Editor’s Note: Portions of this review were taken from our earlier review of the Palm Pixi (Sprint).
The Palm Pre’s younger, less powerful sibling, the Palm Pixi, has returned, this time on Verizon Wireless with the same “Plus” moniker. What does the Plus include? Wi-Fi and mobile hotspot capabilities on a new network, with the promise of video recording and integrated Flash support arriving with the next webOS update in February. Otherwise, the Palm Pixi Plus is identical to the original Palm Pixi, save the Verizon Wireless logo in the upper right corner. Priced at $99.99 (with a two-year contract from Verizon Wireless and a $100 mail-in rebate), the Pixi Plus is a good entry-level smart phone for users who want a messaging device that can do more. However, for just a $50 premium the Palm Pre Plus gives you a bigger screen and better graphics capability.
Not since the Motorola Razr have we been impressed with just how much technology a phone maker has crammed into such a thin and light design. Measuring 4.4 x 2.2 x 0.4 inches, the Pixi Plus is taller but much more svelte than the bulbous Pre Plus (4.0 x 2.4 x 0.7 inches); the Pixi Plus even has a smaller profile than the iPhone 3GS (4.5 x 2.4 x 0.5 inches). More surprising is just how feather-light this smart phone is, weighing in at just 3.3 ounces. Compared to the Pre Plus and iPhone 3GS (4.9 and 4.8 ounces, respectively), you’ll barely notice the Pixi Plus is in your pocket.
And yet this smart phone feels pretty solid in hand, particularly with the rubberized back cover. The front of the device is dominated by the display and lots of black gloss, which has a modern aesthetic but picked up fingerprint smudges quickly. The right side of the phone has a ringer switch, two distinct volume buttons, and a microUSB charging port, while the left side is completely clean. A small power button is on the top left side, and a 3.5mm headphone jack is to the right.
Two speakers flank the 2.0-megapixel camera lens and flash on the back. To personalize your Pixi Plus, Palm offers five back covers designed by various artists, which include Skull and Hummingbird designs. If artistic flair isn’t your thing, Palm also has interchangeable solid color backs in black, blue, green, orange, and pink available for $19.99 each.
Display and Keyboard
The good news is that the Pixi Plus’ 2.6-inch, 400 x 320-pixel capacitive display supports multitouch gestures, including pinching to zoom in on Web pages and photos. We also found it to be fairly responsive and accurate. However, while you’re not giving up that much in the way of resolution versus the Pre Plus’ 3.1-inch screen (480 x 320 pixels), some will be turned off by the Pixi Plus’ smaller screen size.
For example, when surfing the Web on the Pre Plus we can usually make out the text when we flip the phone to landscape mode, but on the Pixi Plus we had to zoom in first to start reading. Likewise, the screen felt too narrow for reading image-heavy e-mails and Web pages. We found ourselves constantly scrolling and zooming in and out just to read a full Web page. We also noticed that the Pixi Plus’ display was dimmer than the Pre Plus, though not enough to sour the experience.
Typing on the Pixi Plus, on the other hand, feels much more BlackBerry-like than the Pre Plus. Because this phone has a candy bar design (instead of slider), Palm was able to create a layout with raised keys. We were quickly tapping out everything from e-mail replies to Web addresses within the first few minutes of using the device.
The Pixi Plus runs Palm’s webOS, which features an intuitive activity card interface for switching between apps with ease. A glowing horizontal LED beneath the screen is used for minimizing open programs. From there you can easily switch between them with a flick to the left or right, or discard it by flicking your finger upward on the screen.
To the right of this dash you use a left swipe gesture to back out of menus (say, from an e-mail message to your inbox). As with the Pre Plus, gesturing slowly upwards from this area to the screen brings up the Quick Launch bar, which you can customize with shortcuts. When you see an alert for a new e-mail or calendar entry, for example, the webOS’ elegant notification system lets you tap on it or swipe it away. All of these gestures are easy to use once you get the hang of them.
It’s a shame that Palm created a device that bests many other smart phones in both looks and user interface, but didn’t give it enough power to really shine. Make no mistake, the Pixi Plus can (mostly) hold its own with Qualcomm’s 600-MHz MSM7627 chipset and 8GB of non-expandable memory, but we wish Palm had given the Pixi Plus more power. After all, the Pixi Plus is running Palm webOS 1.3.5, which emphasizes the ability to multitask. It’s a whiz at running multiple programs at once, but it doesn’t take long for the device to become overwhelmed.
For example, while streaming Pandora, we heard a bell alerting us to a received e-mail. We tapped the e-mail notification on-screen and...waited. Tapped it again. Pandora stuttered. The e-mail card slowly appeared with the sender and subject information; the music came back and the text of the e-mail finally appeared and became scrollable.
Palm is releasing webOS 1.4 this February, which will include Adobe Flash plug-in support and video capabilities. We’re just hoping that improved performance will be on the list of new features.
Contacts and Calendar
Palm’s Synergy technology allows you to sync your contacts from multiple sources. The latest version of webOS supports Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft Exchange, and Yahoo; once you’ve entered your account info for each of these services, the Pixi is smart enough to start downloading calendar entries and e-mails related to these accounts.
If you have multiple calendars, you can choose to view them separately or in a layered view. We also like how simple it is to toggle between different calendar layers within Google (great for when you want to see project-related entries or those from coworkers who share their calendars).
E-mail and Messaging
We’re not fans of how long it takes the Pixi Plus to load messages, but we do appreciate how the webOS makes it simple to choose how you want to start or continue a conversation, whether it’s via e-mail, instant messaging, or SMS. We also like the Pixi Plus’ attachment support, thanks to the included Doc and PDF View apps. You can also easily search your inbox just by starting to type a search query.
