Palm Pre, Palm Pix, webOS Review from an iPhone Perspective -- Smartphone Round Robin

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My first smartphone was a Palm Treo 600 and so my last 2009 Smartphone Round Robin "away" review focusing on Palm's new webOS platform as embodied by the Palm Pre and Palm Pix does not lack for symmetry. Between the two, last year I reviewed the Palm Treo Pro which I quipped was more HTC than Palm, ran Windows Mobile and not a Palm-made OS, and had a keyboard that was hard to consider "pro" level. 3 years of round robin, three totally different platforms from Palm, and only this review for me to try and make my own sense out of it.

Luckily I had the mobile accomplisher himself, our editor-in-chief Dieter Bohn to show me Palm's new platform and their new devices, and the truly exceptional community over at PreCentral.net Forums to help understand where it's at and where it's going.

(And just a reminder, every day you post on that PreCentral.net thread, or any of the official Round Robin threads, is another day you're entered to win one of six (6!) new smartphones!)

Now let's get this on...

Previously on Palm

First, this is where Palm stood last year, without a PalmOS device in the competition, represented instead by the HTC-built, Windows Mobile running, Treo Pro:

And now, just one year later Dieter was kind enough to show me the Palm Pre and Palm Pixi running the all new, all different, all Palm webOS:

CrackBerry Kevin and I also stopped by Palm at CES 2010 to check out the new Palm Pre Plus and Palm Pixi Plus for Verizon:

And here are the rest of the contextual links:

Hardware Design

I'm starting with hardware only because every other review started with hardware, and I'm telling you that because I really wish for this one review I didn't have to start with hardware. But I'm a sucker for consistency.

And the Palm Pre Hardware Just...

Well, it isn't great. The concept is killer, don't get me wrong. The river-stone ergonomics are beautiful. The execution, however, especially on the early units, was really unfortunate given how much else Palm got right.

After using the iPhone's glass screen for years, using the plastic screen on the Pre just feels... not good. The first Pre I tried at a local Best Buy had a screen protector over the plastic, and I found it almost unusable. If I was Kevin I could figure out some witty, spot-on analogy about layers of prophylactics between me and my multitouch but I'm not and I can't and so I won't. I'll just say Palm needs to switch to glass and now.

The Pre is also a vertical slider. It looks like an iPhone slab but pull down and a full physical keyboard is revealed. While this could be a best-of-both-worlds compromise, the lack of an official, built-in virtual keyboard means (unlike the Motorola Android Droid) you have to use the physical keyboard and... it's not great. A couple of Pre devices I've tried didn't have very solid feeling sliders and all of them had cramped quarters that made the physical keyboard not that enjoyable for me. I had to use the tips of my fingers/nails and still watch out on the top ridge of the display and the sharp edges of the sides.

I'm not sure what they could do to fix it, though Dieter says the new Palm Pre Plus is an improvement in the feel of the keys itself. That, combined with the better build quality control could be part of the answer. I look forward to spending more time with it in the future to find out.

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Palm Pixi By Contrast...

Eschewing the slider for their second webOS device, Palm returned to their roots with the front-facing QWERTY. They also returned to the form factor of the Palm Centro, which saw high sales if low margins during the final year of PalmOS.

The device is tiny. It's deceptively tiny. It's so tiny that, like in the Dark Knight movie, you half-expect that if Dieter's Pre ever broke at the mechanism, he'd pull a release, a full Pixi would eject, and he'd just keep on typing. Actually, he'd likely type better because, counter-intutively, the Palm Pixi keyboard feels better than the Pre's. I don't know if it's crazy Pixi magic, or just the better Feng Shui of not having to type inside the Pre's cavity, but the tiny keys worked well.

The huge problem here, however, is that Palm reduced the screen size to fit in that keyboard. This isn't the Treo 240x240 or 320x320 of yesteryear. In 2009, never mind 2010, screen size matters. Aspect ratio matters. In a post-iPhone, capacitive era how we interact with our device is more screen-dependant than anything else. There are times you won't need a physical keyboard (watching video, playing games, reading e-books). There's almost no time when you won't want the full screen. Sure, it's only a few pixels shorter, but on a screen that small, the difference is noticeable. It's like having a 16:9 HDTV for a year or so, then suddenly getting a 4:3 SDTV again. You know what you're missing.

