Palm Pixi (Sprint) review: Palm Pixi (Sprint)

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The Good The Palm Pixi features a remarkably thin design and an improved QWERTY keyboard. An updated OS brings Yahoo integration as well as enhanced messaging features. It also offers Bluetooth, GPS, and 3G support.

The Bad Lacks Wi-Fi. The smartphone can be sluggish and battery can drain quickly. The camera's picture quality is subpar and still lacks video recording and editing options.

The Bottom Line While not as powerful as the Pre, the Palm Pixi offers first-time smartphone buyers a decent set of features in a sleek little package. However, to be really competitive, we think it needs to come down in price just a touch.

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7.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6

The debut of the Palm Pre got the tech world and gadget enthusiasts excited about Palm once again. Long considered dead in the water, Palm's innovative WebOS operating system buoyed it back into the spotlight, and the Pre was certainly a boon for the company as well as Sprint. While not a complete savior, the two are hoping to create some more magic with the new Palm Pixi.

A smaller, cheaper version of the Pre, the Pixi is aimed at a younger audience and to those who put a precedent on messaging or are making the jump from a feature phone to a smartphone. You can think of the Pixi as the replacement to the Palm Centro. Since it is a more entry-level smartphone, you sacrifice some features, such as Wi-Fi and a better camera. In addition, the Pixi feels underpowered compared with the Pre. However, what you do get is an incredibly sleek smartphone with an improved keyboard and enhanced contact management and messaging features. Plus, you still get 3G support, Bluetooth, GPS, and the great multitasking abilities of WebOS. For first-time smartphone buyers and casual users, the Palm Pixi is enough, but power users and tech enthusiasts should go with the Pre.

The Pixi goes on sale November 15 as a Sprint exclusive for $99.99 with a two-year contract (it requires one of the carrier's unlimited data plans, such as Simply Everything or Everything Data) and after a $100 mail-in rebate. The price is OK, and Sprint offers some of the better-valued voice and data plans. That said, to make the Pixi a real enticing package, it'd be great to see Sprint shave off even $10 on the price, considering that the Pre is only $50 more and you can get the HTC Droid Eris from Verizon for the same price with Wi-Fi.

While the Pixi name won't appeal to some people (read: men), we can certainly see where the inspiration comes from, as the smartphone is downright petite and dare we say, cute? The Pixi is Palm's thinnest device to date and measures a slight 4.37 inches by 2.17 inches wide by 0.43 inch thick and weighs 3.26 ounces. It easily slips into a pants pocket and is incredibly light in the hand without feeling fragile. The back of the phone has a nice soft-touch finish so it doesn't feel as plasticky or slick as the Pre. Plus, it has a more solid construction without any moving parts that come with a slider design.

The Palm Pixi is incredibly thin and compact. While the name doesn't impress, the phone's design certainly does.

Of course, with the compact size and slate form factor, there are some trade-offs, most notably, screen size. The Palm Pixi features a 2.63-inch capacitive touch screen with a 320x400 resolution, so it's a bit of adjustment coming from the Pre's 3.1-inch, 320x480 HVGA display, particularly when viewing Web pages and videos. The app panels can also feel a bit cramped when you've got the quick-launch bar or an e-mail preview occupying the bottom of the screen.

That said, the screen is still bright and sharp. We used multiple applications, including apps previously downloaded from the App Catalog for the Pre such as Yelp, Tweed, and Pandora, and all played well with the screen's resolution. The capacitive touch screen is responsive, though the screen transitions aren't always swift or smooth (see Performance for more).

Like the Pre, the Pixi has multitouch capabilities so you can use the pinch gesture to zoom in and out of Web pages, photos, and maps. In addition, there's a built-in accelerometer as well as a proximity sensor so the display will automatically turn off when you're on a call in order to prevent any accidental mispresses when holding the phone up to your ear.

Below the display is a gesture area that's not visible to the naked eye. However, once you touch it, you'll see a single line in the center light up. This replaces the physical center button found the Pre and when touched, it brings you back to the deck of card view if you're working in an application. Swiping your finger right to left will also return you to the previous screen and dragging your finger from the gesture area up to the screen will bring up the launcher bar, just like the Pre.

