Palm Pre Vs iPhone 3G S: Feature by Feature Comparison

We tagged the Palm Pre as a hot-ticket item before its launch, and so it was, even with many a rumor about the new iPhone. But now that iPhone 3G S has rocketed off Apple's design launchpad, does Palm's effort stand a chance of competing? We updated our original feature-by-feature comparison to see if it does.

Palm Pre Vs iPhone 3G S


This wasn't in the original post, but it's crucial. The Palm Pre costs $200, after a $100 rebate. That's on contract, and it's for the phone with 8GB of built-in, non-expandable storage. The new iPhone 3G S comes in two models, both with non-expandable storage: a 16GB model at $200 and a 32GB model at $300. In terms of memory, which is pretty vital for a media-friendly smartphone, you get twice the bang for your buck with Apple. Then there's the fact that Apple's leaving the old 8GB iPhone 3G on sale for $99. On price, Apple wins hands down. 

Battery Life

One feature that used to count against Apple was the iPhone's non-removable battery that had pretty weak performance, with just five hours of talk on 3G networks. Palm's Pre has a removable unit, which appeals to many, and makes its five hour talk-time more tolerable. The iPhone 3G S still has five hours of 3G talking, but an extra two hours of 2G talk time, and six additional hours of iPod use, and three more for Wi-fi and video-watching than the 3G version. It's a vast improvement for Apple. Looks like a draw on this battlefront.


Palm was touting the universal search functions of the Pre as an iPhone-beating feature. The iPhone, when running 2.0 firmware, has no such feature. But Apple is implementing it in the 3.0 firmware, and it's demonstrated on the new 3G S on Apple's iPhone site. Both systems seem powerful, and both let you search everywhere in the phone—even among email messages. While that sounds excellent, in the Pre, Jason Chen from Gizmodo discovered that when you're trying to search for a contact using the Pre's Universal Search—the only way to do it—all of the other returns just get in the way. It's probably a draw between the two devices.


Before its launch, Pre's navigation options were considered a bonus: it offers full turn-by-turn instructions, via third-party provider Telenav. During the 3G S's launch, Apple revealed its turn-by-turn features that are coming in the new firmware—including a dedicated iPhone dashboard mount for the phone. And the 3G S has a built-in digital compass, which integrates with an improved Google maps app that now rotates to match the way you're facing. That's a fabulous trick for on-foot navigation, and means Apple wins this one. Update: Some of you are noting the Pre's Telenav navigation is free, but one must pay lots for the iPhone's. It's more complicated than that: The cost of Pre GPS is included in some Sprint data plans. TomTom are working on the iPhone's GPS—but it's hard to imagine it will cost much, as TomTom no longer have to sell you a mini touchscreen computer. With Navigon announcing they'll be making an iPhone app too, then competition should drive the prices down. And those apps will be likely global—the Pre's is tied to Sprint, and thus the U.S.


The Palm Pre's 3-megapixel unit with LED flash was always going to beat the iPhone 3G's paltry 2-megapixel one with no flash. The iPhone 3G S, however, has a 3-megapixel system, with autofocus, auto-macro and improved low-light performance, which should make up for its lack of a physical flash. 

But in terms of video recording, Apple beats the Pre hands-down. At launch, there's no video recording feature on the Pre. Palm is working on it, and it's likely to appear during a firmware update at some point...but currently, the 3G S has it and the Pre doesn't. And on the iPhone you can even do some basic video editing—something no one's mentioned for the Pre at all. There's also some confusion as to whether video will also come to the old 3G iPhone when Apple releases the new firmware, but we'll have to wait until next week to find out for sure.

Calendar Syncing

This was a winner for the Pre, with webOS's Synergy system lining-up Outlook, Google and Facebook systems, and with the old iPhone Calendar being extremely limited—you couldn't even send meeting requests. During the 3G S launch Apple mentioned the improvements to calendar, which brings Exchange support for proper business integration, and the CalDAV format for compatibility with Google, Yahoo and more. The company also said you could now make meeting requests with the new app. Looks like it's a draw for Calendars. Update: Some of you are noting that Apple's MobileMe costs $99 per year, so the iPhone's Calendar feature isn't as good as the Pre's. It remains to be seen, though. With CalDAV functions built-in, then the iPhone's calendar can probably sync with third-party services, even without a MobileMe account.

