UPDATED Review: Verizon Palm Pre Plus can't win back this Palm fan yet

UPDATED Review: Verizon Palm Pre Plus can't win back this Palm fan yet

Summary: When I saw that the Palm Pre Plus was coming to Verizon with wireless hotspot capability I was all set to trade in my MiFi for the device. Unfortunately, the hardware doesn't match the power and capability of the software and continues to disappoint me.

SHARE:

This review is one of the hardest I had to write because I have a long history with Palm devices (started using them in 1997) and I had high hopes for their new webOS operating system and Palm Pre devices after they blew us all away at CES 2009. I actually stood in line and bought my own Sprint Palm Pre last summer and posted some thoughts on it at that time. There have been several software updates since last year and at CES 2010 Palm announced the Palm Pre Plus and Pixi Plus launching on Verizon Wireless with the ability for the Pre Plus to act as a MiFi and share out wireless Internet. Palm sent me a device to try out for a couple of weeks and I am glad they did because they saved me a ton of money since I was considering a switch from my Verizon MiFi to the Pre Plus. Using the Pre Plus actually helped push me to shut down my MiFi service and pick up my own Sprint Overdrive for wireless data and keep using my Nexus One for a smartphone. Check out my image gallery and thoughts below on why I think Palm still has a long road ahead of them even with a slick UI in WebOS. UPDATE: It turns out my review unit may be defective so a new eval unit is on the way and I will post an updated article after some further testing. See my last paragraph for more.

UPDATE 2: It turns out the particular hardware I had was faulty and Verizon replaced it with another more robust device that did not experience the wobbly display or random shutdowns. I also tested out a Pixi Plus from Verizon. The new webOS 1.4 added needed features and functions to make the device so much better that I am seriously considering buying my own and if you are with Verizon or Sprint I think the Palm devices are ones you should definitely consider. Check out my new thoughts on the Verizon Palm offerings and webOS 1.4.


Image Gallery:Check out product photos of the Palm Pre Plus. Image Gallery: Palm Pre Plus in hand Image Gallery: Retail boxes

Hardware

The Palm Pre Plus offers a couple of improvements over the Palm Pre from last year, including double the integrated flash storage (up to 16GB) and removal of the physical center button on the front that is replaced with a touch sensitive area and a small indicator light. The device feels pretty good in your hand, much like a large skipping stone, and is quite pocketable. It still has rather sharp edges around the keyboard and the keyboard is very cramped, even for someone like me that doesn't really have huge fingers. I also did not like having to bounce back and forth between the keyboard and display so much and think Palm should add some directional arrows on the keyboard so you can hang down there and enter text while navigating around a bit. This disconnected navigation and text entry experience was what I found irritating on some Windows Mobile devices in the past.

The power/screen toggle button on the upper right is a bit tough to press when you have the display up and the keyboard exposed, which is the way I found myself using it 90% of the time. I think something like the Pixi form factor may be more appealing since you need a physical keyboard to enter any text on the webOS platform so it is much more convenient to have one always available.

I also found my Sprint Palm Pre to be a bit cheap with a display that started to feel loose and wobbly after just a week. Unfortunately, I am seeing this same rather cheap feel in the Palm Pre Plus. I primarily bought Sony CLIE devices in the past due to their better construction than Palm branded devices and am not finding high quality in the Pre Plus either. I did spend some time with the Pixi Plus and think that is a more solid piece of hardware. To see what others thought of the Pre Plus I had several family members and friends try out the Palm Pre Plus and just about everyone of them said it felt cheap, lagged too much, and was too hard to hold in their hand with the display slid up.

The display looks cool being integrated into the front panel, but it is quite small at 3.1 inches and I honestly found browsing to be a bit frustrating after using a 3.7 inch display Nexus One and 3.5 inch Nokia N900. Fonts did not appear as crisp and clear as I wanted them to be and maybe I am spoiled by these other fantastic displays.

It is nice to have a physical ringer switch on the device and I appreciated this Palm touch. I did not find battery life to be that great and found myself charging it more often than other devices, even when I wasn't actually using the device much.

webOS and 3rd party apps

Palm webOS has a nice user interface, but you do have to learn the gestures and how to interact with it too. After you get used to it though it is a lot of fun to flick and throw cards off the screen and slide emails into the trash. webOS does a good job of multi-tasking with the card interface, much like Maemo 5 on the Nokia N900 and IMHO this is the strongest aspect of the operating system. The Synergy service integration is nice and I appreciated the inbox options and calendar views too. Notifications are also done right in webOS and I wish more companies would implement notifications like this.

