Sprint CSO: Palm Pre data tethering will be possible, iTunes feature may break

Although the early reviews were out Thursday, we still learned a few things during Sprint's special invite-only launch event for the Palm Pre Friday. We spoke with Sprint Chief Service Officer Bob Johnson about the new phone and the carrier's rollout plans starting Saturday. Here are the takeaways:

-- Johnson said that data tethering is possible with the Palm Pre and said that Sprint -- unlike Verizon and AT&T which charge extra -- will allow customers to connect it to their laptops in order to surf the Web over Sprint's 3G network. However, this information conflicts with what we have heard elsewhere (Engadget was told the opposite), so we are following up. Sprint initially advertised data tethering as a feature of the Pre in February, but soon removed the reference.

-- Sprint doesn't expect huge lines for the Palm Pre like those seen for Apple's iPhone launches, but the phones are quite limited. Sprint retail stores will get most of the inventory, while Best Buy and Radio Shack will have much smaller quantities. If a Sprint store runs out, the customer's name will be taken and they will be contacted when more Pres come in. Johnson said Sprint expects frequent shipments after Saturday's launch.

-- Despite the $199 advertised price, you will actually need to pay $299 for the Palm Pre. However, you will receive a mail-in rebate for $100.

Sprint Chief Service Officer Bob Johnson shows off his Palm Pre

-- Palm Pre's compatibility with iTunes is not officially Apple-sanctioned, and Johnson acknowledged that Apple could make changes to break the feature. But he said that Palm and Sprint have done no "hacking" and simply used existing functionality to enable the Pre to sync with iTunes.

-- Unofficial micro-USB chargers will not work with the Palm Pre, according to Sprint. The travel charger will cost you $34.99.

-- Johnson hopes that the Palm Pre will draw quite a few new customers to Sprint, just like the iPhone did for AT&T. He noted that AT&T saw a huge jump in subscribers thanks to the iPhone and Sprint clearly would like a similar reaction.

-- Sprint has developed three exclusive apps for the Palm Pre: Sprint Navigation, which offers turn-by-turn directions, Nascar and Sprint TV. Others may come in the future, but no plans have been announced.

-- Updates for the WebOS software powering the Palm Pre will be developed by Palm but provided by Sprint. The phone has a built-in updater application, which handles all software upgrades, and no external software application (like iTunes) is needed.

-- Although Sprint only has a 6-month exclusivity with the Palm Pre (Verizon's version should arrive early next year), the company won't immediately begin its marketing blitz. Instead, Sprint is going to wait until it has more Pres on hand and begin advertising later this month. Johnson said Sprint wants to ensure a positive experience for customers, and Pres being out of stock would be bad way to do that. Nintendo may disagree with that assessment.

-- According to Johnson, Sprint will be advertising the Palm Pre to both consumers and business customers. He says the Pre is more business-oriented than the iPhone, and is the first device in its class to bridge the gap.

-- 6 accessories are available for the Palm Pre at launch: a magnetic charging dock called the "Touchstone," vehicle charger, holster, travel charger, leather pouch, and phone covers.

-- The very cool wireless Touchstone charging dock will cost you an extra $69.99.

-- As reviews have stated, the Pre feels great in the hand, but not nearly as solid as the iPhone or even T-Mobile's G1. The bottom of the Pre is quite sharp when opened, so be careful. The keyboard takes some getting used to because the keys are quite flat.

-- Fingerprints on the Palm Pre are quite noticeable; be prepared for frequent wiping. It's beautiful when clean.

-- We encountered a few software bugs with WebOS while testing out the Pre. A couple times, the camera would not start properly, and the phone became very slow at one point, even when no apps other than the dialer were opened. These issues will hopefully be resolved with a software update.

-- After a customer buys a Palm Pre, Sprint employees will copy all data to the new device and help the individual configure everything right in the store. Dubbed Sprint's "Ready Now" program, this is a marked difference from the iPhone launch, where customers were sent on their way immediately.

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