Sprint’s chief executive says the release of smart phone represents a "coming out party" for Sprint.

Friday, at an early sale opening in Palo Alto, Calif., the phone got off to a good start.

“It’s awesome, dude,” a Ken Fitzgerald, a mobile phone developer, told Wired magazine as he held one of the first Pre phones. Fitzgerald told Wired that he broke his contract with Verizon in order to get the Pre.

“I have been reading everything on the internet about the Pre for the last few months and I knew it was going to be a revolutionary device,” he said.

Sprint Nextel Corp. (NYSE: S), which will carry the Pre exclusively at least through year’s end, has been shedding subscribers to competing wireless services.

In remarks in New York Friday, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse says the launch of the Pre will show off Sprint’s competitive plans. He says Sprint has "vastly" improved its customer service and network performance.

"We’re a very different company than we were 12 months ago," Hesse told analysts and reporters, according to Reuters. "The Pre is the coming out party for the new Sprint, to show off the new Sprint."

The Pre from Palm Inc. has a touch-screen and slide-out keyboard and will cost $200 with a two-year service plan and rebate. It could be Sprint’s and Palm’s best hope for fighting back against Research In Motion’s BlackBerry and Apple Inc.’s iPhone handsets.

Sprint is based in Overland Park, Kan., and Palm in Sunnyvale, Calif.