any thought to how
        people actually use the device. Crammed with features but hard to use.

        I used to *never* use any of those features on my windows mobile b/c it
        was so hard and cumbersome to use. Now I use those types of features
        all the time on my iPhone because they are so simple to use!
        • do we really have to believe in the fact that you

          have used Windows Mobile. I don't think you never used Windows Mobile in your life.
          Ram U
          • Uh...just leave it at you don't think. (NT)

            No More Microsoft Software Ever!
      • Fanboy Racism

        Every post I have read so far is just a preference weighted slander on one
        platform or another. The fact of the matter is you are all feature *****'s. Because
        of the wonderful fact that everyone thinks differently, everyone is attracted to
        different features of each platform.

        The purpose of any of these articles is to offer an educated perspective upon
        an issue that is suppssedly being widely considered by a significant number of
        it's readership. Evryone looses when people try tear down anothers desire for a
        specific feature. The best thing that could happen is for some to find technology
        that will serve their life instead of having an imovable direction of thought
        toward the dominace of one platform or another. I use an iPhone, before that I
        used a WM device. If Windows and it's 3rd party apps offer a better feature set
        to complement my work and life flow, I'll switch back. In any type of culture
        fanaticism is the father of irrationality.
        • Hear!Hear!

          Finally, someone with an intelligent opinion. The fanatics could learn a lot by reading the previous post!

      • I don't think you have really tried Windows Mobile

        or Windows for that matter in your life.
        Ram U
        • Uh...just leave it at you don't think. Obviously. (NT)

          No More Microsoft Software Ever!
    • Windows Mobile is not competitive

      Windows Mobile simply isn't in the same usability class as iPhone and
      Pre. My last device was a WinMo device and now I'm on the iPhone. It's
      not a small difference - the difference is night and day. WinMo's UI is
      literally years behind these devices. I've always been mystified by this --
      a company with the time and resources Microsoft has had to develop a
      compelling mobile platform and this is all they could field? That's just
      inconceivable to me.
      • Re:Windows Mobile is not competitive

        Microsoft has endeavored to create a mobile experience not unlike the desktop one. Same Start menu, same hierarchical navigation, etc. I currently use an AT&T Tilt and an iPod Touch (same iPhone OS.) Browsing the web, I reach for my touch if there is a wi-fi hotspot (I use Opera on the WinMo and while it is far superior to IE, it pales compared to Safari mobile.) Need an app to fill a niche, I reach again for the iPod. WinMo is archaic, iPhone is light and nimble. Microsloth...err Microsoft needs to scrap WinMo and start fresh. Forget copying Windows on a small device, just make an OS that can run fast and lean.

        With the new 32GB iPhone, I plan on replacing my iPod touch and my phone later this year.

        I also disagree with the strengths and weaknesses of the networks here in the Bay Area. Sprint is hit or miss on reception from my past experiences (had a phone that would get a signal in a friends front yard, but not in the back.) I have never had voice issues on AT&T in the greater SF bay area.
      • Same old problem.

        The big shots are to busy being big shots and counting their money to take care of business.

        For this reason every company sooner or later turns belly up and sinks.
    • The LG Incite is an interesting WM phone

      If you were looking for a phone that is iPhone or Pre - like and runs Windows Mobile, the LG Incite is available from AT&T. Most WM phones have small, non-touch screens, don't have GPS or Wifi and are simply older technology.
      The Incite is about as close to a Pre or an iPhone that you're going to get in a Windows Mobile phone.
  • t-Mobile is not the worst....

    If this can be believed, and resulted from independent testing, t-Mobile (my carrier on coastal SC) is not the worst: http://cell-phone-providers-review.toptenreviews.com/

    Certainly J. D. Powers and Associates is to be believed (at least in 2006---I did not search further), t-Mobile is really GOOD: http://www.wirelessguide.org/plan/service-comparisons.htm and is the best in one region in the US in 2008. Sprint, however, is the worst in the US in 2008 (and why I am not getting a Palm Pre from them): http://www.jdpower.com/corporate/news/releases/pressrelease.aspx?ID=2008206

    I am nothing other than a customer of t-Mobile-NOT an employee, shareholder, etc. Just wanted to put the truth out here.
    • I have to agree. Here in the Bay Area California T-Mobile is great.

      I used T-Mobile as my carrier when I had the BB Pearl. I loved them. Always connected. Inexpensive.

      Now that I use an iPhone my carrier is AT&T. It's not bad at all but just a tad worse than T-Mobile IMNSHO. I have had two dropped calls with AT&T in 9 months (compared to none with T-Mobile) but other than that I can't complain. I did have to choose a 450 minute voice plan (with rollover - that makes it comparable) instead of unlimited with T-Mobile to make it price competitive.
      No More Microsoft Software Ever!
  • T-Mobile? Serviceable?

    I guess in some areas they are good - not so much in my area. Based on my personal experiences and those experiences that have been related to me by friends, coworkers, and casual conversation in my neck of the woods from good to bad are:

    Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, Nextel (iDen network), Alltel, walkie-talkies, Ntelos, two cans and some string, T-Mobile, smoke signals.

    Out of those I have personally used all but Ntelos and smoke signals.