CES 2009: Palm Inc., noted pioneer of the smartphone revealed it’s ‘comeback’ device, swiftly labelled by critics as, “The iphone killer”. The Palm Pre launched to immense fanfare and positive press. Palm was known for it’s light-weight and effective Palm OS. The new webOS seemed to meet even the highest hopes with it’s intuitive, connected, gesture-based interface. The ‘river stone’ styled Pre with a slide out portrait keyboard and later it’s sister phone, the candybar form factor Pixi, had an optional back plate that enabled inductive charging on the ‘Touchstone’ dock which would become a staple of the brand.
The hardware of the first generation Palm Pre was actually fairly decent for what the phone was trying to accomplish. Sadly though, Palm’s parlous financial state caused release delays, there were poor marketing decisions and the early models had several design flaws including the much hated ‘Oreo effect’, sticky keys and software flaws that would see the positive buzz turn into hapless regret for some people. Ultimately though, people bought the phone not for it’s specifications but for a user experience that was powered by webOS.
Over 5 years have passed and while most original Pre and Pixi owners have since moved on, some die-hard fans have held onto their beloved little webOS smartphone. But how do the original Pre and Pixi stack up in today’s myriad of super-advanced cell phones? Let’s take a look.
The Palm Pre and its Plus variant, both run the exact same CPU clocked at 600MHz with 256MB of RAM. The Plus versions doubled the Ram to 512MB. The Palm Pixi (launched in November of 2009), runs a slightly underclocked CPU of 400 MHZ, making it slightly underpowered compared to the Pre. The Plus version of the Palm Pixi has the same 512MB of RAM and integrated wifi. The Pre has a larger screen, but the Pixi is more portable and has a more spaced out keyboard that in my own experience has better travel than the Pre.
webOS 1.0 that launched with the Pre was as a basic as any first generation operating system but what made it special was the way in which people could interact with the software. Something akin to the first generation of iOS, which completely changed the mobile landscape for the better. webOS had three major strengths that drew people to it. The first was the subtlety of it’s notification system and how unintrusive it was. This was something of a first in the entire industry. Second was it’s Card Based multitasking. Multitasking on webOS was made elegant as it allowed users to either use the gesture bar or the home button to seamlessly switch between applications. The third and final major aspect of the O.S. was Synergy. Synergy was a way in which webOS pulled contacts, email, and web services into a single universal pool of information that brought applications together with your contacts to create a single, unified way to communicate with those in your life through a variety of services or “plug-ins.” The last iteration of this first webOS version was 1.4.5.
The application selection on the platform remains it’s biggest weakness and always has been the reason for the decline in both users and general interest. There is though a secondary application store that was created by the developer community aptly called Preware, which helps alleviate the desolate Palm/HP app Catalog. What makes Preware so special is that it offers an enormous amount of applications, software patches and kernel patches that augments and allows the device to perform faster, more fluidly and do much more than it could before. Preware has largely tried to fill the hole and does so in a number of ways, yet it’s main strength is that it has made webOS a much more functional platform.
In a comparison to modern devices, the Pre is woefully underpowered. Facing devices that often have 2-3 GB of Ram, with Quad Core processors, and up to 64 GB of onboard storage is similar to comparing a first generation Netbook to a 2014 Mac Pro. There is nothing really to compare. It makes the paltry 256 Mb of Ram and even the 512 Mb of the Plus variants which launched in 2010, that much tougher to look at. The only real viable reasons to buy a Pre or the Pixi, would be if you very much love the software that runs on them or if you have a love for keyboards and don’t want a BlackBerry. When it comes to a webOS device working in a manner comparable to something like the iPhone 5S or Moto X, it does do what a smartphone was built for: email, web browsing, and handling multimedia. It accomplishes those tasks in the exact same manner, the only difference is that in 2014 it’s somewhat slower. With Preware, certain patches can be added to the Palm Pre and Pixi, to augment the performance, including speeding up applications and overclocking the processor, but these sort of patches can only accomplish so much in comparison to the hardware of modern smartphones.
webOS in 2014 is decidedly still more elegant in some ways than even the most advanced mobile operating systems. Notifications remain neat and unobtrusive. iOS, Android, and Windows Phone are only just catching up with this. App interactions are far more intuitive on webOS than on any other platform, as switching between applications always keeps you close to what you last opened and last closed. The card-based multitasking has proven to be the very best way to interact with applications.
The cost of ownership when it comes to these devices and webOS devices in general is fairly low. You can find a Pixi Plus and Pre Plus, unlocked on Amazon or around the web, for under $120 dollars each. So the actual risk in buying and using these devices is actually quite low when compared to more modern and expensive devices.
Cellular service on both devices, is dependant on two factors. The kind of device you have (Unlocked or Locked) and the service provider you use with them. The devices all run on 3G networks which are a standard and are widespread all over the world, so service shouldn’t really be a problem. You just need to look up service and provider information ahead of time before you commit to a device.
In comparing the devices and deciding whether to buy the Pre or Pixi, always go with the Plus versions of the device. They offer double the Ram and have integrated Wifi, which was not included with the first generation Pixi.
To conclude: Do I recommend a Pre Plus or a Pixi Plus in 2014? Well, yes and no. I do recommend them as the cheapest way to enter webOS and they do work as either really low tiered smartphones with minimal application ecosystem or super advanced feature phones. I recommend both devices as they work really well for sending and composing emails or texts. But I do not recommend them if you are looking for the most that the phone side has to offer. There are much more powerful devices (Pre 2, Veer) that offer the very latest and best of webOS software. Most Pres and Pixis never got to webOS 2.0 (Though the upgrade can be done with a bit of effort). I believe that webOS is something to appreciate even though the devices and the ever eroding software support continue to push the platform closer to obsolescence. The user experience, community and Preware, make the Pre & Pixi interesting and exciting to use even in 2014.