For more information about the gestures, as well as the Pixi's user interface, setup process, and multitasking abilities, please read our full review of the Palm Pre.

While having smaller buttons, the Pixi's QWERTY keyboard was much easier to use than the Pre's.

Pressing on (get it?) to the Pixi's QWERTY keyboard, it is still small and in fact, the buttons are narrower than the ones on the Pre, but it's way more comfortable and easier to use. How could that be? Well, for one thing, the keys are raised higher and you don't have to deal with maneuvering around the edges of the phone caused by the slider design or having your thumb bump up against the bottom of the screen. Also, the Pixi's buttons provide more of a clicky feedback and don't feel as sticky or gummy to press, so it's a much a better experience. There will certainly be some adjustment since the keys are small, but we found typing on the Pixi to be much more comfortable than the Pre and made less mistakes. An official virtual keyboard by Palm, however, has yet to be seen.

Rounding out the Palm Pixi's design features is a power button and a 3.5mm headphone jack on top, while the silent ringer switch, volume rocker, and Micro-USB port are on the right side. The latter is protected by the attached cover and while a little tricky to pry open, it's much less cumbersome than the one found on the Pre. As usual, the camera and flash are located on the back.

The Palm Pixi comes packaged with an AC adapter, a Micro-USB cable, and reference material. A Touchstone Kit will also be available for the Pixi for $79.99, which includes the dock and inductive back cover. In addition, you can spruce up your Pixi with one of six limited-edition back covers from the Palm Pixi Artist Series. The designs by Michelle White, Jeremy Fish, and Cole Gerst will be available at launch, while those by Sheri Bodell and Melissa Hutton will ship in early December. Each cover costs $49.99 and work with the Touchstone dock. For more add ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.

As we mentioned earlier, the Palm Pixi is meant to be more of an entry-level device so it doesn't have all the capabilities of the Pre. The biggest difference is that the Pixi lacks Wi-Fi and also gets a lesser 2-megapixel camera, which we'll talk about later in this section. However, the Pixi still offers plenty for the first-time smartphone buyer and even includes some functionality not found on the Pre (yet).

At launch, the Palm Pixi will actually ship with Palm WebOS 1.2.9 out of the box but, an over-the-air update to 1.3.1 should be available to most customers on the Pixi's November 15 release date. However, Palm sends out its updates in batches so there may be some who won't get theirs right off the bat, but the company has said 1.3.1 will be available to customers within that week. For any curious Pre owners, Palm has not announced an official release date for WebOS 1.3.1 for your device, but we suspect it won't be much later after the Pixi's launch.

So what's new in WebOS 1.3.1? The most notable addition is the Yahoo integration with Palm's Synergy feature. This means that in addition to your Outlook Exchange ActiveSync, Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn information, you can now incorporate your Yahoo contacts, calendar, and messenger data into the Pixi's address book. Like the other accounts, you simply enter your e-mail address and password, and Synergy will do the rest, merging any duplicate entries into one contact sheet. Just remember, the more contacts you have, the longer it will take the phone to get all the data, so be patient.

Once done, an individual's contact page will show all his or her e-mail addresses, phone numbers, images. If they're an instant-messaging buddy, a dot next to their name will show their current status (green for online, orange for idle/busy, or blank for offline). While we absolutely love Synergy for simplifying the contact management system, we do wish there was a way to sync all your Facebook contacts or just those who are already in your contacts database like on the Motorola Droid.

We were able to sync our Yahoo account with the Pixi but after initial setup, we were asked several times to re-enter our password, despite the fact that we got the message that synchronization was complete the first time we entered it. Despite this small oddity, we received our Yahoo mail as it arrived to our in-box, and all contacts were integrated into the universal address book. Our Yahoo IM buddies transferred over to the unified Messaging app, though there's no distinction between the different IM clients.

While we're on the subject of messaging, there are some new enhancements. First and foremost, you can finally forward text messages. You can do so by simply tapping on the message as well as copy a single message rather than an entire thread. You can do both by simply tapping on the message, which will bring up a menu with those options. In addition, there are new shortcuts in the e-mail app that allow you to flag messages, mark as unread, or move to a folder. To find these options, open a message and press the E-mail drop-down menu in the upper left-hand corner. WebOS 1.3.1 also improves e-mail formatting when you forward or reply to messages.