Palm Pre Plus (AT&T) Review

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Pros: Elegant, easy-to-use interface ; Better keyboard than predecessor ; Double the memory and RAM of original Pre

Cons: Sluggish performance ; Relatively short battery life ; Occasionally runs hot ; Lacks on-screen keyboard

Verdict: Palm's flagship phone retains its ease of use on AT&T's network, but short battery life and sluggish performance hold it back.

Since the Palm Pre Plus was released on Verizon Wireless earlier this year, Palm has found a new owner in HP, but it's still spreading the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus around to the major carriers. The latest incarnation of the Palm Pre Plus ($149 with a two-year contract and a $100 mail-in rebate) runs on AT&T's network and, aside from the new carrier and a few different preloaded apps, this Pre Plus is nearly identical to the Verizon model that debuted earlier this year. However, the promised Flash capability of webOS version 1.4 hasn't panned out yet, and the webOS interface, while still very good, hasn't kept up in terms of performance comparedto Android and the iPhone. Neverless, the Palm Pre Plus has a lot of, well, pluses.

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Editors' Note:Portions of this review were taken from our earlier review of the Palm Pre Plus (Verizon Wireless).

Design

Palm has made only subtle changes to its flagship smart phone, but they're certainly welcome. Like the Pre, the Pre Plus has a glossy black rounded design that's reminiscent of a pebble, with a slightly curved profile when the slide-down keyboard is open. It measures a compact 4 x 2.4 x 0.7 inches and weighs a relatively light 4.9 ounces. Underneath the 3.1-inch display Palm has replaced the center button (used previously for minimizing apps) with an LED button. The result? A more streamlined look.

Aside from these small changes, the Pre Plus looks nearly identical to its predecessor. The right side of the phone houses the micro-USB port and narrow volume buttons. A 3.5mm headphone jack, convenient ringer switch, and power button line the top of the device. Unlike the Pre, the Pre Plus comes standard with a Touchstone Back Cover that's compatible with the Touchstone Charging Dock ($49.99); this accessory uses inductive charging to let you juice the device by just dropping it on the dock.

Display and Keyboard

With more smart phone makers creating devices with bigger screens (the 3.5-inch iPhone 3GS, 3.7-inch Motorola Droid and Nexus One, and 4.3-inch HTC HD2 come to mind), the Pre Plus' 3.1-inch capacitive touch display might seem undersized. However, the 480 x 320-pixel screen still looks remarkably bright and crisp. Plus, unlike some competitors, the Pre Plus supports multitouch gestures, such as spreading two fingers apart to zoom in. You can perform additional gestures on the area beneath the screen; for example, swiping to the left can be used to go back (or up a level inside an app).

Slide the display up and you'll see and feel what a remarkable job Palm has done retooling the keyboard. By maximizing the available real estate, the keys are slightly larger, and they also have a better tactile feel. We had no problem pecking out e-mails and web addresses; in fact, we prefer the Pre Plus to the BlackBerry Tour's keyboard. The only thing missing is an on-screen keyboard, which would make it easier to enter text when in landscape mode.

User Interface and Software

Like other webOS phones, the Pre Plus deftly handles multitasking with activity cards you can easily swipe through and rearrange. Closing an app is as simple as flicking it off the screen. We also continue to appreciate the way Palm handles notifications with its dashboard area. For example, if you get a new e-mail you'll see the name of the sender and subject name pop up; if you ignore it, it will become an icon in the bottom right corner. Nevertheless, we think Android's drawer approach is even less obtrusive, as notifications from different sources on webOS devices initially get stacked on top of one another.

Another hallmark of webOS is Palm Synergy, a technology that makes it very easy to bring in your calendar, contacts, and e-mail. All you need to do is sign in once for the services you use (AT&T Address Book, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft Exchange, and Yahoo are all supported), and the Pre Plus takes care of the rest. It also integrates your contacts into a single view for each person and layers your multiple calendars.

