So what exactly makes the smartphone earn the Plus at the end of its name? Well, for starters, the Palm Pre Plus offers double the Flash memory, bringing it up to 16GB with about 15GB available to the user. Though we'd still love to have expandable memory, we think this should be enough to satisfy the needs of most people. Also, while Palm isn't releasing specific details, it did confirm that the Pre Plus has double the RAM, paving the way for running more apps and speedier performance.
We saw evidence of this when trying out the new 3D gaming capabilities on the Pre Plus. At CES 2010, Palm and EA Mobile demonstrated some games that took advantage of the Palm WebOS plug-in development kit (PDK), which will widely launch in March and gives developers wider access to the device's hardware. Now, it's one thing to watch someone give a demo of these capabilities, especially when it's the manufacturer or developer trying to make a good impression, and it's another to try it first hand. However, the Pre Plus delivered just as advertised.
We played EA's Need for Speed Undercover and Sims 3 on the smartphone and thought the graphics looked great and the music sounded good. Need for Speed was particularly impressive. The gaming experience was smooth without any hiccups, and the integration of the Pre's accelerometer and touch screen worked well for maneuvering the car.
The gaming is great for entertainment, but bad for productivity, as yours truly found out while writing this review. That said, you can use the Deck of Cards feature to switch to another app to take care of business, and the Pre Plus will automatically pause the game so you can pick up right where you left off when you're ready to play again. A handful of 3D games are available now through the App Catalog, but we expect more to populate the store after the PDK is released in March.
Another app you'll find in the catalog when the Pre Plus launches is the new Palm Mobile Hotspot utility. As with the Pixi Plus, this feature allows you to turn the Pre Plus into a mobile Wi-Fi router that can provide a mobile broadband connection using Verizon's EV-DO Rev. A network on up to five devices. While the app is free, you will need to sign up for a Verizon 3G hot spot plan, which costs $40 per month and comes with a 5GB data cap (you will be charged an additional $0.05 per MB if you go over the allotted amount).
We tried it out on our review unit and the feature worked like a charm. After turning on the mobile hot spot and setting up our password, we were able to tether three devices to the Pre Plus, including our Lenovo ThinkPad T61 laptop and iPod Touch, without any problems and achieved fairly decent speeds. Based on five Speedtest.net tests conducted around the Manhattan area, download speeds averaged 1.214Mbps and upload speeds averaged 0.442Mbps.
There's more good news on the horizon. Palm WebOS 1.4, which is scheduled for release in February, will bring more even more functionality and improved performance. The most notable additions will be a Flash Player 10.1 beta plug-in that will allow you to view Flash content from the phone's Web browser, and video recording and editing. And it's not just the Palm Pre Plus that will reap the rewards, all WebOS devices will get this update, which will be delivered over the air like previous updates.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1,900MHz; EV-DO Rev. A) Palm Pre Plus in New York using Verizon service, and call quality was mostly good. On our end, audio quality was clear with little background interference or voice distortion. There was one instance where the call cut out several times during the conversation, but it only happened once during our testing period and we didn't have any dropped calls. Friends also had positive things to say about the call quality, and noted that they couldn't tell we were on a cell phone. All that said, speakerphone quality wasn't the best. Voices sounded a bit tinny and the volume was too low even in quieter environments, so it was quite difficult to hold a speakerphone call. We had no problems pairing the Pre Plus with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset or the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
Verizon's 3G network provided swift speeds to make Web browsing on the Pre Plus a painless experience. CNET's full site came up in 25 seconds, while CNN and ESPN's mobile sites loaded in 7 seconds and 9 seconds, respectively. We also downloaded a song from the Amazon MP3 Store over a cellular connection, which took 1 minute and 23 seconds. We plugged in our Bose On-Ear Headphones into the phone's 3.5mm headphone jack and enjoyed rich-sounding tunes with a nice balance of treble and bass. Unfortunately, Verizon doesn't offer its V Cast Music or Video services on the Pre Plus, but you do get a dedicated YouTube app. We watched a number of clips and while it took several seconds for the videos to buffer initially, playback was smooth and continuous.
As we noted earlier, video recording and editing are coming but in the meantime, you have the smartphone's 3-megapixel camera and flash to take your own snapshots. Though it lacks any kind of editing options, we were once again impressed by the great picture quality. Even in a darker room, the camera was able to produce a sharp image with deep colors.
The Palm Pre Plus uses the same processor as the original Pre, but with double the RAM the smartphone felt snappier. The change in responsiveness wasn't dramatic but it was enough that we noticed that apps launched quicker and there was less lag when transitioning between cards or menu screens. Again, when playing Need for Speed, we saw no difference in gaming performance even with multiple applications running the background.
The Palm Pre Plus's user-replaceable battery has a rated talk time of 5.5 hours and up to 14.5 days of standby time. The smartphone provided 5.5 hours of continous talk time in our battery drain tests. With moderate use of the Web, music player, and games, the Pre Plus's battery lasted a little more than a day. However, if you choose to use the mobile hot spot app, be sure to keep your charger or a spare battery nearby, since it drains the battery rather quickly. According to FCC radiation tests, the Pre Plus has a digital SAR rating of 0.919 watt per kilogram.