LAS VEGAS--Palm's announcement at CES 2010 wasn't a complete surprise. Rumors of the Palm Pre Plus and Palm Pixi Plus for Verizon Wireless were floating around preshow for a few weeks, but that doesn't mean we weren't interested in checking out the products.
Luckily for us, Palm let us take a hands-on look at the devices this year (Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein even made a wisecrack about last year's restrictions at the press conference), and though they weren't quite the showstoppers that the Pre was at CES 2009, there were certainly things that impressed us.
The Palm Pre Plus is the more exciting of the two devices. The design enhancements are small but noticeable. The QWERTY keyboard is still small but there's a bit more travel space and better tactile feedback, so the typing experience is improved. Also, the phone felt like it had a more solid build; the included inductive back cover certainly helps.
What really blew us away was the 3D gaming experience on the Pre Plus. We played EA's Need for Speed Undercover on the smartphone and thought the graphics looked great. The gaming experience was smooth and the integration of the Pre's accelerometer and touch screen worked well for maneuvering the car. We didn't get a chance to play any games on the Pixi Plus but Palm admittedly said that with a slower processor, gaming on the Pixi wouldn't quite be the same and would be more of a 2D experience.
We also got to try some of the new features of Palm WebOS 1.4, which will be pushed out over the air some time in February. The Flash 10.1 plug-in allowed us to navigate over to CNET.com and watch our videos with relatively little problem (there was a bit of stuttering at the beginning).
Video recording is simple enough. You can record VGA quality video at 30 frames per second. We didn't find the picture quality all that great--dull and blurry--but the ability to edit is a great. The functionality is pretty basic but dead simple; you just drag the handles at either end of the clip to shorten the video and you're done. You can also easily upload your videos to Facebook and YouTube or share them via e-mail or MMS with a simple tap of the screen.
Last but not least, there's the Palm Pixi Plus. There wasn't quite as many upgrades to the Plus version over the original but we have to say that the addition of Wi-Fi is huge (hate to be a Sprint Pixi owner right now). Even bigger news is that both the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus can be used as a Wi-Fi router. A mobile hot spot app will be available from the Palm App Catalog when the smartphones launch, and with a Verizon plan, you'll be able to connect up to five devices. Of course, the big question will be: how much will the plans cost?
Overall, we think these are two solid smartphones for Verizon's lineup. Both will be available January 25, but pricing was not revealed at this time. Both Palm and Verizon said they'll announce details closer to launch. In the meantime, you can check out our hands-on photo gallery below and First Look video to get a closer look at the phones.