Universal Search continues to impress, allowing you to search both your contacts and apps on the phone, as well as Google, Google Maps, Twitter, and Wikipedia on the web by simply typing in a few letters from the activity card screen. We just wish e-mail was included in this list; you can only search your inbox from within the e-mail app.

E-mail and Messaging

Synergy also comes into play when it comes to messaging. For example, when drafting an e-mail you can choose which account to send from and which address for the recipient you'd like to use. Attachment support continues to be robust (Excel, PDF, PowerPoint, and Word), and we like that the latest version of webOS lets you search your inbox. Unfortunately, we found the e-mail application to be sluggish; it would often take 5 seconds for a new window to pop up after pressing the Reply button.

The Pre Plus supports Google Talk out of the box, and you can easily switch between instant messaging chats and text messaging conversations. Strangely, AIM, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo are not currently integrated into the Palm Messaging client for AT&T.

Web Browsing

The Pre Plus offers a top-notch surfing experience, both over AT&T's 3G network and Wi-Fi. It's easy to zoom in using multitouch gestures; the accelerometer kicks in quickly to display pages in landscape mode, and panning around pages is smooth. It took 21 seconds to completely load the CNN.com home page over Wi-Fi, and 18 seconds for NYTimes.com. Those loading periods increased to 35 and 37 seconds, respectively, over 3G. By comparison, over 3G on Verizon's Pre Plus CNN.com loaded in 28 seconds and NYTimes.com loaded in 30 seconds. Unlike the Palm Pre Plus for Verizon Wireless, AT&T's Pre Plus doesn't offer the Mobile Hotspot app.

Apps

AT&T's incarnation of the Pre Plus is surprisingly light on preinstalled apps. Facebook is most notably missing, which is especially odd since you can sync your Facebook contacts to the phone right out of the box. AT&T does include Amazon MP3, AT&T Navigator, Google Maps, Doc View, YPmobile (a location-based Yellow Pages app), Yelp, and YouTube.

At our last count, the Palm App Catalog had over 2,500 official apps--in addition to a plethora of "homebrew" apps--which pales in comparison to the Android Market (approximately 50,000) and the iPhone App Store (200,000+). However, Palm promises that its selection is growing by about 100 apps per week, and there are already many high quality programs available, including The New York Times, The Weather Channel, and Yelp. Pandora actually works best on the webOS platform thanks to playback controls that are always present in the dashboard area.

The Pre Plus really shines when it comes to 3D games. The 1.4 version of webOS brings with it support for iPhone-quality titles such as EA's Need for Speed Undercover and Gameloft's Let's Golf. Both games offer rich graphics, and the accelerometer provided tight control when racing on the streets. However, neither of these games come cheap. Need for Speed Undercover will set you back $9.99, while Let's Golf is a much more reasonable $4.99.

Our biggest beef with the App Catalog, other than its somewhat limited selection, is that carrier billing isn't an option. You have to use a credit card.

While the Pre Plus has the same processor as its predecessor (a TI OMAP 3430 CPU), Palm has doubled the amount of memory to 16GB (from 8GB). This allowed us to run more apps simultaneously than with the original Pre, which would frequently pester you to close programs to free up memory.

Camera and Multimedia

Just like the original Pre, the Pre Plus takes sharp 3-megapixel shots both indoors and out. The integrated LED flash didn't overwhelm subjects, and most images were vibrant and colorful. You can also do a lot with photos with just a tap--such as uploading them to Facebook (once your account is synced) and sharing via e-mail and MMS--even though the Photo Roll sometimes took its sweet time appearing on screen. Uploading to Twitter requires that you download a third-party app.

Video recording is a relatively new feature on the Pre that came with the webOS 1.4 update. It was worth the wait. Video recorded at the max resolution of 640 x 480 looked bright and clear, even in dimly lit sections of our office. After reviewing a video, you have the option of uploading it to YouTube, sharing via e-mail, or trimming and sharing via MMS.

