After covering Apple’s music event this morning, I met with Palm and got a hands-on look at the company’s new Pixi smartphone, which Palm announced early today
I was a bit underwhelmed by the actual phone, which will be the second to run Palm’s WebOS software. But the Pixi, which Palm plans to launch before the holidays, will have at least one new features that will be very cool.
I found a lot to like about Palm’s Pre, the Pixi’s WebOS predecessor. One of the features that I liked most was something Palm calls Synergy. The feature collects and combines address book information from a variety of sources and displays them all together.
So, if I looked up the contact information for my wife, the Pre, using Synergy, might show a phone number I had stored in Outlook in my office, an e-mail address she had entered on Facebook and her Google Talk address. From that one, combined address book entry, I could then call her or send her an e-mail, text message or instant message.
Considering how spread out people’s contact information is these days, Synergy makes a heck of a lot of sense. It’s one of a number of features that I wish my iPhone had.
Well, with the Pixi, Palm is improving Synergy, adding two new partners: LinkedIn and Yahoo, both of which are excellent additions. I don’t know about you, but I have some contacts on LinkedIn that I just don’t have on other social networks or even in my Outlook address book.
Meanwhile, the addition of Yahoo will allow you to sync not only address book information you may have stored on Yahoo, but Yahoo IM addresses and calendar information.
At one of my previous employers, Yahoo IM was the chat client of choice and I still have a lot of friends and former colleagues who are on the service. Being able to link those IM addresses with other contact information I have would be great.
Palm plans to add the two new Synergy partners to the Pre as well, but won’t say exactly when. Company representatives say that adding them will require users to download a software update, and they said they can’t say when that will be available.
Because it runs WebOS, the Pixi works in much the same way as the Pre. As with the Pre, it has a capacitive touch-screen that allows for multi-touch gestures. And you can run multiple programs at once and switch between them by minimizing them into “cards.” In my test of the Pre, I really enjoyed the device’s interface, finding it to be superior to even that of the iPhone.
But, in addition to share the Pre’s operating sytem, the Pixi also shares two of the device’s biggest shortcomings.
As is the case with the Pre, Sprint will have the Pixi exclusively at its launch this fall and for some period of time thereafter. That’s unfortunate, because Sprint is significantly smaller than AT&T and Verizon Wireless, meaning that at least for now, the Pixi will be available to a somewhat circumscribed audience. It’s also unfortunate, because Sprint’s service and coverage has generally been regarded as inferior to that of Verizon.
The other big shortcoming is that while Palm is allowing software programmers to write applications for WebOS, there just aren’t that many applications to choose from yet. As of today, there are only about 58 available for the Pre.
Company representatives say that Palm is adding more than 10 applications to its App Catalog every week and the number of available programs should grow even faster when it starts to allow developers to charge for applications. The company has already begun to test that feature.
Still, the number of applications is a drop in the bucket compared with the number that are available for other smartphones, particularly Apple’s iPhone. Palm’s Silicon Valley rival announced Wednesday that it now has 75,000 applications available for its device.
Regardless of how the Pixi stacks up to the iPhone, in many ways, the Pixi will be inferior to its sibling, the Pre.
For example, because the device is a candy-bar design, not a slider like the Pre, Palm had to make room for a keyboard and a screen on the same surface, without making the device too long. The end result is a screen that is noticeably smaller than the Pre’s: 2.6 inches in diagonal, compared with the Pre’s 3.1 inches.
Likewise, the device has a cheaper and less sophisticated camera. It’s only 2 megapixels, compared with the Pre’s 3, and it has a fixed focus, rather than the Pre’s, which offers a wide depth of field.
And the list goes on. The processor, though newer, is slower than the Pre’s and the Pixi, unlike the Pre, doesn’t have a WiFi antenna built in.
Palm is upfront about these distinctions. And it plans to offer the Pixi at a price that is less than that of the Pre, which the company and partner Sprint reduced to about $150 with a two-year discount. How much less? The company wouldn’t say.
But my sense is that the company may have a hard time pushing the device, unless it gets the price under $100. That’s about the price that Apple and AT&T are charging for the 8-gigabyte iPhone 3G, which Apple originally released last year.
That’s an apt comparison, because although the iPhone’s a year old, it has a number of important things the Pixi won’t: namely, a built-in WiFi antenna and some 75,000 applications to choose from.
But I guess we’ll see when we know more about how much the Pixi will cost and how long it will be on Sprint.