Palm Pre Plus Review

palm pre plus review

Palm Pre Plus

“Palm doesn’t have the answer to every one of our original Palm Pre gripes, but a handful of well-placed upgrades still make the revamp one of our favorite smartphones out there.”
  • Full QWERTY keyboard
  • Sharp-looking capacitive touch screen
  • Multiple apps run simultaneously
  • Slick, well-polished interface
  • Speedy 3G connectivity
  • Quick-shooting cam produces decent images
  • Optional Touchstone charger
  • App Catalog still lags behind competitors (but by less than before)
  • WebOS feels laggy at times
  • Slightly less intuitive than iPhone

palm pre plus review

Introduction

Last year, Palm turned CES upside down with the Palm Pre – one of the few new smartphones to make the iPhone look dated. After a slow-but-auspicious launch over the summer, Palm returned to CES this year with a much less earth-shattering pair of refreshes: the Palm Pre Plus and Pixi Plus. Besides migrating to Verizon, the Pre Plus brings a handful of modest updates, including a handful of exterior tweaks, more memory, and doubling storage from 8GB to 16GB. Verizon charges a reasonable $150 for the fresh model, but the original flavor can still be had on Sprint for $80 through Amazon. Do a few megahertz here and a few MB of RAM there really warrant the upgrade, or even a switch to Verizon? We sat down with the Plus to find out.

palm pre plus reviewNew Features

Put the original Pre side by side with the Pre Plus, and it would take a trained eye to detect the differences.

Perhaps the most obvious is that the pearly trackball-look-alike from the Pre has disappeared on this model completely in favor of a white LED strip below the surface, which only lights up to indicate when you’ve made a swipe or tap in the gesture area. The lettering for secondary symbols on the keyboard (numbers, % signs and the like) has also changed from red to grey, which makes it look a little less cluttered and intimidating to our eyes. Perhaps most importantly, the grabby keyboard sliding that we complained about the first time around has been smoothed out, and the whole mechanism tightened up significantly. Where twisting the two halves of the phone used to exhibit some considerable separation, we can now detect just the slightest budge, and no visual crack between the two at all. We consider this a massive improvement, and our hats go off to Palm for actually addressing a major build quality problem that many owners complained about the first time around. The matte black Touchstone battery cover (which enables inductive charging) also comes standard on the Pre Plus. Besides looking and feeling much better than the glossy black one, you’ll save $20 when you go to buy the inductive charger, since you can buy the $50 model with no cover included, rather than the $70 model that comes packaged with one.

On the software side, the Pre Plus ships with WebOS 1.3.5.1, the same software you could expect to find on an up-to-date Pre. It includes improved app store download capabilities (they continue you when leave the page), removed limits on how many apps can run at once, and a handful of other minor fixes.

Standard Pre Features

Many features remain largely unchanged from generation to generation. The Pre Plus features an ample 3.1-inch multi-touch screen, full QWERTY keyboard, 3G internet connectivity, 3.2-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi, app store, and months and months of gloss layered on their finely honed WebOS operating system.

What makes WebOS special? Unlike the iPhoneOS, WebOS can run multiple apps simultaneously, allowing users to seamlessly switch between any two, three or twelve tasks with a flick of the finger, or perform tasks like playing music from Pandora while browsing the Web. It also includes a powerful calendar and contact solution that syncs from multiple online sources (like Google and Facebook), as well as an App Catalog full of free and paid software for the phone that users can download and install in seconds.

Screen

As we found with the original Pre, the touch screen on the Pre Plus rivals the iPhone’s both in accuracy and multi-touch capability, even if it does measure a 0.4 inches smaller diagonally. You’re dragging a finger around on plastic rather than real glass, though, which diminishes the smooth feel a bit, and side-by-side, the iPhone still pops more at full brightness, so we still have to declare it the victor at the end of the day.

palm pre plus reviewKeyboard

Palm claims to have improved the keyboard on the Pre Plus, but short of the aforementioned switch from red to grey lettering, we really couldn’t tell the difference. That’s a good thing. The slide-out keyboard on the Pre is nearly identical, in size, to that on the well-liked BlackBerry Curve 8900. Unlike the hard plastic keys on that keyboard, these have a sort of tacky gel-coat to them. They tap nicely, without the audible clatter that can be a nuisance at times. The lack of bulge on the Pre keys does make them a little tougher to press than curvaceous BlackBerry keys, so thick-fingered typists will probably end up using fingernails to plop down letters with much precision.

Camera

The 3.2-megapixel camera hiding in the back of the Pre Plus can’t be called a jewel, but neither does it lag behind the pack as far as modern smartphones are concerned. Opening the camera app produces one of the most fluid live views we’ve seen, and it snaps rapid-fire photos machinegun fast. But ultimately, it lacks the control that would push it into the territory where you might seriously consider replacing a point-and-shoot camera. Fixed focus means no macro shots, and even software features like user-adjustable white balance are missing. Unlike the iPhone 3G S, you do get a surprisingly potent flash, though. Overall, shots did look good, if not quite up to par with those from the amazing Nokia N97.

