Thursday, February 04, 2010

Palm Pixi Rox

I just bought a new phone, and it wasn't an iPhone, but it is still very cool. I have been planning to buy an iPhone as my next communication device - all my friends have one. I am very glad that they no longer feel the urge to demonstrate how cool they are by showing me some stupid picture or new app on their iPhone - except for Frank, of course.

So why didn't I buy an iPhone? Well, it is a bit complicated. My family has five phones with Sprint. I actually had a Rumor, which is a pretty good texting phone, but not much use for anything else. I was reasonably happy with it, though the blue-tooth quality was pretty poor. It was not too useful in California - unless you are married to the governator. Sprint is pretty good for quality of reception, but I always thought the selections of their phones sucked. A few years ago, I decided I needed a Blackberry and tried to upgrade at Sprint. Believe it or not, they would not sell me one. They only sold them to businesses. Morons. I did buy a Blackberry from someone else and carried two phones. I dropped the Blackberry after a while, because I realized I could almost always check my email with my MacBook, even when I was traveling.

So why the new phone? Somehow, I must have either dropped or stepped on my Rumor. I had made two or three phone calls earlier in the day from my office. I put it in my pocket and went downstairs to talk to my wife and while I was talking to her I received another call. I took the phone out and pressed the answer button and then saw that it had a big crack in the center of the screen. Worse, the voice quality on the other end was totally garbled - like some sort of electronica convolution filter. It was basically toast. I needed my phone to work this week, as there are many things going on in my life (that I will be writing about soon) so whether I liked it or not, I had to go visit the Sprint store for a replacement.

When I got there I had a few nice surprises - first the selections of phones was not terrible. In fact it was getting interesting. No iPhone of course - this wasn't AT&T, but they had an Android phone and yes, they finally were offering Blackberries to real people, and a they had the new Palm WebOS-based phones. I was interested in the Google phone, but a friend of mine had just bought one and was trying to take some pictures in the bright sunlight. The screen was unusable. Also it was kind of big and bulky - sort of like what the old Soviet Union might build if they were trying to make an iPhone knock-off.

What really caught my eye was the Palm Pixi. It is the smaller and slightly cheaper brother to the Palm Pre (which had the very strange commercials last year). I like small phones, as I already carry too much hardware in my pockets. The Pixi was actually smaller than my old Rumor (which really wasn't that small) and it was a real smart phone. Better yet, Sprint was offering a hell of a data plan where my family's monthly costs, which did not include data, would actually drop with the new plan which did include it. The phone was $200 with a $100 rebate - including a new two year contract, but now, even that was pro-rated. Sprint is definitely getting aggressive.

So now the review of the Pixi. In a nutshell, it is terrific.

Here is a list of pros followed by cons:

- Setup was trivial. The guy at the Sprint store did most of the work and I had a working phone with all my contact info when I walked out.
- The phone perfectly integrates with Gmail, which is my main email connection these days. It pulled all of my contact info into the phone and I was immediately reading the most recent emails.
- It supports Google Calendar, which my wife and I share. And it issued calendar alerts. Very nice.
- It is quite small, but the built in thumb-keyboard is quite usable. It took a little getting used to, but it works fine and has a nicer feel than my Blackberry or my earlier RIM device. I do love the size - it is quite thin and feels very nice in my hands.
- Sprint's wireless network performance is great. I was at a Starbuck's with a friend of mine and wanted to show him a video I had posted to YouTube. He tried to access it with his iPhone, but I had it running on the Pixi well before he even had an connection. He never did get it to work, but he was using the AT&T network and not the local Wi-Fi.
- Web browsing works pretty good, given the size of the screen. Certain sites, like Boing Boing are excellent, because they have a mobile version automatically loaded. Amazon was a bit crappy, surprisingly.

