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What are the differences between the iPhone 3GS and the Palm Pre?
Please note that this Q&A compares the iPhone 3GS and Palm Pre as introduced. Both devices have been subsequently discontinued.
Quickly review a comparison of the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 3GS, and it is readily apparent that although there are significant differences between models, the iPhone 3GS is an evolutionary upgrade. Consequently, it should not be a surprise that much of the iPhone 3G to Palm Pre comparison is applicable when comparing the iPhone 3GS to the Palm Pre as well.
However, many of the evolutionary changes unveiled by the iPhone 3GS are enough to "catch up" with the Palm Pre in some areas where it was deficient (and surpass it in some aspects), and as a result, a detailed comparison still is worthwhile.
Photo Credit: Palm, Inc. (Left) & Apple, Inc. (Right) -- Not to Scale
The Palm Pre is a bit smaller and more rounded but thicker than the iPhone 3GS -- 3.96 inches tall by 2.35 inches wide by 0.67 inches deep for the Pre, compared to 4.5 inches tall and 2.4 inches wide and 0.48 inches deep for the iPhone 3GS. The Pre has a 3.1 inch, 320x480 touchscreen designed for finger-based input and one-handed operation, compared to the iPhone 3GS which has a 3.5 inch touchscreen designed for two-handed data-entry at the same resolution and an "oleophobic" oil repellent coating.
The Pre has a slide-down physical QWERTY keyboard, rather than a virtual onscreen keyboard like the iPhone models, a substantial point of differentiation between devices. Both the Pre and iPhone 3GS have an accelerometer, proximity sensor, Bluetooth, 3G, Wi-Fi, and GPS support. The Pre uses EVDO (Revision A) for mobile data whereas the iPhone 3GS uses HSDPA (with support for 7.2 Mbps).
Both also have 3.0 megapixel cameras, although the Pre has an LED flash but does not shoot video whereas the iPhone 3GS lacks a flash but shoots VGA video at 30 FPS and has autofocus, macro, and white balance support, a "tap to focus" feature, and the ability to trim the beginning and ending of videos "in camera".
Both are believed to have ARM processors clocked around 600 MHz and have 256 MB of RAM, so underlying performance capabilities are similar and both are reported to provide approximately 5 hours of talk time on a 3G network. However, the iPhone 3GS has a digital compass (useful for maps integration), voice memos, and voice control, all of which the Pre lacks, and the iPhone 3GS has 16 GB or 32 GB of storage compared to a mere 8 GB for the Pre. The Pre does have an easily removable battery, on the other hand.
Version 3.0 of the iPhone OS catches up to the Linux-based "webOS" that the Pre uses in many aspects, adding support for cut, copy, and paste, as well as MMS that it previously lacked. As one would expect given a three year head start, there are many more applications for the iPhone than for the Pre, although Palm loyalists may be pleased that an emulator to run at least some older Palm software is available.
The Palm Pre webOS still supports true multitasking -- running multiple third-party and company-produced applications simultaneously (not just some Apple applications in the background) and the Pre's webOS is designed to integrate all of one's web data from multiple sources -- Gmail, Outlook, and Facebook, for example -- into a single interface without being "synched" to a particular overarching web service or computer. The iPhone, by contrast, is designed to have a "home base" for synchronizing content via iTunes.
Unfortunately, in the US, both models are locked -- the iPhone 3GS to AT&T and the Pre to Sprint.
For your convenience, the major differences between the iPhone 3GS and Palm Pre have been summarized below:
|iPhone 3GS||Palm Pre|
|OS:||iPhone OS (OS X)||webOS|
|Cell Data:||3G/EDGE (7.2 Mbps)||EV-DO (3G)|
|Bluetooth:||2.1+EDR A2DP||2.1+EDR A2DP|
|Storage:||16, 32 GB||8 GB|
|Still Camera:||3.0 MP||3.0 MP|
|Video Capability:||Yes (30 FPS)||No|
|Height x Width:||4.5 x 2.4 in.||3.96 x 2.35 in.|
|Depth:||0.48 in.||0.67 in.|
|Weight:||4.8 oz.||4.76 oz.|
|No Contract Price:||US$599, $699§||US$549|
|Subsidized Price:||US$199, $299§||US$199†|
* Some Apple applications do run simultaneously, but the company does not allow multitasking for all applications.
§ These prices were only for new AT&T Wireless customers. For non-qualified customers, including existing AT&T customers who wanted to upgrade from another phone or replace an iPhone 3G, the price with a new two-year agreement was US$599 or US$699.
† The Palm Pre was US$199 with a two-year contract after a US$100 mail in rebate (some third-party retailers offered the rebate instantly).
You might also find this iPhone 3GS vs. Palm Pre "shoot out" video from ConsumerReports.org useful:
Ultimately, only you can decide if the iPhone 3GS or Palm Pre is the right smartphone for your needs. Both have a variety of strengths and weaknesses and no doubt will each attract their fair share of loyal followers.