10 Fixes the Palm Pre Needs Right Now

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Unlike most consumers, I chose a Palm Pre over either an iPhone or a Droid because, well, I liked the hardware/phone package. A physical keyboard and affordable monthly plan matter more to me than access to thousands of apps. I know Palm will most likely always lag behind in available applications; but really, how many am I likely to use regularly on a handheld? A couple of dozen?

There's still much I like about my new Pre, from its sleek design to its multi-tasking webOS. However, there are some fixes I wish they'd get cracking on.

Programmable keys. On my old Palm Centro, I could program each key to be a hotkey to perform any task: dial a phone number, text a specific person, launch a Web site. The Pre takes a step back by only allowing me to program keys to make a phone call. Please, please give me back my other hotkey functionality. I miss pressing "f" to look at Facebook, "t" for launching Twitter and "i" for texting a colleague's iPhone.

Character count on text messages. How hard could this be? That functionality was on my last two phones, and comes built into the most rudimentary of Twitter applications. I want to know when I'm bumping up against a 160-character limit -- especially when texting someone who's not on an unlimited plan, so I don't needlessly split a message into two.

QuickText for SMS. That's another downgrade from my Centro -- I no longer have built-in stored text snippets that I can easily add to a text message. A couple of third-party apps are trying to bridge the gap, but they don't yet offer a complete replacement. One 3rd-party app called "Quick Text" gives it a go, but it can't drop the text into an existing message; it only creates a new one. Another one, P2Snippets, helps with the somewhat limited cutting and pasting available on Pre, but you have to switch between that app and messaging. Really, a useful function that was already in the old devices' SMS capability should have been included in the new one.

Undo. There is no control-Z equivalent of undo once you copy and paste text. Palm engineers, this is handier than you might think.

Hardware to move my cursor. One of the main selling points of a Pre vs. an iPhone is the Pre's physical keyboard. Which, obviously, means that many Pre users often USE THE KEYBOARD.

Gestures and swiping are nice for many things; but when I want to move my cursor over one or two characters, an arrow key is a lot quicker than holding down the "orange key" and trying to make a precise gesture. It was a mistake not including a hardware arrow or other cursor scrolling device on the Pre. Too late now for the generation of Pre I own, but this could be rectified in an OS upgrade by devising a keyboard combo to move the cursor.

Better calendar. The built-in calendar application is surprisingly lame for a company that boasts so many years of experience offering datebook and contact management. Without question, syncing with Google Calendar is elegant. But actually entering an appointment or scanning through the calendar on the device is a bit painful. You can't copy and paste an event; you can't easily jump to dates in a calendar view.

I was spoiled on my last device by using the third-party PalmOS calendar app Datebk6. I'm hoping its creator will port his latest Windows and soon-to-be-multi-platform application, Pimlical, to webOS. From what I've read in the blogosphere, he may not.

Better Facebook app. Is it too much to ask to be able to upload captions with my photos? And read friends' comments on my pictures? I've got the first problem solved with a third-party app from Pixelpipe, which not only lets me upload to Facebook with captions, but multiple social networking sites at once. And, I expect another third-party will solve this for me soon (one promising option still has a few bugs to iron out). Still, the built-in Facebook capabilities should offer photo captioning and reading comments on my pics.

Changeable Web browser fonts. The default is too small. I understand it was recently changed, and not for the better. Yes, I can zoom in, but then I've got to keep scrolling from side to side as I read each line. It would be much better to change font size and have shorter lines that each fit within a screen, like the well-designed ESPN mobile site. A number of Pre news apps are designed this way as well, such as the New York Times. Why not have the option for the browser to have a similar font appearance?

Browser search functionality. A device that claims to offer serious Web browsing should allow me to search for text within a Web page.

Text selection. Throughout most of the Pre, you can't select text for cutting and pasting unless you're in an editable field. That means no copying snippets of weather forecasts to e-mail to friends, or copying a headline and summary from a favorite Web site. Why not? My Centro had an extraordinarily limited memory for such copying and pasting, but at least it was possible.

Palm is taking the right steps in trying to boost webOS application availability by improving its development environment, adding lower cost webOS hardware (Pixi) and broadening out from a single carrier. But app share, while important, isn't everything -- if it was, Vista would have been a hit. Some users are looking for quality of experience over quantity of software, and those are Palm's best demographic. Palm could go a long way toward satisfying its user base and generating more word-of-mouth recommendations if it makes these kinds of basic improvements.

This story, "10 Fixes the Palm Pre Needs Right Now" was originally published by Computerworld.

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