There's no easy fix for that easy, unless they jettison the physical keyboard and go with a fullscreen Pixi with a virtual keyboard. Many would hate that, but it's something I've been increasingly considering as of late...

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Is the Era of Physical Keyboards Over?

Originally this section was going to be called "the era of physical keyboards is over" but a funny thing happened on the way to writing this review -- I kind of changed my mind.

Physical keyboards on smartphones are a strange beast. That a QWERTY button layout originally intended to prevent jamming on ancient IBM typewriters still exists on some of the most modern gadgets today is... either stupefying or a testament to the intractability of consumer typists.

Interestingly, Palm didn't start off with physical keyboards. The Palm Pilot had no keyboard and used a proprietary form of handwriting recognition. The iPhone doesn't have a physical keyboard either, and does offer recognition for Chinese character input, but uses virtual keys for most other languages, and sticks to QWERTY for English.

Rumor has it, physical vs. virtual keyboard was a huge area of contention between Apple CEO, Steve Jobs and then-Apple VP and head of iPod, Jon Rubinstein. Jobs didn't want a physical keyboard, Rubinstein did. And we all know how that turned out -- we have the iPhone sans-physical keyboard and Rubinstein has a new job as CEO of Palm.

It should come as no surprise, then, that when the Palm Pre debuted and looked a lot like an iPhone with a physical keyboard, many (and yours truly included) figured it was the iPhone Rubinstein always wanted to build.

He wanted the keyboard so much, as mentioned, he sacrificed screen real-estate on the Palm Pixi for it. I find that absurd. I would have removed the keys and made it an iPhone-nano-esque slab. As I said, until this review, I would have whole-heartedly exclaimed "the era of physical keyboards is over".

But then I started thinking about the BlackBerry and how the Storm2 is no replacement for the 9700 for their user-base. Just like it took a long time to transition from CLI (command line interface, the text-only days of DOS prompts and UNIX terminals) to GUI (graphical user interface, the windows, mouse, pointer paradigm we see today), it will take a while to transition from physical keyboards to virtual ones. And just like some people (not gonna say neckbeards!) still turn off the GUI on Linux, go pure Terminal on Mac OS X, and ignore WIndows completely, some people have been so raised on physical keyboards, even on tiny little devices, that they wouldn't transition to virtual even if, from an overall usability standpoint, they could or should.

BlackBerry is the easy example because they're essentially messaging devices. The iPhone is essentially a big screen you fill with media and apps, so that's an easy example of where the virtual keyboard fits best (especially Apple's still unequalled implementation thereof).

And that brought me to the crux of this long, rambling, tangent -- what's the Palm Pre (and webOS in general)? I had the same question about Android and pretty much determined it was Google's mobile insurance policy. But Palm is a mobile company. It's not an "also have" like Microsoft. It's their sole reason for being, and they're one of the original innovators in the space.

So I wondered again, what's the Palm Pre? And then I realized Palm told us from the beginning -- it's the fat middle. Where the Treo converged three devices into one, the Palm Pre bridges the traditional, keyboard-centric mobile messaging device with the new, screen-centric mobile platform device.

It's likely not keyboard enough for a BlackBerry addict, and it's not screen enough for an iPhone user, but it's a compromise form factor for those who want the okay-of-both-worlds.

I'm so happy with the iPhone keyboard that I'll never go back to a physical one. I use my iPhone keyboard far more than I ever used the physical keyboards on my Treo 600 or 680 because it works better for me. Not having to engage forearm muscles to depress tiny keys and hold the rest of the phone stable while I do so is a huge advantage in my book. It's just effortless and it just works. I won't be writing novel-length compositions on a BlackBerry anyway, so no argument about volume of typing impresses me. Likewise, I see enough physical keyboarders glancing constantly at their screens that muscle-memory no longer resonates with me as a deal-breaker either. New devices are about consuming information as much as creating it, and even glance-ability requires -- you guessed it -- glances.

