Palm Pixi Plus Review

palm pixi plus review

Palm Pixi Plus

“The watered down hardware in the Pixi Plus makes it a poor choice beside the far more potent Pre Plus waiting just $70 up the price scale, but its killer design will still find adoring fans.”
  • Low $80 price tag
  • Superb QWERTY keyboard
  • One of the most pocket-friendly smartphones to date
  • Slick, multi-tasking-friendly WebOS interface
  • Speedy 3G connectivity on Verizon
  • Optional Touchstone charger and designer backs
  • WebOS feels somewhat unresponsive, really chugs at times
  • Screen can feel cramped
  • App Catalog still lags behind competitors (but by less than before)
  • Unimpressive camera
  • Slightly less intuitive than iPhone

Introduction

What the Honda Civic is to the Accord, the Pixi Plus is to the Pre Plus. While not entirely hobbled, the Pixi flutters in the shadow of the Pre with a smaller screen, a slower processor, and a lower-resolution camera, but balances the handicaps with a lightweight, easy-to-use form factor that finds fans in nearly everyone who handles it. It will have to be the body that sells it. Even with Wi-Fi added for the Plus variant, we find it hard to recommend the stripped down Pixi when the much more capable Pre stands only $70 away.

Unearthing the Plus in “Plus”

Where the Palm Pre underwent very modest changes in its transition from Sprint to Verizon and subsequent “Plus” badging, the Pixi sees even fewer. Memory remains unchanged at 256MB, storage stays stagnant at 8GB, and the processor hasn’t found any more pep. However, one of the biggest magnets for criticism on the original Pixi has been corrected, as it now has built-in Wi-Fi, just like its older brother.

Pre Plus vs. Pixi Plus

So if the Pixi has Wi-Fi now, just what separates the Pre and the Pixi at this point? The biggest and most considerable differences can be discerned from a simple glance over. The Pixi ditches the sliding keyboard in favor of a flat “candybar” design, getting both longer and thinner in the process. It measures just 0.43 inches thick to the Pre’s 0.67 inches, and 4.37 inches long to the Pre’s 3.9 inches, while also dropping 33 percent of the Pre’s weight to get down to just 92.5 grams. If these phones really were river stones, as Palm’s marketing likes to draw analogies, rock skippers would definitely reach for the Pixi over the Pre.

Besides the obvious physical differences, including a 2.6-inch LCD rather than the Pre’s 3.1-incher, the Pixi packs an older Qualcomm MSM7627 processor, while the Pre uses a newer Cortex A8 chip. Both run at 600MHz, but the brawnier A8 provides a significant boost to the Pre, along with twice the RAM for multitasking, twice the storage (16GB rather than 8GB) and a superior 3.2-megapixel camera to the Pixi’s 2-megapixel shooter.

Design

Just about everyone who has wandered into Digital Trends and toyed with the Pixi has commented on what a likeable size, weight and general feel the phone provides. As one person simply put it, “this is what a smartphone should feel like.”

The hockey-rink-shaped face has a 2.6-inch LCD sunken in up top, and a four-line keyboard bubbling up below. The keys, much like those on the Pre, have a transparent gelcoat that makes them soft to the touch, but still responsive and clicky under the press of a finger.

Palm wraps this flat face in a single-piece rubber shell that encompasses all four sides, and the back. A power button sits on the top left shoulder, while a 3.5mm stereo jack occupies the top right. Swing down to the right side and you’ll find a silence switch, right above volume rockers. Further down, the microUSB port has been cleverly hidden by a flap that looks like it has been literally sliced from the rubber with three swipes of an X-acto blade. Dig your fingernail into the slot provided, and it swings back to reveal the jack, then claps back down with a magnetic force.

Testing and Usage

Firing up the Pixi greets users with the same exact WebOS interface Pre users know and love, but the drop in screen size corresponds with a drop from 320 x 480 to only 320 x 400 resolution. Those 80 missing horizontal lines leave the Pixi feeling notably more cramped, especially when notifications start to nibble away at screen space from the bottom. However, it matches the Pre in vivid brightness and smooth multitouch response, two factors that might be considered more important than sheer size.

