Palm's Pixi mobile never made it to the UK, but that hasn't stopped the company, recently bought by HP, releasing the follow up, the Palm Pixi Plus on O2 and hopefully other operators. But has it been worth the wait, and should you opt for this over any other smartphone on the market? We've grabbed the phone to find out.
The Palm Pixi Plus is a candybar form factor handset that features a QWERTY keyboard, a touchscreen display and the webOS platform that Palm still has big hopes for.
In the hand it is small, light, and very compact, so compact in fact that open the shell and you'll see that everything is so tightly packed it's surprising that Palm managed to do it.
That size reduction - it measures 55 x 111 x 10.85mm - means that some compromises have had to be made. There is no microSD slot for example so everything is stored on the phone's internal 8GB of storage (you get access to 7GB), and the battery is incredibly small (1150mAh) adversely affecting the overall staying power of the handset in use - yes this is another phone that requires a charge every day.
The matt black case is interchangeable with others on offer from Palm and there is a 2-megapixel camera with an LED flash tucked around the back next to two speakers for media playback. The camera is okay, but compared to what is available on the market, it's not going to impress that much. Likewise with the video recording capabilities, it's good for YouTube happy slapping, but not much more. Like most phones the sides are adorned with volume buttons, a ringer silencer switch and a 3.5mm socket on the top. Two small speakers can be found on the back and placing it on desk helps amplify the noise rather than muffle it.
Like the new-look Palm Pre Plus there isn't a "pearl" trackball, or any other "quick" buttons outside of the keyboard. Because of the size of the handset the keyboard is very dinky and those with big hands should probably avoid it.
The keyboard design is individual button keys that are slightly raised up above the chassis and we found ourselves pressing the keys with the tips of your fingers rather than the pad.
That might have something to do with the fact that resting thumbs on the keys wipes out the view of the entire keyboard, or that the buttons themselves are small, but either way, don't expect to type much here. Inside and you get 3G, Wi-Fi (new to the Pixi Plus), GPS and Bluetooth connectivity.
Those that have seen the Pre before will know that the main interaction with the handset is through a series of swipes with your finger. A tap of the light slit, sat between the keyboard and the screen, will let you call up the dock as well as shift between "panels". Other simple gestures include swiping upwards to throw a panel, tile, card or whatever you fancy calling it away, while a swipe to the left sends you backwards.
The panels themselves work like a deck of cards and allow you to run multiple applications at the same time and then flit between them as if you were away with the fairies. It takes a couple of moments to get used to, but once you do, it's very easy to zip around the interface doing what you want.
Doing what you want is of course the main purpose of the OS and it's certainly got a good look and very user-friendly feel to it. E-mail setup is a breeze - just your email address and password and away you go. Add this ease of syncing your data to the contacts and calendar functionality and you'll find you are up and running very quickly.
To further enhance this, Palm use something called Synergy that links your contacts from a variety of sources. For example, if you have the same contact listed in several accounts, Synergy recognises that they're the same person and links the information, presenting it to you as one listing. It also automatically consolidates your view of duplicate information. It's clever stuff and should save Google getting over excited and creating plenty of duplicates as anyone using the system with the iPhone will tell you.
Better still, all new messages whether they are calendar updates or new emails pop up as a notification at the bottom of the screen allowing you to view them or dismiss them with a swipe. It's far less intrusive than Apple's attempt at notifications and allows you to get on with the task at hand if that is more important.
In the phone you get a number of applications to get you started, but not masses. There's the WebKit browser of course, that is solid, fast and easy to use. We especially like the swipe elements that allow you to scroll backwards and forwards through pages with ease. Then there is the usual bevy of photos, music and videos all of which are self-explanatory and basic in their offering - we like the ability to swipe to a new track and being able to use the volume while the phone is locked in your pocket. Still on the multimedia front is YouTube and of course the camera app that we've already talked about.
Office bods will be pleased to see a document viewer, PDF viewer, and a trusty calculator. Rather than bury apps within folders, they are scrollable through the menu panel and adding, moving them around or deleting them completely is easy enough. The addition of Wi-Fi makes for easier surfing when at home and the Wi-Fi page, although lacking the ability to make the phone a Wi-Fi hotspot itself, is easy to manage.
Adding further apps is via Palm's app store, this time called App Catalog, and it's filled with apps that will help you make the most of your new phone and no doubt the busy life that you lead. The App Catalog is small at the moment, something Palm says is about quality rather than quantity, but you shouldn't buy the Pixi Plus for this reason.
It's still very early days for apps, with most developers currently preferring to develop for the larger iPhone, Android and BlackBerry app platforms instead. You might be able to find niche apps here and some of your favourites, but don't bank on it.
The Palm Pixi Plus is like a BlackBerry Curve in that it is likely to be your first venture into the wonderful world of smartphones. On that front, the OS does well to bring you into the fold without over-complicating things. The touchscreen is a great advantage over the BlackBerry models and the easy email setup and syncing Synergy is great. The form factor is very pocket-friendly too.
The problem for us, however, is that the handset itself feels sluggish with the processor not having oomph to open apps quickly, leaving you waiting for something to happen. It's not an age, but it's not instant either.
Add that to a poor multimedia experience - the screen is just too small - a lack of apps in the App Catalog and a battery life we expected to last longer and you might be left feeling disappointed.
There is potential here and if you aren't fussed about adding apps or using the camera then it's a "nice" phone to have. But starting at £30 a month, Android would give you a better punch for your money, and that's the biggest problem Palm faces. Convincing you to go with them rather than Google.