Stereo Bluetooth

The Pre had it, but the old iPhone didn't. With the new Apple firmware though, both the 3G and 3G S phones will get stereo Bluetooth. The 3G S even has Bluetooth v2.1, versus 2.0 on the older phone. It's a tie between the devices.

Background Apps

Palm was saying the Pre's background app functionality beat the iPhone hands-down, and when it was released, reviewers agreed it was one of the best features of the phone—as long as you were careful not to open too many at once. Apple says background apps eat too much processor time and battery life, but the iPhone 3G S has better power-management and a significantly faster processor—meaning background apps should be possible. During the keynote, Phil Schiller brushed over the Push Notifications feature Apple is launching as a competitor to background apps with barely a mention. Can we assume Apple's working on background apps for iPhone firmware 3.1? Until then, Palm wins this one.

Copy/Paste, MMS

These were features the old iPhone lacked, but the Pre had. With new firmware the 3G iPhone and 3G S will get both capabilities, pretty much matching the Pre blow for blow.  

Voice control

This is a newbie—long rumored for the iPhone, and not present natively in the Pre. Apple revealed how the 3G S iPhone has advanced speech synthesis and recognition skills that go beyond mere voice-dialing. Being able to tell your iPhone "play more songs like this" to activate the Genius iPod feature means Apple trounces Palm's offering on this front. 

Find my Phone/Remote Wipe 

This was another surprise revealed during the 3G S's launch. As part of MobileMe, iPhone users will be able to send a message to their phone if it's lost, asking the finder to call a number. If the phone proves truly lost, then there's the option of performing an instantaneous remote wipe, protecting your data. It's also reversible, if you should even get your phone back. Palm, lacking the iPhone's MobileMe and Safari ecosystems, lacks this function totally. Update: Apparently the Pre does have a remote wipe feature, though it's not been too widely publicized. This will even things up a bit.

Accessory Interaction

To be honest, we're not clear how complex an interaction the Pre's dock connector allows with Pre accessories. But Apple revealed how the 3.0 firmware will allow extraordinarily sophisticated interaction with external devices—down to guitar amps, science experiments and medical feedback for doctors. It's definitely a winning feature for Apple.

iPhone 3G S prices And there you have it. Summing this up to decide a winner is tough—it's a complex call to make, with pluses and minuses on both sides, and the iPhone 3G S is simply an evolution of the iPhone 3G, and both get new firmware soon. But there are two key deciders: Price and launch date. The $99 3G iPhone, effective immediately, is going to smack Pre sales very hard. And the June 19 launch for the iPhone 3G S must have had Palm execs and many a new Pre owner's jaws dropping—it gives the Pre just 13 days in the spotlight. Apple wins.

Imagery via Gizmodo.

Related: iPhone 3G S: Separating Truth From Fiction
Palm Pre vs iPhone 3.0: A Feature-by-Feature Comparison
Palm Pre Challenges iPhone to a Duel On June 6—Who Will Win?

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  • Jon Herrmann

    My math on ATT versus Sprint is that, for two phones for me and my wife, we are going to save $50/month by using Sprint. I've been with Sprint and Palm for years and would be ready to go with iPhone, but I'm not ready for ATT.

  • Edric Torres

    Wow, how biased is this site? Enough to make me never come back! This is terrible! I am not an Iphone fan or a palm fan and I can tell that in terms of state of the art technology the Pre wins hands down, given the fact that the author of this article is a total brainless apple head totally discredits this entire article and the author. Man I actually thought I would get an un-biased read on this disaster of a site. If you cant acknowledge the truth of superiority of the pre's multitasking and innovation in terms of synergy I cant subscribe to this site, I need true un-biased advice not this...... where do I unsubscribe?

  • O Jean

    This has to be one of the most bias reviews I have read....Kit, Come on! At least attempt to give the allusion that you are being objective.