Web and Universal Search
The Pixi’s WebKit-based browser renders pages much better than BlackBerrys, but not very quickly. Over 3G, it took the Pixi Plus 26 seconds to fully load NYTimes.com, and 36 seconds to load the full version of CNN.com. The Pre Plus took 30 and 28 seconds, respectively, for the same pages. While it took the Pre Plus 18 seconds over Wi-Fi to load NYTimes.com, the Pixi Plus took 20 seconds to finish the same page. As noted above, the Pixi Plus’ relatively small display makes text difficult to read unless you zoom in. You can pinch out or double tap to zoom out, and both methods worked pretty smoothly.
The Pixi Plus’ Universal Search function is quite handy. Although it doesn’t work for your e-mail or calendar (you have to be in those apps to search them) you can just start typing away from the main screen to search for contacts, Facebook friends, or phone apps, as well as Google, Google Maps, Twitter, and Wikipedia.
Hot Spot Inside
One of the niftiest features of the Palm Pixi Plus and its big brother is the ability to use the phone as a mobile Wi-Fi router, just like the MiFi 2200 from Verizon Wireless. Once you sign up for the $40 service ($59.99 less than the MiFi or similar dedicated connection cards), you download the Palm mobile hotspot app. After you turn the functionality on and enter a password, any nearby notebook, netbook, portable media player, or other mobile device with built-in Wi-Fi will be able to connect to the Web using your Pixi Plus. Speedtest.net measured download and upload speeds of 640 Kbps and 390 Kbps, respectively. We were able to watch a Hulu clip of The Daily Show on our Apple MacBook Pro while composing an e-mail on the Pixi Plus.
The Pixi Plus is graced with the same 2.0-megapixel camera as its predecessor, but the new version also features automatic white balance and automatic exposure. In general, we’d prefer to control these options, but the Pixi Plus’ pictures are decent. Images of a fire hydrant and a giant inflatable rat taken from a short distance looked bright and crisp. A landscape shot of Broadway in New York City was sharp and focused, but the colors looked dull.
The Pixi Plus can’t record video at the moment, but that will change when Palm updates webOS to version 1.4 next month.
Although webOS no longer syncs directly with iTunes, adding multimedia to the device is painless. Simply drag the files to the Pixi Plus, and they appear on the device correctly. Alternately, you can download music from the preinstalled Amazon MP3 Store link. Pearl Jam’s “The Fixer” sounded loud and clear through our headphones. YouTube is also preinstalled, and we were able to play The Lonely Island’s “Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions” over 3G without any stops or stuttering. Video looked bright and clear on the screen, but the screen’s small size would likely keep us from watching full movies.
Considering webOS’ tight integration with Facebook, we were surprised that the Facebook app for webOS didn’t come preloaded on the Pixi Plus. In addition to its App Catalog, Palm preloads Amazon MP3, Doc View, Google Maps, PDF View, and Verizon Wireless’ VZ Navigator.
Unfortunately, the amount of content in the Palm App Catalog (1,100 apps and counting) is still lagging far behind iTunes’ App Store (130,000+), Android Market (16,000+), and BlackBerry App World (4,500+). Even the front page of the store looks skimpy. There’s a search bar at the top, eight featured apps, and then three categories to choose from: Explore, Popular, and Recent. Tapping on Explore brings up another list of categories that can be arranged in a typical list format or in a cloud grouping. Once you drill down through the categories to the actual apps, four icons along the bottom let you sort by date added, alphabetical order, highest rated, and free/inexpensive apps.
We downloaded Blocked Traffic Free, a puzzle game where you move cars around so that your car can exit, and played it while listening to Pearl Jam’s “Backspacer.” Because we were playing music, the notification bar was minimized but present on-screen, and it prevented us from using the game controls to move to the next puzzle. We like apps that are better integrated with webOS, such as Pandora (whose music controls are always present in the on-screen dashboard area).
GPS and Maps
Unlike Sprint Navigation (powered by TeleNav) on the original Pixi, Verizon Wireless charges $9.99 a month for its namesake GPS service on the Pixi Plus. The interface is very slick, with a constant home screen rotation of nearby gas prices, navigation tips, movies, and weather. It initially took about 10 seconds to locate a GPS satellite signal, after which VZ Navigator routed us to LaGuardia Airport in about 5 seconds.
The Pixi Plus also comes preinstalled with Google Maps. It loaded quickly on the Pixi Plus, but doesn’t include Google Latitude, Layers, or Street View. However, this app still comes in handy for getting your bearings and searching for local businesses.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Talking on the phone with the Pixi Plus was a decent experience. We could hear our caller clearly, but his voice sounded flat and a little tinny.
Palm rates the Pixi Plus for 5.2 hours of talk time and 14.6 days of standby time. After using the device periodically for about 3 hours, including using the Palm mobile hotspot app, the battery drained from about 90 percent to about 45 percent. This kind of endurance suggest that the Pixi Plus won’t last through a full workday. We also noticed that the phone seemed to take its time recharging. After draining the battery to less than 5 percent, we plugged the Pixi Plus into our laptop via USB and selected the Just Charge option. After two hours, the device had only charged to 36 percent.
Not much has changed from the Pixi to the Pixi Plus, but the addition of Wi-Fi and the Palm mobile hotspot app make this a solid sub-$100 smart phone. In this price range we prefer the HTC Droid Eris because of its larger 3.2-inch display and much larger selection of apps, although the Pixi Plus has a better keyboard. We also favor the $149 Pre Plus over the Pixi Plus because of its bigger screen and extra horsepower. Nevertheless, if you want a stylish smart phone that can deliver the full Web to the tiniest of pockets, the Pixi Plus is worth checking out.