I found that many of the applications I want on my devices were present on the Palm Pre Plus and I didn't really find much of anything major missing even though there are not that many apps in the Palm App Catalog. There is still no Office editing software so I don't see much appeal to enterprise customers with the current webOS platform. I enjoyed using Slacker, Evernote, gDial Pro, New York Times, Foursquare, and Tweed. I also purchased the Brothers in Arms game to try out and think Palm may have one of the best smartphone gaming platforms available. However, the display size again comes back to make gaming less than optimal as two thumbs touching areas of the display get in the way of the gaming experience. Gaming is not personally a major need for me though so I won't make a purchase decision on the gaming capability.

I did find times when I was looking around for menus and settings to customize my application and did not find much of that in the Pre Plus. I understand this is something I am used to from other mobile operating systems and may be considered a strength in the mind of many users.

The OS seemed fast at switching apps, but launching them was sluggish and after tapping an icon it would often take several seconds for the application to open up and be used. webOS can't be compared to the speed and response of the iPhone or even what I am seeing on the Google Nexus One.

For some reason, the Pre Plus would often just turn off by itself while I had it sitting aside. I grabbed it (happened about once a day) and found it was turned off and then I had to turn it on and wait a few minutes for it to get started up and running again. It was not a low battery issue and I have no idea why it kept locking up like this.

I thought the MiFi feature would be a major selling point for me, but was disappointed in the experience. It was easy enough to enable and launch and easy to connect with my computer and other devices, but I did not consistently see speeds I was hoping for and would never pay $40 extra on top of the minimum $120 per month (basic phone and data service) for this feature. A couple of other sites (MobileCrunch and jkOnTheRun) tested out the mobile hotspot feature and reported rather slow speeds too. I did see speeds of up to 1.45 Mbps at times, but most of the time I was seeing speeds in the 500 to 700 kbps range. I saw the Pre regularly turn itself off while using it as a MiFi and was frustrated by the experience. Your battery also gets eaten like nobody's business when in wireless hotspot mode so it isn't really a very practical solution if you still need to use your phone as a phone. A dedicated device just for wireless data access seems to be a more reliable solution. I would rather see a more metered pricing scheme for phone use too since people are more inclined to use their phone as a modem on just an occasional basis while dedicated devices like the MiFi and Overdrive should see heavier usage.

I understand the 1.4 firmware is set to become available soon and that is supposed to finally add video capture capability (which should have been on the device at launch) and some other stability and performance improvements.

Pricing and monthly service fees

The Palm Pre Plus can be purchased for $149.99 on Verizon Wireless after a $100 mail-in rebate and two-year service agreement. Basic voice with 450 minutes is $39.99/month, 250 text messages is $5/month, and data is $29.99/month. So that is $75/month, plus taxes, for limited voice and text messaging and then another $40/month to use the wireless router feature.

So why won't I buy a Palm Pre Plus?

There are a few reasons why I will be skipping the Palm Pre Plus again and that is the quality of the hardware, stability and speed of the operating system, and high price of Verizon Wireless services. With Google Android, iPhone, and upcoming Windows Phone 7 devices offering good user experiences and higher quality devices I don't have much faith in Palm ever rising too far in smartphone market share. It is also tough to have a ton of apps when developers see other operating systems that have more potential and market share. I think webOS is a decent operating system, but the hardware needs to get much better for me to recommend a webOS device to people at this time.

I was thinking that maybe the Palm webOS devices would be good replacements for the Palm Centro type user (high end feature phone and new smartphone user), but after having people try it out and see that they were not very happy with it I am not sure where Palm fits in at this time and wonder if it is just appealing to Palm fans who are loyal to the end.

If you want to check out detailed coverage of the webOS and Palm devices, including more opinions on the Pre Plus, then I highly recommend you visit PreCentral.net.

UPDATE: Review unit may have been defective, new unit to be tested

As you read in my review above, most of the issues I had with the Palm Pre Plus were due to the hardware. I think the webOS operating system is revolutionary for Palm and an attractive choice in today's smartphone world. After my review was posted a local Northwest Verizon WIreless representative reached out to me and asked if I would like to try out another Pre Plus and a Pixi Plus to see if the review unit I had was defective. He stated that some units have had issues shutting down when the keyboard was slid open, but this was a specific device issue and is not something that should be happening. I want to give all of you readers an honest and informed review and what you read above was what I experienced with the current evaluation Palm Pre Plus I had in my hand. I ALWAYS recommend people read various reviews on devices before they make purchase decisions because we all have different preferences and likes/dislikes and as you can see above sometimes we get devices that have specific issues that are not widespread across the entire stock of devices. I will post a 2nd take article and review of the Pixi Plus after I get a chance to use these other devices for a while.

