CNET gets some hands-on time with the new Palm Pixi smartphone. Check out the photo gallery here.
The Palm Pixi has a design similar to the Palm Centro's and, in fact, is considered a replacement the entry-level smartphone. Of course, with Palm's WebOS, the Pixi offers a lot more functionality than the Centro and includes such features as the Deck of Cards multitasking and Synergy for contact management.
The Palm Pixi will be available from Sprint for the holiday season, but pricing and a specific release date were not announced yet.
The Palm Pixi measures 4.37 inches tall by 2.17 inches wide by 0.43 inch thick and weighs a slight 3.51 ounces. The smartphone is incredibly compact and feels light in the hand, but still feels very solid. It has less of a plasticky feel than the Pre, partially because of the rubberized, scratch-resistant back cover, and since there are no moving parts, you don't have to deal with the screen rocking when you're on a phone call or trying to use the touch screen.
According to Palm, the Pixi is the thinnest device from the company to date and it's 10 percent thinner than the Apple iPhone 3GS and 20 percent thinner than any of the BlackBerry models. You'll certainly have no problem slipping this device into a pants pocket. We think the petite size will also appeal to more women.
Pictured here is the right side of the smartphone, which holds the silent ringer switch and the volume rocker.
Touch screen As we mentioned, the Pixi's design is similar to the Palm Centro as well as the Palm Treo Pro.
The handset has a slate form factor where the upper half of the device features a 2.63-inch capacitive multitouch screen with a 320x400-pixel resolution. The display is admittedly small, but it's bright and clear and has a built-in accelerometer and proximity sensor. It was mostly responsive to our touch, but there were some delays. To be fair, however, the Pixi we saw wasn't final productm so we didn't think badly of the device.
Gesture area While not visible to the naked eye, below the display is a capacitive gesture area similar to the Palm Pre. There you can swipe your finger right to left to back out of a menu and while Palm has removed the physical center button, you can press the middle of the gesture area to go back to your Deck of Card view.
Keyboard The Pixi's QWERTY keyboard might make you groan at first. Palm stuck with small gel-like buttons that drew complaints from Pre users, Centro users, and Treo Pro users. The buttons are indeed small and the layout of the keyboard isn't that spacious, but we found it easier to use than the Pre's. Part of the reason was because our thumb wasn't hitting the bottom of the slide-up screen or on the outer edges of the phone (yes, the same sharp edges that Gizmodo used to slice cheese with). While we still wish Palm would rethink its keyboards, the Pixi offers a better typing experience that its WebOS sibling.
The Palm Pixi offers some new tricks that its older sibling can't do but also trails behind the Pre in some areas. Starting with the new stuff, the Pixi brings LinkedIn contacts integration into Synergy as well as Yahoo contacts, calendar, and IM. This is, of course, on top of the Google, Facebook, and Exchange ActiveSync support that we saw on the Pre.
Speaking of Facebook, the Pixi offers a dedicated Facebook app, which Pre users have been begging for ever since the smartphone first launched. You'll be able to update your status, post on friends' walls, make photo and comments right from the Pixi. When asked about whether Pre owners would get a Facebook app as well, Palm said it could not comment at this time but said if it so chose to, it could be pushed out through an over-the-air update. (We're thinking is coming, just a matter of time).
Now, for the bad news. Unlike the Palm Pre, the Pixi doesn't have integrated Wi-Fi and you get a lower 2-megapixel camera (instead of 3 megapixels). The lack of Wi-Fi is disppointing, but you do get support for Sprint's EV-DO Rev. A network and Palm said you will be able to use the carrier's 3G network to download songs from the Amazon MP3 store (the Pre only lets you do this via Wi-Fi). You also still get Bluetooth, GPS, and Sprint services like Sprint Navigation, Sprint TV, and NFL Mobile Live. According to Palm, it will also continue fill out its App Catalog (the beta program is set to end in the fall) and showed us a new iLike app that displays concerts in your area and can integrated into your calendar (think Fandango for concerts).
The Pixi really isn't too shabby in the features department and again, if priced right, Sprint could move a lot of units. With the announcement of the Pixi, Sprint also lowered the price of the Palm Pre to $149.99 with a two-year contract so we're thinking the Pixi could for $100 or less, which would be sweet.
On the bottom of the device, you'll find the Pixi's 3.5-millimeter headphone jack and power button. Aside from the Amazon MP3 store, according to Palm, the smartphone will work with iTunes but of course, as many found out with iTunes 9, Apple has once again disabled the Pre media syncing.
Palm and Apple have been playing this cat-and-mouse game for months now, and now we wait and see what Palm will do next. Fortunately, there are ways to continue the iTunes synchronization as well other methods of listening to music on the Pixi, such as the Pandora app.
The Palm Pixi will work with the Touchstone Dock, which lets you charge the smartphone wirelessly. Like the Pre, you will have to swap out the standard battery cover for a magnetic one so you can attach it to the Touchstone Dock. In addition, if a call comes through while the Pixi is on the dock and you choose to accept it, the speakerphone will automatically turn on so you don't have to physically pick up the phone.
Palm did not release pricing information on the Touchstone Dock kit for the Palm Pixi at this time.
The Palm Pixi has a rubberized, scratch-resistant back cover, so it doesn't feel as slick and plasticky as the Pre. On back, you'll also find the camera lens and flash, but it still doesn't record video.
The Pixi offers a user-replaceable battery but rated battery life wasn't yet revealed. We hope that it'll be better than the Pre's. Also, there's no expansion capabilities, though given the Pixi's intended audience, we think 8GB of internal user storage will be enough for most.
Last but not least, you can customize your Pixi with a limited-edition back cover from the Palm Pixi Artist Series. Palm commissioned five artists, including San Francisco-based illustrator Jeremy Fish to former CNET alum, now freelance graphic designer/artist Michelle White, to create these special backplates. In addition to looking cool, they can also be used with the Touchstone Dock.
The back covers will be available at the time of the Pixi launch but again, pricing and release date was not revealed. Palm will showcase the Palm Pixi Artist Series at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, which occurs September 10 through September 17, 2009.
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