The Tech Heraldís review of the Palm Pre Plus
For a couple weeks now, The Tech Herald has had our hands on the Palm Pre Plus from Verizon Wireless. Now that our testing is complete, this review will cover some of the good and the bad. Overall, we were impressed with the Pre Plus, as itís a solid Smartphone.
The Pre Plus is a Smartphone because of its abilities, including MiFi usage, Wi-Fi access, Palmís webOS, and the various gadgets available for installation. Yet, you can play on that title a bit, as it is a smart-looking phone as well.
Itís a little heavy, as it weighs just less than 5 ounces. Yet, itís sleek and smooth. The polished finish to the case, which is a hardened plastic, offers great grip and just looks good when it sits on the corner of a desk. The slider, which exposes the keyboard, gives a little, but will stay in a closed position.
The screen is solid and scratch resistant. We make this claim based on the time the Pre Plus spent exposed to keys inside various pockets, and all sorts of objects when it was given a solid shake inside a backpack. Honestly, we were a little harsh on this phone, and it held up well.
The display (320 x 480 pixels with 24-bit color) is clean, and offered little reflection when used outside, and the color is vivid when watching videos or surfing the Web. There will be some smudging, on both the case and the display, but this is to be expected since the Pre Plus relies heavily on gestures.
The keyboard takes some getting used to. Mostly this will be the case for anyone who is used to a BlackBerry or a touch only screen-based pad. The buttons are raised slightly, based on the feel, and when you press them they offer resistance and a noticeable feedback. The keyboard spacing will feel a little ramped, but again this is something that will fade as you get used to your own personal method of typing. In all, when it comes to the physical aspects to the Pre Plus, this is well built device.
The display, as mentioned, is clean and the color vivid. Watching video on it or accessing games offers solid resolution. Reading text, even before you use gestures to zoom, on documents or websites is easy on the eyes.
In our display testing we watched several videos and looked at images online. YouTube video was clear, and the sound from just the speakerphone adequate, but headphones will work better. Image display and resolution for images online and those loaded via memory card were clean as well.
The gestures you need to use to operate the Pre Plus take some time to master, but the instruction booklet with the phone will help lower this learning curve. For the most part, only your index finger is needed, but sometimes adding the thumb (zooming) will be required. Depending on what your needs, the phone can be flipped to alter the content display, simply by rotating the Pre Plus left or right. In addition, the gesture bar that sits below the display will offer a quick shift between open applications and menu screens.
During testing, there were some issues with getting the display to move with the phone. It worked great the majority of the times, but still had trouble on occasion. Also, depending on how the Pre Plus is held, gestures triggered screen flipping, which was frustrating when trying to zoom into a paragraph of text online. This didnít happen all the time, but when it did, the angle in which the Pre Plus was held was usually the cause. The gesture bar offered no problems during testing, and worked like expected whenever it was needed.
When it comes to applications, the Pre Plus can keep a good deal of them running at the same time. This is because of the memory boost that the Pre Plus has when compared to the first generation Pre. During testing, we opened several applications and used them at random times to stress test the battery and the phone itself.
Open applications, when they are minimized, will be turned into cards. These cards will sit on the home screens, and with a gesture, can be sorted and accessed on demand. At one point we had ten cards active, and the Pre Plus was just as responsive as it was with no cards.
We tested Twitter on the Pre Plus, as well as a few games, such as Asphalt 5. For the most part, we didnít encounter any issues with performance while using various applications. For example, when playing the racing game, the scrolling was smooth and rendering was amazing considering it was on a phone and not an actual gaming device.
The email application worked as expected. Using a Gmail account, the vibration and alert notifications were helpful. The new mail notification, which when pressed shows the email account icon and subject, lets you prioritize what mail you need to read now and what can wait. Manual setup of email (POP) was painless and worked great once the configuration steps were complete.
Business application-wise, there are two readers. One deals with PDF, and the other with Word documents and other office formats. Editing requires a paid application, and we were unable to test that. However, based on the composition process for emails, creating a word document shouldn't be that hard, but it will take some time. (Long emails were no issue to type, but they will take some time to complete, depending on how fast you can type on the Pre Plusí keyboard.)
