Palm Pre Plus smartphone

The Pre Plus comes preloaded with WebOS 1.3, but customers will be able to upgrade to WebOS 1.4 when it becomes available

The Palm Pre Plus is really more of an update of the original Pre than a completely new product. Even so, the subtle hardware tweaks make it an overall improvement from its predecessor the Palm Pre. Some quirks remain, however, with the keyboard design and the sluggishness of the software.

Because there are so few significant differences between the Pre Plus and the original Pre in both hardware and software, we have focused here mainly on the updates and new features in the Plus.

Palm Pre Plus: Refined Hardware

Right off the bat, you'll notice one small difference between the Palm Pre Plus and the first Palm Pre: the single hardware button that was on the latter has been removed. Palm says that this design choice is mostly a matter of aesthetics - getting rid of the button eliminated one more moving part, resulting in a sleeker profile. Like the Pixi and Pixi Plus, the Pre Plus has a capacitive touch area below the screen with a light-up bar. To shrink an app down to card size, you simply tap this area (on the original Pre, you would press the button).

Besides the omitted hardware button, the only other design differences are subtle changes on the slide-out keyboard. According to Palm, the Palm Pre Plus's keyboard has been enhanced for a better user experience. In our side-by-side comparisons between the Pre and the Palm Pre Plus, we did notice that the Plus's keyboard was a bit more responsive. The slider mechanism feels much more secure, as well. The original Pre's keyboard felt a bit wobbly and insecure; the Pre Plus's keyboard slides in with a nice snap.

Even with these improvements, some of the problems we experienced with the original Pre remained on the Palm Pre Plus: we had to use my nails to type on the small keys, and we made a few errors in long messages. We wish Palm had rethought the slide-out design, as well. The sharp bezel lip on the sides and bottom sometimes interferes with typing. Furthermore, the top row is a few millimetres too close to the edge of the slider screen, so you have to angle your fingers to press those keys.

Another small change: the option and number keys are now argy (instead of the bright orange on the original Pre's keyboard).

Perhaps the best update to the hardware is the doubled internal memory. The Pre Plus has 16GB of internal storage versus 8GB on the original Pre. With Palm opening up the WebOS SDK and adding 3D graphics into the mix, we're sure to see a surge of apps in the WebOS App Catalog, so more storage is necessary. Also, the WebOS music player is terrific, but the potential for the first Pre to be both a portable media player and a smartphone (like the iPhone) was undercut by its limited storage.

The last, but not the least, of the hardware tweaks is the inductive battery cover. You can now use the phone with the Touchstone charger out of the box. The first Palm Pre requires that you first swap out the standard cover for the inductive one.

WebOS: Improvements to Come

The Pre Plus comes preloaded with WebOS 1.3, but customers will be able to upgrade to WebOS 1.4 when it becomes available in February. The main updates in WebOS 1.3 are the addition of Yahoo services, like contact and calendar syncing, and Yahoo IM messenger.

You can also forward, copy text, and delete IMs and SMS texts by simply tapping on the message. In addition, YouTube videos played natively on the mobile web browser when running the dedicated YouTube app, and widescreen videos fill the Pre's 3.1-inch display rather than getting cropped.

Unfortunately, WebOS 1.3 still feels a bit sluggish. Apps took some time to load, and scrolling through the menus wasn't as smooth as it should have been. Battery life was also pretty dismal - something we experienced with the original Palm Pre.

In software, we think the best is yet to come - not just with the Palm Pre Plus, but with all four of the current WebOS devices. The 1.4 update will bring not only video capture (which all of the other smartphone OSs currently have), but (hopefully) improvements in WebOS performance and in battery life. Also in February, users will be able to play full Flash videos on their Pre and Pre Plus - a feature that will give Palm's smartphones an edge over the iPhone.

Serious Gaming Potential

At CES, Palm had a slew of announcements for WebOS developers including the availability of the WebOS plug-in development kit for 3D gaming. This announcement was also a treat for current Palm Pre and Pixi owners, as a few games were already available in the catalog, such as EA's popular Need for Speed Undercover and Sims 3 games.

Need for Speed took a bit of time to load, but once it was up and running, gameplay was excellent. The graphics looked great on the Pre's 320-by-480-pixel capacitive-touch display, and the game handled quite smoothly--it was very responsive to touch and worked well with the phone's snappy accelerometer. The games we tried integrate nicely with WebOS, too. For example, if you're playing a game and get a text message, the message will show up on your notifications dashboard without interruption.

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