The Palm Pre Plus ($150 with a two-year contract from AT&T; price as of May 13, 2010) is really more of an update of the original Pre on Sprint than a completely new product. Even so, the subtle hardware tweaks combined with AT&T’s network make it an overall improvement from its predecessor. Some quirks remain, however, with the keyboard design and the sluggishness of the software.
Because there are so few significant differences between the Pre Plus and the original Pre in both hardware and software, I have focused here mainly on the updates and new features in the Plus for AT&T. For a closer look at its WebOS and most of its hardware specs, see our in-depth review of the original Palm Pre–the two models are that similar.
The Palm Pre Plus for AT&T is essentially identical to the Pre Plus on Verizon, which is more or less the same hardware as the original Palm Pre. There is one small difference between the Pre Plus and the first Palm Pre: The single hardware button that was on the original phone has been removed. Like the Pixi and Pixi Plus, the Pre Plus has a capacitive touch area below the screen with a light-up bar. To shrink an app down to card size, you simply tap this area (on the original Pre, you would press the button).
Besides the omitted hardware button, the only other design differences are subtle changes on the slide-out keyboard. In a side-by-side comparison between the Sprint Pre and the AT&T Palm Pre Plus, I did notice that the Plus’s keyboard was a bit more responsive. The slider mechanism feels much more secure, as well. The original Pre’s keyboard felt a bit wobbly and insecure; the Pre Plus’s keyboard slides in with a nice snap.
Even with these improvements, the Pre Plus’s keyboard is simply too small for comfortable typing. I had to use my nails to type on the small keys, and I made a few errors in long messages. I wish Palm had rethought the slide-out design, as well. The sharp bezel lip on the sides and bottom sometimes interferes with typing. Furthermore, the top row is a few millimeters too close to the edge of the slider screen, so you have to angle your fingers to press those keys.
Perhaps the best update to the hardware is the doubled internal memory: The Pre Plus has 16GB of internal storage versus 8GB on the original Pre. With Palm opening up the WebOS SDK and adding 3D graphics into the mix, we’re sure to see a surge of apps in the WebOS App Catalog, so more storage is necessary. Also, the WebOS music player is terrific, but the potential for the first Pre to be both a portable media player and a smartphone (like the iPhone) was undercut by its limited storage.
The last, but not the least, of the hardware tweaks is the inductive battery cover. You can use the phone with the Touchstone charger out of the box. The first Palm Pre requires that you first swap out the standard cover for the inductive one. This is good news for AT&T customers, as the carrier will throw the Touchstone in for free when you purchase the Pre Plus at a corporate store.
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 was very good–even better than on the iPhone 3GS or the Google Nexus One. 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).
The OS still has no Adobe Flash Player 10.1 support, unfortunately. In January, when Palm announced WebOS 1.4, the company had said that Flash would be rolled out at the same time as the OS update. Eventually, Pre users will be able to play full Flash videos on their phones–but not yet.
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 Pre 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.
The Palm Pre Plus is by no means a perfect smartphone: The keyboard is too small, WebOS can be slow and glitchy, and you won’t find nearly as many apps in the Palm App Catalog as in the iTunes App Store or the Android Market. That said, the Pre Plus is best iPhone alternative on AT&T. The only Android phone on AT&T currently is the Motorola Backflip, which is a fairly mediocre smartphone.