The Palm Pixi Plus may have the name of a little pink fairy, but it looks more like a rubbery black seal. Its minimalist looks, full Qwerty keyboard and glossy touchscreen, combined with the webOS software we loved on the Palm Pre, make the Pixi one to seriously consider if you're looking to upgrade to a smart phone.
The Pixi Plus comes out on 28 May exclusively on O2, from free on a £25-a-month, two-year contract.
Packing the Pixi
The Palm Pre was a refreshing take on touchscreens, with a gorgeous, smooth user interface and a tiny slide-out keyboard. But the Pre wasn't cheap -- and its successor the Pre Plus certainly won't be -- and that's where the Pixi comes pirouetting into the picture.
The Pixi has the same small, rubbery keys on its keyboard, but this is no slider -- it's a traditional candybar shape. We think that's an improvement, since the slider on the Pre tends to become wobbly over time, and it has some sharp, plasticky edges. Despite being less expensive, the Pixi feels more solid and well made, with a rubbery back that looks smart and is comfortable to hold.
The Pixi makes room for the keyboard by chopping the screen down to 66mm (2.6 inches). That means less room for Web pages and apps, but thanks to a decent 320x400-pixel resolution, it's still very usable, and text remains sharp and readable.
Most of us like the Pixi's keyboard -- although the keys are small, they're easy to find because they stick out from the phone, and they have a satisfying click. If you have huge mega-thumbs, however, you might find them too close together when you're trying to type with two digits.
Your fingers can also roam free over the touchscreen for dialling calls and navigating around, and there's a smooth, touch-sensitive area underneath the screen that works as a home button, back button and menu button. It may sound confusing, but after a few hours of practice, we found the gestures were intuitive and even addictive, thanks to the pretty transitions and animations that accompany each swipe.
We recommend you read our Palm Pre review for more on how the webOS interface works, but in a nutshell, apps that are running are shown as a list of rounded windows or 'cards' on the home screen. You tap a card to open an app in full-screen size, and you flick it away to the top of the screen to close it. There's also a menu of apps to pick from and a choice of four shortcuts you can access anywhere using a gesture.
webOS merges your Outlook, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo and Google accounts, so you can see all your email in one place, all your appointments in your calendar, and all your contact info is cleverly organised together. We've seen these features on many HTC and Motorola phones running the Android operating system, but it's particularly well-implemented on the Pixi.
The Pixi also has multi-touch support, which means you can zoom into a map, photo or Web page with a pinch of your fingers.
Unfortunately, the Pixi's processor isn't always up to working the full wonder of webOS. We found the phone very sluggish at times, especially when opening apps. When we were slow and steady, the Pixi was a pleasure to use, but if we started tapping at top speed, we often had to take a meditative break while the Pixi sorted out our wishes. We also had to start binning cards when the phone couldn't handle having the address book, Web browser and music player open at once.
The Pixi's perfect for social networking, thanks to its Qwerty keyboard and messaging features. It handles multiple email accounts beautifully -- everything from Outlook to Gmail -- and, because the phone supports 'push' email, you'll get messages as they arrive, rather than waiting for your inbox to update itself.
The Palm App Catalogue is almost empty compared to the iPhone's App Store or the Android Market, but there's still a good official Facebook app, a choice of Twitter apps and a bundle of other social-networking options. The Web browser is small but perfectly formed, so if there isn't an app for your particular need, you can always get the information online.
We had no trouble getting connected with the built-in Wi-Fi or the speedy HSDPA, which gives faster Web surfing over 3G.
Time for tunage
The Pixi is a good choice for music and video fans, thanks to its decent screen, standard 3.5mm headphone jack and 8GB of on-board storage. Unfortunately, there's no expansion slot, so you can't add a memory card to pump up the storage.
It's quick and easy to pop your tunes on to the Pixi because it's supported by most music programs -- we tested it with MediaMonkey and syncing was effortless. The music player is attractive and easy to use, but there aren't any music controls except volume on the outside of the phone, or on the hands-free headset that comes with it. When the phone is locked though, a mini player shows on the screen, so you don't have to tap too much to control what's playing.
If you'd rather make your own films, the 2-megapixel camera also shoots video, with an LED photo light for those moody night shoots. There's a simple editor to help you top and tail your clips, and when you're done you can upload your oeuvre to Facebook or YouTube, as well as distribute it by email and MMS. You shouldn't expect HD quality from this little camera, but the user interface is just as smooth and well thought-out as the Pixi's other features.
Like the Pre, the Pixi gulps rather than sips battery, especially if you're on the Web a good deal. Palm admits the Pixi will probably need a charge every day, but it has included an inductive back on the phone, so you can charge it easily on the wireless Touchstone charger -- although that's not included and starts at a hefty £50.
You can also charge the Pixi using a normal microUSB cable, which you'll also need to sync the phone with your music. The cover on the USB port is a pain to pry off, but just think of the cash you're saving on the Touchstone.
The Palm Pixi Plus has most of the software features of the Palm Pre, but with a smaller screen and slower processor, we can't hold it up as a competitor to the iPhone or the HTC Desire. Thankfully, its low price puts it gently but firmly up against the BlackBerry Curve 8520, and it can definitely punch its weight in this class. (The 8520 is the same price as the Pixi on O2, although you can find it cheaper on other networks.) If you're not too bothered about having a Qwerty, the HTC Legend is faster and has a bigger screen -- and it's available for around £20 a month.
Although we like the 8520's speed and dedicated music keys, we think the Pixi wins out thanks to its touchscreen, 3G support, better browser and fresh webOS software. It's a pity that it's so sluggish at times -- and its app store is still abysmal -- but if you have the patience, the Pixi is worthy of your pocket space.
Edited by Nick Hide