If you read my in-depth review of the Palm Pre Plus back in February, you know that I love Palm’s WebOS operating system. The phone itself, hardware wise, is fine but nothing incredible . . . but the usability and flexibility of the OS more than makes up for it. I find it far easier to use than the Android-based competition, and it’s both easier and more powerful than Apple’s iPhone OS (now re-christened iOS). Imagine an iPhone without the idiotic limitations and restrictions (and on a better network), and you have Palm’s WebOS. Imagine Android’s openness and flexibility but arranged in a way that you can actually use it, and you have Palm’s WebOS.
However, WebOS does have its limitations and its little usability annoyances. This is where apps and patches come in. With the addition of a handful of excellent apps from the official Palm App Catalog and some patches from the unofficial PreWare universe, your Palm phone can be even more awesome than it was from the factory. Here are the key apps and patches I’m using on my Pre Plus. Most of them will work on any of the other Palm phones too, like the original Pre and the Pixi/Pixi Plus.
These are my favorite apps available from the official Palm App Catalog. Every Palm phone comes with the App Catalog built in and these apps are only a few taps away on any Palm phone. In fact, you can even tap them right from this article and dive right in.
- Checkers—Free from Keen Studios, the mindless and classic game ‘Checkers’ on your WebOS phone allows you to play against the phone or, over the network, against your friends or significant others. There’s also a ‘pro’ version available for $0.99.
- Classic—If you’re an old-timey Palm OS user and have a couple lingering apps you just can’t do without, MotionApps has you covered with Classic. The 7-day trial is free, and the full version is a [slightly overpriced] $29.99. It lets you run the vast majority of old Palm OS apps in an emulator right on your new WebOS phone.
- Dictionary!—This free dictionary app by Hampton Catlin is clean, simple, straightforward, and useful . . . just the way I like it! It seems to use the free WordNet database, as best as I can tell.
- Done!—One of my biggest disappointments from Palm’s on-board PIM apps was the task manager. It was meager, at best. Done! fills in the gap nicely for $3.29 from Tiger Country Software. The app integrates seamlessly with the free ToodleDo online task manager.
- Elizabethan Insult Generator—Free from Floating Stone Design, this app is absolutely useless and, yet, endlessly entertaining. It strings together old-timey terms into an old-timey insult.
- Epocrates—It’s not something I use every day, but when I need it I’m glad I have it! This free app from Epocrates, Inc. is a useful database of medicinal knowledge. You can read up on medicines, check their interactions, and even identify a pill by its shape, color, and markings.
- Facebook—Free from Palm themselves, the WebOS Facebook app is a good tool for keeping up with your friends, making status updates, uploading photos, and more. The people at Palm are pretty rapidly improving the app and adding new features.
- Fandango—This free app from Fandango.com makes it mind-numbingly easy to find movies showing near you and buy tickets right from your phone. It even adds the movie to your calendar; pretty slick. It would be more useful if there were any good movies . . . or if theaters were clean . . . or if moviegoers had any basic common courtesy anymore.
- No-Nonsense Weather—Not to toot my own horn, but my own free weather app is a must-have! At least for me ;-).
- OpenTable—Free from OpenTable, this app is like Fandango for restaurants. You can find restaurants near you and make reservations instantly on your phone. Pretty cool.
- Pack ‘n’ Track—For $7.99 from Syntactix LLC, Pack ‘n’ Track makes it super easy to track your UPS, FedEx, USPS, and other packages. It’ll even give you WebOS notifications when your packages reach their way-points on their way to you. The price is a little high for what it is, but it does its job very well.
- Poster for WordPress—From Gabriele Nizzoli, this $1.99 app makes it easy to update your WordPress blog on the go. While it is not [yet] as fully featured as the official WordPress apps for iPhone and BlackBerry, it’s being updated and improved pretty quickly by the developer and already does most of the important stuff.
- X-Plane—This $9.99 flight simulation app from Laminar Research is the lighter, mobile version of the incredibly realistic X-Plane flight simulator for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. It uses the internal position sensors on the phone as your flight controls. Unfortunately, it is only available for the Pre/Pre Plus. Pixi/Pixi Plus users are left out for now.
Unlike Apple, Palm takes a friendly ‘hands-off’ attitude toward the homebrew and unofficial app community. This means that, if you’re willing to put in a little effort, you can unlock all kinds of extra stuff on your phone—make it faster, make it perform better, and unlock hidden features and functions. The rest of this article is unofficial apps, performance hacks, and patches that make your phone better . . . but first, you need to install Preware.
- Preware—The universe of unofficial apps, hacks, and patches starts with Preware. Installing Preware is a slight challenge, at least for non-technical users, but once it’s done everything else in this article is at your fingertips. You’ll also have easy access to apps (‘web’ and ‘beta’) that are officially available through Palm’s distribution system, but aren’t in the app catalog. This includes beta and development versions of some of the official apps listed above. There are several ways to install Preware; follow the directions carefully!
