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First look inside the Palm Pre

Modular design leaves mysteries on battery, display

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A teardown of the Palm Pre reveals few surprises, but leaves two intriguing questions unanswered.

It's not clear from a first inspection of the Pre's internals why the handset is delivering subpar battery performance in early reviews. Analysts are also scratching their heads over why Cypress Semiconductor is not providing technical information on what appears to be a new multi-touch display controller used in the cellphone.

The Palm Pre went on sale June 6 after debuting at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. The handset has been of the most anticipated new cellphone designs since the iPhone, in part because Jon Rubinstein, the company's recently installed executive chairman, was the former vice president of engineering at Apple's iPod division.

Early reviews praised the phone but noted its battery failed to last a full day. The phone uses a replaceable 1150 mA/hr lithium ion battery, according to a teardown by Portelligent (Austin). Portelligent is part of TechInsights, the publisher of EE Times.

Other high profile smart phones use similar sized batteries including the iPhone (see iPhone 3G exposed) and the HTC Dream, the first phone to use the Google Android operating system. However they use lithium ion polymer versions that have a slightly higher energy density and price tag.

The Pre batteries could be dying sooner than competitors because Palm's multitasking WebOS does more background processing than other environments. Another possibility lies in some hardware duplication in the device.

Palm announced at CES the Pre uses the TI OMAP 3430 as an applications processor. The teardown shows it also uses a Qualcomm MSM6801, an integrated baseband chip that also includes an applications processor.

Another unresolved question around the Pre is its use of a Cypress CP6944 multi-touch display processor. The chip is a new competitor for parts from Broadcom and Synaptics used in the iPhone and HTC Dream, respectively.

Interestingly, Cypress does not provide a datasheet for the part on its Web site, although it does provide marketing materials for what appears to be a similar-sized part under a different name.

"This is the first time we have seen this part, and Cypress doesn't have a lot of details on it," said Jeff Brown, principal analyst at Portelligent.

The Pre design takes a novel approach by putting its CDMA cellular radio components on a separate daughter card. That should help the company quickly spin a new version for the HSDPA networks of other carriers such as Verizon.

"With this modular approach they can swap out the baseband quickly for something supporting a GSM network," said Brown. "It was clear Apple didn't have any intention of doing a CDMA design at all, so they didn't need to have a modular hardware design," he added.

"The downside is there are as many as six flex connectors" on the Pre, Brown said. "There's a cost impact on the use of such connectors and the associated assembly work," he said.

The Pre shaves costs over its competitors in at least two areas. Its main board is single-sided compared to double-sided boards on most handsets. In addition, the Pre uses a 3.1-inch display believed to be from Sony, compared to a 3.5-inch display on the iPhone and a 3.2-incher on the HTC Dream.

Portelligent and other analysts are still preparing their costs analysis of the Pre based on teardowns. Market watcher iSuppli Corp. estimated in late April a bill of materials of $170 for the handset including software costs.

The Pre held few surprises in the components it uses. The company had announced its plans to use the TI 3430 at CES, one of the first big smart phone wins for Texas Instruments. Samsung and Qualcomm provide the applications processors in the iPhone and HTC Dream, respectively.

TI needed the boost. Its share of the apps processor market fell from 23 percent in 2007 to 16.8 percent last year, said iSuppli. Samsung is gaining share in apps processors and is now number two at 16.4 percent right behind TI, thanks to its use on the iPhone.

Otherwise the Pre's mainboard uses parts often seen in other cellphones such as a Marvell (88W8686)Wi-Fi chip, CSR Bluetooth device, Kionix three-axis accelerometer, TI power management device and Samsung NAND flash)


The separate radio board uses a relatively older generation Qualcomm 6801 integrated baseband and associated Qualcomm transmit (RFT6150) and receive (RFR6500) chips. However, rather than using the related Qualcomm power management device, the Pre substitutes a Maxim 8695.


The Maxim chip may reflect an attempt at cost savings given the Pre does not use the integrated apps processor on the Qualcomm baseband, Brown said.

The Pre does use the assisted GPS capabilities of the Qualcomm baseband. That means the phone will not be able to get a location fix when it is not connected to the cellular network.

Other parts on the radio board included power amplifiers from Triquint and Avago and more Samsung flash—all widely used in other cellphones. The Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities were part of a module from Murata on the mainboard.