UPDATED First Look: Palm Pixi, a Smaller, Less Capable Pre

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on November 12, 2009

pixi.jpgUPDATED with battery specs

The Palm Pre has gotten a little brother, the Pixi. And as is often the case with younger siblings, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Pixi, available Nov. 15 from Sprint, feels at least a little bit inferior.

In design, the Pixi looks like a slicker and more modern version of the Palm Centro, the last phone to run the old Palm OS software. It’s very nearly the same length and width as the Centro, but significantly thinner and lighter. It’s a quarter-inch (6 mm) thinner and 1.5 oz. (43 g) lighter than the Pre. It runs the same Palm webOS and the same applications as the Pre.

The big question is, unless getting a very small phone is your highest priority, why you would want a Pixi rather than a Pre. The Pixi costs $100 after a $50 instant rebate and a.$100 mail-in rebate. The Pre costs $149. Amortized over the required two-year contract, with the cheapest offering being Sprint’s $70 a month unlimited data, 450 voice minute Everything Data plan, the Pixi works a out to $74.15 a month and the Pre to $76.25. Not much to choose from there in budgetary terms.

And you do give up a lot to gain compactness. The 2.6-in. screen feels diminutive by contemporary smartphone standards compared to the 3.1-in. display on the Pre or the huge 3.7-in. screen on the new Motorola Droid. The touch-sensitive gesture area below the screen, which is critical to the webOS user interface, is also significantly smaller and, as a result, somewhat harder to use.

The keyboard on the candy-bar style Pixi looks like its small size would make it difficult to use but I found that not to be the case, even with my big hands. The keys are nicely rounded, well-separated, and have a slightly tacky surface that gives a positive feel. But I found that most of the time, I was pressing the little keys with a fingernail rather than my fingertip. On the plus side, the Pixi lacks the elongated and unbalanced feel the Pre has when the keyboard is slid open.

The Pixi also mostly loses the advantages of being able to use the screen in the vertical (portrait) or horizontal (landscape) position. In general, webOS only works in the vertical position. You can turn the Pixi 90 degrees to get a wider screen when reading Web pages, but if you have to enter any information—a Web address or login name--you’ll want to turn it back because there’s no on-screen keyboard and typing on the rotated keyboard is more than a little awkward.

There’s no Wi-Fi. How big a disadvantage that is depends on you experiences with Sprint’s 3G EV-DO network. Where you have good coverage, the Sprint network can be very fast. But especially inside of buildings, where the network can get weak or disappear entirely, Wi-Fi is a very welcome alternative.

Battery life is also likely to be problematic. The 1150 mA battery is rated at 5 hours talk time and 350 hours standby. But I think it will be a stretch to get through a day of heavy email use and Web browsing, especially if you have apps running in the background. You may want both a spare battery and the optional Touchstone wireless charger kit ($80); opening the rubber door that covers the Pixi’s micro-USB charging port is a pain.

The bottom line is that Pixi is an attractive addition to the new Palm line. But in the end you give up too much to get a smaller package and a $50 savings. If you want to go Palm and webOS, the Pre offers much better value.

Reader Comments

Dave

November 12, 2009 2:07 PM

I think that in today's smart phone market, there needs to be some discretion on the consumer to choose the best phone wisely, especially given that most companies lock you in for a term. This article points out some good features but also provides some good remarks on some of the downfalls. Thanks!

From Kuhl machine shop

Sara James

November 12, 2009 6:37 PM

When's the GSM version coming out, huh?

Steve

November 13, 2009 11:59 AM

I consider myself a complete gadget geek, and, so, perhaps, I am not the target demographic for these types of cursory reviews. On the other hand, these types of articles are so completely biased and and reek of being influenced by reviewer preference, that they wield far too much influence over buying decisions of the casual phone buyer.

Your comparing this to the Palm Pre is ludicrous. This phone is meant to be a messaging centric phone. Many, many folks do not wish to use a slider. At all. And would be willing to sacrifice other things implicit in a smaller candybar design. These include a smaller screen, smaller keyboard, etc. If one wants a full touchscreen phone, Palm is not aiming this one at you so to say carrying a small screen is "giving up" something is absurd.
Regarding the keyboard, and frankly anytime a reviewer anywhere comments on a keyboard, it is completely nonsensical. It is completely user preference. You happened to have big fingers, according to you, yet seemed to like the pixi keyboard. Someone else with big fingers might not for whatever their own reasons. Maybe someone with small fingers wont prefer it. It's another area of critique to contribute to the general sense of the phone the reader is getting and should be free of user-specific preference as it could mislead.
It is also quite grating to hear these reviewers talk about battery life. CDMA phones generally use more battery than GSM. And all smartphones are horrible for battery life because we are asking them to do so many things from instant email to web browsing, to nav, etc. etc. Until battery technology matures, comments like these are idiotic, as well. Palm gives you the option of carrying a spare which seems really smart for a smartphone. Unlike the iPhone, while great in so many ways, and apps for everything under the sun, you can't even change the battery.
I do realize the purpose of media like this website is to get eyes on the screen to sell ads. But c'mon. Think a little bit and keep your bias to yourself and out of your reviews. Theer are folks reading this who are counting on you for advice. Unless you are biased and are an iPhone lover, or a stockholder of a palm competitor, etc. etc............

Steve Wildstrom

November 14, 2009 1:35 PM

@Steve--A review is necessarily subjective. Without the reviewer's impressions, necessarily filtered through likes and dislikes, what you have is a spec sheet, not a review.

Of course, a review must also be fact-based. For example, I don;t think it's a matter of opinion to say you give up something in a candybar design--a large display. Where opinion comes in is whether that tradeoff is worthwhile.

gerrrg

November 17, 2009 5:38 AM

Were it not for the WalMart pricing at $29.99, I would have called FAIL on this device for not having WiFi, especially considering the mediocre ratings Palm devices have in comparison to RIM and Android devices by Sprint's own customers.

But in the end, it might be the real winner after all for Sprint, since Sprint has that any-mobile unlimited + data + 450 minutes (to landlines) for $70, which probably makes it possible for most people to ignore the lack of WiFi.

But in terms of success for Palm, the problem of course is, that the Pixi is likely to cannibalize sales of their Centro and Treo lines at Sprint and elsewhere. If the margins are lower on the Pixi in comparison to the Treo and Centro, what is Palm really accomplishing by selling the Pixi with WebOS, other than spending more money to develop newer phones and maintenance of their proprietary OS?

JPS

November 20, 2009 12:00 PM

The Pixi has the exact same battery as the Pre, a smaller screen and slower processor, so its battery life will be equal to or better than the Pre. Whether or not you consider it "problematic", the Pixi's battery life is not a negative point of difference to the Pre as this article makes it sound.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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