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When the Palm Pixi first appeared in May, there was a lot of excitement about an affordable Web OS device with a slim and sexy design. By the time Pixi had arrived to Market, a deluge of Android phones lead by the Motorola Droid and the powerful iPhone 3GS had been released. Android 2.0 and Motoblur feature functionalities that are close to Palm’s Synergy, while the Pixi lacks WiFi. At a street price, as low as $25 (with a new contract), the Pixi is cheaper than the Palm Pre or the Droid, but when you take into account the total cost of ownership ($69/mo + tax + fees for two years) the savings are rather small. What do you really get with the Palm Pixi? Find out!

Technical highlights

  • 3G EVDO Rev A, Bluetooth 2.1, NO WIFI
  • 2.63″ capacitive (320×400)
  • 8GB of storage
  • 256MB of RAM (less than the Pre)
  • Processor: thought to be slower than the Pre
  • 2MP camera + LED flash
  • GPS, motion+light+proximity sensor
  • 3.26oz (92.5g)

Physical design (Sexy!)

palm pixi review 24 468
 


Take a quick look at the Palm Pixi body
It’s undeniable that the Palm Pixi looks great. Its pure design will probably score big points at first sight. The keyboard looks small, but it turns out to be really good (more on that later). While the front has a shiny piano black surface, the back is made of a soft, non-slippery, material. It seems like it would absorb mild shocks as well, although I don’t think that this is a design goal. At 2.63″, the screen is relatively small and seems to be the minimum surface with which multi-touch gestures would work. To charge the phone, you can plug a micro USB cable, or you can use Palm’s Touch Stone for wireless charging (I was not able to try it, mine was apparently busted). By the way, I don’t like the USB port plastic protector on the side. If you don’t have the touchstone, it’s pretty annoying to deal with that piece of plastic.

Overall, the design is great, and the only thing that immediately bugged me is the placement of the on/off button. It’s located at the upper left, slightly in the back. This is the button that you press to put the phone to sleep or wake it up. In my opinion, it is a poor placement for a button that will be pressed very often.

Display (Small but sharp)

pixi multitouch gesture
It’s a tiny space for multitouch gestures
 

As I said above, 2.63″ the screen is relatively small, but in general it works well. It is only when I use multitouch gestures that I feel cramped. That’s particularly true with Google Maps because that application has a several clickable items on the the map at all times. Still, these gestures make Web OS more user-friendly than Android sometimes. WebOS works very well on the small screen, stuff like email or web browsing are totally usable.

pixi touch surface
I really like the secondary touch surface but would trade it for a larger screen
 

The touch screen is sensitive and accurate: it is relatively easy to place a text cursor in between two letters, for example. Just underneath the screen, there is a touch sensitive surface where you perform gestures like “back” or “up”. That’s a WebOS thing, and it works really well, but that also occupies a substantial surface that could have been used to extend the display… Note that the screen can only reproduce 18-bit colors (262,144 colors) instead of the 24-bit (16.7M colors) that many screens can, but in practice, I did not find this to be a problem.

Keyboard (Great)

pixi keyboard
The keyboard is great, if it was a bit wider, Blackberry should worry
 

The keyboard is a little worrisome when you look at it, but I quickly realized that it is one of the best that I’ve used. I can type fast with it, and it is second only to my Blackberry Curve 8900, and better than my Curve 9700. The keys click sharply, but gently, and the feel is just great. They are also made of a soft material, so when you press them, they seem to deform just a little bit and absorb the excess pressure. If the keyboard was wider, it could do some real damage to Blackberry, at least in my book. Remember that keyboard preferences are a very personal thing. My best advice is: go to a store and type with it.

Basic phone functions (Good)

pixi dial pad
 

Placing a call is very easy: you can either type a name to find a contact or click on the Phone app to dial a number on the virtual numeric pad. The audio quality is average to below average. I found the sound to be a little muffled (like the Droid) and the volume is kind of soft. The back speaker is too weak for a phone conversation if you are not in an ideal environment (quiet room). These issues aren’t deal breaker, but definitely good to have on your radar.

pixi search contacts
Finding contacts is very easy
 

pixi lock screen
To unlock, drag the yellow icon away
 

More good things: the “drag to unlock” worked very well. It is easy and simple. I like it. Note that if you use the Facebook App, WebOS will merge your contacts and retrieve a profile photo of your contacts whenever possible. That’s cool.

Bizarre: while I was sitting in my couch, EVDO reception quality was varying wildly from 1 to 5 bars every few minutes… go figure.

Communications (Very good)

pixi inbox
 

Email: With Exchange, POP and IMAP supported out of the box, it is easy to setup email. If you are using a popular email provider, simply adding your email and password is enough for the Pixi to setup an account. In my case, I’m using an Exchange server, so I had to type in more information manually but it was quick too. The notification system at the bottom of the screen works well, even if you can only see the last item. If you have more than one accou
nt, it is possible to look at a combined inbox, but if you want to, you can also look at individual accounts. Typically, you can see only 3 emails on the screen and you will have to scroll down or open an item if you want more information.