On the entertainment front, the Pre Plus doubles as a fine music and video player, even if premium content is lacking in the latter category. Users can easily download tunes with the bundled Amazon MP3 app, as well as watch YouTube videos. The iPhone is clearly a better choice for movies and TV shows, however, because of its iTunes integration.

Although Adobe Flash capability was originally slated to debut on webOS 1.4, it hasn't come to fruition yet. We went to the Lost page on ABC.com and clicked the link that said Get Flash Now. This took us to an Adobe page which read, "Adobe Flash Player 10.1 is coming to Palm webOS in the first half of 2010." Considering we're nearly halfway through 2010, this doesn't sound promising.

GPS and Maps

If you like the idea of spoken turn-by-turn directions on your smart phone, AT&T Navigator powered by TeleNav fills the bill, though you'll have to pay $9.99 per month for the privilege. This functionality is free on the original Palm Pre (Sprint Navigation, also powered by TeleNav, is included with the data plan). It calculated a route from Queens, NY, to Manhattan in about 30 seconds.

Google Maps on the Pre Plus is relatively bare bones compared to Android and the iPhone. You don't get a built-in compass, and it lacks such features as Google Latitude for sharing your location. Nevertheless, it's easy to search for nearby businesses and navigate through traffic and satellite views.

The YPMobile and Yelp apps compensate for some of Google Maps' shortcomings by providing location-based listings and reviews of businesses near your location. YPMobile integrates nicely with AT&T Navigator to provide turn-by-turn directions.

Call Quality and Battery Life

In our testing, the Pre Plus offered good call quality over AT&T. Our caller sounded very clear and he had no problem hearing us indoors.

Overall, battery life was below what we've come to expect from a smart phone. Palm claims up to 5 hours of talk time on the Pre Plus, but after using the device frequently for about half the day (including web surfing, e-mailing, taking pictures and video, and using a few apps) the battery meter dropped from 95 to 37 percent. While commuting underground, we noted that the Pre Plus became very warm in our bag as it searched for a signal. On another day with an average amount of use including a few phone calls and a medium amount of web surfing over both 3G and Wi-Fi, the Pre Plus was begging for electricity after about 5 hours. While living up to Palm's claims--but just barely--these results suggest that many users may not make it through a full workday, especially if they're away from an outlet the majority of the time.

Verdict

The Palm Pre Plus is a very capable phone, but it's stymied by short battery life and slow webpage load times over AT&T's network. While it's available for as little asa penny with a two-year contract through Amazon.com, we prefer the Verizon version of the phone, which comes with free mobile hotspot capabilities, faster web browsing, and is available for $50 through Verizon--and at Amazon.com for a penny. If you want to stick with AT&T, you should probably wait a month for the new iPhone. But, if you're looking for a physical keyboard and elegant interface, the Pre Plus is the way to go--just get the hotspot-enabled Verizon version.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Carrier AT&T
Form Factor QWERTY Slider
Operating System WebOS 1.4.2 (Palm)
Networks GSM bands: 950/900/1800/1900 GPRS EDGE Class 10
Data HSDPA/UMTS
CPU TI OMAP 3430
RAM
Internal Memory 16GB
Memory Expansion Type N/A
Display (main) 3.1 inches (480 x 320 pixels)
Display (secondary)
GPS Yes
Bluetooth Type Bluetooth 2.1 EDR
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g
Camera Resolution 3 MP
Audio formats supported MP3
Video formats supported MPEG-4
Photo formats supported PNG
Photo formats supported JPEG
Talk / Standby Time Up to 5 hours/14.5 days
Ports microUSB
Ports 3.5mm headphone
Size 4.0 x 2.4 x 0.7 inches
Weight 4.9 ounces
SAR Rating (Head)
Company Website http://www.wireless.att.com