There are a number of apps available through Preware that aren’t available through the official channels, for whatever reason. Some of them work with unofficial APIs that aren’t Palm supported, or mess with the innards of the phone.
- Internalz—Free (for now) from Jason Robitaille, Internalz is a file manager for WebOS. It’s really the only practical way to manage your filesystem on the phone itself without mounting it as a drive on your computer.
- JSTop—From the awesome WebOS Internals team, this free application lets you monitor what’s running on your phone and kill stuck processes. This is rarely required, but occasionally comes in handy. Also, on the Pixi/Pixi Plus, turning on JSTop’s garbage collection system seems to improve the phone’s performance.
- Pre Backup Utility—Free from DrewPre, this is an awesome little app that backs up your settings and files to a compressed file on your WebOS internal memory, from which it can be downloaded to a computer. It lets you restore quickly after a hard-reset and pick up right where you left off.
- Terminal—Free from the WebOS Internals team, Terminal is a window to your Palm’s Linux-based OS core. From there, you can SSH into remote machines and do other fun, nerdy things. From Preware, you can also install a number of command line tools familiar to any Linux nerd.
- zcorder—Another missing feature in WebOS is the ability to record voice memos. zcorder by Prenosticator is a fine temporary solution until Palm either makes a memos app or, at least, provides an official API for somebody else to do it in an official app.
The Pre ships with a 600mhz processor intentionally under-clocked to 500mhz, presumably to save your battery life. In reality, most Pre processors can be over-clocked up to 800mhz without problems. Increasing the clock speed to 600mhz or higher has a noticeably positive impact on the performance of the phone. Thanks to the always incredible WebOS Internals team, now it’s easy for mere mortals to make this happen. NOTE: While these hacks are well tested, there is always a risk to over-clocking a processor. If you’re unlucky and things go horribly wrong, Palm probably won’t cover this under warranty. Be careful.
- UberKernel & Govnah—The performance combo of the UberKernel and the Govnah app allows you to run your Pre (though not your Pixi) faster than Palm’s defaults allow, and use various governor techniques to keep it from destroying your battery life. I’ve configured mine so, when the screen is on, my clock speed jumps to 800mhz and the performance is blazing fast. When the screen is off and the phone is idle, it drops way down below the stock 500mhz setting to sip the juice and keep the battery happy.
WebOS is awesome, and most of the included apps are great, but there’s always room for improvement. Because WebOS is almost infinitely hackable, the developer community has created patches (available through Preware) to repair system shortcomings and improve usability. I have tons of patches installed; here are some of my favorites. Search for them in Preware to install.
- 4×4 Icons v4 No Arrows Plus More—Changes the app launcher to 4×4 icons (instead of 3×3) and has other visual enhancements.
- Add Date—Simple and useful; adds the date to the clock at the top of the screen.
- Add Move to Folder Button—Adds an icon to the Email app to let you quickly move a message to a mail folder (instead of having to use the pull-down menu).
- Advanced Reset Options—Changes the way the shutdown menu works to give you more, and more useful options.
- Confirm Delete—Gives you a confirmation/cancel option when swiping to delete emails (reduces erroneous deletes).
- Device Menu Remix with Flashlight—Changes the system menu to have brightness controls, GPS on/off, and a toggle to use the LED flash as a flashlight.
- Disable Charging Alert Sound—If you find the charging alert sound annoying, this disables it. That is all.
- Faster Card Animations—Makes the phone feel faster by speeding up the animations.
- Match State to Area Code—When you get a call from an unrecognized number, this will display the state it’s coming from (based on the area code).
- New Card Button—Adds a ‘new card’ button to the browser so you can quickly launch a new, blank browser card.
- No Draft Text—By default, if you start a new email and abandon it, the email app will save it as a draft. If you find this more annoying than useful, this patch disables this so drafts only get saved if you ask to save them.
- Read/Delete All Email—Gives you buttons to mark all emails as read, or delete all emails (with confirmations in both cases).
- Send All Contacts via Email—Send yourself a backup VCard of all your Palm contacts (with all Synergy sources combined).
- Snooze Duration Selection—For some reason, alerts only give you ‘snooze’ or ‘dismiss’ options by default. Snooze is for 5 minutes and that’s it. This patch gives you a bunch more options about how long to snooze (e.g., 5, 10, 15, 30 mins . . . or different lengths of time before the event).
- Swipe to Delete—Lets you swipe to delete contacts, which makes it consistent with pretty much every other app on the phone.
- Timestamps Clean—Add useful, clear timestamps to your SMS/IM messages.
- Video Downloads—Gives you an option to download YouTube videos direct from the included YouTube app.