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The Five Most Important Things To Know About the Palm Pre

After spending a few intense days with the Palm Pre, I've got some important observations to share with you before you plunk down any money at the Sprint store. Of course, the Pre has already been reviewed from here to Sunday, so I won't waste your time with the obvious. Climb aboard the BizHacksTrain and read my Five Nuggets of Pre Wisdom.

Nugget One: Synergy's Ugly Flaw

Synergy Has a Ginormous Achilles Heel

Despite the iPhone's posturing, I contend that the Pre is perhaps the very first mobile device of the Internet Age. Synergy, the technology that blends your contact information from Google, Facebook, and Exchange, is kind of brilliant -- since people are storing their lives online, just hoover up that data instead of anchoring your phone to a desktop synchronization program like the days of old. So the Pre has no "Palm Desktop" style PC software. There's no desktop software at all -- just enter your Google and Facebook info into the phone, and you've got instant access to your contacts.

Unless you don't store all your stuff online like a 14-year-old.

You can use a utility to make a one-time transfer of your Outlook data to the phone, but at that point you are forced to store it in your Palm profile or at Google. Want to continue to use Outlook? Tough luck. It's up to you to come up with a way to sync Outlook with Google, or else Outlook and your Pre will diverge.

(A ray of sunshine: Palm veteran Chapura has announced a version of PocketMirror that will sync Outlook with the Pre.)

Nugget Two: Exchange Doesn't Work (For Me)

Exchange Synchronization Appears Flawed

I was thrilled to see that the first version of the Pre's Web OS supported Exchange synchronization. But after entering the essentials (URL, e-mail address and password, and domain information)... nothing happened. The Pre claims to sync, and I can even see my e-mail folders, so I know it's making contact. But that's all. No e-mail, no contacts, no calendar.

What's wrong? Beats me. Everything is entered correctly, but the Pre gives me no feedback. And identical settings on my iPod Touch yield a bountiful harvest of Exchange e-mails.

Nugget Three: Palm Has Never Heard of Podcasting

Podcast Support Would Be Dreadful. If There Was Any Podcast Support At All.

I spend a lot of time on the bus, and while I kinda expected to use my iPod Touch to listen to music or watch videos during my commute time, I've found that I use it almost exclusively to listen to podcasts. So I was jazzed to see that the Pre syncs with iTunes as if it were an iPod. Good, good, good.

But now the bad news: Podcasts are treated like ordinary music. They're assigned the Genre of "podcasts," but they're mixed in with the rest of your music library. Shuffle your songs and you'll hear an episode of All Things Considered wedged between your Beatles and your Black Keys.

It gets worse. Because podcasts are just songs are far as the Pre is concerned, it makes no effort to mark particular programs as new or listened to, and it doesn't save your place. That makes the Pre utterly worthless as a podcast player. Not a dealbreaker for everyone, admittedly, but definitely for some.

Nugget Four: This Phone Needs Some Performance-Enhancing Drugs

Uncomfortable Silence

We all like acknowledgment. But the Pre takes your input -- such as when you tap on an app -- and then goes silent for a few unnerving seconds. It's brief, and honestly, I suppose I just have to learn to trust the phone and wait a few moments. But I hate the way I tap on the contacts button, for example, and I see nothing but my background wallpaper (a picture of my cat, incidentally) for a solid four Mississippi's before anything happens.

I guess that suggests two problems: Web OS should give some sort of active feedback to indicate it hasn't ignored you, and on the whole, response times can be a tad sluggish.

And speaking of sluggish, the Pre can be as ponderous as Paula Abdul at a chess tournament. Try to expand your e-mail folders, for example, and you'll think the phone has crashed. It's slow in a way I've never experienced the iPhone/iPod, even with only one or two apps running.

Nugget Five: Palm or iPhone? Good Question

There's Good Stuff, Too

So that's four gripes. Some are pretty serious -- the podcast problem, for example, may well be the deal breaker that steers me to a 32GB iPhone instead of a Pre when I replace my current phone later this summer.

But I don't want the nits to completely overshadow the good stuff. I love 95% of the Pre experience. The hardware and the user interface are both elegant and smart. The gestures work perfectly. The keyboard makes typing so much better than the virtual keyboard of the iPhone. You get Word and PDF viewing built right in.

Make no mistake: The Pre is a superb phone, and compares quite favorably to the iPhone, Android, and Blackberry. When you really dig into the details, though, it might not be the right phone for you.

Me? I'll let you know as soon as I decide for myself, round about June 17.

Nugget One: Back Where It All Began