Topics: Smartphones, Hardware, Mobility, Verizon

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

47 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Unfair review

    Palm has excellent customer support. Rather than force out a review
    of a defective unit, I'd encourage you to exchange your phone and re-
    evaluate some of your harsh criticism of the palm pre plus.

    Of the smart phones, the Palm's battery life has been on par with any
    of the other power-sucking phones I own. It's hard to accept the
    criticism of battery life when I have yet to see a smartphone with
    excellent battery life. The palm phone battery has improved a lot with
    the latest webos release, and can last a long time (days), while sitting
    on my desk; if I use it for phone calls and web, then it typically is out
    of battery by the end of the day; but this is true of my iPhone,
    Samsung moment (android), HTC G1 (android), Motorola Q (Windows
    Mobile), etc.

    Unlike Android, Palm has had a very usable and slick interface,
    multitouch browsing, speed and stability (I've only owned it since
    firmware 1.3, so I can't speak to troubles in earlier webos releases).
    Android, even with the beefed up 800Mhz processor is a dog while
    web browsing compared to the palm. The palm is on par with iPhone
    3GS web experience.

    I've had several applications crash on Android 1.5 (although the phone
    keeps running). The palm has been far more rock solid in terms of
    software. Android 1.5 design looks bad as well. I know things will
    improve when Android 2.1 becomes more widely available, but Palm
    had this all working right last June.

    Unlike the iPhone, I can do multiple things on my palm. For example,
    I was listening to music the other day, while using the turn-by-turn
    navigation software that comes on the Sprint version. As directions
    came up, the music faded away, the next turn instruction was given,
    and then the music faded back in.

    I am a mobile software developer and own an iPhone, a Samsung
    Moment (Android), a Palm Pre (WebOS), Motorola Q (Windows Mobile),
    Nokia, etc. Developing for WebOS is the fastest and easiest of any
    mobile platform -- the fundamental underlying technologies are
    HTML5 and Javascript, enabling a developer to bring existing Web
    apps to the palm effortlessly. I'd argue that the WebOS is far more
    open and more effectively encourages adoption of open technologies
    then "open-source" Android or the iPhone.
    alexandreshah
    • Wow...lots of good points in your post.

      Why do you not develop for Blackberry? I see no mention of it in your post.

      I have never seen the kind of stability that my Blackberry tour offers. It is simply amazing. I have had it since last July...it hasn't locked up even once with full on daily use, and the battery lasts forever it seems. Streaming Pandora, email and texting and running weatherbug, facebook, and the occasional call.. It lasts all day long...and even into the next day..but I do recharge every night.

      My last Palm Treo was dead by lunch...and it sounds like the Pre is the same way.
      Techdelirios
    • Excuse you?

      [i]"Unlike Android, Palm has had a very usable and slick interface,
      multitouch browsing, speed and stability (I've only owned it since
      firmware 1.3, so I can't speak to troubles in earlier webos releases). "[/i]

      Um Android DOES have multi-touch browsing, speed, stability, and a slick interface. Try picking up a 2.x device (like Droid or Nexus One) before passing judgement on ALL Android devices. Also the Android is 10times more open than the iPhone could ever hope to be, so lets not confuse things here.

      You gave an "unfair review" on Android :P
      JT82
    • Windows Mobile 6 is unimpressive

      I have a Palm Treo Pro and when my current Sprint contract expires, I plan to get a "Palm Pre 2" or whatever Sprint gets next. Windows Mobile 6 has such a boring UI.
      DonRupertBitByte
      • WM 6.5 with HTC is not boring

        I have an Imagio, with 6.5 and HTC's TouchFlo.

        After having WM devices for a decade, 6.5 is amazingly stable. It just works.

        HTC's UI overlay makes it very finger friendly and just plain fun to use.

        Finally, throw in some XDA or PPCGeeks mods and the phone is a pure pleasure to use.

        That said, I like WebOS as well. With the Palm Ares IDE that anyone can use, I've made little apps for my friends with Pres and Pixis.
        kevindarling
    • fishy article

      imo -- I think there's an agenda here. Corporate warfare? Bad pr? The list goes on and on oh well. Just a thought.

      I wonder which products the author endorses in real life
      pcguy777
    • I'll take a look at another review unit

      I was contacted by a Verizon rep and will be taking a look at another piece of hardware. As you can read in my review, I wrote what I personally experienced with the device and most of my concerns were with the hardware.