One day haptics may be sufficiently advanced enough that mighty-morphin', there-and-gone-again virtual-that-feel-like-physical keyboards are enough for everybody. But right now, today, you have legacy keyboarders who'll never abandon their keys, and devices on Android that still haven't gotten their software right, and there needs to be a middle ground.

Or to be more succinct -- Smartphones are evolving beyond priority messaging devices to priority (data/media/etc.) consumption devices and hardware keyboards are legacy, bolted-on technology comforting for the former but waiting to be obsoleted when technology allows virtual keyboards to better serve the latter (and we're part of the way there with the iPhone).

(hat Palm didn't have hardware keyboards when the Pilot was priority PIM device is interesting as an aside. And no, Dieter, I won't take that back ;) )

Inductive Charging

Palm debuted it with their Touchstone accessory. Cool. Future. Let's me leave this section on a positive note.

Software Experience

Okay, here's where webOS is interesting enough that any complaints about the hardware take a back seat. First let's get something out of the way. We've teased Palm about having the former head of Apple's iPod division as their CEO, and about bringing over a bunch of iPhone engineers to help create webOS. We've listed what webOS adopted from the iPhone (and we're far from the only ones), but it's important to remember the iPhone wasn't made in a vacuum. The icon grid as launcher, the tabbed phone app, and other paradigms existed in earlier Palm Pilots and Treos and Apple took them and put them together with a bunch of other stuff for iPhone OS. Likewise, some of the multitouch gestures in webOS are the same as the iPhone (and thank goodness), the way Cards works is greatly expanded from, but visually identical to how iPhone Safari Pages work, etc. In the end, they'll figure out the legal issues and we'll say the user benefits from a certain amount of consistency when it comes to these platforms. With that behind us...

HTML, CSS, JavaScript

Palm faced a huge problem when launching webOS. They couldn't really bring PalmOS developers forward because the platform was different and, unfortunately, the time it took between the decline of PalmOS and the rise of webOS meant a significant amount of developers had moved on. iPhone 2.0, meanwhile, had re-framed the mobile discussion for the second time, going from killer UI in 2007 to being all about apps in 2008, and Palm didn't have the money or mindshare of Google who was already offering the Android alternative. So what to do?

In a move I called brilliant at the time, they decided to make their UI layer, and hence development environment, out of web-standards -- HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. While they would -- and did -- take a performance hit by essentially running localized web pages as apps, it meant anyone who knew how to make webApps could fairly easily develop for webOS. (That Palm named it webOS shows how seriously they take that concept).

Apple tried a non-localized version of this with iPhone 1.0 and it's "sweet" (TM, Steve Jobs, WWDC 2007) WebApp SDK. It failed. But 2009 brought far more robust web technologies, including HTML 5 with SQLite for local storage, CSS3 with animations, and a whole lot more maturity in WebApp development. While Palm hasn't succeeded with this to App Store levels, no one else has with interpreted SDK (Java) or native apps either. Palm has succeeded to some degree, however, and iPhone 3.0 is now supporting localized HTML 5 apps on the iPhone home screen, while RIM, Android, and others are embracing WebApps and widgets.

It was a gutsy gamble. I still think Google saw webOS, smacked themselves in the Android and raced to make Chrome OS in response. It's also clearly a first step for Palm. Just like Apple released a full, native SDK for iPhone 2.0, Palm is now offering native plug-ins for games like Need for Speed (something that WebApps can't do, and even WebGL might struggle to get them to do as well).

It's not perfect. webOS' lack of contrast in the UI still flabbergasts me. More practically, it's sluggish at times, especially on the anemic Palm Pix processor, and it can take far too long for built-in apps like the calendar to launch. It also presents problems for developers who want to hide their source code, although Palm now has a solution that doesn't involve limiting apps to onboard RAM (something Android and BlackBerry still suffer from). Full GPU support might (though I think likely not) improve that, but hardware is always getting faster and bandwidth is (hopefully) getting bigger. Palm will benefit from both. In a year or two, it will be buttery smooth and still enjoy the flexibility and future-proofing that is webOS' promise.