- The text is too small, especially for us old guys.
- The sound volume is not quite loud enough, even with it maxed out.
- When I called my mother, she said the sound quality on her end was echo-y, like I was far away from the phone.
- I tried to read a PDF document using the included Adobe reader app, but it didn't word wrap, so this was basically a lost cause. Seriously - if I zoom into a document using PDF, you really need to provide an option to wrap the text so I don't have to scroll left and right.
- Camera quality is poor. Good enough for a random picture now and then, but it won't replace my Casio Exilim.
- Takes a long time to charge (maybe 4-5 hours?)
- Charge lasts about 3 days with use. Since it was a new phone, I probably did more with it than I normally will in the future, so this probably caused the battery to drain quickly.
- Some apps re-orient based on the orientation of the phone. Others don't.
- It really needs a search app that has instant access.

Overall, this is a great non-Android Google phone. It is really nice how cleanly and easily it interfaces with my Google life. And I love the size. It is really quite elegant. It has only been three days now, so let's see how it holds up over the next few months.

As an aside, I had a rental car last week - a Ford Flex. This included the Microsoft Sync software. I might comment more on this later, but short answer - it was terrible. I actually liked the car (more of an SUV actually), but this software was really opaque. After linking it to my now sadly demised phone via BlueTooth I could not figure out how to get to the phone interface to make a call. I nearly had an accident trying to figure this thing out. I never did figure out how to use the built-in GPS for directions. Luckily I had my Garmin Nuvi with me. Sync is Bad Bad Bad. If anyone from Ford is reading this - I did like the Flex, but will never buy anything with Sync installed.


Dave Newton said...

PDFs specify absolute layout, and zoom does just that--zooms. That's why PDFs aren't a great e-book format. You might want to consider stripping out the text/etc. and putting it into a format that *could* word wrap.

And I'd love to have three days of power "with use"--that's a lot these days.

Carl said...

A 3 day battery life is listed under the Cons for your new phone? Wow, I only get one day with my iPhone. I think 3 days for a smartphone is pretty darn good.

dcc said...

Beg to differ! SYNC is good. I have a Ford Fusion. My phone is paired, so it automatically connects when I get in the car. If I receive a call when driving, the radio mutes (if on) and the caller's number displays on the radio (or name if they're in my phone contacts already). I press a button on the steering wheel to ignore or answer. If I answer, it's totally hands-free, using the car speakers and a mic that's hidden who-knows-where. Calling out is voice activated: hit button on steering wheel say "call" plus name or "dial" plus number and proceed with hands-free babbling.

An Idea pops into my head? Hit button, say "Call:Jott" (I actually use dial-2-do now, so I changed the # in my phone book but left it called Jott, easier to say 1 syllable vs. 4). So, dial-2-do answers, I say "email to Evernote" and the robotic yet female voice says record at the beep, I babble my Idea or note-to-self, hit button to hang up. When I next get to my computer, there's my Idea, reasonably accurately transcribed to text, in my gmail and Evernote. Dial-2-Do actually does a ton of other stuff too. Voice to txt to any pre-set phone #, voice to Remember-the-Milk, that kind of thing.

Sync also lets me plug in a 4 GB usb drive in the arm-rest compartment, loaded with thousands of my songs, all controllable through the car stereo with ID3 tags, playlists, and all.

I have a half hour commute and drive place-to-place some days, and totally dig SYNC, man.

David A. Smith said...

Perhaps if the UI weren't so incredibly obscure to a new user - like me, I might have been happy with it, but honestly, it was scary how hard it was to figure out even the simplest things - like call someone on the phone.

There was nothing that indicated how to use the voice recognition, the touch screen never went anywhere useful that I could see, lots of dead ends and I could not find the phone interface!. It was ridiculous.

Perhaps Ford/MS/Hertz should have placed a quick-start card in the vehicle.

OH - and it did not appear to work with my iPod.

Perhaps the problem is that I am simply not the most technical person in the world. No, actually, I probably am very close to being the most technical person in the world. This was a FAIL.