Palm Touchstone Hands on Impressions
Nearly lost amidst the one-two hoopla punch that was Palm's Pre and WebOS announcements on Thursday was the release of a very unique and interesting Palm-branded accessory. Drastically different in both appearance and functionality and possessing much more pizzazz any past Palm's accessory release, the Palm Touchstone is simply a stunning little device in its own right that deserves a further look for anyone who is traditionally fond of desktop charging cradle solutions.
As mentioned in my previous article on Palm‘s Pre accessories, the Touchstone essentially resembles a reduced-size slanted hockey puck. Several Palm staffers actually called it the "charging puck cradle" during the Pre demo sessions. Charging time is listed as four hours, though the Palm reps stated that a ‘good charge" could be achieved in much less time. A series of strong magnets inside the Touchstone lend it a solid feel and also keep the device impressively secure on the puck's surface and properly aligned.
While the Touchstone offers the expected charging capabilities, it is not a "Hotsync" cradle in the traditional sense, as Palm's new WebOS is entirely "cloud"-based, with all of the user's data residing online or on the device itself. So while devoid of desktop synchronization, the Touchstone is merely a sleek desktop charger that does have some level of interactivity with the Pre itself.
All of the information I have received from Palm staffers states that the Touchstone will be available simultaneously or shortly after the Pre's launch with Sprint. No pricing information was given, but we were repeatedly assured that the replacement Pre battery cover would be included in the Touchstone packaging. However, conflicting information is given on Palm's Touchstone site here stating that it will be an extra-cost accessory. Let's keep our fingers crossed that this website info is a typo and that Palm will indeed include the replacement cover alongside the Touchstone.
Regardless of whether or not the battery cover is included, the Touchstone will charge the pre via the special battery cover via induction technology. The replacement battery cover is by all appearances nearly identical to the stock cover and does not extend the bulk or weight of the Pre. The back inductive cover units being shown at the demo stations only differed in that they sported a matte, soft-touch like exterior finish.
During the tail end of the Pre announcement on Thursday, Jon Rubinstein led into his opening remarks on the Touchstone with a few comments about being a fan of "ecosystems". After that tantalizing statement, one can only hope that Palm is moving swiftly to prepare an equally impressive line of software, services, and additional accessories to compliment the Pre.
As initially referenced by Rubinstein and Colligan, and detailed further by various Palm reps, the Touchstone is an "intelligent" cradle. For example, if a user is talking on their Pre and sets it down on the Touchstone, the phone will switch to speakerphone mode. Accordingly, If a call is received while the users' Pre is docked on the Touchstone, the user can answer the call and have it automatically answer when picked up. It can also auto answer and jump right into the speakerphone if you prefer to leave it rest on the dock. Do note that no actual speaker or microphone is built into the base of the Touchstone, it's all handled by the Pre via some clever software integration.
One interesting aspect of the Touchstone is the underside of the unit. Its footprint is covered with a powerful suction cup apparatus. The adhesion with which it grips a glass desktop is phenomenal. I grabbed the Touchstone and had to exert a tremendous effort to remove it from the glass desktop in the Palm lounge. I did not ask about its adhesive properties on other surfaces but the rep assured us that it would be a very solid connection to most flat, smooth surfaces.
The build quality of the Touchstone was quite good and it felt impressively solid in my hand. Also, while I was unable to confirm this with 100% certainty, but a rep did state that the Touchstone will use the standard microUSB AC adapter like the Treo Pro, 800w and Pre, though a spare charger will be included alongside the Touchstone.
Though no platform war is won or lost via accessories, this is a very strong complimentary piece from Palm and their industrial design team. The Touchstone will likely make for an interesting conversation starter on anyone‘s desk. In fact, after spending some time hands-on with the Touchstone, I had a momentary flashback to the heady days of the late 90s go-go dot-com era, recalling the iconic images of a docked Palm V alongside a Herman Miller Aeron chair and envisioning this year's Pre + Touchstone combo as a modernized pairing of "organic tech". Yes, folks, the design and overall execution of the Touchstone strikes me as that impressive.
Additional details and images of the Touchstone are available on Palm's site.