Email search: in the “Inbox” view, you can simply type and it will initiate a search. This is handy and the search is fast enough.

Misc: There is no Gmail app, so your Gmail will be treated like a regular POP or IMAP account.

pixi conversations
 

Messaging: Out of the box, the Palm Pixi supports SMS, MMS, Google Talk, AIM and Yahoo Messenger. It’s far from complete, but it covers a good user base. Check if that works with your particular group of friends, but I personally miss MSN Messenger a lot, and I don’t really want to port all my MSN contacts over to Yahoo. Overall, IM and SMS/MMS work fairly well. The other app that I miss a lot is Skype.

pixi facebook app
The app is too limited, m.facebook.com is slower (!) but more complete
 

Facebook: The support is minimal: you can pretty much update your status, view the news feed and vote/comment. That’s it and it’s too little. You can also go to Facebook for mobile to get more features. It’s not as fast an “app” though.

Web Browsing

pixi web browsing
I recommend avoiding heavy sites
 

The page rendering is on par with Android phones, but I noticed that the image reduction was not as good as like the Droid or the iPhone. Palm uses a filtering that looks less smooth, but it might require less processing however. Javascript seems well supported and things like our Disqus comments work. during the loading itself, things can get very slow, but once the page is fully loaded, gets better. I had a mixed experience with web browsing. Sometimes, it would be fine and work normally, sometimes it would be really slow and not reactive at all. The phone would hang for a few seconds and come back to life. Clearly, the web experience is jeopardized by the performance, but if you use mobile websites (like m.cnn.com or ubergizmo.mobi) that use less memory, it will work much better.

No Wi-Fi: big deal?

pixi reception 1
 

If you don’t know that the Palm Pixi does not have Wi-Fi, you are probably glad to learn this now. Yes, we all prefer “with WiFi”, but the question is: is it a big deal? First, it depends on how good your 3G reception is: if it’s too weak or non-existent, then it sucks. Move on and forget about the Pixi. During this review, I mostly had 3 bars, with episodic jumps to 1 and 5. Overall, the Pixi worked OK and at no point and screamed “why doesn’t it have Wi-Fi?!”. So my best guess is that it’s OK for the average user, and even streaming movies from YouTube worked well (see video later in the review). I’m won’t enter in the “why did Palm remove Wi-Fi?” debate – it is really their choice, and ours is to buy or not.

Software

The Palm Pixi has a user interface look and feel that is similar to the Palm Pre. I’m not sure if I should dive into a long review of the WebOS here (let me know in the comments), but here are the highlights:

pixi multi task
WebOS offers true multitasking and shows clearly what’s running
 


Quick view of the Pixi user interface
Multitasking: This is a hot topic these days. Yes, the Pixi is multitask capable, like the Pre (unlike the iPhone). Applications are displayed as “cards” and it is easy to see what’s running and close the apps that you don’t need. In that respect, it is much better than Android where a bunch of stuff can run in the background and most users won’t know anything about it. The real issue with multitasking is that the Pixi is slow. If you have 2 or 3 apps opened (email, maps, Facebook) you can feel the drag. I ended up using it as a mono-task device to keep it as responsive as possible.

User interface: Overall, Palm has an excellent user interface. The learning curve is not steep at all. I think that this is a first-class user interface that is relatively fast – if you use the Pixi as a mono-task device.

Copy/Paste: The copy/paste function is not impressive to start with, but the slow speed of the Pixi makes it even worse. Anyway, I find myself re-typing short bits of text, rather than copy/pasting.

pixi app store
 

Misc: The App store works well and it is easy to find applications… when they exist. Palm’s library is much smaller than the competition. However, the sheer number of apps don’t mean much to individual users, so I would recommend you to take a look and see if what you want/need is there. The Pixi is a good smartphone out of the box, but if you can’t live without Skype or a decent version of Facebook, this might not work for you.

USB connection: Upon connecting your Pixi to a computer via USB, you will be asked if you want to Sync, Charge or Mount it as a USB drive. If you choose the USB drive option, the phone won’t be able to receive/place calls. This is weird, but important to remember: you might miss a call if you forget to unplug it! Copying file was also relatively slow: two files (27MB combined) took 40 seconds to copy over.

pixi signed out pre wipe
I said “just restart”!!!
 

Stuff happens: During this test, my Pixi decided to wipe itself out one day. Call it “reboot of death” but one morning, it said that my Palm account no longer existed. I asked it to reboot *without wiping itself*, but it did wipe itself anyway… wow. I don’t think that this is a widespread problem. I’m probably just very unlucky, but wanted to document this, in case it happens to someone else. Update: this might be a bigger issue than I thought. Others are reporting account+data losses as well.

