Palm Pre Review Part 5 : Pricing and Wrap-up

Pricing




Given its undeniable status as a hero device (the hero device?) in Sprint's lineup, and considering the high-end phones it's designed to fight, "value" might not be the first thing that comes to mind when talking about the Pre, but it's not just about saving $10 or $20 month to month -- over the course of a couple years on a carrier contract, even a modest difference amongst plans can turn into hundreds or thousands of dollars. On paper, Sprint seems to have the clear-cut advantage here over the other nationals -- Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile -- on account of its hyped $99 Simply Everything plan that it's pushing harder than ever with the launch of this device. But in practice, what does it mean for your wallet?

For phones like the Pre and its contemporaries, it's a forgone conclusion that you want unlimited data -- email with attachments, powerful mobile browsers, and streaming video all collaborate to make it a non-negotiable requirement these days. As for messaging, granted, not everyone's blowing through thousands of text and picture messages a month, but the capability is more important (and better implemented) than it ever has been before, so you may as well lump it in. Really, that leaves only voice calls as the wild card -- some smartphone users make a handful of calls a month (often these are the same folks working their thumbs raw on texts), while others are on the horn several hours a day. To that end, we wanted to break down what the Pre's going to cost you over the course of a two-year haul versus its closest competitors -- Verizon's BlackBerry Storm, AT&T's iPhone 3G, and T-Mobile's G1 -- on unlimited and relatively low-minute voice plans.

As its name implies, Sprint's Simply Everything plan is... well, simply everything. $99.99 gets you unlimited voice, on-device data (sorry, no free tethering here), and messaging of all types. As we mentioned before, you get Sprint's TeleNav-powered navigation at no additional charge, which most other carriers bill for as an a la carte service. On Verizon, you're paying $99.99 too -- problem is, that's only for voice. The closest thing to unlimited messaging on Big Red's going to be the 5,000 plan, which runs another $20, data for $29.99, and VZ Navigator for $9.99. All told, you're paying $159.97. Similarly, AT&T will cost you $149.99 (of course, turn-by-turn's not an option here) and T-Mobile -- commonly considered the value leader -- takes second place at $124.98. At the end of 24 months, that means you would've shelled out $2,599.75, $4,039.27, $3,799.75, $3,179.51, respectively, after you take the costs of the phones into account; Sprint wins by a country mile, and there's a stunning $1,439.52 savings against its most expensive competitor, Verizon. Sticker prices on phones are subject to near-constant variation thanks to regional fluctuations, rebates, and moon phases, but even if the Storm were free and the Pre were $500, you'd still come out well ahead.

Stepping down to more modest voice allowances, Sprint loses -- but only because T-Mobile cheats. On Sprint, you'll pay $69.99 for 450 minutes, totaling $1,879.75 over the duration of your contract including the cost of the phone. Verizon gets you going for $99.97, or $2,599.27 over 24 months and AT&T goes for $89.99, $2,359.75 in total. T-Mobile doesn't offer a 450 minute individual plan, but you can step down to 300 with no myFaves for $29.99, which means $64.98 with features added or $1,739.51 by the time your two years of indentured servitude is up. So yes, T-Mobile comes out on top here, but only because you're getting short-changed a smidge on the voice bucket.

In the final analysis, this is definitely a valid talking point for Sprint and something would-be Pre owners ought to consider. Granted, no one's going to question that Verizon's got a larger coverage footprint -- but if Sprint works everywhere you need it to, you're basically looking at a new laptop, a bunch of steak dinners, or a metric ton of ramen by the time you've worked your way through a full contract.


Wrap-up




It's not easy to sum up things as complex as webOS (a totally new operating system and UI) and the Pre (a totally new piece of hardware) in a tidy closer. Even if we could strip away all of the superfluous details and just look at those two aspects of Palm's work in a vacuum -- not accounting for things like carriers or price-points -- it still wouldn't make the job of leveling a verdict much simpler. Still, it's gotta be done, and we wouldn't want anyone else at the reins. So... what do we make of the Palm Pre?

There's no question that Palm has built this phone on the foundations laid by numerous devices before it -- most obviously the iPhone -- but the Pre clearly carves out its own path as well. Some of the ideas and concepts at play in webOS are truly revolutionary for the mobile space, breaking down lots of the walls that separate the experience of using a dedicated PC versus using a handheld device. One feeling that we were constantly stuck by while testing the phone was a kind of revelatory, 'Hey, this actually feels how a computer feels.' It was an experience not completely unlike our first encounter with the iPhone -- that little light that goes on that tells you that things can really be different than how they've been before. We also felt that same thing the first time we picked up a Treo, so it's fitting that the Pre should inspire a similar response.

To put it simply, the Pre is a great phone, and we don't feel any hesitation saying that. Is it a perfect phone? Hell no. Does its OS need work? Definitely. But are any of the detracting factors here big enough to not recommend it? Absolutely not. There's no doubt that there's room for improvement in webOS and its devices, but there's also an astounding amount of things that Palm nails out of the gate.

Still, if you're considering the Pre right now, you have to debate whether or not you want to hop onto Sprint's network. If you're already a customer and you're looking for a new phone, this one is a no-brainer -- but is this enough to lure you away from another carrier? We've debated (and continue to debate) the point ourselves -- though it looks like given what AT&T and Verizon are saying, that might not matter pretty soon. We will say that our experience on Sprint's network has been excellent, and its pricing more than competitive, though being mostly limited to North America is certainly a major factor when making this decision. There's also no guarantee of developer support with this phone. As we mention earlier, Palm needs to stoke those fires or the Pre will quickly be cemented as a tiny island in a large sea. We think the platform looks very promising, but with no big push (yet) to put a great SDK into dev's hands, and no existing userbase for those apps, it's hard to feel assurance that the software will come.

Ultimately -- carriers and developers notwithstanding -- what Palm has done is not only a major feat for a company of its size (and its dire position), and we think it's an important step in the evolution of mobile computing. Just like the iPhone's notches up the ladder, and the G1's contributions, the Pre moves the game forward in a very real way. We know this won't be the last of the webOS devices, and we know that as Palm improves its products, so will Apple, RIM, Microsoft, Google, and the rest of the smartphone gang. Unfortunately for them, their work just got a little bit tougher.



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