  • Michael Havard

    Price -
    Pre: Hardware $200, 2 year service contract $2600
    iPhone: Hardware $99 ($199, $299), 2 year service contract $3400
    Winner: Pre

    Battery Life:
    Pre: 5 hours talk time. Defect in POP implementation currently shortening battery life. GMail not affected. Options: User replaceable battery, spare battery, Touchstone cordless inductive charger.
    iPhone: 5 hours talk time. Options: None, Battery not user replaceable, no spares, no inductive charger (yet).
    Winner: Pre

    Pre: Universal search. Searches contacts, apps and optionally Google, Twitter, Google Maps, and Wikipedia. Search items found are grouped according to data type. Many applications also expose their own context aware search so that you can find items in that application (help, memo, task) sadly e-mail and calendar doesn't seem to be searchable yet(???)
    iPhone: Spotlight Search. Search through all items on the phone or optional do a web search. Items are identified by the icon of the application. Applications invoke their own context aware search.
    Winner: iPhone

    Pre: Bundled Sprint/Telenav turn by turn directions. Portrait mode only.
    iPhone: Paid Apps $25-50 + additional map cost (when traveling + yearly updates)
    Winner: Draw - Telenav is great so far and the cost integrated into the plan is great. However, the flexibility of services like TomTom is equally attractive.

    Pre: 3.2 megapixel with DxO lighting - no video or editing capability yet.
    iPhone: 3.0 megapixel with autofocus, video, and editing capability.
    Winner: iPhone

    Pre: Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Outlook/Exchange synchronization
    iPhone: MobileMe $99 a year, CalDAV support built in but no details on interoperability at this time.
    Winner: Pre

    Stereo Bluetooth:
    Pre: Yes
    iPhone: Yes
    Winner: Draw

    Background Apps (multitasking)
    Pre: Any up to a point (too many cards open will cause a warning)
    iPhone: Music player only.
    Winner: Pre

    Pre: Yes
    iPhone: Yes
    Winner: Draw

    Voice Control
    Pre: none yet
    iPhone: Yes
    Winner: iPhone

    Phone Finder/Remote Wipe/Backup
    Pre: Yes
    iPhone: Yes
    Winner: Draw

    Pre: Few yet. Standard car, wall, and USB chargers. Uses USB Micro standard. Bluetooth headphones/headsets.
    iPhone: Robust. Leverages several years worth of existing proprietary iPod/iPhone connection accessories including specialty accessories for musicians, doctors, and other professionals.
    Winner: iPhone

    Accessibility (not originally mentioned)
    Pre: can be operated one handed. Physical keyboard. Decent font size for those with minor vision impairment (e.g. over 40). No audio cues, font-size and contrast are not adjustable. Keyboard keys on the small side.
    iPhone: more difficult to operate one handed. Virtual keyboard. Decent font size and font-size can be adjusted as well as contrast in some applications. New text-to-speech engine for 3.0.
    Winner: iPhone

    Pre: 1.0 product from company struggling in industry. Make or break product. Plan provider not known for good customer service.
    iPhone: 3rd generation product from company known for good customer service and attention to quality.
    Winner: iPhone

  • Audrey Peters

    I agree that the review is biased towards an iPhone. I am a Mac user and would have loved to stick with Apple products, but at $150 a month on AT&T and a battery that cannot be changed (unless you are willing to be without your phone for 2 days and at a cost of $100), the Pre wins hands down. I've read how iPhones run out of juice after 1 year of use because of severe battery degradation. And why should we have to pay $50 extra a mont for an unlimited package from AT&T. And yes I am an AT&T customer and Palm Treo user. I'll be switching to Pre and Sprint. Given time, the Pre will have a lot more apps being HTML/standard development language. By the way, having a flash far outweighs low lighting capability. That comparison alone shows how the reviewer was looking to make the iPhone better.

  • Ralph Hall

    Kit, thanks for the information. Very nice. You do sound completely biased, and you seem to be in denial. For example:

    "To be honest, we're not clear how complex an interaction the Pre's dock connector allows with Pre accessories. But Apple revealed how the 3.0 firmware will allow extraordinarily sophisticated interaction with external devices..."

    Even if you are right about Apple's "extraordinary-ness" in this issue, sounds like you didn't really look at that aspect of the PRE. I'm not in the immediate market for either, but you write with a clear bias. You might consider it for future articles - sound as bright in your praise of the PRE's strengths as you do for Apple's, and as sad/dark about the problems for both as well. In this one you simply sound a bit drooly about the iPhone and a bit apathetic toward the PRE. The more you can do to remove the tone of bias, the more your readers can focus on the content.

