REVIEW: Palm Pixi Packs Surprising Business Features in Small Smartphone Form Factor

By Andrew Garcia  |  Posted 2009-12-15 Print this article Print

The WebOS-based Palm Pixi is a worthy upgrade from Palm's previous low-end smartphone offerings, even for enterprise users. The device offers good integration with Microsoft Exchange and ActiveSync, including the ability to enforce policies from the Exchange management console. However, the unit's battery life is poor with automated data services enabled, and performance was inconsistent during eWEEK Labs' tests.

The Palm Pixi is a more-than-worthy successor to Palm's previous low-end smartphone offerings, capably offering an enticing mix of features for consumers or enterprise users looking to move up from a more basic mobile phone. However, occasionally sluggish performance and weak battery life with automated data services engaged detract from the Pixi's overall experience.

Palm created the Pixi to replace the old PalmOS-based Centro, positioning the Pixi as an affordable yet feature-packed upgrade for the low-end consumer market.

Although the Pixi comes with a sticker price of $400, the price drops to $100 with a two-year Sprint service contract. In addition, some outlets may offer the Pixi for as low as $25 to new Sprint customers.  

Although not expressly intended for an enterprise audience, the Pixi and its WebOS operating system provide one of the better e-mail with ActiveSync experiences available today from a non-Microsoft smartphone (especially at the Pixi's price point). The Pixi could be worth consideration for companies looking to offer good mobile e-mail and Web capabilities to users previously provisioned with only a basic cell phone.

The Pixi is among the smallest and lightest smartphones I've tested to date. Measuring in at a highly compact 2.2 by 4.4 by 0.4 inches and a very light 3.26 ounces, I found it easy to forget the Pixi was in my pocket. The small form factor has its trade-offs, however, as the keyboard is pretty cramped. The hard, rubberized keys are raised enough, however, that it was easier to type on the keyboard than I expected.

The Pixi supports Sprint's EVDO Rev A. network, which provided steady and reliable voice and data coverage-indoors and outdoors (even in heavily crowded locations like full football stadiums)-during my tests in and around the San Francisco Bay Area.

Unfortunately, the device does not come with a Wi-Fi radio. This was disappointing on its own, but even more so since WebOS showed good support for enterprise Wi-Fi security standards in my tests of the Palm Pre

The Pixi comes with 8GB of on-board storage; it does not have a MicroSD slot to add additional capacity. 

The device does come with a 2-megapixel camera with LED flash (still pictures only, no video), as well as a GPS receiver for location services. The device also has a speakerphone on the back, although it sounded tinny, particularly when compared with heavier devices such as HTC's Touch Pro 2.

I performed the bulk of my Pixi testing using WebOS Version 1.3.1, although the device automatically upgraded itself to 1.3.2 near the end of my tests.

The Pixi made good use of the Palm Profile's automated backup services: I was able to automatically reload all my e-mail and IM accounts, calendars, and contacts that I originally defined when I tested the Pre earlier in the year. (My accounts included a Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync account, a Google Apps account, Yahoo Mail and Facebook.)

Using Palm Synergy, these accounts are melded together, giving the user unified views of e-mails, calendars and contact lists from all sources-with the flexibility to filter down to a source's content, if needed. This allows users to seamlessly blend personal and work content on the device, without mixing it up on the back end.

Corporations already using Exchange and ActiveSync will find that WebOS and the Pixi play nicely with some ActiveSync policies, allowing administrators to enforce policies defining password complexity and length, screen inactivity auto-lock periods, and automated (given too many failed password attempts) and manual remote-wipe capabilities right from the Exchange management console.

Like the Palm Pre, the Pixi can easily burn through battery life-particularly if background data services are enabled-and the Pixi's battery is even smaller (1,150 mAhr) than the Pre's.

Although the Pixi is rated for 5 hours of talk time with a 3G network connection (or 350 hours standby), on numerous occasions I found the Pixi battery dead in the morning, even when I had fully charged it at the end of the previous work day and not used the device at all in between.

With the Pixi, it is imperative to limit automatic background consumption as much as possible. To save battery life, instant messaging and GPS location services should be disabled, and automated e-mail retrieval should be performed infrequently (or manually only).

Unfortunately, WebOS does not allow the user to globally set the e-mail retrieval period for all accounts. Instead, the period must be configured one by one, as different types of accounts and synchronizations come with differing default periods. For instance, Exchange and Yahoo Mail utilize push e-mail services, while Gmail defaults to a 15-minute pull interval.

When actually using the device, I found battery life lived up to the rated specifications. A solid hour of heavy usage-browsing the Web, reading and responding to e-mail, and moving between and using other applications without ever letting the screen dim-would drop the battery by about 20 percent. 

My other qualm with the Pixi has to do with inconsistent performance.

Every now and then, the Pixi would simply stall out during an action, pausing for several seconds before getting on with what it was supposed to do. It didn't seem to matter what the action was-it would sometimes happen, for example, when I opened an application, moved from one screen to another or opened an e-mail. The behavior also did not seem to depend on how many applications were open in the background, nor was the behavior consistently reproducible in similar circumstances.

Fortunately, I found this sluggishness diminished once the device was upgraded to WebOS 1.3.2, although it did not disappear entirely.

Senior Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at 

Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at

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