Synergy Contacts, Multitasking Cards, and Non-Modal Notifications

Three areas where webOS absolutely kills are their Synergy contact system, their Cards visualization for multitasking, and their non-modal notification system.

Synergy, as far as I can figure out, takes all of your online data points, sucks them in while maintaining them as separate silos, then aggregates them, filters out duplications, and presents you a unified view of the data. So, for example, you have Facebook friends, Gmail contacts, a couple of Exchange accounts, and an old Yahoo! setup. Synergy will take all that, figure out that 700 of them are the same, create a unified contact that has all the information for each of those 700 (while leaving each untouched on their own service), and present you a single contact list containing those 700 as well as all the other (unique to Yahoo! or Gmail, etc.) contacts. I can't explain it as elegantly as it works most of the time (on occasion it won't match and you'll have to do some work to help it), but it's the future of contact management as far as I'm concerned -- with a few caveats.

If I don't want Google's terrible, promiscuous email retention polluting my phone contacts (or Facebook messing up my Exchange) that needs to be easily managed (it might be on webOS, I didn't get into it but hope it is). Also, an easy way to export the final, Synergy-zed contact list for backup -- or replacement of other online contact data bases! -- would be nifty. That webOS' approach allows them to elegantly handle multiple Exchange accounts is testament enough.

Cards for multitasking is likewise the future. If you've used Pages on the iPhone Safari -- where you can keep several web sites available at the same time and easily zoom out, see all the pages, swipe across to change them, and then zoom back in -- then imagine that but taken to the ultimate, logical, extreme. That's webOS Cards. Instead of just web pages, every app including web pages gets its own Card and you can zoom out to see them all, swipe to change between them, and tap to zoom back in. Yes, that means webOS supports multitasking for 3rd party apps, something only Apple apps are allowed to do on the iPhone.

It works well on the Palm Pre. It works mind-bogglingly well on the Palm Pre Plus (Dieter had 50 apps up all at once). It works so well, in fact, it kind of makes me sad I can't drag and drop elements from one Card to another. Why give me that fantastic visualization, why make a windowed multitasking interface for a small screen, if the biggest advantage of doing it -- drag and drop -- isn't implemented. Unless, of course, that's the "next step". I'll keep my eyes peeled for webOS 2.0...

Notifications, in terms of webOS, means once again I have to complain about the iPhone's current, modal implementation. Modal, if you're not familiar with the term, means that once the notification pops up, you have to either "dismiss" (and lose it forever) or "view" (and interrupt whatever you're doing) immediately. There is no later. And if another notification comes in, it obliterates the previous one entirely. With webOS, like Android, you're told about a new notification but you're free to ignore it and the system will just keep track of them for you until you choose to take a look at them. That difference means everything, especially when you start getting a ton of notifications coming in.

Conclusion

It's not all rosy for Palm, webOS, the Palm Pre, Palm Pixi, and their mobile strategy going forward. Sprint exclusivity might have guaranteed Palm some money but it doesn't seem to have given them the sales they needed. They're hitting Verizon now, and AT&T soon, but if they'd gone on Verizon sooner (before the Droid) they could have had a much bigger impact. Unlike Apple, Google, or Microsoft, they don't have billions in the bank or other businesses to prop them up. Unlike RIM or Nokia, they don't have entrenched business or international market share to ride. It's going to be an uphill battle for Palm. That they've accomplished and innovated so much in just a year is an outstanding accomplishment, however, and means I'll be cheering as they battle up that hill.

For iPhone users, switching to webOS means you gain a physical keyboard and those nifty Synergy, Cards, and notifications. You'll also gain a more "open" system as Palm has treated hacking webOS in a way Apple almost certainly won't for the foreseeable future. We didn't really get into the whole homebrew (think jailbreak apps) and patching culture of webOS, or Palm's efforts to reach out and embrace developers, but kudos to them for doing it. If that's something that's important to you, and Android/Google is a non-starter, it's certainly another plus in Palm's column.