    They both sound like pretty amazing tools/toys. It amazes me what we, as a society - whichever continent you are on - are willing to pay each year for connectedness. If we look at the annual expense of these two phones, it's really remarkable. The tools is nice, but the opportunity cost is not insignificant.

  • Scott Jackson

    A friend forwarded me this link and it was my first time reading your column. After this joke of a comparison, I most certainly won’t come back again. This was the most hackneyed piece of “journalism” I’ve seen in awhile. I could dissect this to no end, but it’s not worth my time. In short, you are comparing a real existing phone to a phone and features that currently exist only on paper. Your mish-mash of facts, speculation, selling points from both the 3G and 3G S when convenient, and complete lack of understanding of ANYTHING on the Pre makes this worthless to anyone, Apple Fanboys included. If you want to see how a real tech review is written, please visit Engadget. Here, I’ve included a link that you can copy and paste into your new JesusPhone when they finally add that feature to it in a few weeks...

  • T L

    To the poster above: People who sleep on sidewalks for a phone do not have real jobs.

    As you alluded to, the Pre, not the iPhone, is the only phone between the two sufficient for true business use. The fact that people sleep on sidewalks to get an iPhone should tell you something about their demographic. It does games, music, and video very well, but can barely be called a smartphone in my opinion since it's basic PIM functions have major limitations.

    Anyone that does not find the inability multitask on a phone (iPhone) to be a near deal-breaker does not truly understand what a smartphone business user is all about.

  • Philip Bolay

    Little intro first: I am an ex user of Palm, I have Verizon so Palm centro was too small for me but Palm is the most professional device and has a past successful background among business and stock traders as they were the first ones to have a dedicated network, to start with, in New York. I agree on the fact that this article is biased and I would add: poorly composed... my apology to the freelance writer.. we need to see a real detailed matrix chart to see all features compared so no personal opinion could be shown, only real facts such as when you look at a comparison chart between two look where the "X" are!.. They didn't even talk about Palm's retractable keyboard... and so many other options and especially the detailed contextual menus from Palm wherever task you are performing, I would almost affirm that the writer is biased with a preference toward the I-Phone (no offense):-).. Keep in mind that Palm is certainly the must choice for business executives professionals! Myself as into business development and strategic planning field I need a perfect sync with management softwares such as outlook and be able to have instant chat possibilitiess and email lookups even with 5 accounts for example. Palm does it all. Maybe I-Phone would be a choice for those into the art and media? The comment I make here is based on the philosophy of Apple computers and the perception I have from media and friends I know using Apple as they are into graphics, design etc..
    My advice is take your time, don't rush, observe! Myself as a Verizon member, I have a Blackberry Storm, I desired Palm but that was the only choice and as everyone knows they had childhood sickness but now I would like to mention that I am impressed since their Firmware update! I have 4 emails accounts, outlook sync, several chat apps for my business and all functions perfectly at the same time!
    Cheers, have a wonderful day,

    PS: my apology for the chat style in this email

  • Berge Koulajian

    I think that eventually Pre might hang from corporate waists and iphone more consumer. Palm's legacy has always been more for business than anywhere else. I think that in the end even though BB storm is very different I have a feeling Pre will end up partially in the same vertical. the keyboard might accelerate that. we will have to see, but knowing very little about smart phones i think if Palm wanted to suck the blood out of the iphone then it should have taken a few steps further with regards to esthetics and other areas, to me it looks like a phone that could be 8 years old. good luck to both, do you see people sleeping on sidewalks for this one? i haven't at least nothing like to the iphone craze.....

  • T L

    This was hands down the worst comparison between these 2 phones I have seen yet. It would be one thing if your clear bias towards the iPhone were the only issue. As other readers have pointed out, it is very obvious that you lack a complete understanding of the Pre, its hardware, features, and main selling points. To show my lack of bias, I am pointing out things you got wrong, that even favor the Pre. Here are a few.

    "Both systems seem powerful, and both let you search everywhere in the phone--even among email messages." Wrong. The Pre's universal search function only searches contacts and applications on the phone. It does NOT search email. How did you miss this? Every single review of the Pre so far has pointed out this shortcoming.