When you combine the display on the Pre Plus with webOS, Internet usage is impressive. At the same time, it is not without its limitations. For example, common websites like Yahoo, ESPN, CNN, and even The Tech Herald, loaded fine. They were easy to navigate (especially with gesture usage), and even when scripts were used on the page, we didnít have many issues getting around online.
The browser itself however, has some growing to do. XML rendering caused some issues, and as seen here, the Pre Plus essentially failed the Acid3 test, while scoring 73.
Overall, using the Internet on the Pre Plus worked great when it was being used for common tasks. The Pre Plus will work just fine if your Internet usage on the phone is essentially nothing more than searches and directions.
Coverage and Performance
We tested both the 3G coverage and calling coverage in the Indianapolis area. Calls were clear, aside from one single call that had a slight delay. There were no dropped calls, and signal strength was stable, offering an average of four bars at all times. Once in a wooded area the signal strength dropped to two bars, and in an open lot next to the airport as well as downtown Indianapolis, signal strength was four to five bars.
3G coverage, aside from it dropping completely in the wooded area, remained solid throughout testing. Websites and video, as well as streaming music from Pandora, had no problems.
Next we tested the Mobile Hotspot functionality of the Pre Plus. If you have need for the Mobile Hotspot feature, then paying the extra $40.00 USD a month to turn the Pre Plus into a MiFi is a good investment. However, this shouldnít replace a broadband card or a solid Internet connection by any means.
The speeds offered by the Hotspot functionality were quick enough, but slower than traditional Wi-Fi. Again, in a pinch, the Mobile Hotspot ability is rather handy. While testing the feature, we streamed Pandora to a laptop (IBM T60) and simply let it run. There were no pauses (buffering) for the streaming music, unless the phone was being used. Surfing the web using Firefox worked fine, but some sites loaded a little slowly when compared to a regular wireless connection.
If the phone is used while the Hotspot feature is active, the Internet connection is suspended. Likewise, if there are devices connected to the Pre Plus using the Hotspot and the Internet on the phone is used, the connected devices will drop off. You can connect up to five devices to the Pre Plus when in hotspot mode, but the more devices added, the less bandwidth you have to use, and the service only allows 5GB per month. In addition, the Mobile Hotspot feature kills the Pre Plusí battery; youíll be good for about two hours of usage.
In the end, the value added by the Mobile Hotspot feature will depend on the user. If you donít have a Wi-Fi Connect card, and cannot surf using the phone, this is a good option. High volume users will have to scale back though because of the 5GB limit.
The camera on the Pre Plus, considering it is a 3-megapixel, takes crisp images. Itís actually a great little camera. The flash works well in darker places, but the more light the better. There are no editing options or video options with the camera, but rumor is theyíre coming. For now, the quick snaps from the Pre Plus will have to do.
The battery life on the Pre Plus is at spec, where you do get 14 days of standby time, and roughly five hours of talk time. However, as mentioned, the Mobile Hotspot will kill the battery in about two hours. Likewise, gaming and constant usage of the Internet or other applications will drain it too. Overall, like most Smartphones, donít expect the Pre Plus to last for weeks on end with a single charge.
Overall, the Pre Plus is a great phone. It has some kinks to work out, but for the consumer who wants a Smartphone, but isnít ready for a BlackBerry or a Droid, the Pre Plus is worth a look. If you are stuck between a Droid and a Pre Plus, then the best bet is to try them both in store for yourself. That choice will boil down to personal preference.
When you look at the Pre Plus and compare it to the Pre, Verizonís version is a considerable advancement. In truth, anyone wanting a Smartphone now has several solid options on Verizonís network. Now, itís just a matter of picking one device. Easier said than done.
The Pre Plus from Palm is a robust phone, and while there are some things that will need addressed by future webOS updates, it will serve its purpose as a entertainment device and communications device well.
The Palm Pre Plus is $149.99 USD after a $100 rebate with a two year contract. The data plan will run $29.99 USD for Unlimited Data.