Voice

As we found out with the N97, even well-tuned smartphones can sometimes fall apart when it comes time to make calls, making it seem like the developers totally fell asleep at the wheel on one of the most critical functions. The Pre suffers no such afterthought syndrome. Dialing and contact management mesh together rather well, and we had no issues performing routine functions like going back to scan recent calls, or adding fresh numbers to existing contacts. Voice quality was respectable – and plenty loud – but we noticed a bit of an unwelcome warble in incoming voices at times. Nothing overly irritating, though.

palm pre plus reviewTouchstone Inductive Charger

Plugging in a phone to charge it never bothered us. But having toyed with the Touchstone charger, it’s tough to go back to cables. The brilliant little pedestal allows the Pre to charge inductively just by sitting on top of it, with no electrical contact between phone and charger needed. Though we initially imagined using it bedside to lay the phone down to charge at night, it’s really handier in situations where you’ll be using it on and off all day from the same spot, like at a desk. After a full day’s use this way, it’s refreshing to pick up the phone and see it fully charged without any effort. While the stand itself does a great job clinging to flat surfaces with some sort of unnaturally tackiness, the magnetic connection holding the phone on could be a little stronger. As convenient as it is, also keep in mind that it’s a $50 accessory, not an included one.

WebOS & Software

WebOS remains one of the most finely tuned and polished operating systems we’ve yet laid eyes on. While the iPhone redefined intuitive with its own icon-based OS, sacrificing some flexibility and power in the process, WebOS restores much of what was lost without moving away from a concentration on ease of use.

For the most part, it’s all in the cards. Literally. WebOS treats every new item you open, be it an application, Web page or even system menu, as a card in a deck, allowing you to switch between them, rearrange them, and kill them without any hassle. Tapping the white LED strip from any point will show you an overview of the cards active. You can thumb through them, rearrange their order by dragging, click on them to open them, and slide them off the top of the screen to close them. The entire interface works seamlessly with next to zero delay, making it incredibly easy to pick up and quick to use.

palm pre plus reviewThe phone’s desktop, then, largely fills in as a placeholder without much purpose. You get an uncluttered background and five quick-launch shortcuts at the bottom of the screen, and all the usual status icons (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, battery and signal strength icons) in a narrow bar up top. The launcher icon – which can’t be removed from your quick launcher – brings up scrollable pages of icons similar to what you might find on Android or the iPhone.

Since users will seldom spend any time staring at the pretty-but-pointless desktop, Palm has made the quick-launcher instantly available from anywhere using the gesture pad below the screen. Holding a finger there, then gradually dragging it up onto the screen will pull up a wavy version of the launcher that moves around with your finger. Release it on an icon, and it opens. Clever. But the shortcuts don’t end there. You can also swipe from right to left in the same space to go back in any app, which could mean going to the last-visited page in the browser, or the previous menu when adjusting settings.

WebOS is loaded with these subtle but extremely well-engineered niceties. For instance, by entering your Google and Facebook passwords, the phone will import both sets of contacts, combine the overlaps into a single “contact card,” and even yank pictures to put faces with names. Calendars work similarly, allowing you to pull in external calendars from multiple sources, then layer them on top of each other to access everything without cobbling them together into one big mess.

Admittedly, some of the extra capabilities steepen the learning curve for the phone above the dead-simple iPhone. And we would sooner pick up one of them for Gram and Gramps. But the extra capabilities you’ll find here – especially multitasking – make it well worth the initial extra learning for business users, and other power users whose entire lives will flow through the phone.

App Catalog

Palm’s App Catalog initially disappointed us at the launch of the Pre – 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 Pre 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.

palm pre plus reviewPerformance

Without a more powerful processor, the Pre Plus feels identical to the Pre in responsiveness, which is to say it lags a bit. Scrolling through lists or leafing through apps just doesn’t feel as fluid as an iPhone, although it comes quite close and some users may not notice the difference.

An extra 256MB of RAM definitely give the Plus a boost when it comes to juggling multiple apps, though. Although we didn’t push 50 apps as PreCentral did, we easily made it to 15 without any significant slowdown, and Slacker provided uninterrupted tunes over Wi-Fi in the background the whole time. As a multitasking phone, the Pre Plus is unquestionably a monster, and the WebOS card interfaces make it one of the easiest phones to actually take advantage of multiple apps with (you won’t hesitate to leave one because of how easy it is to return to it).

Conclusion

If you liked the Palm Pre, you will find even more to like – and fewer hang-ups to overlook – on the Palm Pre Plus. The sliding motion we originally criticized has been fixed, more memory makes it an even better multitasker, and doubled storage (without double the price) makes an excellent value proposition. That leaves occasionally sluggish performance and a limited app catalog as our two major remaining gripes. Frankly, we wish Palm had dropped a hotrod processor into this unit rather than another 8GB of storage, but we’ll take whatever polishing we can get on this already likeable phone.

Highs:

  • Full QWERTY keyboard
  • Sharp-looking capacitive touch screen
  • Multiple apps run simultaneously
  • Slick, well-polished interface
  • Speedy 3G connectivity
  • Quick-shooting cam produces decent images
  • Optional Touchstone charger

Lows:

  • App Catalog still lags behind competitors (but by less than before)
  • WebOS feels laggy at times
  • Slightly less intuitive than iPhone

Editors' Recommendations