About a month ago, I was offered the chance to try out a Palm phone for a while. Having been an iPhone user for a few years, I thought it would be a good idea to see what else is out there in the web-enabled, touch-screen phone world. In the last year or so, a lot of new touch-screen phones have come on the market. They all have similar features and their own quirks. I’ve personally used the iPhone and the Android. And I’d say the Palm Pre Plus compares favorably with either of those. So, let’s get to some of the details.
First, I really like the size of the phone. It’s compact and fits easily into my pocket and the handy cell phone pocket I have on my purse. My iPhone is just a little too large to fit comfortably. Weight-wise, it’s also comfortable. It’s not as light, of course, as a stand-alone cell phone, but it’s an easy-to-manage weight. It’s small size, however, does have some drawbacks. One, the keyboard, which pops out vertically from the phone, is pretty tiny. It seems to me that if it popped out horizontally, there’d be room to not only make the keys a tiny bit bigger, but also include some of the keys which currently have to be accessed by pressing the function key. Not a huge deal, but the tiny keyboard might be a deal breaker for someone with larger fingers than I. The screen is also smaller than some screens I’ve seen. I don’t find this to be a big problem as the quality of the image is really good so that the size isn’t really noticeable.
Now on the the features. I didn’t use the phone as a phone that much, but did make a few phone calls to test the quality and ease of use. Phone dialing is simple, and you can type in a number or a name and dial away. My service was provided by Verizon. Though I didn’t notice any loss in quality for phone calls, I did notice that I only had one or two bars in my house. Had I used it more regularly, this low signal might have caused dropped calls or problems hearing.
I was given plenty of documentation to use the phone, but I opted to muddle through at first because I wanted to see how intuitive it was to use. When setting up the phone, I was given a quick tutorial in using gestures, which is how one navigates through many of the phone’s screens and apps. Gestures are done on an area on the phone just below the screen, which is a little awkward, but very easy to get used to. I didn’t have any problem launching the app menu and figuring out how to move through many of the screens. I got stuck, however, when too many cards had piled up (see image, left). I couldn’t figure out how to delete them. After digging around in the help on the phone itself, I figured out that you throw the cards off the screen. After that, I had no difficulties figuring anything else out. I like the card view and concept. On the iPhone, things are opened and closed. When you have mail open, you can’t have another app open. Here, you can have easy access to open applications. You can open mail, calendar, and photos and easily switch back and forth between them.
Even while you’re fully in an application, you can see what else is active. At the bottom of a screen there are little icons that indicate what else you have access to or notifications (see above). Tapping that area shows more information, i.e. your latest mail message or a task that’s due (see below). That was a really nice feature. I can imagine working on something on my phone, clicking this area and seeing that a new mail message has come in. I don’t have to go back to the home screen, launch mail, and then read the message. I can access it with one click.
Mail, contacts and calendar are the main applications that people use on their phones, and the palm pre plus does a nice job of integrating these. I’m a Google woman myself, so I entered my Google log in under the contacts area and all my Google contacts appear by magic. I can also connect to Facebook, LinkedIn and Yahoo, so that I have ready access to almost anyone. You can, of course, add your own contacts. Because I’d entered a Google account, it automatically used that information for calendaring and mail, which was really nice. The Calendar looks nice on the phone. I especially like the feature of showing free time, squished up accordion-like (see picture below). Mail is also easy to read. You can scroll through the inbox or read one message at a time, with arrows that take you back and forth. In addition, I was able to use Google talk from my phone, which worked really nicely and was fun to use as opposed to SMS.
The web browser on this phone is very nice. It’s much faster than any mobile browser I’ve used so far. My site here loaded quite quickly and came through very clearly. Mobile sites look especially nice. The text is large enough to read (it can be made bigger by zooming in). Images load quickly. It’s a nice experience overall.
Like other touch-screen phones, there are apps for the Palm Pre Plus. A few are included, but there are many more to choose from in the catalog. Many of the same applications that are available for the iPhone are available for the Palm Pre. There are productivity apps, games, books, newspaper apps and radio apps. And of course, there’s YouTube. There are definitely plenty to choose from. You won’t feel deprived.
In the way that the Palm Pre Plus connects to a computer, it works more like an old standalone cell phone than the newer web-enabled phone. Partly I experienced this because my iTunes application, through which the phone connects was one version higher than was compatible with the phone. So, although the application launched when I plugged in the phone, nothing happened. However, it is easy enough to connect the phone as a USB drive and drag and drop files over. A little cumbersome for music, but not too bad for documents. I did get some music onto the phone and was able to listen to it. This is a plus for me as when I go for walks, I don’t want to carry two devices. I hope they come up with a better way to sync music with the phone that makes it easy to transfer things back and forth. For now, getting music onto the device takes some planning. Also worth noting here is that it won’t play songs with DRM, which could be a problem if you filled your library from the iTunes store. That’s more iTunes’s problem than Palm’s, but one should take that into consideration.
A feature I didn’t get to try out because I didn’t see it on my phone, nor could I find the app in the catalog, is the mobile hotspot feature. In theory, you can set your phone up to be a hotspot, which would be useful in airports, at soccer fields, and at those conferences in hotels with terrible Internet service. It sounds like a really great idea.
Overall, my experience with the phone was positive. Like almost all technology these days, there were some bumps in the road. They weren’t deal breakers, though, and it’s definitely a phone I might consider buying. It has a lot of nice features, some of which I didn’t even cover here. It works well as a phone and overall communication device with a lot of added features that make it useful beyond that.
Full disclosure: I was not paid for this review, though I was given a phone to use for about a month.