You can read our Palm Pre and Pre Plus reviews for a full rundown on WebOS, but suffice it to say we like it, a lot. Unfortunately, the same visual niceties that made us fall in love with it also seem to give the Pixi’s anemic processor a rather hard time. Where the Pre shows a few milliseconds of lag and a slight chatter when scrolling through a list of apps or e-mails, the Pixi will sometimes seem to nearly stall. We wouldn’t call it unusable, but it can be frustrating – to say the least – when you’re just trying to make it down to a shortcut you know by heart but the phone works considerable slower than your fingers do.

Although the keyboard on the Pixi Plus is technically narrower than the same keys on the Pre, we much preferred it for two reasons. First, the flat design and lighter weight make it easier to support the phone with your fingers as your drum away with your thumbs, and second, the recessed design of the Pre’s slide-out QWERTY feels less finger-friendly than the pronounced QWERTY on the Pixi. This is one of our favorite QWERTY keyboards– the kind that makes owners of touch-screen-only phones realize what they’re missing out on.

Oddly enough, the Pixi has its microphone hole on the back corner of the phone. Although it’s a little too easy to cover or brush it with your fingers while holding the phone, voice quality is generally good, and our calling experiences on Verizon’s network in Portland, OR were excellent. Palm’s estimates of 5.2 hours of talk time – a negligible 0.3 hours less than the Pre – seemed quite accurate during our testing.

Despite the difference in megapixels, we actually didn’t miss the extra resolution from Palm’s Pre much. Neither phone will replace a point-and-shoot cam, and a 2-megapixel shot works just as well for e-mail as a 3-megapixel shot. However, the Pixi seemed to blow out highlights more often, resulting in poorer quality pictures and we really missed the Pre’s ultra-fluid viewfinder, which may have been one of the camera’s most endearing features.

Touchstone Charger and Designer Backs

Although Palm did not supply us with one, Pixi owners can purchase a rear cover that works with Palm’s Touchstone inductive charger for $20, and the charger with cable for $64. As we mentioned in the Pre review, this wireless charging cradle can be extremely convenient in situations where you might set your phone down anyway, like working at a desk, and makes a unique option. Palm also sells colored backs for $20, and unique “artist series” designs for $50, which feels overpriced, but we can’t scoff at the option.

App Catalog

Palm’s App Catalog initially disappointed us at launch – largely because developers had yet to really make any headway in developing interesting applications for it. While it still lags behind the iPhone by miles and can’t quite compete with Google Android, Palm did hit 1,000 apps around the first of the year. That’s a long way from the dozens we had to play with this summer, and we found no shortage of useful apps and games to dabble with on our review unit. Folks who need to play games every waking hour they’re with their smartphones might find the Pixi lacking, but those who just want to get the weather, listen to streaming music or kill some time on the train with chess now and then will find plenty in the App Catalog.

Conclusion

A beautiful phone loaded with one of the finest smartphone operating systems to date should have plenty of potential, but Palm’s reluctance to give this phone the horsepower it really needs to get out of its own way remains a making sticking point. The faster processor alone in the Pre Plus might make it worth the extra $70, but 16GB of storage, double the memory, a larger screen and better camera all seal the deal: Palm outmoded the Pixi with its own flesh and blood. The Pixi makes a perfectly viable smartphone on its own, and we sincerely wish Palm had endowed this form factor with the same guts as its slider, but beside the Pre on the same network, it’s a tough sell.

Highs:

  • Low $80 price tag
  • Superb QWERTY keyboard
  • One of the most pocket-friendly smartphones to date
  • Slick, multi-tasking-friendly WebOS interface
  • Speedy 3G connectivity on Verizon
  • Optional Touchstone charger and designer backs

Lows:

  • WebOS feels somewhat unresponsive, really chugs at times
  • Screen can feel cramped
  • App Catalog still lags behind competitors (but by less than before)
  • Unimpressive camera
  • Slightly less intuitive than iPhone

Editors' Recommendations