Palm Pixi Plus 4 Stars

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The Pixi Palm Plus benefits from a slim profile – it’s barely thicker than the iPhone 4 – and it fits comfortably in the hand. It has a matte rubber back, which contrasts with the smooth glass screen and the shiny plastic keys. It’s smaller than Apple’s handsets, so if their size has put you off, the Palm Pixi could be the device for you.

Just my type

On the front, you’ll see the bottom third of the handset is devoted to a QWERTY keyboard. Like BlackBerry, Palm is known for its very usable keyboards, and despite its small size, the Pixi Plus’s keyboard is no exception. They keys – in the shape of small, rubbery buttons – sit closely together, but still allow the user to type quickly and with accuracy. The ridges on the keys make them easier to find than on some of the bigger keyboards – the flat rectangles of the Motorola Milestone, for example, even though the Milestone's keys are larger and more spaced out.

If you want to message or browse the net, the 2.5-inch screen is big enough, but it’s probably not suitable for watching a complete film on. However, it’s perfect for taking advantage of Palm’s main features – calendar and contacts.

The calendar has the facility to combine details from various sources and then condenses unassigned time so that you can view your appointments more easily. The contacts book can also aggregate information from the likes of LinkedIn, Facebook and other accounts – so that you can attach images to contacts’ names, for example.

The webOS operating system was developed by Palm for the Palm Pre, and was launched last summer. The best part of the new OS is the way in which the user can handle programs. The Palm webOS has always been able to multitask – if you have more than one program open, they are displayed as cards on the screen. Touch one and you’ll see it grow to fill the whole display – a neat trick in itself. If you want to finish a program, simply flick upwards with your finger and the cards zooms off the display.

We found the Pixi Plus’s features easy to use. For instance, on the iPhone, you have to launch Spotlight to search. But on the Palm Pixi, all you have to do is begin typing on the keyboard from the home screen – it will start looking through the phone’s calendar, contacts, web history and so on to find the relevant text. If it can’t find what you’re after, it will head online to Google, Wikipedia, Google Maps and Twitter – placing your search term into the search box of whatever service you choose. It’s speedy, good to watch – and works.

Pinch me

The Pixi Plus has a capacitive display, like the iPhone and HTC desire, rather than the cut-price resistive screen that other handsets boast. The multi-touch support allows the user to pinch and zoom – just like the iPhone. It proves pretty responsive as well.

The camera is underwhelming to say the least. Its two megapixels are disappointingly low, but at least it does have an LED flash. Other hardware features include a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is a bonus, along with the hardware ringer switch you find on many Palm handsets. Long before the iPhone came along, Palm phones featured a solid switch to mute phone calls – an easy way to ensure your phone doesn’t ring at the wrong time. Palm also beat the other handsets when it came to threaded text messages.

The Pixi Plus’s processor is a reasonably quick 600MHz Qualcomm, and although it can’t live up to the 1GHz chips that feature in the latest smartphones, it runs along speedily enough. You’re never left thinking that the phone is too slow. The handset also offers Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and speedy 3G data traffic over the air. You might get speeds of up to 7.2Mbps if you can find the transmitters to achieve this.

Mediocre camera

The one thing that is really disappointing is the very average camera. Also, smartphones need apps and Palm has a low number available to users – still fewer than 2,000. Palm expects this to improve as developers become able to switch apps from one platform to another. And it’s worth pointing out that big companies such as Electronic Arts and GameLoft have already developed apps for Palm, but it doesn’t make up for the low numbers. The apps are available from the App Catalog  an easy-to-use, well designed store, which is let down by a lack of stock.

It’s a shame that Palm is let down by its apps, because the Pixi Plus is a great phone with a fantastic operating system and hardware. If you’re not bothered about having thousands of apps to choose from, then the Pixi Plus is fun to use and a very desirable handset. But if you are desperate for games and flatulence simulators, or are after a decent camera on your handset, the Pixi Plus is not the phone for you.

When it came to making phone calls, the Pixi’s call quality was good (and it doesn’t matter how you hold the phone!) It may not have the huge speaker on the back, which featured on some of the earlier Palm devices, but it still works well and sounds good. Battery life is not as good as some other smartphones, so you will have to charge it every day to ensure you get maximum performance.

Like its stablemates the Palm Pre and Palm Pre Plus, there is an option to have a special back on the handset so that it can be wirelessly charged using the Touchstone magnetic charging block. While this comes as standard on the Pre Plus, if you buy a Pixi, it will need to be bought separately, as will the Touchstone. On the side of the device you’ll find a micro USB connection hidden beneath a flap that fits so well that it can be rather tricky to peel off – this makes the Touchstone a practical, as well as rather cool, option.

The verdict

If you want vast numbers of apps and a decent camera, the Pixi Plus is not the phone for you. If, on the other hand, you’re after a simple, intuitive smartphone that’s smaller and cheaper than the iPhone 4, the Pixi Plus is a great choice.

Pros:
Slim chassis, good keyboard and excellent operating system.
Cons:
Apps are limited and the camera is mediocre at best.
Rating:
  • Look and Feel 4 Stars
  • Ease of use 5 Stars
  • Features 3 Stars
  • Performance 4 Stars
  • Battery life 3 Stars

Final verdict: 4 Stars

Review by Mobile Choice