I got to use a Pre for a while, and my overall impression is that it’s… interesting.
It’s interesting because it’s one of only two platforms — the other being Android — that are even close to modern and advanced enough to compete with the iPhone. (By “modern”, I mean following modern standards for quality, usability, and features, not that they’re simply new. Windows Mobile or BlackBerry could be modern if they improved a lot of things that they’re, unfortunately, extremely unlikely to improve.)
And, having used a G1 and a Pre for about an equal (though very short) amount of time each, the Pre is clearly more advanced and I expect it to have a stronger ecosystem around it shortly.
But compared to an iPhone, I don’t think it holds up strongly yet, and I’m not sure if it ever will.
The Pre is very clearly a version-one release. There are a lot of rough edges — and not just the physical one that cuts cheese (although it is as sharp as Jason Chen says). The software has a lot of good concepts but a lot of missing or poorly implemented functionality. I also found a lot of it to be, simply, ugly.
Many actions are unintuitive and need the manual (or an expert) for explanation. This will be a problem with every touch device, actually, since many of our usual explanatory interface practices (labeled physical buttons, right-clicking, tooltips on hover) don’t work in this new environment.
Performance was also a major issue for me. A lot of animations were jerky, and a lot of actions needed a while to execute but didn’t give any sort of visual feedback that they were working or that I had initiated an action at all.
I also believe, like Gruber, that a physical keyboard without auto-correction is overrated — having been accustomed to the iPhone’s keyboard, I had a very hard time typing accurately on the Pre’s. I think mobile keyboards can be just as useful and you can be just as productive on them whether they’re virtual or physical, and it’s only about which one you’re accustomed to, and neither will ever be as good as a full-sized keyboard.
I was disappointed overall with the Pre. It’s not that it’s a bad phone, but Apple has raised the bar so much that it looks worse by comparison. It would have been a groundbreaking release in early 2007, but we have higher standards now.
I don’t think Apple has anything to worry about from this, and I’d even go as far as to say that my Verizon theory is much less likely now that I’ve actually seen how much of a threat the Pre isn’t.