Palm review: Interesting idea, poorly executed

palm-header.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    4.9 Mediocre
  • $349.00

Pros

  • Compact and lightweight
  • Some clever UI features

Cons

  • Screen is too small and fiddly to use efficiently
  • Moderate camera quality
  • No storage expansion
  • No physical volume rocker
  • No NFC
  • Terrible battery life

Palm was a key company behind the development of the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), way before anyone ever thought of putting a SIM into this kind of device and calling it a smartphone. Touch-screens were used with a stylus, the arrival of colour screens was a real breakthrough, and later, when cellular connectivity was finally added, Palm's Treo with its mini keyboard was a trend setter.

Still, this isn't the place to rehash Palm's somewhat convoluted history, and its name has been abeyance for some years. The brand is now in the hands of TCL, and is back with a miniature Android handset, simply called 'Palm'. So that makes it the 'Palm Palm'. We'll just call it the 'Palm' from here on.

The Palm is a Vodafone exclusive in the UK, and it's available for £350 (inc. VAT) on pay as you go, or various other prices if you opt for a contract.

This 3.3-inch device is positioned as a secondary phone, for use when you don't want to carry your large main handset. The website says: "With Palm, you can leave your smartphone behind". But hang on, it is a smartphone: it runs Android 8.1, it runs apps, it accommodates a SIM, it has front and rear cameras. It's a smartphone. And at £350 SIM-free, it's on a par with -- or more expensive than -- some very competent mid-range phones such as the Honor 10, Huawei P20 and Moto G6 Plus. So can this Lilliputian handset compete?

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The 3.3-inch Palm measures 50.5mm wide by 96.5mm tall by 10mm thick, and weighs just 60g. It's powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 435 chipset with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of (non-expandable) internal storage. It runs Android 8.1.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The Palm is tiny -- about the size of a credit card. It weighs just 60g, and measures 96.5mm tall by 50.5mm wide. It's thicker than many modern handsets at 10mm, but that doesn't really matter. In fact, the thickness helps give this tiny phone tactile substance.
There's a USB-C port on the bottom edge for charging, and a SIM slot and power button on the right edge. Volume control is handled in software via a slider accessed from the standard Android pull-down menu at the top of the screen. There's no 3.5mm headset jack, and the phone is IP68 rated for protection against water and dust.

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The front and back are very smooth and slippery. This is more concerning with the tiny Palm than with larger phones because I felt I was more likely to drop it -- as indeed I did on a few occasions.

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The on-screen keyboard is a usability challenge, especially if you have large fingers.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The screen is very small, measuring 3.3 inches across the diagonal. Its 1,280 by 720 pixels are clear and bright, and pin-sharp at 445ppi. But the small screen also means you can't see very much information at any one time. Web pages are squished, the screen is really too tiny for video watching or reading emails, and tapping at links is a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. 

In fact, difficulty using the touch screen is a serious issue. I found it near-impossible to tap out accurate SMS messages on the minuscule keyboard, and to get anywhere near a legible message I had to slow down my text entry perceptibly. Others I showed the handset to had the same problem -- their "aaaw, cute" comments were swiftly followed by noting how fiddly the screen is to work with.

Sound from the built in speaker is predictably tinny, and while maximum volume is quite loud I wouldn't want to use the speaker to listen to music. It's OK for the spoken word, though. 

There's no fingerprint sensor on the device, but the handset does cater for facial recognition using the 8MP front camera if you'd rather use that than a PIN or pattern. During setup you're asked if you want to use 'life mode', which allows you to block notifications when the screen is off. You can also use it to tell the handset which apps can send notifications when the screen is back on. Android has its own notifications settings for apps, and its own 'do not disturb' settings, so adding a secondary set of options is likely to be confusing for users.

Android 8.1 has been tweaked in other ways too, and this includes the substitution of a bespoke home screen. At the top of the screen is the Google search bar. Below that there are two screens of app icons arranged in an irregular array that you can scroll through. Oddly, beneath that are further apps, in a regular table-like arrangement. 

palm-home-screen.png

The Palm's custom home screen requires a lot of scrolling if you have multiple apps installed.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Apps can be dragged into place on the irregular array so your favourites are available immediately or with a single downward scroll. There's only room for 11 icons pre-scroll, and they can't be grouped together as is usual with Android. It feels odd to mix these two icon arrangements -- irregular and regular -- and anyone who likes to have a lot of apps on their handset might get thumb-ache from a lot of scrolling.

Beneath the screen there's a tiny three-dot touch button that takes you home when pressed twice, back when pressed once and lists recent apps (which can be scrolled vertically) when held down. I found it to be a godsend. Above this, within the screen, are the standard Android navigation buttons which are, by comparison, too small to be efficiently used.

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You don't get a lot of content on the Palm's 3.3-inch, 1,280x720 screen.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Sweeping to the right of this home screen opens up the Widgets screen, while going left opens up Google Discover.

