The Palm Pre Plus on AT&T represents the first GSM webOS device to be available in the US. Outside of the SIM card, the Palm Pre Plus looks identical to the Verizon Palm Pre Plus. More significantly for Palm, that makes webOS devices available on all major US carriers (save for T-Mobile) which includes Verizon, Sprint and now AT&T.
In comparison to the original Palm Pre, there are some under the hood improvements. It doubles the storage and RAM to 16GB and 512MB respectively. Gone is the home key button, but a notification light remains. The Palm Pre Plus comes standard with a matte backplate that is Touchstone compatible. It should be noted that AT&T is offering a free Touchstone with the purchase of a Palm Pre Plus. The inductive charger makes charging effortless. Drop the Palm Pre Plus on the Touchstone charger and it begins charging. You don’t typically start a review with a must have accessory, but the Touchstone is simply a great accessory. Luckily, it’s free for new AT&T customers.
Like it’s sibling Pre, the hardware itself is largely constructed from plastic. The microUSB door is covered by a door which can be removed to provide direct access for charging or connecting to your Mac/PC. The intention here is to provide a clean design throughout the device, but we’d prefer an exposed port. Over time, we’re thinking it would meet it’s demise with any sort of consistent use.
A quick walk around the device reveals a ringer switch, 3.5mm headset jack and volume controls. The back reveals a 3 megapixel camera with flash that allows for shooting both still images and video. Photo quality is very good for a 3 megapixel camera.
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Palm uses a 3.1 inch 320×480 resolution HVGA multitouch display, which is also plastic. While acceptable last year with the original Palm Pre, it’s just not what we’d expect over a year later with a ‘plus’ model. Lower cost phones are available on AT&T’s network that feature glass displays. The display is certainly vibrant, but not when compared to OLED screens and it’s starting to feel small.
Depress the screen upwards and of course it will reveal a full QWERTY keyboard. Our exposure to the Verizon Palm Pre Plus was limited time to our time at CES 2010, so we’re unable to make a direct comparison between the AT&T Palm Pre Plus keyboard compared to the keyboard on the Verizon model. Typing on the AT&T Palm Pre Plus is an improvement from our launch day Sprint Palm Pre, but not anything drastic. Depressing a key is just smoother and the clicks are quieter, almost as if less is being impacted underneath the actual keys. The typing area itself remains tight and felt a bit cramped. The motion of sliding the keyboard open was quieter on the AT&T Palm Pre Plus, so we’d assume these are improvements to the original that aren’t visible, but have occurred since the first generation Pre. If you are a heavy texter, you might want to wait for the Palm Pixi Plus, due out on June 6th. While we haven’t tested the AT&T variant, the Palm Pixi for Sprint provided great tactile feedback, making for a great messenger device.
The Palm Pre Plus ships with webOS 1.4.2 and again shows itself as the highlight of our review. Moving between active applications showcases multitasking as it’s finest. Non-intrusive notifications pop-up in notification bar, allowing you to either act or temporarily ignore. If you choose to ignore, a small icon reminds you to act upon the notification at a later time.
webOS is not without it flaws. Opening apps still takes too long and there is a noticeable lag at times when navigating through the UI, with menu access being a perfect example. At times it’s difficult to ‘grab’ a menu, either by tapping or using the swipe down technique.
There are no back buttons, home buttons or in fact any buttons on the facing of the Palm Pre Plus. Navigation gets accomplished through the use of gestures and the touchscreen. The motion of your swipe in the ‘gesture area’ will determine navigation. Gestures feel like a natural extension of the device and one that I prefer over a physical or touch based buttons. Gestures are a perfect example of the elegance of webOS. Once you start using them, it makes perfect sense. This is the way to interact with a phone.
For a more in-depth review of webOS, please see our Sprint Palm Pre review.
If you are moving from another webOS phone, simply enter your Palm profile and all your information is transferred to the Palm Pre Plus. Oh the joys of cloud computing. If you are new to the platform, webOS’ synergy feature allows for easy transfer of contacts from GMail, Facebook and others. The unique feature ‘links’ information for one contact record, rather than creating 3 records for ‘John Smith’. The downside to syncing Facebook is that you’ll be loading Facebook friends into your phone and we all know that some use the term friends very loosely when on Facebook. Profile pictures also get synchronized and appear as a photo caller ID. Synergy makes life easy and that’s good. It’s a perfect feature for first time smartphone owners.
There are currently an estimated 2,200 + applications in the App Catalog. Facebook is well done and must-have app for webOS. With the Palm Pre Plus, you’ll also be able to enjoy a nice stable of 3D games. Game play and graphics are excellent. Top flight publishers including EA and Gameloft are among those developing for webOS.
DataViz, the company responsible for the Doc Viewer app that is standard on all webOS devices , is noticeably absent from the App Catalog. Those looking to edit Office documents on their mobile device will need to look at other platforms until either DataViz or another company fills this void.