As I write this, however, Apple might just be on the verge of announcing iPhone 4.0, and that just might "invent" multitasking for iPhone users. Better contact and notifications might be on tap as well. Hey, maybe even an iPhone on Verizon. The soonest we'll know is this Wednesday's "Come see our latest creation" event, otherwise Apple usually shows off new software in March and new hardware at WWDC in June.

I'm not saying wait and see before you leap to webOS or another platform. I'm just saying... wait and see.

The biggest thing about this year's Round Robin is that every device-maker brought the competition. Apple is still ahead in some areas, but they've been overtaken in some others. Apple having to catch up... that's good for iPhone users, and it's good for everyone.

Things are exciting again!

[gallery link="file" columns="2"]

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Palm Pre, Palm Pix, webOS Review from an iPhone Perspective -- Smartphone Round Robin

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That Palm C40 for sprint better have excellent hardware. i use a sprint pre along with my 3gs and webos is a excellent os just needs that hardware, hopefully that palm c40 will bring webos 1.5 and the hardware.

If Apple doesn't bring the iPhone to Verizon, it's the Palm Pre Plus for me.
Love my 3GS but hating AT&T more each day.

I enjoy the round robins as well. I like to see the different perspectives. Any Pre fanboy can give a positive review of the phone.
If it wasn't for the small screen and small keyboard, I'd actually entertain the thought of owning a Pre. But until those things change, I'll be an iPhone owner for many years to come.

I understand your point CJ and is cool but lol like next year can they call it something else? Something about Round Robin reminds me of Reddddd Robin lol

I want to see webos on an iPhone form factor. I do prefer a virtual keyboard (but this depends on great auto-correct, in which the pre only has barebones functionality). Glass screen is a must.

Great review Rene. I just wish Apple would 'borrow' some ideas from Palm, especially when it comes to notifications.

Sharp edges? There are no sharp edges on the Pre. That nonsense was started by an iphone fan boy at gizmodo. Typing on it isn't bad all and it fits in one's hands and pocket better than the big brick form factor of the Droid and iphone.

This review is very slanted and written by someone who feels threatened by a competing product and needs to reinforce the morale of the troops that their toy is still the best.
The reviewer writes about the lack of contrasts in webOS. What the hell does that mean. What is she raving about? What contrast? A lot of the comments are cheap shots and not objective. Will have to write a longer rebuttal with a check list of all that's wrong with this article written in bad faith.

Because this article was too long and mostly useless, my criticisms are focused on very specific points as most of it was padded writing.
1The hardware problems with the first Pres has totally disappeared in all devices form August and onward. Disinformation #1
2-I have a screen protector on and it works quite well with the multitouch. It's not true that the phone is insensitive with a screen protector.
3-The attack on physical keyboard is silly. Some people like them, some don't. Having a physical keyboard does not mean a phone is ancient like is suggested above.
4-The end of the article is about vapourware about the alleged new iPhone and a weird way to end a review.

The physical keyboard is not dead, and not just because us old farts just can't get with the program.
The keyboard is very much intrinsically linked to universal search. Universal search on webOS (while not nearly as "universal" as iPhone's OS 3.0 search engine) is a global thing. From card view (swipe up once), you just start typing with the keyboard and it immediately searches app names, and contacts. If none of those match your query, it gives you a choice to which search engine you'd like to send the search terms.
In addition, the physical keyboard isn't just for us to type, it is a direct interface to the machine. Just the other day a Pre user I support brought his Pre to me in some weird, locked-up state. I did the Alt-Sym-R reboot and all was fine. That kind of direct-to-the-hardware connection simply cannot be duplicated with a software keyboard. (Yes, I realize there is a hold-switch combo for that--I can't tell you how many times I've had to look it up.)
Also, the physical keyboard plus the screen plus the gesture area gives us TONS of flexibility, with Gesture + keyboard presses, multi-key presses, gesture+taps and key-presses that modify gestures.
You want super speed dial? Set any of the 26 letters as a shortcut key and from card view, press and hold that key for 2 seconds to dial that number.
I'm just sayin', there's more to physical keyboards than just typing.

