Review: Palm Pre Plus on Verizon 143
Palm has updated the Pre for Verizon, slightly tweaking the hardware and upping the RAM available to run apps. The Pre Plus is exclusive to Verizon and in addition to the noted hardware updates, the Pre Plus also will have an innovative and crazy-cool piece of software available for it called "Mobile Hotspot," which turns the Pre Plus into a mobile WiFi router. The Palm Pre Plus arrives January 25th on Verizon, exclusively, for $149.99 after a $100 mail-in rebate and a two-year contract.
We've had the Palm Pre Plus for a few days now and our initial take is quite simple: it's definitely better than the original Pre, but is it so much better that current Sprint subscribers should switch to Verizon? Read on to find out!
The Basics of Pre Plus in 10 minutes
If you are brand-new to webOS and are looking to just get the quick low-down on what Palm has in store for you, here's a quick ten-minute overview of the Palm Pre Plus, Palm Pixi Plus, and webOS in general.
We'll be covering mostly what's new here with the Palm Pre Plus, but we have plenty of other resources for people looking to learn more about webOS. Our original Palm Pre Review is comprehensive in the extreme - but read it with the understanding that Palm has done an incredible job updating their webOS software since we first released that review. Our Palm Pre Guide has a general overview of the major concepts behind webOS, so be sure to check that out too.
Let's get on with the review!
Hardware & Design
Everybody loves a good unboxing
At first glance, the Palm Pre Plus looks basically identical to the original Palm Pre. Palm has made only a handful of subtle changes to the overall hardware design. They have doubled the available RAM and storage memory too, which we'll get to below. Let's go over the physical changes first.
The most noticeable change is that Palm has removed the vestigial center button in the gesture area. They've opted to duplicate the Pixi's design by having a simple, tappable area that will bring you back to card view. In my usage thus far, I've found that simply tapping the center area doesn't work as reliably as pressing an actual center button. However, the good news is that the slightly more intuitive and slightly more fun 'Quick Swipe Up' duplicates that functionality. On the whole I think that removing the center button was the right move, it gives the Pre Plus a cleaner overall look and a more elegant experience.
Next up on the list of minor hardware changes is the keyboard. Palm has switch the orange highlights on the original Pre to grey, which I don't mind too much. More importantly, they've improved the feel of the keyboard. The buttons have a firmer and better 'click' to them compared to the somewhat mushy Palm Pre. I've given plenty of kudos to the extreme 'clickiness' of the Palm Pixi's keyboard and the Pre Plus makes a small step in that direction, but overall the keyboard isn't quite as good as the Pixi. Still, the click action on a keyboard matters - it provides better feedback which results in real-world speed and responsiveness.
As with the original Pre and Pixi, the keyboard is very small but very usable. Give it a few days before you make a judgment - you really can get quick and accurate with it. There's no getting around the fact that the keyboard is a bit on the small side, though, and it would behoove Palm to throw in some good auto-correction software algorithms and maybe a 'double-tap-space-for-period' action.
Inside the Pre, Palm says that they've fixed up the slider action a little bit. Since I've only had the Pre Plus for a few days, it's difficult to say whether or not it will suffer the dreaded "Oreo twisting effect" that has plagued some Sprint Palm Pre users, but so far the slider does feel a bit more solid.
On the list of things that finicky Palm users might care about: Palm added a graphic inside the Pre showing the proper way to insert the battery (was this really a problem?). Palm also added two tiny tabs inside the battery bay to help keep the battery in place.
Last but not least, the Palm Pre Plus on Verizon comes with the Touchstone Battery door out of the box. It has a matted-finish and is much nicer than the glossy back that comes standard with the original Palm Pre.