      I think the OS is quite slick and has potential, but I want to see it come out on my hardware soon. I would love to see a webOS device with Nokia quality or something like a Nexus One running webos.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
  • Will ZDNET EVER say anything positive about webOS??

    AlexanderResha's critique of this review is SPOT
    on. I've owned an iPhone, HTC Hero, and a Palm
    Pre. While there are redeeming qualities of all
    platforms and Palm has a ways to go perfecting
    their hardware, webOS is simply amazing, and I
    don't think it's getting a fair shake from highly-
    regarded tech journalists such as yourself.
    vara411
    • Couldn't have said it better

      It's the OS, not the hardware. I love my Pre and wouldn't switch to anything else out there. But, it's not the hardware. I don't love or hate that. It's the webos! They really need a hardware platform that lets the os shine. Disappointed to see them warm over the Pre with the Pre Plus. They need a new phone with faster cpu and removable memory. I would pay a pretty good amount for that upgrade.
      20kwfence
    • I agree

      I love my Sprint Pre, Who cares if Verizon charges to much. The webos platform is changing for the better ever day. I have had my Pre since day one when they only had a few apps, and I have owned a HTC Touch Pro. My Pre ROCKS!I just think this guy must be getting paid somewhere or else he doesn't have a clue.
      mikebeam@...
  • RE: Review: Verizon Palm Pre Plus can't win back this Palm fan

    I have to agree that since I have owned my Palm Pre
    since launch I would like to add that I have
    absolutely loved my phone. I have tried other people's
    iPhones and have looked at the HTC Hero, but when you
    boil them all down I would have to say that the WebOS
    on the Palm Pre wins everytime. Don't get me wrong,
    Palm still has some serious strides to make to retake
    the throne of the handheld market, but I believe they
    can do it with WebOS. Plus with the enhancements they
    keep performing on the WebOS on the Palm Pre I always
    feel that my launch unit keeps getting better and
    better. Battery now lasts a lot longer than on launch,
    plus my web browsing (and other applications) run 10x
    smoother. I find that to be more important than what
    has been already out in the wild. Only phone that
    might challenge both Palm and Apple would be Google's
    latest/upcoming smartphone. Regardless though, I love
    my Palm Pre and love my plan with Sprint. Cheers!
    imkain@...
  • RE: Review: Verizon Palm Pre Plus can't win back this Palm fan

    That's not true of the Palm Pre, can't speak for the Pre Plus. I am never dead by the end of the day with heavy usage. Often by morning it will be if I don't charge it.
    I'm not a huge Pre fan (I got mine at launch and am on my third because of hardware issues) but the webos is second to none. I have not had any lockups but occasionally get the too many cards open message. Battery life is good. Love the touchstone! Good apps and many that can be put on if you are willing to do a little work, outside of the app store.
    They need to come out with a killer phone with the webos. That would be a home run.
    20kwfence
  • RE: Review: Verizon Palm Pre Plus can't win back this Palm fan

    I have the original Pre on Sprint and have no problems
    with lagging or the hardware. I love WebOS. Guess kind
    of like shoes, you have to find what fits you.
    runninghead1@...
  • RE: Review: Verizon Palm Pre Plus can't win back this Palm fan

    On the contrary, Developers are seeing a big future in Palm Pre's webOS. Since you don't already have a Palm Pre phone you wouldn't know that the Palm App Catalog has more than doubled since June of last year starting at 200 apps. After 7 months, it has shot up to about 1,500 apps! Not even the blackberry with just about 2,000 apps can match that rate of app releases. With constant releases of new 3D hardware accelerated games developed by major gaming industries and crowds of developers working hard to compete for the million dollar prizes for Palm app development, market share for the Palm will certainly soar in the next coming months. Especially when AT&T will soon sell the Palm Pre introducing yet another potential 70 million subscribers into it's market share. Meanwhile, I have Enterprise Business apps for the Palm pre ready for quality assurance and out the door to sell through the Palm App Catalog.
    zdnetviewer
  • RE: Review: Verizon Palm Pre Plus can't win back this Palm fan

    I wanted a Palm Pre Plus to replace my antiquated Windows Mobile Touch Pro (Verizon), however after repeatedly trying it in the store and reading many blogs and websites I could not purchase the devise.

    My decision had three major reasons:
    1) No Spell Check - I can not believe that Palm has not been able to implement a spell check into its Pre/Pixi devices. WINMO for all its flaws has spell check.
    2) Apps (or lack there of) - Lack of support for Word/Excel etc. Why do you have a smart phone?
    3) The physical device - Typing on the device was not easy (Pre Plus). In the store I sent emails and text messages to and from myself. The Palm simply was a chore to use.