Palm’s standardization of the UI provides a comfortable and well designed user experience by keeping the ugly out. Developers can focus on features, rather than designing the UI. Apps all look as if they belong within the OS and helps keep the overall experience polished.
Standard apps don’t benefit from the PDK. Apps also tend to be priced higher than competing platforms, likely due to the small install base of webOS owners. Over time, we hope that changes. We’d also like to see true native applications, but that would require Palm open up the SDK.
To access your applications, simply select the launcher or use the slide up gesture. Apps appear in multiple panels left to right. Once you reach a threshold of apps, the ability to scroll up and down is also present. We noted this last year and we’ll say it again, this is confusing and makes it difficult to organize apps. Some type of folder system might be helpful or limiting navigation to either L-R or Up/Down. As a stop gap, you can search, but this requires you slide out the keyboard to start typing. There is room for improvement here, perhaps something we’ll see in webOS 2.0.
YPMobile and AT&T Navigator are specific to the AT&T Palm Pre Plus. YPMobile uses Bing Maps to help find relevant businesses near your location. Need a pizza, YPMobile will use your GPS location and map out a few options.
AT&T’s Navigator is essentially TeleNav, which we reviewed here on the Sprint Palm Pre. The service is $9.99 per month. There are better, less expensive alternatives on other platforms.*
The browser on the Palm Pre Plus is the second best mobile web browser and that’s no small feat. Pinch and zoom, tap to zoom, it’s all here. In our testing websites rendered quite well. If you plan on using the Internet extensively, you’ll find immense pleasure surfing the web using the Palm Pre Plus.
The Palm Pre Plus no longer supports iTunes syncing. There are options that include DoubleTwist for syncing your music, video library and playlists. You can also mount the Palm Pre as a hard drive, allowing for transfer by dragging and dropping files. With 16GB of built-in storage, the Palm Pre Plus has capable storage for your apps, music, photos and videos.
Our review unit experienced some serious battery drain, so we swapped the batter with our Sprint Palm Pre’s battery. Results were improved, but still short of expectations. Through moderate usage, our phone was close to 50% battery life after 3 hours. With light usage the rest of the day, the device was down to 16%. Simply put, plan on carrying a spare battery and/or a car charger.
In theory, Bluetooth should enable you to connect the Palm Pre Plus with your car kit, headset or hands-free device. The Palm Pre Plus, like the Palm Pre and Palm Pre Plus before it, refused to connect with our car. Other devices tested connected perfectly, while some required we pair twice, but ultimately connected.
- webOS, which features the best notification system and best multitasking operation of any smartphone platform
- As webOS updates become available, the Palm Pre Plus will be updated. webOS does not suffer from fragmentation occurring on other platforms. Updates are delivered OTA (over the air), making the updating process painless.
- Sliding mechanism, keyboard are improved from previous generations
- Double storage, RAM
- Excellent 3D gaming
- Poor battery life
- Despite it’s elegance, OS feels sluggish at times
- Hardware feels dated, inexpensive
- Bluetooth connectivity issues persist
- No productivity suite
By all counts, the AT&T Palm Pre Plus is the GSM version of the Verizon Palm Pre Plus we encountered at CES earlier this year. The ‘plus’ features are too little too late, when compared to other high end smartphones that feature faster processors, bigger more brighter glass displays and an overall faster user experience. The Palm Pre Plus, with boosted RAM, leaves us scratching our head as to why the UI still feels sluggish at times. Given the fact it’s hardware features impressive specs, one could theorize that webOS could still benefit from optimization. Thankfully, Palm devices do not suffer from fragmentation and the company has been very good about pushing out regular updates.
If you are coming from the original Palm Pre and familiar with webOS, you’ll notice a zippier experience due to the doubling of RAM. Palm’s excellent Synergy feature coupled with an existing Palm profile allows you to get up in running in no time.
Palm has also incorporated some changes to the hardware that result in a slightly improved keyboard and a smoother slider mechanism.
In a world where apps are critical to a platform and reasons for purchasing a phone, Palm has seen some significant improvements in selection and breadth of apps, the most significant being 3D games. We’d like to see some sort of productivity suite, but the growing App Catalog with over 2,200 apps should be sufficient for most users, the highlight being the Facebook application developed by Palm.
The Palm Pre Plus is priced at $149.99, with some retail stores requiring you mail-in a $100 rebate. Verizon offers essentially the same phone for $29.99 and most would argue they offer better service. They also include a free Mobile Hotspot, offering you the capability to turn the Palm Pre Plus into a WiFi hotspot for a laptop, iPad, etc. If you enjoy the flexibility of a GSM phone (ability to switch SIM cards) and prefer AT&T, the free Touchstone will help balance the scales.
* Google Maps Navigation (free) and Navigon’s MobileNavigator for iPhone ($49.99). AT&T Navigator projects to $120 per year.