Performance

pixi multi task
More apps running ni the background means: slower phone
 

The performance is really the Pixi’s soft spot, to say the least. For some of you, this might be called a deal-breaker. It is noticeably slower than the Palm Pre (and other phones). From the outside, the issue eems to be a combination of the slower processor and smaller memory size, but “why” doesn’t matter: this effectively translates into a device that is relatively and prone to become even more sluggish as more apps are loaded. It can become downright unusable. You may have seen reports of hangs, momentary freezes and slowness to come back from sleep mode. I have occasional
ly experienced all of that, although it crashed “only” a couple of times this week. But when that happens, it is frustrating! If you have many accounts (Google, Exchange, Yahoo, Facebook…), the phone becomes really sluggish during Sync operations.


With many apps loaded at once, the phone freezes sometimes
Instead of writing a long paragraph to describe performance, I shot a video that shows you how it feels to use a Palm Pixi after a couple of weeks (all phones are kind of snappy at first…). You can decide for yourself if the speed is “good enough” of if you can’t stand it.

Photo & Video capture (Poor & Non-existent)

pixi camera mode
It looked great on the screen, but actual photos are below average
 

palm pixi sample crop
This is a crop without rescaling: low photo quality
 


The photo gallery app is average
Photos quality is definitely poor. Even when shot in very good lighting conditions, the photos have fuzzy edges, poor contrast, color balance and saturation. This is probably the worst camera that I’ve seen in the phone for 2009 (I tend to review only smartphones, just to be clear). There’s no much else to say, except that if you want to see it for yourself, head to Ubergizmo’s flickr account to look at the original images.

There’s no video capture, so this portion of the review is short. It’s up to you to decide if that’s a deal breaker or not. What do you think? Post a comment.

Multimedia

pixi youtube
YouTube video playback looks great. This was over 3G
 

YouTube: Playing YouTube movies over 3G worked very well, even with 3/5 bars. The video quality was very good (see video), but with the small screen, it is hard to get a “cinematic” experience. That said, it’s more than enough to enjoy a short clip here and there.

pixi music player
MP3 playback: the basis are covered well
 

Music: Just like most phones that I have tested recently, the Music Player works fairly well, and the user interface has all the basics. The search is also well done: within a category (artists, albums, songs, genre) you can type a search keyword. No complaints.

Video playback: I’ve copied a few PSP Mpeg4 movie trailers to the Palm Pixi and it was able to play them flawlessly. If you have .mp4 files for mobile content, you will probably be able to enjoy them. For reference, here are the details of the file that I have tried (mp4v codec 368×208 29.97fps, stereo 48Khz 16bits AAC).

Battery Life

With moderate usage (push email always ON, moderate browsing), You can get anywhere between 14h and 20h. this can vary widely depending on whether or not background tasks are running or how long the display stays on and how bright it is. The bottom-line is that you will need to charge it every evening or you will have a dead phone.

Word Docs, Excel, Powerpoint

pixi read powerpoint
A sample Powerpoint file found on the web
 

Out of the box, you can open and view Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, but it looks like to need to upgrade DocsToGo in order to edit. At least, it’s possible at some level.

The phone has also crashed when I was attempting to open a simple Excel file (it always crashes with that particular one). I blame the app, but an OS should never crash… I had to pull the battery out.

Economics

When you get a phone with a contract, the contract costs $1400 to $2500 over two years, depending on which service level and carrier you choose. That’s before taxes and fees. In that context, the actual price of a smartphone (after discounts+rebate) counts only for 15% or less of the total cost of ownership. The first thing that you need to tell yourself is that a $50 or $100 price difference really doesn’t change things all that much. Always look at the total cost of ownership when you choose a phone+carrier you can save hundred of dollars.

Conclusion

pixi fun
 

On the surface, the Pixi is a very attractive phone. It has a great, intuitive, user interface. However, to overcome the performance issues, users have to use the Pixi as a very basic smartphone: try to do as little as possible with it, and it might run just “OK”. While this is really your choice to put up with the slow performance (again check the video to see if you think it’s “too” slow), I would personally not go for it. As good, small and light that the Pixi is, it should have been built with as a faster phone, period. If you like Sprint as a carrier, you can look at the HTC Hero (read our HTC Hero Review) or simply go for the Palm Pre itself ($99 – check our Pre Review here). If your horizons are wider, check the links below and read our other smartphones reviews. If you are just in love with the Pixi’s design, I understand, but you have been warned.

Palm Pixi photo samples (gallery), Palm Pixi misc apps photo gallery

Filed in Cellphones >Featured >Reviews >Top Stories. Read more about Hands-On, palm, palm pixi, pixi, Smartphone and webos.

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