Otherwise the overall design of the Palm Pre Plus appears identical to the original Pre (minus the branding on the mirror). It still feels incredibly good in the hand, it still has a fairly durable plastic, capacitive touchscreen that still attracts fingerprints, and so on. One change I wish Palm had made is moving the microphone hole to a slightly different spot, as it's still too easy to muffle or scrape the hole with your cheek when holding the phone.
webOS & Software
The Palm Pre Plus will ship with webOS 126.96.36.199, which set the stage for webOS to support native 3D games, removed the limit for the number of installed apps, and more. The good news is that Palm has announced that webOS 1.4 should arrive in February. webOS 1.4 will bring a slew of long-awaited features to webOS, including
- the ability to download a Beta of Flash 10.1 - real flash in the browser
- Video recording and editing
- Battery and performance fixes.
I'll be interested to see how much Palm is able to improve speed and battery life in 1.4.
I won't go over the various ins-and-outs of webOS here - check out the links in the first section above if you're new. What I will say briefly is that I still find webOS's core interactions to be the most elegant and enjoyable user experience on any mobile platform. Of course I have a few important caveats like speed, app selection, and battery life. But if you've never used webOS, the various gestures take a short amount of time to learn; once you do they're second nature and webOS is a joy to use.
Verizon has displayed remarkable restraint in terms of what comes pre-loaded on the device. The only piece of Verizon-specific software to be found is VZ Navigator. It's based on software created by Networks in Motion, pulling map data from NAVTEQ. In my testing I found it to be a perfectly serviceable turn-by-turn GPS app, well-designed and fast on webOS. The homescreen even displays local weather, gas prices, and movie times, which is pretty convenient. What's not convenient: unlike Sprint Navigation, VZ Navigator costs an extra $9.99 per month on your service plan. Here's to hoping that Palm accepts a turn-by-turn GPS solution into the App Catalog soon, because $9.99 per month is a bitter pill to swallow.
There's also Mobile Hotspot, but that is pretty clearly Palm software that just happens to be exclusive to Verizon for the time being. Otherwise, it's all stock webOS apps, there is no VCast wireless, no Verizon app store, certainly nothing like the useless Sprint 'App' on the Sprint Pre. Bravo, Verizon, for staying out of webOS' business.
Mobile Hotspot is an add-on app that you can download from the App Catalog. The app itself is free, the service is a not-surprising $40 per month add on. I tend to think that's a little high, but honestly you can't find a cheaper plan for a data-only device like the Verizon or Sprint MiFi. In fact, Verizon charges $59.99 a month for a MiFi only plan, so all things considered, $40 a month extra is actually relatively cheap.
The plan includes up to 5 gigs per month with a 5 cents per meg overage fee, which again is fairly standard.
Mobile Hotspot is a stunner.
The interface is refreshingly simple - you just launch the app, turn it on, and away you go. You can set your network name and password with WPA/WPA2 encryption (or set it to Open if you're crazy), but unfortunately you can't limit it to just certain MAC addresses. You can connect up to five devices at once and as you connect devices you get system alerts that a new device has connected. It runs great in the background.
Yes, it does tend to suck down the battery - Palm and Verizon estimate that you can probably get about three hours of battery life with active usage. Since this is an EVDO device, you cannot talk and tether at the same time, which is a bummer, but you can use data on the device while Mobile Hotspot is active - a feature that is sometimes lacking on other 3rd party tethering solutions.
Now is as good a time any any to come out and say that right now I'm loving The Network (aka Verizon). Voice quality is not noticeably better than on Sprint so far, which is a bummer, but overall everything seems quite a bit more reliable in my area and EVDO is a tad faster.
Here's why I'm excited about Verizon: lots and lots of customers. One of my complaints about the Pre is that there are still essential apps missing from the platform. If there are more devices out there, though, suddenly webOS becomes more difficult to ignore and we may finally get some the apps we've been missing.
