Palm Pixi Plus (Verizon Wireless)
Announced alongside the Palm Pre Plus at CES 2010, the Palm Pixi Plus will be making its way to Verizon shelves on January 25. Like its Sprint counterpart, the Pixi Plus is aimed at those ready to make the jump from a feature phone to a smartphone and although it doesn't bring quite as many upgrades or enhancements as the Pre Plus, it has one major feature that the Sprint Palm Pixi doesn't have, and that's integrated Wi-Fi. The extra connectivity is most certainly a welcome addition and Verizon and Palm sweeten the deal even more by allowing you to use the smartphone as a Wi-Fi router with a new mobile hot spot app.
The smartphone can be sluggish at times, so don't expect this to be your business sidekick. However, it's a good fit for first-time smartphone users, offering ease of use and all the basic organizing features and then some. Unlike the entry-level RIM BlackBerry Curve 8530, you also get the benefit of a multitouch screen and a better browser. The Palm Pixi Plus will cost $99.99 with a two-year contract and after a $100 mail-in rebate a bit more justifiable. Of course, be aware that on top of this price you will need to sign up for voice and data plans (Verizon recently revamped its voice plans, which starts at $39.99 per month for 450 anytime minutes nationwide (you can find the new prices here), while Verizon's unlimited data plan remains $29.99 per month) and if you want to use the mobile hot spot feature, that will also cost you an additional $40 per month.
The Palm Pixi Plus is nearly identical in design to the Sprint Palm Pixi, sharing the same dimensions, 2.63-inch multitouch screen, and full QWERTY keyboard. Verizon also packages the Pixi Plus with the same accessories, which include a travel charger, a USB cable, and reference material. However, in addition to the limited-edition artist series backplates, you can also choose from one of five new colored back covers, available in blue, green, orange, pink, or black. Each costs $29.99 (the artists series cost $49.99 each) and all are compatible with the Touchstone charging dock.
For more details about the smartphone's user interface and look and feel, please read our full review of the Palm Pixi for Sprint. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Obviously, the big news here is the addition of Wi-Fi. Though more of an entry-level device and with 3G support, some might argue that Wi-Fi isn't a necessity, but we'd have to disagree. With all the data-intensive apps on smartphones these days, it's good to have another means of connectivity. Wi-Fi can provide faster speeds for Web browsing, streaming media, or downloads, especially when a carrier's 3G network is overloaded by users; it provides another method for getting online when you're out of a 3G coverage area. In the case of the Pixi Plus, you also get the benefit of using the smartphone as a mobile Wi-Fi router.
How? Glad you asked. At launch, you will be able to download a program called Palm Mobile Hotspot from the App catalog that lets you turn your Pixi Plus into a mobile hot spot or Wi-Fi router and tether up to five devices to share a mobile broadband connection using Verizon's EV-DO Rev. A network. This feature is exclusive to the Verizon Pixi Plus and Pre Plus but we should note, it also comes with a price. 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. If you go over the monthly allowance, you will be charged an additional five cents per MB. For comparison, the mobile broadband plans for the Sprint and Verizon MiFi's cost $60 per month with the same 5GB data cap and overage fees.
Aside from Wi-Fi and 3G, the Pixi Plus also offers Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP stereo Bluetooth support and built-in GPS. As with other WebOS devices, the smartphone comes preloaded with Google Maps, which offers maps with satellite view, real-time positioning, business searches, traffic data, and simple text-based instructions. However, if you're after voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, you'll have to subscribe to Verizon's location-based service, VZ Navigator.
The rest of the smartphone's features are pretty much in line with the original Pixi and runs the same version of WebOS (220.127.116.11). As a phone, the Pixi Plus offers a speakerphone, speed dial, conference calling, airplane mode, a silent ringer switch, and text and multimedia messaging. Voice dialing still eludes the WebOS devices, however. For contact management, the WebOS's Synergy function allows you to seamlessly sync and merge contact and calendar information from your Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft Exchange, and LinkedIn (contacts only) accounts as well as view your e-mail and calendar appointments in a unified view or separated by account.
The Pixi Plus also ships with a number of personal information management and productivity apps, including Documents to Go for viewing Microsoft Office files, a PDF reader, a memo pad, a task list, a clock/alarm clock, and a calculator. If there's something else you need or desire, head on over to the Palm App Catalog on your device, where you can explore for the apps by category, popularity, or specific title. While it still trails the iTunes App Store and Android Market in terms of number of apps, the Palm App Catalog is starting to fill out quite nicely, and we expect it to grow even faster now that the Palm developer program is open to everyone.
There are no big upgrades in the multimedia department. The built-in media player supports MP3, AAC, AAC+, WAV, and AMR music files and MPEG-4, H263, and H264 video formats. To get music and video onto the Pixi Plus, simply connect the smartphone to your computer via a USB cable, select the USB Drive option, and then drag and drop your files. The Palm Pixi Plus does not offer an expansion memory card slot but has 8GB of storage space with about 7GB available to the user.
When you connect the Pixi to your computer, you'll also see the Media Sync option. It used to be that this would allow you to connect to iTunes so you could sync any non-DRM tracks (no videos) from iTunes to your WebOS smartphone. However, ever since the launch of the Pre, Palm and Apple have played a cat-and-mouse game where this feature has been disabled and then re-enabled several times, but for now it appears Apple has won, shutting down the synchronization capabilities with iTunes 9.0.2. It remains to be seen if Palm issues another update to fix the issue, but in the meantime, there are third-party applications, such as DoubleTwist, that will allow you to achieve the same result.
In addition to your own multimedia library, you can discover and download new songs over the air from the Amazon MP3 Store, and you can stream video from the dedicated YouTube app. Unlike Sprint, Verizon does not include its V Cast music and video services on the Pixi Plus, though they may be added in the future.
As before, the Pixi Plus is equipped with a 2-megapixel camera. Though there is a flash, you don't get any editing options such as white balance, and picture quality isn't all that great. Images came out grainy and a bit dark, while the flash sometimes just blew out the picture completely. On the bright side, video recording will be added soon to all Palm WebOS devices. Palm is scheduled to release a WebOS 1.4 over-the-air update sometime in February, which will bring not only video recording and editing, but also a Flash plug-in for the browser.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO Rev. A) Palm Pixi Plus in New York using Verizon service, and call quality was good. On our side, there was very little background noise or voice distortion, allowing us to enjoy conversation without any type of disruption and we had no problem using an airline's voice-automated response system. Friends also reported clear audio on their end of the call. Speakerphone quality was acceptable, providing decent sound with enough volume to hear even in louder environments. We had no problems pairing the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset or the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
Verizon's 3G network provided reliable coverage and impressive speeds as we roamed around Manhattan. In an average of three tests, CNET's full site came up in 26 seconds, while CNN and ESPN's mobile sites loaded in 7 seconds and 10 seconds, respectively. Unfortunately, the Palm Mobile Hotspot app wasn't preloaded on our review unit, so we couldn't try out the feature on our Pixi Plus (see our review of the Palm Pre Plus for more on this). YouTube clips took a couple of seconds to buffer, but we were really impressed by the smooth playback.
The Palm Pixi didn't knock our socks off with its general performance, and the Pixi Plus doesn't either. There are still pauses when launching apps or switching tasks, but the smartphone does feel a bit snappier than the original, as the delays didn't feel quite as crippling as it did on the Pixi. The Palm Pixi Plus is equipped with an 1,150mAh lithium ion, user-replaceable battery with a rated talk time of 5.2 hours and up to 14 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, we got 5.5 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the Pixi Plus has a digital SAR rating of 1.47 watts per kilogram.**