One feature that should be rather neat is that a sweep up from the lock screen brings up a small area with shortcuts to messaging, phone, camera and music in its four corners, and a writing pad in its centre. Draw a letter and the handset will offer apps and contacts matching it. This is something of a nod to the old Palm Graffiti app, and should be a great way of shortcutting to apps or people. Unfortunately it doesn't work too well: often, I just opened the handset to its home screen when I swept up; and when I did manage to get to the writing pad, letter recognition wasn't great and I got as many wrong recognitions as right ones. Oh, and this service isn't available if you use face unlock, since it's only accessible from the lock screen.

There are two cameras -- 12MP with LED flash on the back and an 8MP front facing camera for face login and selfies. There's a fair bit of shutter lag, and if you don't keep a steady hand your photos will be blurred. Night-time shooting is below average: photographing anything mid-distance at night seems to result in very dark, near-unusable photos. This is a real shame, given how important cameras are to phone users these days.

The Snapdragon 435 chipset with 3GB of RAM delivered moderate Geekbench 4 scores of 2693 for multi-core and 686 for single-core performance. Still, this handset isn't likely to be used for demanding workloads like gaming, so the performance level is perfectly adequate.

There's 32GB of internal storage and no MicroSD card slot for expansion. Fresh out of the box, 7.6GB is already in use, which might be a problem if you want to carry a lot of music around.

NFC is absent, so contactless payments are not possible with the Palm.

This handset's compact chassis can only accommodate a tiny battery, and so I didn't expect much out of a full charge. Even so, I was surprised when the 800mAh battery expired after just 1 hour 53 minutes on the Geekbench battery life test. In everyday use I couldn't get through a day without recharging. Palm says the handset will last for eight hours under 'typical' use, so I wonder how 'typical' use is defined in this context.

At least the battery charges pretty quickly, although when the phone is on charge it gets notably warm on both the back and front.

Conclusions

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Despite Palm's 8-hour claim, we failed to get a day's use from the device's 800mAh battery.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Palm's concept of a phone that you can carry when your larger main phone isn't practical probably sounded like a really good idea on the drawing board, but it isn't realised in the physical product. Yes, the 3.3-inch Palm device is small enough to fit into any pocket, but it's riddled with usability issues and isn't a compelling alternative to a regular handset.

The screen is far too fiddly to use with ease. The main camera -- for many people one of the most-used features and a primary factor when selecting a phone -- is a bit laggy and doesn't cope well in low lighting. Terrible battery life is also a serious problem.

If you're looking for a second phone, you'd be better off considering some of the many sub-£350 Android phones available. Christmas is well and truly over, but I have to say that this handset is a turkey.

RECENT AND RELATED CONTENT

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Specifications

Cellular
Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
Type smartphone (Android OS)
Integrated Components audio player, front-facing camera, navigation, rear-facing camera, voice recorder
Navigation GLONASS, GPS
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider Verizon Wireless
Operating System Family Android
Operating System Android 8.1 Oreo
SIM Card Type nano SIM
SIM Card Slot Qty single-SIM
Input Device Multi-touch
Details
SAR Value 1.02 W/kg (body) / 1.26 W/kg (head)
Integrated Components Rear-facing camera, front-facing camera, audio player, voice recorder, navigation
Body Color Titanium
Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, voice control, call timer, conference call, flight mode, voice dialing, vibrating alert
Sensors Proximity sensor, digital compass, gyro sensor, G-sensor
Additional Features Face Unlock
Security Devices Face recognition
Miscellaneous
Sensors G-sensor, digital compass, gyro sensor, proximity sensor
Included Accessories SIM card, USB cable, power adapter
Messaging & Internet
Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Yes
Communications
Data Transmission EDGE, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA, LTE, LTE Advanced
3G UMTS Band Band 1, Band 2, Band 4, Band 5
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 4.1 LE, IEEE 802.11b/g/n
Processor
Clock Speed 1.4 GHz
Type Qualcomm Snapdragon 435
Processor Number MSM8940
Manufacturer QUALCOMM
Processor Core Qty 8-core
64-bit Architecture Yes
Display
Technology IPS
Display Resolution 1280 x 720 pixels
Color Depth 24-bit (16.7 million colors)
Pixel Density (ppi) 445
Diagonal Size 3.3 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 8.4 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 3.3 in
Protection Corning Gorilla Glass (scratch resistant glass)
Color Support color
Media Player
Supported Digital Audio Standards WAV, AAC, AMR, MP3, AAC +, eAAC+, MIDI, SP-MIDI, Vorbis
Memory
RAM 3 GB
Battery
Run Time Details Talk: up to 200 min
Navigation (GPS): up to 4.75 hrs
Playback (music): up to 9.5 hrs
Playback (LTE): up to 5.5 hrs
Playback (Wi-Fi): up to 6 hrs
Active online usage (Life Mode): up to 8 hrs
Standby: up to 72 hrs
Mixed usage: up to 3 hrs
Header
Brand Palm
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Features
Sensors G-sensor, digital compass, gyro sensor, proximity sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert, voice control, voice dialing
Security Devices face recognition
Additional Features Face Unlock
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards AAC, AMR, MIDI, MP3, SP-MIDI, Vorbis, WAV, eAAC+
RAM
Installed Size 3 GB
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 32 GB
Front-facing Camera
Sensor Resolution 8 Megapixel

Where To Buy

Price
$349.00

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Where To Buy

Palm (titanium)

Part Number: pvg100vwq
Price
$349.00