Palm Pixi Review

Palm Pixi Review

Why prance around it? The Palm Pixi’s very existence is pointless.

The $US100 Pixi made sense once upon a time, when the Pre was $US200 and Palm needed a phone for the masses — like the Centro, oncer upon a time — to establish the webOS as a real platform. A leaner, cheaper version of the Pre was a good idea. Now, you can get the real thing — faster, stronger, screenier — for under a hundred US bucks. The Pixi’s existential crisis is not insignificant.

What’s Neutered vs. the Pre

• Slower processor (using an older ARM11 architecture vs. faster ARM Cortex A8)
• Smaller and squintier 400×320, 2.63-inch, 18-bit colour screen (vs. 480×320, 3.1-inch, 24-bit colour)
• 2-megapixel camera (vs. 3-megapixel)
• No Wi-Fi

Pixi Perfect Design (Just About)

There has not been a candybar phone more perfectly designed and executed than the Pixi. It’s exactly the size and shape a phone that aspires to be small should be. It’s a Hot Pocket sliced in half, but flat and glossy on top and round and rubbery on the bottom. It almost feels fake, like a concept that you hope is a real phone but isn’t, except that in this case, it really is. It fits inside of an iPhone, if you wanna get more literal.

Plastic, slightly sticky Rice Krispie keys, arranged in four rows form a keyboard so electrifyingly good it’s thrilling, like finding an actually sweet wind-up toy in your cereal box (Rice
Bubbles, of course) every time you type. The keys are tiny, but have a deceptive amount of rise, so your fat thumbs can feel out individual nubs, which pop in this remarkably satisfying way when you click down. The size-to-goodness ratio might just be the best on any keyboard I’ve used. If there’s any reason to pick the Pixi over the Pre, it’s if you type a shocking amount on your phone, because the Pixi’s is better by like an order of magnitude. Or eleventy.

Between the screen, with its shaved corners, and the keyboard is a stretch of empty space. Until you run your finger along it, and a spark — a line of light, really — emerges. The LED strip, invisible when it’s not indicating something, replaces the ball on the Pre, which I always thought was a weird little speed bump when you stroked the gesture area, anyway. It’s kind of beautiful, the stark aesthetic of it emotionally tinged with sci-fi imagery, from Gort to Cyclop’s visor.

Two things are wrong. The screen lock button on the top left is a little too in touch with the overall robustness of the phone, so it’s hard to push and doesn’t provide enough feedback. On the opposite end of that spectrum, the trap door covering the micro USB port feels flimsy and aggravatingly snaps shut, making plugging in a USB cable a struggle worthy of a Homerian epic every single time.

Tinkerbell Would Be Pissed

The Pixi is slow.




It lags, it hangs, it stutters, it freezes. A lot. A simple fact: Multitasking isn’t better than unitasking when it takes longer to get shit done. An example: I wanted to take a picture while I had the browser and and App Catalog open. Simple. The camera froze spectacularly, rendering the entire phone completely unusable for well over 30 seconds — whenever I tried to flick the camera card away (cards are apps), it would shoot halfway off the screen, then appear back in its place. Somewhere between 30-45 seconds later, it regained composure. That’s with just three core apps open, and no active syncing happening in the background.

True, I could sometimes have up to four apps running without problems, at least for a minute or so, before things starting getting cludgy. But it hangs even with just a single app running sometimes. (Just try opening a website.) And every time you open an app, there’s a solid expanse of time that elapses that you can feel, and it gets old real quick. Maybe webOS is just more transparent about load times than the iPhone, which masks them with title screens, but the whole experience of using this phone is like swimming through very pretty jelly, with one arm, wearing a cast-iron suit, or something like that.

Screen, Camera and Other Hardware

You get used to the smaller screen and it’s 80 fewer pixels, mostly. It’s cramped, but you’ll only be directly, painfully cognisant of it from time to time, like when you’re reading some text outside of Palm’s own apps or navigating web pages. It’s not a crappy screen, but it’s not exceptionally bright or vibrant, either. The touch accuracy seemed less spot-on than the Pre too, though that could’ve been the effect of smaller targets because of the tinier screen, like the drop-down menu for apps in the top left corner, which is just a sliver on the Pixi.

The Pixi’s 2-megapixel camera is unimpressive. The comparison shot above was taken with a 2-megapixel iPhone 3G in the exact same lighting and place, snapped within 10 seconds of each other. The camera app, when it’s not freezing up, is quick to shoot once you press the button though, which is definitely something.

And I’ll just say it: No Wi-Fi sucks, since there are lots of place in NY where even Sprint’s 3G can’t penetrate.


The Pixi comes with webOS 1.3.1. Palm’s definitely tuned things up since webOS originally shipped in June with stuff like more support for Yahoo services, the ability to buy songs over 3G, performance improvements and other interface sprucing up, but it’s not a radically difference experience than the one Chen documented exhaustively here. (In other words, read that for the software review, since it’s basically the same, just much slooooower on the Pixi.)

What’s different now is that there are over 300 apps in the App Catalog, and Palm’s dumping fresh ones in every week. So the app situation is greatly improved. The problem is that it’s still behind the rest of the pack — iPhone, Android and BlackBerry — and being fourth-place development priority for cross-platform developers with limited resources it not a great place to be, so Palm’s got a rough road here. Oh, one interesting point, since this is supposed to be the smartphone OS for multitasking, is that while an app is downloading from the App Catalog, you can’t browse for other apps — if you leave the download page, it cancels. So I hope you’ve got good Sprint reception in your house.

The other thing that’s changed is iTunes. Palm’s former official way to sync your media to your phone is broken. Irrevocably. Even if Palm does restore iTunes syncing with its dirty hack (no really, it is a dirty hack, impersonating an iPod with a false USB ID) the entire model is screwed. Putting people buying your phone in the middle of a stupid pissing match that you’re destined to lose isn’t cool. In the meantime, Palm’s official solution is for people to sideload or use third-party apps like doubleTwist.

Don’t Buy It

The Pixi is screwed. It’s totally cannibalised by the technologically superior Pre, which you can find for under $US100. Even if you can get the Pixi for $US30, it’s worth trading up to the Pre for $US40 or $US50 more if you’re absolutely wedded to the idea of a webOS phone, simply for the speed and screen. Mostly the speed, since the Pixi is brain damaged, three-legged dog slow, as nice as the hardware is on the outside.

Not to mention, for a hundred dollars, there are phones that just offer better experiences and aren’t in the same awkward position Palm is in the smartphone fight. I’m talking of course, about the Droid Eris, Android’s $US99 darling on Verizon. The entire reason to buy the Pixi — a value proposition — has completely evaporated. And I almost feel bad about that. Almost.