Palm Pixi Review: Not Bad, Far From Great

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It’s been a good year for Palm. There’s no doubt about that. Given the fact that everyone and anyone thought Palm would be dead in the water after the lackluster year they had in 2008. The majority of the media present at Palm’s CES press conference this year walked away amazed by what they had seen. I tend to hate on everything and even I was impressed with webOS and the Pre. It was something different and fresh. But the honeymoon is over.

So here we are 11 months later. I still think webOS is a fantastic operating system, but it’s limited by the hardware that Palm has produced including the recently available Pixi. From a usability standpoint, the Pixi’s candy bar form factor lends itself to an easier user experience. The keyboard is free of any sharp edges and doesn’t feel as gummy as the Pre’s keyboard. There’s a rather large black void in between the screen and keyboard that serves as the touch sensitive gesture area allowing users to go back and switch between applications. The keyboard could have been filled out a little more though. It’s extremely lightweight but doesn’t feel cheap or fragile.

(Check out TIME’s Tech Buyer’s Guide 2009)

The soft touch battery cover that was reserved for the Touchstone battery cover on the Pre now comes standard on the Pixi. A separate Touchstone battery cover for the Pixi comes with the purchase of the wireless charging system though. Just like the Pre, the Pixi’s microUSB port is difficult to access because the entire soft touch back plate wraps around to the front of the device. The flap that covers the port is ridiculously annoying to flip up.

Battery life on the Pixi is fairly decent and with most 3G devices these days your mileage will vary. I’ve managed to get anywhere from 5 to 7 hours with moderate Web browsing, a few phone calls and sporadic e-mails.

It makes phone calls, right? It does.

(See TIME’s 50 Best Inventions of 2009).

Bigger doesn’t always mean better, but in this case, the Pixi’s 2.63-inch screen leaves much to be desired. My eyes are bad enough and having to squint and hold the Pixi inches from my nose just to read an e-mail or Web site isn’t as much fun as you’d expect. With that being said, it’s something I’ve learned to deal with because of the QWERTY keyboard. At least it doesn’t come with a stylus.

Speaking of which, the Pixi’s webKit-based browser natively supports multi-touch. Take that DROID!

The 2-megapixel camera is good enough but user specified settings like White Balance are non-existent. You can’t take video, but it has a flash.

A major, major knock against the Pixi is the lack of Wi-Fi. How can a smartphone being released in today’s market not have Wi-Fi? Makes no difference that the device is $99 (after a $100MIR) because the HTC Hero is at the same price point without a MIR from Best Buy. Doesn’t matter that the device is running on Sprint either. And who wouldn’t pay the extra $50 for the Pre?

To top it off, Palm equipped the Pixi with a slower processor that translates to a noticeable amount of lag when multiple ‘cards’ are open on the deck. Despite the lackluster performance of the hardware I’m still a huge fan of webOS. It’d be nice if Palm put out some hardware to compliment it.

(See TIME’s Must-Have Travel Gadgets for 2009)

Palm says the App Catalog is still in Beta. It’s still in Beta and it shows. With less than 400 applications available it’s not worth talking about.

Palm’s Pixi is definitely not the device for me, but I can see it filling a category somewhere in between the free feature phones and smartphones of today. It’s a very good messaging device but the added bonus of having webOS as an operating system pulls it ahead of most other devices at this price point.

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