    The only thing the Palm Pre Plus was good for was web browsing. If that is the ONLY thing you want from a smart phone, get the Pre Plus.
    dm2150
    • Umm, what?

      Response to your points:
      1. No spell check- it does have one, but it's extremely basic. The iPhone spellcheck, among others, is much better. I could concede this point.
      2. Lack of support for Word/Excel- Umm, you can view any document made in Word/Excel/PowerPoint 2003 or 2007. Editing is another matter, though, and I could understand if you were upset by this. I'm not sure you can edit these documents on too many other platforms, though, and it would seem to me that the use case is for people who want to look at docs on the run. I'm not too sure I'd WANT to edit docs on a smartphone.
      3. Typing is not that easy on a Pre. For that matter, it isn't that easy on an iPhone or a Blackberry, either. I found the opposite problem on a Droid- the keys are too large, making it harder for thumbs to travel. This is kind of a YMMV type of thing, and most users quickly get the hang of it.
      heres_johnny
  • RE: Review: WebOS FTW

    I got a Palm Pre from Sprint as soon as I could - August, '09. I have the same one they shipped me. No swaps. No drops. No errors. The physical build isn't perfect, but mine's been a champ.

    But I agree. The physical phone needs improvement - but the WebOS on the thing is dynamite! You know what I'd like? a WebOS tablet that's what. That would really be cool.
    Olderdan
  • Palm doesn't measure up....to Palm

    Thank you for the excellent review.

    I am a Palm user. Really, I LOVED Palm!

    Since the Palm Pilot was in
    pre-production and I got a chance to try it, it
    just seemed to fit the way I work and what I
    needed. 15 years or so...

    Calendar, sync'ing with several computers, even
    birthday reminders.... It just worked.

    The last several years I was using a Palm
    T/X.....until I washed it by mistake. Even
    then, it lasted 4 more months.

    In other words, based on my experience, Palm
    was the standard upon which
    all smart devices would be measured. I have
    been trying out everything and all devices have
    come up short -- I have used Droid, Blackberry,
    and several Win 6.1 devices.

    First and biggest issue for me -- not one of
    the devices will sync multiple computers
    correctly (3-4 pc's). I can't be the only
    person in the world that needs a
    calender/contacts sync of several computers.

    Oh well....

    Which brings me to now.

    I have been WAITING for the Palm products to
    come to Verizon and finally they have....so I
    was there the day they arrived.

    What disappointment (sigh).

    First: the hardware feel -- the sharp edge
    around the bottom was worthy of a jaw drop!
    Huh?!! How could a 'classy' device feel so
    CHEAP? The keyboard was tight for my thumbs
    and I could't hit the keys accurately and I
    founda general disatisfaction in the physical
    feel.

    But the software....simply -- the software
    didn't fulfill my needs. I honestly didn't
    even bother to use the device after I dived
    into the software functionality....so I won't
    comment on the overall OS.

    but....the device doesn't sync with multiple
    computers; it could only bring together
    contacts from web based sites -- and it wasn't
    able to even use the 'old' Palm contact, memo
    and calender!

    The MiFi idea was very exciting and I too
    thought it would be a major reason to have this
    device...but the extra money was too much to
    even consider it.

    Ok...enough. I don't need to beat a dead
    horse. I am a very disappointed Palm lover
    that is coming to grips with the idea that I
    need to move on....to something that measures
    up to what Palm used to be.
    jcherin@...
    • Well, that's wrong

      I don't get it. I have a Palm Pre and it syncs up with multiple applications and computers just fine. So you reject the phone because it doesn't do something, which in fact, it does? "I honestly didn't even bother to use the device...". Hmmm. Maybe if you had, you would have discovered that it can do what you want, either via Google sync or Chapura. I have three computers all synced - two using Outlook and one using Thunderbird/Lighting. It's done via the web, which I initially did not like - but now I actually appreciate the cloud-based backup of my critical calendar and contact data that it provides.
      ktenbrook@...
    • Palm Pre way better than Palm Treo

      Don't kid yourself. Palm Treo is a dinosaur..we've waited for years before it could perform multitasking. With the Pre you can now run many apps at the same time and sync more than just a single set of calendars and contact information but from multiple websites. Palm Pre's Synergy feature brings everything together including chatting through AOL, Google Chat, and Yahoo. MiFi feature is nothing new to the Palm Pre either..many are using the FREE MiFi or MyTether, Wireless Router since it's first release without paying ANY monthly fees! It works fast and it's very convenient when you need to provide internet access to more than one laptop in the middle of no where.
      zdnetviewer