Palm Pre Plus Review: Is Plus Enough?

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Palm made a splash at CES in 2009 with the announcement of webOS and I’d say they’ve done a good job maintaining that momentum. A year later, they’ve added Verizon and AT&T to the roster and updated both the Pre and Pixi with – what some might call – minor updates. It’s been a week since the Pre Plus (Pixi Plus, too) went on sale with Verizon and the following is what I’ve managed to gather about the latest device in a little over a week.

Hardware
To the untrained eye, the Palm Pre Plus looks exactly like the Palm Pre that was released back in June (’09). Upon closer inspection you’ll notice that the Verizon variant sports a clean and button less façade. It’s safe to assume that Palm learned a thing or two with the Pixi, which lacks a physical button and relies solely on a touch-sensitive gesture area. It’s incredibly responsive and depending on which direction you swipe, the area just below the screen lights up and trails the movement of your finger. It’s this little area that serves as the control center for navigating and initiating webOS applications. But more on that later.

Slide the Pre Plus open and you’re presented with an updated keyboard that’s less mushy and firm to the touch. It gives a satisfying click and it’s much easier to mash out text messages or e-mails with this keyboard than the previous Pre keyboard. I think my claustrophobia tricks my brain into thinking that the Pre Plus keyboard is smaller and more confined than it really is compared to the Pixi keyboard.

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The battery cover is now Touchstone ready out of the box so you can slap the device onto the inductive charging stone without having to switch backplates.

Under the hood, Palm beefed up the RAM, which is most noticeable when flicking through various “cards” or apps, but it’s not quite fast enough compared to other devices available on the market. It is, however, far less frustrating to use compared to the Sprint version and it actually multi-tasks compared to that other device made in Cupertino. Internal storage doubled from 8GB to 16GB.

webOS and Software
When Palm unveiled webOS at CES ’09 I almost fell over in my chair. It’s a ridiculously powerful OS that continues to surprise me the more I use it. The key features of webOS are multi-tasking, unobtrusive notifications and Synergy. Each individual app (camera, phone, browser, etc.) is a “card” in the webOS ecosystem that’s displayed side-by-side with other cards that continues to run or stay open until you flick it off the screen by swiping from the bottom to top. It’s that simple.

Have you ever received a text message or calendar notification that interrupts whatever task you’re currently involved with? Has it taken you away from said task even though what you really want to do is ignore it? Well, with webOS, you never have to respond to such a notification until you’re ready to address it.

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Synergy is this crazy thing that Palm came up with to manage your online persona. It compiles data from up to eight different accounts from: Exchange, Facebook, AIM, Palm profile, and Google/Gmail. For example, calendar events from Exchange and Facebook are color coded so you know which events are for pleasure and which are for business. A neat feature in Calendar truncates whatever day you’re looking at so you don’t see the gaps between meetings, for example. In other words, if you have a meeting at 8AM, an early dinner 6 and a phone call at 11:30PM, those are things you’ll see instead of empty time slots. Contacts are condensed so you don’t have double entries, which is nice but it pulls in just about every person you’ve ever e-mailed when syncing with your Gmail account.

If you’re a Pre or Pixi owner then you have nothing to worry about on the software front because all Palm webOS devices are currently running v1.3.5.1. Palm will release v1.4 of webOS sometime this month and with it comes the ability to record and edit video, battery and performance fixes, as well as access to a Beta of Flash 10.1 for the real McCoy Flash in the browser.

Unlike the Sprint Palm Pre, Verizon decided to leave the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus untouched except for VZ Navigator, which Palm redesigned. If you’re familiar with VZ Navigator on any other Verizon device then you know what to expect with it on the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus.

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Miscellany
Battery life on the Pre Plus is like any other 3G device that’s chock-full of must-have features like GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc. Your mileage will vary depending on data usage, Web browsing, e-mail, etc. You’ll get through lunch and then some with moderate use. But don’t stray too far from an outlet. You’re better off keeping the thing charged whenever possible.

The camera works great with adequate light and everything taken within a few feet with flash gets blown out. The same can be said for every other camera phone available. Par for the course, I say.

Phone calls on both ends are fine.

Verizon is mighty and works just about everywhere I’ve gone and that includes NYC, San Francisco and their respective boroughs and/or suburbs.

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