I just bought a Touch to have the PDA functions without being stuck with AT&T. The absence of a Back button (which the Pre's have) is damn annoying. Also, with the Touch I find I have to struggle to re-type things (like passwords and URLs) over and over. I'm hoping the Pre's solve my many irritations with the Touch.

Oh, and can someone explain the Wi-Fi aspect of the Pre's? I understand that it can send out a signal to several users, but can it get a signal out of the air, wherever I am? With the Touch, I have to be at a hot-spot. Does the also?

@Harry Binswanger: You are referring to 3G, not wifi. If you have a data plan, you only have to get the signal (Sprint or Verizon) on your phone to be able to access the internet. Then with Verizon there's a hotspot application which allows you to link up to 5 devices to your phone. The pre would then act as a modem, connecting to the internet via 3G. Anyways, you can also get the hotspot application on the original pre, although it involves some hacking. Also the European GSM pre, has bluetooth tethering enabled (the same as the hotspot, but limited to one device and via bluetooth, obviously). If you need more detailed info, go straight to www.precentral.net. The guys will do their best to help you.

@Harry Binswanger, to clarify what @Jethrotull said: Yes, the Pre can use Wi-Fi hotspots at home, work, school, coffee shops, etc. No, you don't NEED to be at a hotspot because it connects (as Jethrotull said) to your cell provider's 3G network.
The Pre and Pre/Pixi Plus prefer to connect to known Wi-Fi networks (rather than EVDO) for several reasons: lower power consumption on Wi-Fi, ability to do both data and voice simultaneously, and a presumed speed boost via Wi-Fi. iPhones do the same thing although being GSM, they already could do voice and data simultaneously.

With pre tether you can be the hot spot. I do not know how many connections it supports. A limit exist for sure. Oh and it only cost like $15 for the app no monthly fee. Why someone would pay Verizon for the tethering I do not know. I have sprint but no the less the tethering works fine. I don't need no stinking hot spot I am the hot spot. Better have a charger with you though because you can see the battery drain when you use it.

Went from the iPhone to the Palm Pixi. Wish I would have done it months ago. Everything I need or want in a smaller package. Hate the name. call it the Palm Jr.

Thought I'd toss in a few thoughts about this article, even though it's a half-a-year old...

Well, it isn’t great. ... The execution ... especially on the early units, was really unfortunate given how much else Palm got right.
It’s not all rosy for Palm, webOS, the Palm Pre, Palm Pixi, and their mobile strategy going forward.

Well, you gotta admit that it's not bad for something that was barely a year old (at the time the article was written). The iPhone 1 wasn't ANYTHING like you guys compared the Pre against, and certainly not as "rosy" as the iPhone 3GS was in January (hopefully you didn't forget the fact that it took about a year or two for the iPhone to get copy-and-pasting and video recording, right?)
I dare you to write an article comparing either the Pre to the iPhone 1, or the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 1, and see if ANYONE gets their execution perfect in their first year.

He wanted the keyboard so much, as mentioned, he sacrificed screen real-estate on the Palm Pixi for it. I find that absurd.

I think you got it the other way around. The iPhone sacrificed screen real-estate to stick the virtual keyboard in it, not the Pre. I mean, look at this:
http://www.nick15.com/images3/youve.gotta.be.kidding.me.large.jpg
At least with the Pre, I can type AND have ALL 480x320 pixels to myself. Typing on the iPhone means losing at least half of the screen in order to get some text in. Sure, it's not all the time you see the keyboard hogging up the screen on the iPhone, but at least with the Pre I can keep all 480x320 pixels 100% of the time.

some people have been so raised on physical keyboards, even on tiny little devices, that they wouldn’t transition to virtual even if, from an overall usability standpoint, they could or should.
Smartphones are evolving beyond priority messaging devices to priority (data/media/etc.) consumption devices and hardware keyboards are legacy, bolted-on technology comforting for the former but waiting to be obsoleted when technology allows virtual keyboards to better serve the latter (and we’re part of the way there with the iPhone).

