The abiding impression of the Palm Pre seems to be, "Nice phone, shame about the app store." At a little over 1,000 apps, the Pre app catalogue is a disappointment. Happily, the vibrant community over at pre|central.net has built up a catalogue of its own apps. Some of them will eventually be approved for the official store, while others are handy tweaks to the phone that Palm hasn't included in its OS by default.
Installing non-approved apps on your Pre is very simple. There's a detailed tutorial available, and we won't duplicate it here, but it'll only take about 10 minutes for you to get it installed -- although the 220MB download might slow you down.
Once you've got the WebOS Quick Installer, and put your Pre into 'developer mode', you can add unapproved apps by dragging and dropping them into the Quick Installer. The first app we added was fileCoaster, which gives you a second, unofficial app store on your handset to track down and install these homebrew applications.
As far as apps go, there are a couple of crucial things we really wanted on our Pre out of the box. The built-in music player is decent, but missing a few vital functions, such as the ability to resume playback from where you left off -- crucial for listening to podcasts or longer music tracks -- and on-the-go playlists. Installing the Music Player (Remix) app adds these functions and more, and is the perfect upgrade. There's also a specific podcast app called drPodder (pictured), which makes downloading and listening to podcasts as easy as it is on Android handsets with Google Listen -- in fact, we think it's better.
It's not just more apps you can benefit from, either. The WebOS Quick Installer also allows you to tweak OS functions. For example, you can disable the infuriating noise the phone makes when it starts charging. You can add a percentage readout for the battery, essential on a device that can last, at most, 6 hours on one charge. The list goes on and on, and we're looking forward to making the Pre user experience even better as we tweak it to within an inch of its life.
All this tweaking potential gives us hope for the Pre. A thriving modding community means we could see some really cool development in the future. Unlike Apple, Palm seems happy for people to mod their devices, which means having a muck about won't automatically void your warranty. We do advise caution, however, because when tweaking, things can and do go wrong.