Slim and sleek, the Pixi Plus is a great-looking phone with decent-sized screen and neat, near-rugged feel to it
The Palm operating system is slick, fun and intuitive. The keyboard is small, cramped even, but surprisingly effective
The Pixi Plus has an App Catalog which is easy to use but sparse on content. This will change but for now it’s disappointing
The phone’s performance is nimble and reliable, making it cool and efficient in use
Smartphones routinely need daily charges and the Pixi Plus is no exception
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 3:59:10 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Great operating system, slim profile and effective keyboard
Limited range of apps and below-par camera
Make no mistake, this latest candy bar styled smartphone from Palm is a tremendous success. It ain’t perfect, but the Palm Pixi Plus is a cool-looking beast. It has a touch-screen plus an impressive keyboard and the slickest operating system on any smartphone bar Apple’s. It’s very slim – only marginally thicker from front to back than the iPhone 4 – and fits the hand well. The smooth glass of the screen and shiny plastic keys contrast nicely with the matte rubber back. The Pixi Plus is noticeably smaller than Apple’s models, so if you’ve turned away from the iPhone because of its size, this could be the smartphone for you.
The bottom third of the phone’s front is taken up by a QWERTY keyboard. Like BlackBerry, Palm has a history of highly usable keyboards, and the Pixi Plus’s QWERTY is no exception, despite its compactness. The keys are small, rubbery buttons, closely packed together, but it’s still easy to type accurately and at speed. Because they’re ridged, the keys are easier to find than on some other larger keyboards, like the flat oblongs of the Motorola Milestone for instance, even though the Milestone’s keys are bigger and more widely spaced. The 2.6-inch screen is big enough for messaging and limited internet browsing, though you might not want to watch a whole movie on it. And it’s great for Palm’s core skills of calendar and contacts: the central purpose in the original Palm Pilot organiser.Here, the calendar looks good because of the way it combines information from different sources and concertinas unassigned time to show your appointments more clearly. Similarly, the contacts aggregate information from Facebook, LinkedIn and other accounts to attach photographs to names, for instance. Palm developed the webOS operating system for the Palm Pre, released last summer. The most enjoyable part of this highly accessible interface is the way you handle programs. Palm webOS was capable of multi-tasking from day one and when you have multiple programs open they appear as cards on the screen. Touch one and it expands to fill the display, which is neat enough. To end a program, though, you merely flick upwards with one finger and the card is whisked offscreen to oblivion. The phone’s search features are also pleasingly simple to use. On the iPhone, for instance, to search you have to launch Spotlight. Here, you just start typing on the keyboard from the home screen and the Pixi Plus scours the phone’s memory to explore contacts, calendar, web history and so on to find the relevant text. If there’s no joy there it’ll offer to take you online to Google, Google Maps, Wikipedia and Twitter, automatically placing your term into the search box of the service you pick. It’s fast, effective and highly pleasing to watch.
The touch-screen is a capacitive display, the kind used on the iPhone and HTC Desire, instead of the cheaper, less attractive resistive kind of screens found elsewhere. It has multi-touch capabilities so you can zoom in with the pinching movement familiar to iPhone users. It’s pretty responsive, too.The camera is disappointing, though it is the first underwhelming feature here. At just two megapixels, the resolution is preposterously low. Still, at least there’s an LED flash. Other hardware details include a proper 3.5mm headphone jack (hurrah) so you can attach your favourite cans, and Palm’s trademark hardware ringer switch. Since way before the iPhone, Palm phones have had a solid switch to mute phone calls – a simple and highly effective way to make sure your phone doesn’t ring at just the wrong moment. Palm also had threaded text messages before other phones, too. The processor is a reasonably speedy 600MHz Qualcomm processor and while this is no competition for the 1GHz chips found in many of the latest smartphones, it all tips along happily enough. You’re never left feeling things need to be quicker. Of course, there’s also Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and fast 3G data traffic over the air: it’s capable of downloads at up to 7.2Mbps if you can find the transmitters to match.
There’s one other disappointment and it’s a bigger one than the mediocre snapper. Smartphones need apps and Palm doesn’t have them in any great number. The total apps are still fewer than 2,000. Palm says that will change as developers learn how to switch apps from one platform to another more easily. And to be fair, there are big names like Electronic Arts and GameLoft who have apps for Palm already, but it’s not quite enough. The store, called the App Catalog, is neatly designed and easy to navigate but it’s not well-stocked.It’s a shame because this is a tremendous phone with a spectacular operating system and appealing hardware. If you aren’t worried about apps, then this is sparkling, fun to use and highly desirable. If you can’t live without endless games and flatulence simulators, or if the phone’s photographic chops are crucial to you, the Pixi Plus isn’t the phone to suit.Call quality on the Pixi Plus is strong, and no, it doesn’t make any difference how you grip the phone. While it doesn’t have the massive speaker on the back some earlier Palm handsets sported, it sounds good and works well. Battery life is modest, in terms of smartphones, so you will need to charge it every day to feel sure.Like the Palm Pre and Palm Pre Plus, you can opt for a special back to the phone that will wirelessly charge the handset when placed on the Touchstone magnetic charging block. The special back now comes as standard on the Pre Plus, but Pixi-lovers need to buy it separately, like the Touchstone itself. The flap on the phone’s side that hides the micro USB connection fits so perfectly it can be hard to peel back, so the Touchstone is not only cool, but practical, too. In fact, that’s a good description for the Pixi Plus, as well.
If you want a smartphone that is as simple and intuitive to use as the iPhone, in a smaller frame and at a lower price, the Pixi Plus is hard to beat. If you want shedloads of apps and a high-resolution camera, you’ll have to look elsewhere.