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. Price

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.


About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)


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