    "But in terms of video recording, Apple beats the Pre hands-down. At launch, there's no video recording feature on the Pre. Palm is working on it, and it's likely to appear during a firmware update at some point...but currently, the 3G S has it and the Pre doesn't."

    "Currently" the 3G S has it?? What currently are you talking about when the phone is not even available yet. If you are going to tout the features of a future device, you should at least allude to the possibility that video recording could be available on the Pre through a firmware update even before the 3G S is available, no?

    I will not repeat what previous posters have already said -- you easily dismiss the flaws of the iphone (NO BACKGROUND APPS??) while playing down or in some cases not even mentioning the biggest selling points of the Pre (physical keyboard, hello?) (how about notifications and multitasking).

    I think your lack of familiarity with the Pre and your clear bias for the iPhone makes for a typical consumer-who-knows-nothing kind of review. This should suit most people fine, but for those of us who are in the know, this review was useless.

  • Hannah Steiman

    I don't think it's fair to say Apple wins based on price. You're comparing the *iPhone 3G S* with the Pre. But the lower price is only available on the 3G. If price is a major factor here, then you should compare the features of the 3G with the features of the Pre--in which case, there's a good argument to be made that Palm wins. Also, I think Robert Hitt makes a good point about the total cost, including monthly subscription prices.

  • Robert Hitt

    The Pre and iPhone 3gs review needs to compare the total cost of the device including the monthly subscription rate. In a two year contract, the hardware price is minimal.

  • Peter Coopersmith

    Wow... This is more then just biased, it shows a complete lack of understanding of the Pre and the thinking that goes behind it. This may come as a shock, but there are a lot of people who do not care how "cool" the iphone looks. There are those of us who need our phone to perform. KEYBOARD: everyone else has mentioned it here, but let me just say it again. There are those of us who actually need to write things in email and such. Iphones may work for teenagers, but for people who have jobs, you need a keyboard. SEARCH: You clearly have not used the Pre. If you are looking for a contact it could not be simpler! Let's say you are searching for John Smith. You type JS on your keyboard...presto...there is contact information--lets see the iphone do that?! EMAIL CLIENT: The Pre is designed for heavy duty email users. It is impossible to clearly explain how clean the emails look, but if you are someone who has many email accounts, the Pre both organizes and presents in a very usable manner...something you seemed to also completely miss. How about if we agree that the IPhone is the better phone for those who want to look hip and listen to music and the Pre is the better phone for those who are out in the real world needing to get things done?

  • Sharon W

    I hate to say this, too, but your comparison is biased. It appears you're not really as familiar with the Pre as the iPhone. Firstly, if you're going to ASSUME that Apple will add background apps, then you ought to ASSUME that Palm will add video recording and anything else that can be done with software updates. Until then, the Pre wins multi-taskingalong with notifications hands down. Additionally, you gloss over the navigation costing extra money with yet another assumption of "yeah, there's an app for that...coming," which you think will cost next to nothing. Do you really think TomTom is going to gut itself by offering its $300 navigation system for pennies?

    Secondly, you neglect to mention that having MobileMe to do remote wipes and access to Exchange costs U.S. consumers an additional $99/year. The Pre does this all for free along with backing-up all your info in the cloud.

    Lastly, HOW ABOUT A PHYSICAL KEYBOARD? Aren't you aware of how many people can't stand or get used to the onscreen keyboard of the iPhone?

    BTW, Adobe flash will be coming to the Pre. How about the iPhone?

    Seriously, I think you need another update. Your old OS is underperforming the competition in the media that nails these features correctly.

  • Jon Loucks

    Feature by Feature. The omission of the physical qwerty pull out keyboard feature speaks volumes for the bias of this article.

  • Jon Loucks

    Feature by Feature. The omission of the physical qwerty pull out keyboard feature speaks volumes for the bias of this article.

  • Dan Kaskubar

    C'mon, Kit, this article is way below par for Fast Company. Clearly biased towards iPhone, as other users point out, and not just because the verdict is for the iPhone. Talking about "70 other countries" is just silly in this context - the 3G S is clearly a US market play directly against the Palm Pre; that's the whole premise of your article in the first place!

  • Hillmer Reyes

    Agree with Travis Price. The article is biased toward the iPhone, maybe more so due to lack of information about future Pre capabilities, but still.