"Should"?
I don't quite understand where you've come to the conclusion that virtual keyboards is the end-all, is-all way of keyboards, and that it's only a matter of time before anyone "left" using physical keyboards makes the "transition" over. Virtual keyboards have their place and their reasons to exist, but there's a reason why physical buttons and keyboards still exist on devices; I mean, why isn't the Home button, volume keys and the vibrate switch on the iPhone all on the touchscreen as well? (Not to mention other devices with touch screens like the upcoming Nintendo 3DS and those Logitech super remotes...)
You even said it yourself:
"I won’t be writing novel-length compositions on a BlackBerry"
You recognize that people COULD write novel-length compositions on their devices, even if YOU don't. THAT'S what physical keys are for, that's why they exist even on an iPhone; virtual keys can't fulfill 100% of a user's needs, 100% of the time... even the iPhone needs physical keys. (And don't start saying "well the iPhone's physical keys are totally different than a physical keyboard"... ok, how is it different then?)

As I said, until this review, I would have whole-heartedly exclaimed “the era of physical keyboards is over”.

No, but you instead said "the era of physical keyboards won't die because there are too many old farts who won't yield to the future!"
Physical keyboards aren't "the past", virtual keyboards aren't "the future"... they're "an alternative" from one-another. It's like saying that "Pepsi is the future over Coca-Cola, that EVERYONE will make the switch to Pepsi sooner or later, because Pepsi is geared more towards younger drinkers". People aren't "holding onto" physical keyboards anymore than someone is "holding onto" their Mac or Windows computer; I prefer physical keys over virtual ones because I prefer the advantages of what physical keys bring over virtual keys--specifically muscle-memory. There is nothing "outdated" about that, unless you consider "typing words with a higher rate of efficiency AND without having to resort to the auto-correct" as "outdated".

One day haptics may be sufficiently advanced enough that mighty-morphin’, there-and-gone-again virtual-that-feel-like-physical keyboards are enough for everybody.

The only times I'll make the switch to virtual keyboards is if somehow the touch screen can physically bulge out at specific points that replicate the actual feel of physical buttons, only to disappear when you don't need it. If that's what you meant here, then I totally agree with you there.

I’m so happy with the iPhone keyboard that I’ll never go back to a physical one.

Well, good, I'm glad you do. But don't assume that just because YOU like it, the rest of us SHOULD as well, and if we don't, we're actually lagging behind in the digital dust... or that we're just a bunch of fundamentalists who want to keep holding onto the "past". There's room enough for both to co-exist, and it also doesn't mean that one will eventually replace the other either. I mean, why does the future have to be so narrow minded that only one type can exist?
One last thing:

Not having to engage forearm muscles to depress tiny keys and hold the rest of the phone stable while I do so is a huge advantage in my book.

...you have problems keeping a phone stable? I mean, you HAVE to engage your forearm muscles to hold a phone stable while you type?? (@_@) I can understand if the phone is like, 40 pounds. But for something that's barely 10 ounces, the only muscle that should be engaged while typing is your brain.

Oops! Edit:

He wanted the keyboard so much, as mentioned, he sacrificed screen real-estate on the Palm Pixi for it. I find that absurd.

I think you got it the other way around. The iPhone sacrificed screen real-estate to stick the virtual keyboard in it, not the Pre.

I thought you wrote "Pre" instead of "Pixi". In that case, if you mean Ruby sacrificed screen real-estate on the Pixi relative to the Pre, I see what you mean.
...But then again, they didn't sacrifice any real-estate on the Pre to get the keyboard in there. And even the older, smaller-screen'd Treo series and the Centro--with its 320x320 screens--still had more screen than what is left on an iPhone when you get the keyboard up.
And then someone else also mentioned that you can do a lot more with the keyboard than type... with the iPhone, its keyboard is used ONLY for typing. The keyboard on WebOS phones--and even on the Treos and Centro as well--double as any other kind of control. The most common non-typing use for the Palm keyboard is a shortcut to programs or phone numbers: if you hold down, say, the H-key for two seconds, you can call your friend. Hold down the D-key and you load up your email. Easy and quick!

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