Along with the new handset, Palm will offer five artist-designed back covers in the "Palm Pixi Artist Series" -- similar to Zune Originals and Dell's Design Studio laptops -- which can be purchased separately... of course. Touchstone owners take heart: those backs, as well as a separate black backing that you'll also pay extra for, are all compatible with the accessory. In addition to the hardware, Palm will be introducing a native Facebook app when the Pixi hits, as well as new Yahoo! and LinkedIn integration for Synergy. Right now no date for launch has been set, though Palm says the phone will be ready in time for the holidays. The company is also mum on price, but coupled with the news that Sprint will be slimming the Pre's entry point down to $149.99, we have to assume it's going to be in the $99-or-less ballpark. We had a chance to play around with the new phone, so read on after the break for our initial, early impressions.
Palm is still tweaking the device, so we aren't making any final judgments on the Pixi -- though what we saw is mostly heartening.
For starters, the phone is really quite handsome. In terms of industrial design, the clean lines and smart choices in materials belie the Pixi's likely price-point. In your hands it feels solid, though it's shocking just how tiny it is. The standard backing is a soft-touch material (not unlike the Touchstone back for the Pre), and perhaps due to the lack of moving parts here, the phone feels really well put together. Just as with the Pre, the Pixi includes a ringer on / off switch and 3.5mm headphone jack, as well as a removable 1150mAh battery.
The body of the phone is -- as we said -- very small, but the thickness is where it really struts its stuff... or lack of stuff. The Pixi is just 0.43-inches thick. To put that in perspective, the iPhone 3GS is 0.48-inches -- which means anyone who has complaints about sliding a handset into their pocket should be swooning.
Instead of a center button, Palm has made the middle of the gesture area (part of its capacitive coating) take on the duty. The target is represented by a small, white slit, and the same gestures that webOS is known for seem to work flawlessly around it. While the screen gets 80 pixels lopped off compared with the Pre (and the iPhone, G1, Hero, and Storm, to name a few), it looked clean and crisp to us. The responsiveness on the main part of the display was just as tight -- if not tighter -- than the Pre, and that's a plus. Of course, webOS makes clever use of the cramped space by squashing card and app sizes down to fit. It's a tremendous example of the UI's literal scalability.
The QWERTY keyboard on the Pixi was also a bit of a shocker -- even though the keys are tiny and tightly spaced, it's definitely usable. The reps we spoke with noted that due to the candybar form factor and lack of a sliding mechanism, they were able to get more height on the keys. Besides the more pronounced buttons, the Pixi's keyboard seemed to have a more tactile click than that of the Pre, and honestly, we might have liked the Pixi's variation better.
Inside, the phone is powered by a completely different CPU than its big brother. In this case, Palm chose to use the Qualcomm MSM7627, a smaller chip which enabled them to mint the micro form factor. The CPU itself isn't dramatically different than the 7200 series, though it is noticeably less charged than the TI OMAP3 chip in the Pre. Regardless of what's cranking the gears, the phone seemed pretty snappy when it was demoed for us (you can see it in action in the videos below). We did notice a few hangups during big image scaling and heavy webpages, but again, this is early software on an early device.
All in all, we walked away impressed by the Pixi, but a little bummed that Palm has chosen to bring another webOS device to Sprint. Here's hoping that this proliferation means the Pre will be finding its way to other carriers soon -- part of Palm's strength right now is that it's not locked into a long term Apple / AT&T situation, and it would be a shame not to take full advantage of that. Still, it's always nice to see a quality handset joining the smartphone ranks, and if this pans out to be as cheap as we think it should be, Palm could find themselves making a lot of new friends... Centro style.