Palm cuts prices with Pixi smartphone, may not clarify its prospects
Yesterday, Palm shipped the second device to run the webOS operating system it debuted this summer. Its new Pixi smartphone offers many of the same features as its Pre at a lower cost -- but in the six months since that gadget shipped, Palm's competitive position has eroded.
Like the Pre, the Pixi combines a miniaturized physical keyboard with a sharp touchscreen that responds to iPhone-esque gestures -- spread two fingers apart to zoom into a Web page or map, pinch two together to zoom out. Its Web browser, like the software on its older brother, the iPhone and devices running on Google's Android software (all sharing the same open-source code framework), easily displays full-sized Web pages.
But the Pixi is a good deal thinner, at 0.43 inches, and cheaper, at $199.99 before a $100 mail-in rebate from its exclusive carrier Sprint, than most of its competitors. (Walmart's Web site briefly listed it for just $30 but now asks $49.99 for the device.) Despite the more compact dimensions, Palm touts the same five-hour talk time for the Pixi as for the Pre; my initial use of a loaner Pixi suggests that figure is true.
That cheaper price brings some tradeoffs, though. The Pixi doesn't have the Pre's WiFi wireless networking, includes a lower-resolution camera and features a significantly smaller screen. That 2.63-inch display may fall below some users' threshold for readability and makes it tricky to hit such smaller onscreen buttons as the little menu shortcut in the top left corner.
The biggest issue with both the Pixi and the Pre, however, is their software. Palm's webOS does multi-tasking better than any other smartphone software I've seen -- it displays open programs as a series of cards on the screen, then lets you close any one of them by flicking it up off the screen. But what could be its second-best feature, the "Synergy" option of linking contacts and calendars to the records of such social-networking sites as Google, Facebook and LinkedIn, continues to suffer from an underdone implementation: You can't have only a subset of your Facebook contacts show up in a Pixi or Pre's address book. The Pixi also showed some serious slowdowns, especially with its calendar application.
Palm touts the Pre's built-in iTunes compatibility -- "use the Palm media sync feature to transfer your DRM-free iTunes music, videos and photos to your Pre" -- but makes no such promise for the Pixi. It shouldn't: Apple keeps updating iTunes to defeat the Pre and Pixi's attempts to impersonate an iPod. So while a laptop running the 9.0.1 version of iTunes synchronized music and photos to the Pixi, machines running the current 9.0.2 release ignored the phone.
Finally, there's the issue of third-party software. While the iPhone's App Store stocks more than 100,000 titles and Android's Android Market carries about 12,000, the Pre and Pixi's App Catalog only offers some 300. That number includes a few high-profile iPhone apps that have yet to show up on Android, such as Yelp, but in other cases -- for instance, the nearly useless Facebook app -- a company's webOS program is far inferior to its mobile-Web site. This is not the selection I expected to see by now when I complimented the Pre here and in my column in June. Palm says it will officially launch the App Catalog next month, but the lagging developer support so far already has some early Pre adopters questioning the viability of their purchase.
It is possible that in the under-$50 market the Pixi seems aimed at, collecting add-on applications isn't the most important thing -- out-of-the-box utility and simplicity are. In that case, the Pixi may do fine -- just as many people never bother installing more than a handful of programs on far more expensive desktops and laptops. What's your take on this? Are you more interested in a cheaper smartphone that handles the Web well enough to stop iPhone users from snickering at you, or will you pay extra to have the wider choice of aftermarket programs?
November 16, 2009; 2:30 PM ET
Save & Share: Previous: ACTA puts digital rights on the table, locks the public out of the room
Next: PostPoints tip: It's OK to hoard some USB cables
Posted by: Baccuss | November 17, 2009 7:14 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: bibliomel1 | November 17, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: neil64 | November 17, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jethro1 | November 17, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: patrickgama7 | November 18, 2009 12:02 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | November 19, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.