capsule review

Palm Pixi Plus: Inexpensive, Full-Featured Smartphone on AT&T

At a Glance
  • Palm Pixi Plus (AT&T)

    PCWorld Rating

The "Plus" in the Palm Pixi Plus ($50 with a two-year contract from AT&T; price as of 6/3/10) really means one thing: the addition of Wi-Fi connectivity. Other than that, the phone is identical in specs and design to its predecessor. While the keyboard isn't perfect and WebOS performance can be sluggish, the Pixi Plus is a solid, inexpensive smartphone--and Wi-Fi only bolsters its abilities.

Slim, Pocketable Design

Because there are so few differences between the Pixi Plus and the original Pixi in hardware and software, I have focused here mainly on the updates and new features. For a closer look at WebOS and the hardware specs, see our in-depth review of the Palm Pixi as well as the Palm Pre.

The lightweight Pixi feels really nice in the hand, thanks to its rubberized back and slim body. It's also superpocketable, measuring 2.2 by 4.4 by 0.4 inches. Like the Pre Plus, the handset offers a touch area with a light-up bar; you simply tap it to shrink an app to card view.

Although it is narrower, the Pixi Plus's keyboard is slightly easier to use than the Pre Plus's. Yes, it feels a bit cramped, but it doesn't have the sharp bezel lips (which sometimes interfere with typing) found on the Pre Plus's slide-out keyboard. As I noted in my original review of the Pixi, I really wish that Palm had rethought the keyboard design for a phone that's marketed toward heavy messagers--it is simply too small.

Another issue is that, unlike the Pre Plus, the Pixi Plus did not get a storage boost. You're still restricted to 8GB of internal memory. While 8GB isn't bad, people who are planning to keep a large music collection and download a lot of apps onto the device might opt for the 16GB Pre Plus.

What's New in WebOS 1.4

We've covered WebOS's features and usability extensively in previous reviews of the original Palm Pre for Sprint, so for this review I'll focus mostly on what's new in WebOS 1.4. The Palm Pre Plus for AT&T is the first phone to ship with 1.4 (other WebOS devices received upgrades back in February after they became available).

I have a longstanding gripe about WebOS: the amount of time the phone takes to get up and running. Nothing has changed, it seems, with the WebOS 1.4 update. I felt like I was staring at that Palm logo for an eternity before the phone was actually ready to go. Once it was, I saw the familiar launch menu, notification system, and card multitasking view. As I navigated through the various apps and menus, I didn't notice much of a difference in the speediness of the interface from 1.3.

The biggest update in WebOS 1.4 is the ability to capture, edit, and upload video. The video-capture app is simple: You shoot video using the existing camera app, with the press of a button. You can then trim your clip by dragging a handle through a series of thumbnail-size stills. It is actually quite similar to the iPhone 3GS's app. The app also lets you upload directly to Facebook and YouTube.Video quality is good: My clips played back smoothly, though they were plagued by a bit of pixelation and blurriness.

You'll find small enhancements and tweaks throughout the phone's native apps. In the Calendar app, phone numbers are linked to the phone application, so you can make calls directly from your appointments. The e-mail application lets you sort by date, sender, and subject, so you can find buried, important messages that much faster. In the Phone app, the call log offers more options to connect easily to a contact (such as via SMS). And some new shortcuts help you zip from one app to another (for example, to move from a chat view to a phone call with that person).

Unlike the Palm Pre and Pre Plus, the Pixi Plus (Pixi Plus onVerizon and the Pixi on Sprint) won't be able to download Adobe Flash Player 10.1 right away due to some unspecified hardware issues. While this is unfortunate, watching video clips longer than three minutes on the Pixi Plus' 2.6-inch display is less than desirable, so perhaps Flash isn't that big of a loss.

Good Performance on AT&T; No Mobile Hotspot

Browsing over AT&T's 3G network was moderately fast. Multimedia-rich pages, like PCWorld.com and CNN.com, loaded fairly quickly. Call quality over the network in downtown San Francisco was good. Voices sounded natural, with an ample amount of volume. My contacts could hear me perfectly, even while I was standing on a busy corner. Unfortunately--and unsurprisingly given AT&T's sometimes spotty coverage here--I lost reception in different areas of the city and in certain buildings.

Unlike the Verizon Pre Plus, the AT&T version gets no mobile-hotspot love. The Verizon Pre Plus lets you connect up to five other Wi-Fi-enabled devices via a now free add-on application. No word on whether AT&T will add this useful feature--and, more important, how much it will cost.

Preloaded on the Pixi Plus are a handful of AT&T apps: YPmobile (Yellow Pages app), AT&T Navigator (GPS app), and AT&T Address Book. I'm not sure how many AT&T customers use Address Book, which lets you easily sync your online contacts with your phone, but it is a nice addition. It seamlessly integrates with all of your other account contacts, as well.

To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Palm’s sprightly Pixi Plus is a good, inexpensive addition to AT&T's assortment of smartphones, but some users might have trouble with the tiny, cramped keyboard.

    Pros

    • Inexpensive
    • Slim, pocketable design

    Cons

    • AT&T coverage can be spotty
    • Keyboard feels too cramped
Related:
Shop Tech Products at Amazon