Performance & Specs
It's almost a relief that we can wait this long in a review to break down the specs of a new device - options like GPS, WiFi, capacitive touch, etc are all basically standard features on high-end smartphones now, so you can focus on experience instead of speeds and feeds. Still, we'd be remiss if we didn't hit all the notes:
- EVDO Rev A (Not a world phone)
- 320x480 Capacitive Touchscreen
- 512meg RAM, 16 gig storage
- 3430 TI OMAP Processor (presumably still clocked at 500MHz)
- MicroUSB Connectivity, Touchstone charging
- 1150 mAh Battery
- 5.5 hours talk, 350 hours standby
- WiFi (with Mobile Hotspot optional)
- GPS with Tower Location
- 3MP Camera with Flash and Extended Depth of Field
- Support for Exchange, Gmail, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and Facebook in Synergy
...In other words, Palm has checked off all the boxes. There are a few areas I'd like to see improved - like OBEX support in Bluetooth or a slightly better camera - but honestly there aren't a lot of flies on this.
Palm's estimate of 5.5 hours of talk and 350 hours of standby is, well, optimistic. With Synergy pulling from two Google accounts, a Facebook account, LinkedIn, and Yahoo, with push email on and plenty of notifications I'm having a difficult time getting a full day of moderate usage out of the Palm Pre Plus. In other words: carry a spare battery.
Let's talk performance. Here's a video comparing the Palm Pre Plus to the iPhone 3GS. The short version is that the iPhone 3GS still renders web pages slightly faster and can load 3D games faster - but it can't multitask more than Apple's core apps.
The Palm Pre Plus is a Multitasking Monster. Why is it so beastly? Palm has doubled the amount of RAM available for running applications, from 256mb to 512MB. You might be tempted to think that means double the apps - but in fact it's more than double. webOS needs to use up some portion of the available RAM just to run itself. I don't know exactly what that portion is (which is kind of refreshing, actually), but let's just call it 100mb. That leaves around 150mb for apps. With the RAM doubled, the amount of space for apps goes from 150mb to 400mb.
I'm still stress testing the Palm Pre Plus and I haven't gone so far as to put it in developer mode and add in homebrew apps and patches yet, but in two days I haven't seen the "Too Many Cards" error message, even after opening about twenty different cards, two of which were native PDK apps.
Some sort of voodoo magic allowed me to open fifty apps simultaneously on the Pre Plus. Fifty. Five. Oh. Here's the video proof in a head-to-head with the original Palm Pre.
I don't want to get too enthusiastic about the performance here, so let me say that speed within apps isn't significantly improved. Email does feel slightly faster, but not so much so that I can't chalk it all up to this just being a fresh install of webOS. In other words, I don't think that the extra RAM alone is enough cause for me to recommend any Sprint user drop their plan and move to Verizon.
The Palm Pre Plus also has 16 gigs of storage memory, which is nice but for me not strictly necessary as I haven't dipped my toes into video too much yet.
There has been some concern amongst Palm fans that there isn't enough differentiation between the Palm Pre Plus and the Palm Pixi Plus, since both have WiFi now. Let me put that to rest: compared to the Pixi, the Palm Pre Plus has twice the RAM, twice the storage, a bigger, brighter screen, and a faster processor. It's the flagship and if you're anything close to a power user, well worth the extra $50.
The Palm Pre Plus is the flagship for Palm, then, but can it legitimately be called a flagship for Verizon? Almost, but not quite yet. The key is Mobile Hotspot, which is awesome and one of the best reasons for recommending the Palm Pre Plus to a business user. Palm already has pretty decent push email and Exchange support - all they need now is full Document editing (and perhaps some battery life improvement) to make the case that the Palm Pre Plus is amongst the best business smartphones on the market.
Would I recommend a current Sprint Palm Pre user switch - probably not. The increased performance, storage, and Mobile Hotspot are all compelling (and are compelling enough to make me switch), but for most people I go back my default advice: pick your carrier first, your phone second.
The Palm Pre Plus upgrades the Palm Pre in almost all the right places and has a bright future with new features coming via software updates. It's a cliché to say this, but: the Palm Pre Plus is the best phone Palm has ever made. That's exactly how it should be and it's gratifying that we can expect this kind of quality from Palm now. Let's just hope that it's enough to keep them in the smartphone game for years to come.