The Palm Pre’s introduction over the weekend was what was expected (story here): a low-key affair, with few devices actually in stock and available at many stores.

Palm shares were down more than 9 percent, at $11.73, in early trading today. The Pre and its webOS has been seen as a make-or-break product for Palm, which fell out of favor after once dominating the portable computing market with the Palm Pilot and later gathering a fan base with the Treo.

New York-based UBS Investment Research analysts visited five Sprint and three Radio Shack/Best Buy locations in the early hours of Saturday’s launch and interviewed 87 people in line or after buying a Pre. The limited supply generally resulted in stock “outs” before noon. Not surprisingly, about 70 percent of those surveyed were existing Sprint customers and about 40 percent were Palm users. The analysts reiterated their “Neutral” ratings on both Palm and Sprint.

At a Best Buy in Portland, Ore., the Pres were sold out Saturday, and a store associate advised that all Best Buys had only about two and, at the most, eight units for sale. A waiting list at one store had eight names on it by Sunday morning.

Last week, at a launch party in New York, Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse said the Pre release was a “coming out party” for Sprint, which is a “very different” company than it was 12 months ago. The carrier has been touting improvements in customer service and network performance.

The Pre has generated mostly positive reviews, including by The Associated Press (story here).

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