Palm Pre goes on sale to a select, drenched few

We just got to witness history, folks: Alfredo Rodriguez waited an hour in the miserable New York rain for the privilege of snapping up his Sprint store's very first retail Pre at this evening's invite-only Premier customers event. The man paid in cold hard cash, and after a tedious 40 minute purchase process that involved a bit of activation, some nice tutorials, a quick address book sideload from his old Touch Diamond and whole lot of peripheral upsell, Alfredo was one of the world's first satisfied Pre customers. The last time we saw him Alfredo was still playing with his new phone, and gives the device two thumbs up. He's particularly digging the keyboard -- what Touch Diamond user wouldn't? -- and the flip-up mirror. Word on the street was that there were about 80 units available at the store, but while we couldn't squeeze an official number out of Sprint, they did confirm that they'll have units available for the launch tomorrow as well. Be sure to let us know how your own local launch treats you!

Update: We've swung by the Chicago launch on LaSalle Street to scope out the scene -- follow the break for the eye candy!

Update 2:
There's now also a video from the New York store after the break.

6PM rolled around in Chicago's scenic Loop district without a lot of fanfare -- just the usual array of suits shuffling off for another beer thirty after five days of hittin' hit hard in the city's law offices and trading floors. There were probably three to four Sprint sales reps and other miscellaneous company employees for every individual waiting in line when the flag dropped.

Shortly before 6, employees lined up the few soon-to-be Pre owners for a photo op -- we wouldn't necessarily call it a "staged line," but it was made clear on no uncertain terms that Sprint wanted a picture of people lined up for the phone. There was a noticeable dearth of what we'd call "Sprint" or "Palm fanboys" -- just young, business-casual men and women patiently waiting to pick up a new phone.

Inside, the store was very low-key, and Sprint spokespeople told us they didn't expect it to pick up. Apparently, only about a thousand invites were sent out across all ten stores running special hours this evening, so if you figure 30 percent of those folks show up, that's only 30 per store. Sprint's saying that they consider tonight a dress rehearsal -- they're using the Premier event to make sure that they've got their I's dotted, their T's crossed, and everything is working smoothly.

The "celebrities" advertised for this evening's event were a pair of Bears players, Richard Dent and Matt Forte. Unfortunately for Sprint, Mr. Forte pulled a Michael Bay, throwing out a little jab in the carrier's direction: "I would get this but, you know, Sprint network." He was quick to compare the Pre to the iPhone, too; actually, he said it was "just like the iPhone," which we'd say is a bit of a stretch. Just check out that card interface, Matt! And the keyboard!

All Sprint stores have been upgraded to get ready for the Pre's launch -- every single one -- with new kiosks, LCD displays, and specially-designed anti-theft holsters with Touchstone bases. Very cool, especially since it'd be difficult to show off the Touchstone any other way in-store.

Naturally, Engadget came packing with... well, phones. Lots of them. One of the valets (yes, Sprint was valeting cars) approached us while we were using a G1 and asked whether that was the device the event was for; we explained it wasn't, pulled out our Pre, and his eyes popped. He'd never seen either device before, and was instantly taken aback by how beautiful the Pre was, both inside and out, compared to T-Mobile's headline offering. It was a pretty telling moment for us -- a promising sign for Palm, and an early warning for HTC and T-Mobile that they'll have to step up their design game if they want to continue to play in this rare air.